Opponents of proportional representation for Canada often claim that making every vote count will lead to “unaccountable MPs”. Sometimes they refer to “appointed MPs” and “lists of party hacks”.
It is argued that there is something special and unique about the link between a single representative and their constituency under first-past-the-post (FPTP). This argument is often made without much reference to what the voters might want from their representatives, and without giving proper consideration to alternatives.
Whether the connection between constituents and representative is stronger under FPTP or a proportional system depends on one’s perspective about whether MP performance serves voters better in single or multi-member constituencies.
In every FPTP election, over half of all voters are unable to elect a representative aligned with their values. In the 2015 election our first-past-the-post electoral system delivered a ‘majority’ with only 18% of all voters electing the MPs who hold all the power.*
Additionally, under FPTP, many seats are considered ‘safe seats’ implying there is a lack of competition at election time. Safe seats provide few incentives for incumbents to work hard at representing their constituents.
These statistics beg the question ‘how many voters have accountable representatives now and who are MPs accountable to under our FPTP voting system?
What do they mean when they say ‘accountable MPs’ and who benefits?
MPs in Canada do not have job descriptions so how do we measure accountability? How many passport clinics held in a year? How many birthday cards sent? How many private members bills did your MP pass? How many infrastructure projects did he or she get funded?
The question is very subjective.
Many suggest that a proportional system for Canada will include a closed-list system where the Parties ‘appoint’ candidates – circumventing the local nomination process.
What are the facts?
It’s important to know that proportional representation includes a family of systems that provide representation equal to the share of the votes and that most voters will be able to elect a representative aligned with their values. Nobody is suggesting an electoral system like the one Israel uses – a nation-wide, closed party list system – for Canada. Such an option is highly unsuitable and no-one has ever proposed it.
There are few countries in the world where MPs are “appointed” to seats by the party. In almost every case, candidates are chosen to run in the same way our current candidates are – by a nomination process of party members.
Proportional systems have multi-member districts. Having more than one MP working in an area creates a healthy, competitive dynamic. MPs need to appeal to a wide variety of voters to get elected and will choose to work with others to deliver the best results. MPs who work hard for voters get rewarded at election time.
The multi-member dynamic also limits pandering because no single MP controls a fiefdom. They have to build consensus around reforms and that benefits voters.
Most electoral reformers agree that we need a Made-In-Canada system of proportional representation. With over 90 Countries using some form of proportional representation, Canada could base its new system on best practices from around the world.
It’s important to remember that no party or group is proposing a closed list model for Canada – closed lists are not on the table.
The Law Commission of Canada, in its’ 2004 report “Voting Counts: Electoral Reform for Canada” recommended a Mixed Member Proportional Representation System with open lists. An open list means that voters choose which regional candidates they want from the party they prefer. With open lists, all MPs, whether elected in the local riding or to a regional seat, are elected by the voters.
Candidates on an MMP open list ballot are not “appointed” – they are elected at nomination meetings of party members. Local nominations can be done by voting in person or online.
Learn More about MMP:
Two videos of MMP:
Detailed blog about MMP in Canada.
Another option would be the Single Transferable Vote. It is a proportional system which uses a ranked ballot in a multi-member district to elect a team of local MPs.
For example, 5 single member ridings, each with an MP elected now using first-past-the-post, would be combined into one district which elects 5 MPs.
This produces proportional results reflecting voter choice and the diversity of the district.
In many districts, a party would nominate more than one candidate to run on the ranked ballot. Voters would have a choice of candidates from the same party, and can also rank candidates across party lines – as few or as many as they choose.
As with MMP, STV also creates competition at a local level, encouraging a high standard of service to constituents in every seat. Candidates on an STV ballot are not “appointed” – they are elected at nomination meetings of party members.
To learn more about STV and STV+:
Fair Vote Canada’s Democratic Nominations Policy
Currently, while most MPs are democratically nominated by party members, we are all aware of those rare situations in which the party headquarters or party leader decides to block the local members’ preferred candidate and parachute in their star candidate.
To discourage this type of situation under any system, Fair Vote Canada proposes a small change to the funding of candidates. Currently, if a candidate achieves 10% of the vote in his/her riding, the candidate qualifies for a 60% refund of election expenses. Fair Vote Canada proposes that candidates would only be eligible for this tax-funded refund if they were democratically nominated by the local party membership.
This policy recognizes that occasionally, in regions where a party is very weak, the party may lack enough local members to hold a nomination meeting, and will simply appoint a token candidate to ensure the party is on the ballot. These candidates very rarely receive anywhere near 10% of the vote to qualify for the rebate, so this policy would not penalize parties for doing this, but would provide an incentive to help ensure that almost all candidates across Canada are nominated democratically.
Concluding Words about Accountable MPs
Any proportional system on the table for Canada – whether Single Transferable Vote or Mixed Member Proportional – means that all MPs face the voters, are elected by the voters, and are accountable to the voters.
In our last federal election, 52% of voters elected nobody. Currently many Canadians often feel that the MP elected in their riding does not represent them and is not accountable or responsive to them.
PR would mean almost every voter in Canada would be able to elect a local MP who shares his/her values. Voters being represented by local and regional MPs with MMP, or a team of local MPs with STV, means both collaboration and competition between MPs in a riding – creating accountable local representatives and better service for all voters.
*18% refers to the percentage of voters who cast a ballot for an MP who is now sitting as part of the governing party.