Rural-Urban Proportional

Rural-Urban Proportional: Bringing a new, creative model to the table 

Jean-Pierre Kingsley’s Suggestion

Over the past several months, former Chief Electoral Officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley has been suggesting an idea: Make the urban areas multi-member districts and “leave the rural ridings alone” (as single member ridings). You can listen to his testimony to the all-party electoral reform committee here.
 
Kingsley’s suggestion is exactly what was done for 30 years in Alberta and Manitoba provincially. The cities of Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton used PR-STV to elect multi-member teams, proportionally – with multi-member districts ranging from 4-10 MPs. All the ridings outside the cities were single member, elected by winner-take-all ranked ballot.

This produced proportional results in the cities where STV was used, but disproportional results everywhere else. Because there were so many single member ridings, the overall results were still quite distorted. (The story ends that the politicians in the governing party in Alberta got rid of PR-STV in cities because it was electing too many opposition members). 

While this proposal to tailor PR for urban and rural areas has tremendous potential as a Canadian solution, as noted above, without adaptation it has a few significant problems:

Rural-Urban Proportional builds on Kingsley’s suggestion and makes it proportional.

Here’s how it works:

1) Multi-member ridings in the urban areas (which could be elected with a ranked ballot – STV – or an open list)

2) Single member ridings in the rural and small urban areas  (which could also be elected with a ranked ballot – or by first-past-the-post) 

3) A small layer of regional top up seats to make the overall results in the region proportional (an idea borrowed from Sweden, where these are called “adjustment seats).

See this example of Alberta below, with a mix of multi-member ridings, single member ridings, and regional top-up MPs. (Note: this is for demonstration purposes – the number of single and multi-member ridings and their locations are just an example).
RUP Alberta

Rural-Urban Proportional takes what many people like about PR-STV (multi-member ridings and voter choice) and what many people like about MMP (single member ridings in sparsely populated areas and compensatory seats) and creates a made-in-Canada solution.

With Rural-Urban Proportional, because the multi-member ridings in the cities are already proportional, we would only need about 15% regional top-up MPs.

This means the rural ridings would only need to become 15% bigger. Or, rural ridings could keep the same boundaries/size they have today by adding only 15% new MPs to the House.

With MMP by comparison, you need at least 38% top up seats to achieve proportionality, meaning that all ridings must become 60% bigger. With STV ridings are grouped together. Rural-Urban Proportional provides an option that may well be appreciated by MPs and voters who live in what are already geographically large ridings.

In the rural and small urban riding which remain single member, Rural-Urban Proportional Representation means that just like MMP, a voter who was unable to elect a local MP of his/her choice would be represented by regional MPs who share that voters’ values. 

The outcome
Design Options
 
Now that you have the basic idea, there are a few design options.
 
How do we elect the regional top up MPs?

In a 20 member region, about 3 MPs would be regional MPs.  They could be elected one of two ways:

1) The regional top up MPs could be the best runners up in local ridings for the parties (and their voters) who deserve top-up seats.  This “best runners up” model is used with MMP in Baden-Württemberg , Germany. The advantage is simplicity for the voter. 

2) The regional top up MPs could be elected on an open list, just like with MMP – you choose a candidate from the list of the party of your choice. MP(s) elected will be the most popular individuals on the party list.

Rural-Urban Proportional is flexible.

There is no prescribed number of single member ridings. There can be only a small number of single member ridings in our most rural and northern areas, with most MPs elected in multi-member districts (in rural areas, these might be districts of two). We would call this option “STV+“. Or this model can keep about 25% of the ridings in Canada (about 85) as single member ridings. 

 
Simulation of Results
See a simulation of the overall results, using the ranked ballot option, here (credit: Byron Weber Becker)” , based on how people voted in the October 2015 election and the most recent data on second choice preferences. 

Of course, with PR, when people know their votes will count, they vote differently. Countries with PR also have higher voter turnout. So while you can’t predict election results with a new model, what you can do with any model is find out how proportional a model is with different possible voter patterns.

In this simulation, Rural-Urban Proportional gets a Gallagher Score of 3.87. The Gallagher Index is what political scientists use to measure how proportional results are. A low score means highly proportional. Denmark’s elections score a 1. A high score means very disproportional – Canadian and Australian elections (winner-take-all) score between a 10 and 12. Scotland (with MMP) and Ireland (with STV) both scored about a 6 in their last election.

The point is: Rural-Urban Proportional is very proportional. 

In summary, a Rural-Urban Proportional model achieves all the benefits of PR and appeals to supporters of STV and MMP by taking what people value from both models. It gives proportional representation to voters in every riding in Canada, while tailoring PR to our geography.
 
Let’s encourage our MPs to be creative in designing a made-in-Canada proportional solution.

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