Saturday, June 11, 2016

The future under electoral reform

In 1978, New Zealand went to the polls. Changes were made to the way voters were registered and enrolled. The winning National Party took 51 seats on 39.8% of the vote, while Labour, who only took 40 seats, took 40.4% of the vote. Social Credit, the traditional third party, took 1 seat on 16% of the vote.

In 1981, National won 47 seats on 38.8% of the vote, while Labour won 43 seats on 39.0%. Social Credit managed 2 seats on 20.7% of the vote.

In 1984, a new party, the NZ Party, was formed. They were seen as libertarian and many saw them as splitting the National vote. Labour won that election with 56 seats on 43% of the vote, while National took 37 on 36% and the NZ Party took 12%. Social Credit, kept their 2 seats, but fell to 8% of the vote.

The 1987 election saw Labour win again, 57 seats on 48% of the vote, while National took 40 seats on 44% of the vote. Social Credit, now called the Democratic Party, lost all their seats and took only 6% of the vote.
Labour promised to hold a referendum on electoral reform, but, never did. National attacked the government, saying that it would do real electoral reform if elected.

1990 saw National win big. 67 seats on 48% of the vote, compared to Labour's 29 seats on 35%. The Greens came to the fore, and despite not winning any seats, took 7% of the vote. NewLabour, founded by a renegade Labour MP, took 1 seat, on 5% of the vote.
National carried out it's commitment to electoral reform, and a referendum was held in 1993.

The 1993 election saw National win 50 seats on 35.1% of the vote, while Labour won 45 seats on 34.7% of the vote. The Alliance, a left-wing party founded by NewLabour, took 2 seats, on 18.2% of the vote, while NZ First, founded by a renegade National MP, took 2 seats on 8.4% of the vote. A Labour MP served as Speaker, allowing National to carry a majority.
The 1993 Referendum meanwhile, was a three-stage process. First, in 1992, a vote was held on weather to retain the existing FPTP system, or to change it. 85% of voters decided they wanted to change it. Second, later in 1992, the four other options outlined in my previous post were put to the voters. 8% of voters decided to spoil their ballots in this round, which is interpreted as support for FPTP. 6% chose Parallel, while 7% chose a Ranked Ballot. 17% wanted STV, while the overwhelming majority chose fill-up MMP Proportional Representation system. Due to the high number of spoiled ballots, there was pressure to hold another vote, and alongside the 1993 election, a referendum was held. MMP vs FPTP. The result was much closer, with MMP defeating FPTP by a vote of 54% to 46%. As a result, the next election would be proportional.

What is interesting is not what happened in the following election, in 1996, but what happened between 1993 and 1996. MPs jumped ship from the major parties. 9 MPs left National and 4 left Labour, leaving both parties with 41 seats by the time of the 1996 election. 4 of the National MPs and 3 of the Labour MPs joined forces to create the United Party. Two National MPs and a Labour MP joined New Zealand First. Two National MPs created and joined a new Conservative Party, while one of them later quit to become an Independent, and lastly, a National MP founded the Christian Democrats.

As a result, the number of Parties in Parliament rose from 4 to 7.

Voting patterns also changed. In the 1996 election itself, the results were as follows. Note that NZ went from 99 to 120 MPs during the transition.

44 - 33.9% - National
37 - 28.2% - Labour
17 - 13.4% - NZ First
12 - 10.1% - Alliance
8 - 6.1% - ACT
1 - 0.88% - United

Neither the Conservative nor Christian parties won seats, and ACT, a new libertarian-leaning party, managed 8 seats.

Changing the voting system changed the way people consider voting. No longer did you have to vote for one of the two major parties to stop the other, but you could vote for a party you actually wanted. As a result, not only did voters, but MPs themselves changed their political behavior.

This has consequences for Canada depending on what system we choose.

First Past The Post
Sticking with the current system will, of course, see the least impact. Our parties stay right where they are, and nothing much happens.

Ranked Ballots
There is one major change that I see happening quite easily under this system. Australia has been using Ranked Ballots for quite some time, and it's two major parties are, in fact, three. The right-wing Liberal Party of Australia has been in permanent coalition with the smaller and further-right National Party. This coalition is standard in the states of New South Wales and Victoria, and remains even at times of opposition, or when the Liberals win a majority on their own. In Queensland, the two parties merged outright. In Tasmania, the Nationals never had a branch, and in the Northern Territory, the Liberals had always been seen as stepping back to allow the Nationals to be the only power in the area. While South Australia and Western Australia do see cracks in the traditional coalition, the idea of two right-wing parties working together while remaining separate is not seen as insanity.

As a result, with the Conservative Party moving towards are more socially moderate view, I can easily see a move to Ranked Ballots causing a few MPs to break off from the Tories (especially if someone like Michael Chong wins the leadership) and form a new socially conservative right-wing party. It's likely this party could win seats in parts of Canada, and even if they do not, they could still exert pressure on the Conservatives by demanding policy concessions in exchange for endorsing the party as the #2 choice on ballot papers.

I don't see any other parties popping up as a result of this.

Single Transferable Vote
Like above, we could see a new right-wing party spring up. What is more interesting is that depending on riding sizes, we could see more options. With ridings that have about 7 MPs each, a party only needs roughly 15% of the vote to elect a member. This could lead, for example, to both right-wing and left-wing sovereigntist parties in Quebec, as they can share preferences with one another in areas where one is weak. As well we could see the rise of "Big Independents" - Candidates who are strong enough to get elected on their name as non-partisans, who have 'big' personalities; an example from Ireland would be Jackie Healy-Rae, who was later joined (and replaced by) his son, who, in the last election, took enough vote to elect three Healy-Rae members to the Parliament (only two ran). This could also give birth to small parties based around a single person like Nick Xenophon in Australia. I personally predict that if we move to this system, folks like Giorgio Mammoliti would run federally.

In terms of actual parties, we are still unlikely to see much more beyond a socially conservative party pop up. The biggest difference is that such a party would be guaranteed seats in socially conservative areas of Canada.

The biggest change we'd likely see, beyond the new party, is that the vote share for the old major parties will decrease. Voters will be far more likely to experiment with other parties as their first choice, and as a result, we will see parties like the Greens, doubling if not tripling their vote totals.

Parallel Proportional Representation
The key here is what system is used to elect the MPs still in ridings. If it's FPTP, we may not see as much change as we would otherwise, but if we decide that riding MPs will now be elected by Ranked Ballot, this will encourage the birth of a socially conservative party. Also important is just how many Proportional MPs are elected. Will they make up 10% of the new assembly or 50%?

Assuming a fairly restrictive system, say FPTP and a third of MPs, it's still possible we could see the rise of a socially conservative alternative, but in reality, we are probably looking at our current parties remaining, and the biggest change being a doubling of the vote for the Green Party, but only on the proportional ballot.

Proportional Representation
This system opens the floodgates and is almost certain to cause changes to our political parties. Not only is a socially conservative party almost guaranteed, but a libertarian party as well. It's quite possible that existing parties can play that role, as we have a Christian Heritage, and a Libertarian party in this country. Depending on the path the NDP takes, we could even see a new left-wing party rise. The Liberals, right now, are doing a good job at balancing their own politics, but this is unlikely to last forever. Over the long-term we could well see a blue-liberal party pop up, as well as a party trying to position itself between the Liberals and NDP.

PR means much more fluidity in party support. While we have had parties come from nowhere only to vanish quickly, this has been rare. PR means that this will happen more often, and a number of "single-election" parties could come into being and disappear.

Any change to the way we vote has the real potential to change our parties themselves. At the biggest risk is the Conservatives, who are vulnerable to a "de-merger" should a system be created that ensures splitting the vote is no longer an issue. On the flip side, we also open ourselves up to options not considered. Take for example a Bloc Quebecois on the rise again under STV. Vote transfers may not be enough to stop them, and we might see a new Federalist party rise in Quebec, forming a coalition with whomever happens to win English Canada. Take for example a Parallel system where a new party decides not to run in any ridings, and rather, only run for the parallel seats, thus making vote splitting impossible.

The possible changes are quite massive, and we likely won't realize all the different ways that things can play out for at least two decades after we take the leap.

No comments:

Post a Comment