Friday, May 31, 2013

Stéphane Dion: Let our MPs take a pocketful of votes to Parliament

A pocketful of votes
Dion gave an interesting talk at Joyce Murray's meeting in Vancouver this morning, dealing with the different kinds of electoral reform that we could adopt.

One new idea that he dropped on the table is interesting, and, I believe, novel: that our MPs votes in Parliament be counted in an entirely different way than they are now.

In the past Dion has proposed his P3 variant of proportional representation, which might work well.

His new idea is intriguing: let our MPs take a pocketful of votes to Parliament.

It works this way. We use his P3 idea with an added modification. We equalize the ridings so that all of them have, say, 100,000 registered voters. Because the rural ridings have large areas for MPs to cover, we make sure that those ridings have more MPs, no less than they have today. And because the smaller provinces also have a certain number of MPs today, we make sure they keep that number of MPs.

However, what changes is that the vote of an MP in Parliament will have a weight on any bill or motion equal to the number of votes cast for that MP in the past election.

So if an MP stands up to vote on a bill, representing say Vancouver Central, and she has received 40,000 votes in the election, her vote counts for 40,000 units. Another MP, who received 15,000 votes in that same riding, has a vote counting for 15,000 units. And the MPs elected from the rural areas would have smaller units, because there are fewer voters in those ridings.

We then have the MPs vote on the bill, and their units are counted; the maximum units determine whether the bill passes or not.

This means that every vote in the country will have the same value.

We would not have a vote in a rural area having more clout because there are fewer people in that rural riding, while votes in our cities are devalued compared to rural votes.

We would also not have to keep adding new MPs as the population expands in some regions compared to others. Instead of adding MPs, we simply change the number of units that each MP can have based on the votes cast for each MP, as per Dion's scheme: population changes are therefore self-adjusting with each election.

Need for agreement on a way forward

Dion stressed a point he has made before: for the Liberal Party to simply say that the existing system is acceptable, is not on. But for any realistic alternative to be arrived at before the 2015 election is unrealistic.

But all 3 opposition parties could do this before the 2015 election (Dion's words):

It would be unrealistic to think that we will agree on a solution by 2015. What I do think is achievable, is for parties – the Greens, the Liberals, the NDP and even the Conservatives should they be so inclined – to have in their electoral platform a commitment to conduct meaningful studies and consultations on voting system reform – perhaps via a Royal Commission. This commitment must be as assertive and official as possible, in order to avoid the usual pattern whereby parties are open to voting system reform when in opposition, but much less so once they have seized power under the current rules.

In the meantime, we should not be afraid to continue the debate and investigate what kind of alternative system we could propose to Canadians in lieu of the current system.

I think Dion's concept of our MPs taking a pocketful of votes to Parliament when they vote on bills etc. is a thoughtful one, and worthy of discussion.


  1. I also was there this morning and agree that this was an interesting idea. Fair Voting BC has discussed this internally before - the idea is most commonly referred to as Weighted Voting and the main real-world use is in corporate voting where shareholders 'vote their shares'. In Parliament, MPs are analogous to shareholders and votes to the votes given to the MP by voters. Weighted Voting has the additional advantage of making it very easy to deal with electoral boundaries issues - the boundaries can easily be set to coincide with natural or civic features and the voting weight can be adjusted to reflect changes in population.

  2. Thanks for the input. I did not realize it made the setting of boundaries easier - that's a distinct plus when you look at the shape of some ridings. The shareholder analogy is a good one - it would resonate with most voters if we had to explain this kind of change.

  3. Why do I bother.June 01, 2013 8:31 am

    I see you have started using Disqus. I have been thinking about that too, how is it working?

  4. GREAT! The disqus Community feature is pretty powerful, interactive and very useful ... try it below to see it in operation.

  5. It's an interesting idea, and one that is occasionally suggested. But it would not work, because there is a lot more to an MP's job than voting. It is difficult to see how this weighted vote system would translate to committees. MPs also act as constituency representatives, so this system would give constituencies with vote-heavy MPs more clout than those with vote-light MPs. The implicit assumption of a weighted vote system is that MPs are party delegates, who are pledged to follow a party line. So it would work for an electoral college, but that is not what a parliament is.

  6. I've been thinking about this a bit more and would like to refine my analogy. Really, it's the citizens who are shareholders (we each hold a citizenship share in the country), and the MPs are our proxies who vote on our behalf in the federal parliament. If we extended this analogy, then perhaps we might even consider allowing voters to change proxies between elections - if you don't like what the MP you voted for is doing, you could pull your share and designate a new proxy. This would certainly create some interesting legislative dynamics! At the very least, MPs would have strong incentives both to communicate to you what they're doing and to seek your input as to how you think they're doing.

    This idea isn't without problems (e.g., it probably implies giving up the idea of a secret ballot - instead, we would have to be able to go online to control our proxy choice, so in principle someone else could force us to show them how we've voted), but modern society might consider that the benefits could outweigh the costs. In practice, this wouldn't actually be much of a problem - if we could change our proxy any time, then it would become meaningless to show anyone who our proxy is because we could immediately change it back afterwards to the MP we actually prefer, so ballot buying wouldn't really work reliably. Indeed, this approach may actually be a way of addressing the pressure to move towards online voting as it could sidestep the security concerns involved in maintaining ballot secrecy (if you break the link between the voter and ballot, how can anyone be sure the results have not been tampered with?).


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