laurel l. russwurm's political musings

It’s Time To Leap

with 15 comments

Guest Post by Leslea Smith

I read the “leap manifesto“. It’s not radical. It’s not outrageous. It’s common sense, logical, and shows very clearly how transitioning to greener energy options, isn’t just good for the planet, it’s good economic sense.

We have a country that’s huge.

We have huge areas where wind & solar power generation can be done very easily.Nikola Tesla

And thanks to the work of Nikola Tesla, we know that we can move the electricity these devices create, to where it’s needed, with minimal loss.

The wind turbines near me, in Halkirk Alberta, provide energy to the grid, to power places like Calgary & Edmonton. The energy could go to California, thanks to the way AC power works. Halkirk supplies Alberta. But the simple fact is that it could power Toronto just as easily.

There’s NO reason at all, that we can’t produce 100% of all our energy needs via wind, solar, geothermal & hydro-electric.

One of the prime excuses against wind & solar is that of energy storage. Yet thoSolar Arrayse against, still fail to comprehend that even that issue is not as big as they think. While it may not be windy one day in Halkirk, it can certainly be windy as hell down in the Crowsnest Pass. Or up by Grande Prairie. The country is so huge, there’s no reason we can’t put more & more energy into the grid, via green options.

Add in hydro-electric storage. Bi-level reservoirs can use electricity during low-demand times (like 3am) to move water from a low reservoir to a high level reservoir. Then when high demand happens, it’s simple to open the valve & have the upper drain into the lower, turning electricity generating turbines. Buy low, sell high, end result, we’d have power available for peak demand times and for when there’s not quite enough wind. Having on site wind-driven pumps further enhances this by running when there’s wind, moving water from the lower to the upper reservoir potentially 24/7, adding more potential energy the entire time.

Put in small water wheel type generation at all elevation control gates for irrigation canals. Boom, even more volts for the system. It’s a simple retrofit to manage this option. the irrigation canals in Southern Alberta could provide mega watts to the grid, every summer, just in time to help power air conditioners & fans.

The limitations are imagined. The solutions, only lack the will to put them in place. Water that turns water wheels in irrigation canals, do nothing to harm the water OR the fish in these canals. The technology exists now too.

It’s time.

wind turbine

Written by Laurel L. Russwurm

April 25, 2016 at 1:09 am

Posted in Canada

Tagged with , , , ,

Why No Referendum?

leave a comment »


Canadians Deserve Better -Proportional Representation - on Canadian Flag backgroundThis is the eighth in the Whoa!Canada: Proportional Representation Series

I’ve been working on the video of the “Alternative Vote vs. Proportional Representation” debate.  In this bite sized excerpt, Canadian electoral system expert Dennis Pilon explains referendum is not required.


Note: I’ve re-released this very video as “SoundBites: constitutional?”
Two changes were made to the opening credit animation sequence

  • notably the title changed because the clip is really more about the constitutional question.
  • Since Dennis Pilon doesn’t use Twitter, the @DennisPilon credit was misleading

You can see the new version on the Fair Voote Waterloo YouTube Channel here:


Written by Laurel L. Russwurm

April 16, 2016 at 2:42 am

Posted in Canada


with 2 comments

Why Don’t We Have PR Already?Why No Referendum?Canadians Deserve Better -Proportional Representation - on Canadian Flag backgroundThis is the seventh in the Whoa!Canada: Proportional Representation Series

First Past The Post (FPTP)

Although democracy seems like the best form of political system for citizens, there are different ways to go about it, and as with most things, some are more effective than others. England bestowed our single member plurality winner-take-all electoral system on our young nation in our very first Canadian federal election in 1867, and we’ve been using this First Past The Post (FPTP) voting system ever since.  Canada has seen a lot of innovation since then — from automobiles through air travel to space exploration.  Our lives have changed and improved in a wide variety of ways: indoor plumbing, universal health care, the internet — most things have improved and modernized… but not our electoral system.

Like many Canadians I have come to understand the serious democratic deficit inherent in our 18th century voting system, but I’ve had an opportunity to learn about the alternatives over the past few years. As I’ve mentioned before, I hear many of the same arguments against Proportional Representation used over and over again. One of the most pervasive arguments is the one that insists if we switch to a Proportional system it will necessarily be unstable and have to suffer many more elections than we do now.

So let’s compare the Canadian record of elections with countries that use some form of Proportional Representation.

List PR (Proportional Representation)

Spain adopted List PR in 1977. Between then and now, Spain has had 12 elections, in 1977, 1979, 1982, 1986, 1989, 1993, 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008, 2011, 2015. During the same time period, Canada also had 12 elections: in 1979, 1980, 1984, 1988, 1993, 1997, 2000, 2004, 2006,2008, 2011, 2015.

Canada v Spain - electoral stability

That doesn’t sound any more unstable than FPTP.  How can that be?  Maybe we need a larger sample… so let’s look at countries that have been using Proportional Representation longer.

Italy started using List PR in 1945, and since that time they have had 18 general elections, in 1946, 1948, 1953, 1958, 1963, 1968, 1972, 1976, 1979, 1983, 1987, 1992, 1994, 1996, 2001, 2006, 2008, and 2013

Israel also adopted Proportional Representation in 1945, and since then they’ve had 20 elections in 1949, 1951, 1955, 1959, 1961, 1965, 1969, 1973, 1977, 1981, 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996, 1999, 2003, 2006, 2009, 2013, and 2015

That’s a lot of elections! We wouldn’t want to be running to the polls that often here in Canada, right?

Except… in that same period of time, with our “stable” First Past The Post system, Canada has had even more elections — a whopping 23 since 1945, in 1945, 1949, 1953, 1957, 1958, 1962, 1963, 1965, 1968, 1972, 1974, 1979, 1980, 1984, 1988, 1993, 1997, 2000, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2011, and 2015

The reason I decided to look at Israel, Italy and Spain are because these countries are the ones most often trotted out to “prove” just how bad Proportional Representation is.

But I was still interested in finding a Proportional Representation system that had actually had more elections than Canada.  So next I looked Denmark, a country many Canadians admire because of its’ excellent social safety net. Denmark has used List PR since 1953 (but I’m not sure what they used before that). Since 1945, they have had 25 elections in 1945, 1947, 1950, 1953, 1957, 1960, 1964, 1966, 1968, 1971, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1979, 1981, 1984, 1987, 1988, 1990, 1994, 1998, 2001, 2005, 2011, 2015

Canada-Israel-Italy-Denmark - stability graph

Something else to keep in mind is that all three of these countries use List PR, which I’m pretty sure is the oldest form of Proportional Representation– and certainly the most commonly used. The thing that is important to understand is that List PR is one form of Proportional system that nobody is recommending for Canada.

So maybe we ought to  take a peek at the proportional systems that are recommended for Canada, in countries that have a little more in common with us.

Mixed Member Proportional (MMP)

After List PR, Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) is the most common form of Proportional Representation used at the national level around the world, so it’s not surprising to learn that MMP is the system most often recommended for Canada.

New Zealand replaced their First Past The Post electoral system with Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) in 1996, and since then they have had just 7 elections, in 1996, 1999, 2002, 2005, 2008, 2011, 2014 — the same as Canada.

Canada v New Zealand - electoral stability

Using the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) electoral system since 1945, Germany has had only 18 elections, in 1949, 1951, 1953, 1957, 1965, 1969, 1972, 1976, 1980, 1983, 1987, 1990 (reunited), 1994, 1998, 2002, 2005, 2009, and 2013.

Single Transferable Vote (STV)

The other form of Proportional Representation that has been considered for Canada is the Single Transferable Vote (STV). This system is not as widely used as the others, but it found a lot of favour here in the BC referendum, where more than 58% of BC voters voted to adopt it. As often happens, the government holding the provincial referendum didn’t actually want to change the electoral system that had given it a disproportional amount of power. Their referendum was designed to fail by requiring a super majority of 60% before BC-STV would be adopted. Last night Dennis Pilon remarked on the irony of BC referendum requiring a higher threshold of support to change its provincial electoral system than had been required by the Quebec secession referendum.

Another country considered more politically fractious than Canada is the Republic of Ireland, where they have been using Single Transferable Vote (STV) since 1945. And yet they have had only 20 elections (to Canada’s 22) in 1948, 1951, 1954, 1957, 1961, 1965, 1969, 1973, 1977, 1981, 1982, 1982, 1987, 1989, 1992, 1997, 2002, 2007, 2011 and 2016

Canada-Germany-Ireland stability graph

Admittedly, I have not made a comprehensive study, but it seems clear Canada’s First Past The Post system is less stable than many Proportional Representation systems.

National Stability with Alternative Vote (AV)

While Canada’s Liberal government has promised to replace our existing electoral system, it has not ruled out adoption of the winner-take-all  Alternative Vote (AV), a voting system also known as “Preferential Voting” (PV), “Instant Runoff Voting” (IRV) and lately “ranked ballot.”

Since 1945 Australia has had 27 elections, in 1945, 1946, 1949, 1951, 1954, 1955, 1958, 1961, 1963, 1966, 1969, 1972, 1974, 1975, 1977, 1980, 1983, 1984, 1987, 1990, 1993, 1996, 1998, 2001, 2004, 2007, 2010, and 2013.

FPTP-AV-stability graph

Overall Election Stability

As we can see, Canada’s winner-take-all First Past The Post system has resulted in more elections than many of the least appealing Proportional Representation systems.

The evidence from Australia — the only country in the world to have used Alternative Vote for any length of time — shows the Alternative Vote system is much more unstable than Canada’s FPTP and indeed every  Proportional Representation voting system I’ve looked at here.

This evidence demonstrates the “instability” argument against Proportional Representation is simply not true, and suggests

stability graph-FPTP-LPR-MMP-STV-AV

any electoral system that provides Proportional Representation is likely to result in *fewer* elections than we are used to with First Past The Post.


And if stability is an issue, adopting Australia’s Alternative Vote is far more likely to dramatically increase the number of elections we have.

a horizontal border of red graphic maple leaves

Why No Referendum?

Why Don’t We Have PR Already?


Proportional Representation vs Alternative Vote Debate in Kitchener

leave a comment »

PR v AV poster

What’s the difference between a Proportional Representation voting system and Alternative Vote?

If you’re in or near enough to Waterloo Region and can make it out to Kitchener City Hall tonight (that’s Thursday night), you’ll have a chance to find out from the experts when Waterloo city councillor (and former NDP candidate) Diane Freeman moderates a panel discussion between WLU’s Associate Professor of Political Science, Barry Kay and York University’s Associate Professor of Political Science, Dennis Pilon.

Barry Kay and Dennis Pilon will be talking about representative democracy and electoral reform, with special emphasis on the winner-take-all electoral system Alternative Vote (known variously as Instant Runoff Voting/Preferential Voting/ranked voting) and the many different ways in which Proportional Representation will be achieved.

Alternative Vote is the electoral system the Liberal Party of Canada voted to support at the party’s 2012 Convention.  But the issue was revisited at the party’s next convention, when Liberal Policy Resolution 31 was passed.  This formed the basis ~ almost word for word ~ for the Liberal campaign promise.

In resolution 31, Alternative Vote was referred to as “a preferential ballot,” and as “ranked ballots” in the campaign promise.   And we know that this is the electoral system Prime Minister Justin Trudeau favours, and has been championed by his advisor Robert Asselin of the Liberal think-tank Canada 2020.

But Alternative Vote isn’t a system the results in Proportional Representation.  It’s another winner-take-all voting system, very much like the First Past The Post winner-take-all system we use now.  I see no value in switching from one winner-take-all system to another.

But maybe I’m wrong.  Perhaps Mr. Kay will enlighten me tonight.

After the talk there will be an audience Q & A, and who better to answer you questions than experts of this calibre.

I hope to see you there!

Why Don’t We Have PR Already?

with one comment

The Popular Vote

StabilityCanadians Deserve Better -Proportional Representation - on Canadian Flag backgroundThis is the sixth in the Whoa!Canada: Proportional Representation Series


Even though it was pioneered in the 19th Century, Canada still hasn’t got Proportional Representation.  Luminaries like Sir Sandford Fleming tried to bring about meaningful electoral reform in Canada in 1892.  Just as the best efforts of Charles L. Dodgson (more familiarly known as Lewis Carroll) tried to modernize The Principles of Parliamentary Representation in 1884 England.

Amazingly even earlier, the American John Adams envisioned Proportional Representation on his “Thoughts on Government” in 1776:

It should be in miniature, an exact portrait of the people at large. It should think, feel, reason, and act like them. That it may be the interest of this Assembly to do strict justice at all times, it should be an equal representation, or in other words equal interest among the people should have equal interest in it.

But we can see how that turned out.  Although 85% of OECD countries use Proportional Representation, we don’t.

But the act of the matter is that Canadians have been trying to bring about meaningful electoral reform since the 19th Century.  So why hasn’t it happened?

Defenders of the Status Quo

Although Canadian electoral reformers have been recommending the adoption of some form of Proportional Representation for well over a century, there has never been a shortage of special interests that want to retain the preferential treatment they get under the winner-take-all status quo.  For the most part, the main stream media has failed to properly inform Canadians about the available options, and the reality is most of the articles I’ve seen are simply not doing the job of informing Canadians about this oh so important topic.

Even so, over the the main stream media can no longer safely ignore the topic of electoral reform.   I’ve seen more articles dealing with electoral reform and proportional representation in the first 3 months of 2016 than I have in my entire life.  So right about now I should be celebrating because I can get back to finishing my second novel, right?

I wish that were true.


Canadians have little or no experience of anything other than the winner-take-all electoral system we use in elections.  Our closest ties are to the United States and the United Kingdom who use winner-take-all systems too.  It is incredibly easy to be misled when you don’t have the facts.   One of the most effective tactics in preventing meaningful electoral reform is through the spread of misinformation.

Instead of providing fair and balanced information, what I’ve read has been incomplete, misleading, or wrong.   Opinion is often passed off as fact.   And if that wasn’t enough, there is a growing mass of misinformation to be found in the comments or such articles.  And then there is social media.  At this point  there is a lot of misinformation floating around.

No doubt the defenders of the status quo have been working overtime spreading misinformation, because this has always proven to be an effective technique.

Because Proportional Representation (sometimes shortened to “PR” or “proprep”) is a principle that describes an electoral outcome, any electoral system that provides a proportional outcome (where 39% of the vote = 39% of the seats) is Proportional Representation.  There are an incredible number of ways to achieve proportionality.   And so there are different families of Proportional Representation.  And within the families, there are a great many ways to go about it.  To date more than 90 countries around the world use Proportional Representation, and the ways in which it is achieved are many.  As well, there are an extraordinary number of variations of each that have been thought of but not yet put in practice.  Any country (or province, or municipality, or organization) can mix and match the electoral system elements and design their own custom version… and they have.

What this means is there are many voting systems that provide Proportional Representation that no one would ever consider for Canada.  But because there are voting systems that would never appeal to Canadians, defenders of the status quo make us think that Proportional Representation is one thing, and that one thing contains everything we would never want in an electoral system.  I’ve noticed many of the same wrong or misleading arguments popping up over and over again, in comments on articles and across the social media spectrum.  This series will include several articles designed to clear up this misinformation.

It is important to keep in mind that not all those dispensing misinformation are doing so deliberately.   I have no doubt many have been misled, so it is always best to assume a person sharing erroneous information is sincere.   So I try to gently correct misinformation and back it up with credible links. Sometimes it works, but if it doesn’t, it is always best to walk away, because if facts don’t convince, nothing will (especially if they are doing it deliberately).

The reality is that Proportional Representation offers us real choices.


Fair Vote Canada WRC co-Chair Sharon Sommerville at Cross Cultures 2016

The thing to remember is that the meaningful electoral reform is reform that will result in a voting system that is fair.

The ideal to strive for is that all votes should be equal… equal and effective.  Some votes should not count more than others and all votes should count.  The fact is, people aren’t perfect, and so far no one has designed a perfect universal voting system.  In a representative democracy, it simply isn’t practical to promise every vote will count — the reason we vote for representatives is practicality.  Parliament isn’t big enough to fit us all.  And when many of us select a representative who will actually represent our interests in Parliament, we should be able to rely on our MP to spend the time examining the evidence and learning enough about the the issues before Parliament so they can help make the laws that will protect all of our our interests

So the process we need is one that would take into account the the things that are important to Canadians — good and bad — in deciding what features are important to have and which things we want to avoid when deciding on our new electoral system.   Most Canadians have little or no experience of Proportional Representation, and the same is true of our MPs.  Which is why an all-party Parliamentary Committee will need to listen and learn, both from ordinary Canadians and from Canadian electoral reform experts, in deciding on our made in Canada solution.

My Choice

My own preference would be for the system very much like the one a clear majority of BC voters chose in their 1st referendum, Single Transferable Vote (STV) system (with Robson Rotation), but it is important to have enough MPs (9-11) in each of the newly (combined) ridings to provide voters with reasonable proportionality.  I like this system because it offers small parties and independents a fair shake, because I think more voices at the table will mean better policy.  But that’s me.

Bur although I am not myself an electoral reform expert, I can’t say for certain which would be the best system for us all.  What I can say with certainty is that what we all need is a fair system… a system where we strive to make every vote count, like Fair Vote Canada says.   And that’s something no winner-take-all system will do.  A fair system needs to provide equal and effective votes, and you only get that with some form of Proportional Representation.

And I have no doubt a majority of Canadians would agree that fairness is what we need if we are to have the Canada we want for us, and for our children.

I’ll leave you with John Cleese on Proportional Representation:

a horizontal border of red graphic maple leaves

I’d hoped to have my electoral reform glossary ready today, but it’s a very big job.  Soon.  Also coming soon: articles on electoral systems and to clear up misinformation.  Fair Vote has just begun a series of Myth Busters.   


The Popular Vote

Written by Laurel L. Russwurm

April 1, 2016 at 11:16 pm

The Popular Vote

with 3 comments

Working for DemocracyWhy Don’t We Have PR Already?

Canadians Deserve Better -Proportional Representation - on Canadian Flag background

This is the fifth in the Whoa!Canada: Proportional Representation Series

For years I didn’t understand that mysterious phrase “The Popular Vote.” The popular vote numbers never seemed to have any connection to the number of seats a political party won.  I just assumed the numbers seemed like gobbledegook since I’ve always been something of a mathphobe. So imagine my surprise when I learned it was the system that was skewed, not my grasp of the numbers.

The popular vote is the number of valid votes Canadians cast. If we look at the results of the 2015 election, we see
6,943,276 votes translated to 184 seats for the Liberal Party, 39.5% of the votes won 54.4% of the seats in parliament while
5,613,614 votes translated to 99 seats for the Conservative Party, whose 31.9% of the votes only won 29.3% of the seats.

Graph shows Liberals 39.5% translate to more seats (54.4%), Conservative 31.9% votes translate to fewer seats (29.3%)

The Liberal Party formed government by winning a much larger percentage of seats than it earned in votes, while the Conservatives won fewer seats.  This is disproportional representation.  As you can see from looking at the percentages across the entire election, with the Liberal Party being the biggest beneficiary of the disproportional results.  Every other party won a substantially higher percentage of votes than seats.
This graph illustrates the disproportionality between votes cast and seats won

Our American friends have an electoral system as unfair ~ or perhaps even more unfair than ours.  The Americans scrambling to vote in presidential primaries may come to nought because the actual votes Americans cast ~ the popular vote ~ can be over ruled by their Electoral College.  (And no, I don’t understand why!)

The Language of Elections

When most Canadians first stumble into discussions about electoral reform, the incomprehensible jargon makes it hard to understand what people are talking about.  But it gets worse.  Not only are there are many different voting systems we’ve never even heard of, some have more than one name.  And worse still, most of the people talking about it use acronyms, so it is a considerable challenge just to follow the conversation.  It isn’t that electoral reformers are intending to confuse us, it’s just that many electoral reformers have been thinking and talking about the intricacies of electoral reform for years.

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand electoral systems, but nobody can keep up without some idea of what the words in this specialized language mean.  Since Canadians have been promised electoral reform, it is important for us to have a basic understanding of the choices available so we can let our representatives know which we prefer.  As I’ve had a few years head start, I’ve been working on a basic Electoral Reform Glossary.

Why Don’t We Have PR Already?

Working for Democracy


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,772 other followers