Archive for the ‘Canada’ Category
This is the ninth in the Whoa!Canada: Proportional Representation Series
Rep By Pop
Canadians have been arguing about how we should vote since before Confederation.
At that time, Upper Canada (what would become Ontario) and Lower Canada (what would become Quebec) had equal representation in government. When the system was initially put in place, the French population outnumbered the English, but by the time of Confederation, only about 40% were French. If Upper Canada’s George Brown had his way, the government of the new Dominion of Canada would be elected with Rep by Pop (Representation by Population) in which every vote cast across the Canada would be equal.
Since the regions that were to contemplating federation were unequally endowed in population, compromise was needed, so the decision was made to establish proportionate representation among the provinces.
Every province and territory is allocated a certain number of seats in the House of Commons according to a formula set out in section 51 of the Constitution Act, 1867, along with other historical seat guarantees found in the constitution.”
— Electoral Systems and Electoral Reform in Canada and Elsewhere: An Overview: 2.1 Canada’s “First-Past-the-Post” Electoral System
In 1892 the renowned Canadian engineer and inventor Sir Sandford Flemming lobbied for the implementation of Proportional Representation with “An appeal to the Canadian institute on the rectification of Parliament.” Unfortunately, then, as now, powerful forces were employed to preserve the unfair status quo.
Still, the idea of embracing Proportional Representation in order to attain electoral fairness didn’t die out. Voting reform has moved to the forefront as Canadians have become increasingly aware that our votes don’t count.
Recommended for Canada
Over the years the inadequacies in Canada’s Voting system has resulted in much study.
- 1977: Manitoba Law Reform Commission Working Paper on Electoral Reform recommended Single Transferable Vote (STV) in urban areas.
- 1979: Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s Pepin-Robarts Commission recommended Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) for Canada
- 1984: Quebec Electoral Representation Commission tabled a report recommending Proportional Representation
- 2003: Quebec’s Estates General on the Reform of Democratic Institutions recommended Mixed Member Proportional (MMP)
- 2003: Prince Edward Island’s Hon. Norman Carruthers Report recommended Mixed Member Proportional (MMP)
- 2003: Quebec government study led to a Quebec government recommendation of MMP
- 2004: The Law Commission of Canada 3 three-year study/Consultation recommended Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) for Canada
- 2004: British Columbia Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform recommended Single Transferable Vote (STV)
- 2005: New Brunswick’s Commission on Legislative Democracy recommended Mixed Member Proportional (MMP)
- 2006: Quebec Citizens’ Committee Report recommended Mixed Member Proportional (MMP)
- 2006: Quebec Select Committee Report recommended Mixed Member Proportional (MMP)
- 2007: Ontario Citizens’ Assembly recommended Mixed Member Proportional (MMP)
- 2007: Quebec Chief Electoral Officer’s Report recommended Mixed Member Proportional (MMP)
[Note: For more detail on the list of 13 recommendations please visit Fair Vote Canada’s Thirteen Canadian Commissions, Assemblies and Reports that have recommended proportional representation Page.
We tend to think the ballot has more power than it actually has because it is the public face of the election contest. It’s our user interface. Which is why it is important for the ballot to be easy for voters to understand— voters shouldn’t have to come out from behind the privacy screen in the voting station to ask the poll clerk how their ballot should be marked. Voters need to be able to indicate their preference if they are to have any hope of electing the Member of Parliament that will best represent them. But the ballot is still just one of the elements of electoral system design.
The procedure by which qualified voters determine who our representative will be is called an electoral system. The different elements that go together to make up an electoral system determine:
- the structure of the ballot
- how votes are cast
- the way votes are counted, and
- the criteria needed to win
At this point most Canadian electoral reformers have a very good idea which voting systems are more likely to go over well with Canadians. Because this is such a confusing topic, I have chosen to limit this article to the electoral systems that might be used in Canada.
Plurality or Majority
Only one winner is possible in a winner-take-all voting system. Just as it sounds, at the end of the election contest, one winner gets it all, the candidates who against them are losers, the citizens who voted for them are left without effective representation in Parliament.
First Past The Post
Single Member Plurality
This is the voting system we have been using federally since Confederation. Although it appears as though we have one Canada wide election, in reality Canada we actually elect Members of Parliament in 338 individual winner-take-all elections.
The area within each province is divided into separate electoral districts, or ridings, each represented by a single member of Parliament. During an election, the successful candidate is the individual who garners the highest number of votes (or a plurality) in the riding, regardless of whether that represents a majority of the votes cast or not. The leader of the party that secures the largest number of seats in the House, and can therefore hold its confidence, is generally invited by the Governor General to be the prime minister and form government.”
And, of course, this is the voting system Mr. Trudeau vowed to replace.
Instant Runoff Voting
The system is most accepted in single winner elections (as for Mayor or President,) but the system flaws have tends to be found wanting because it doesn’t produce outcomes very different than our current winner-take-all First Past The Post system.
Alternative Vote (AV):
This system is also known as preferential voting.
On the ballot, voters rank the candidates running in their riding in order of their preference.
To be elected, a candidate must receive a majority of the eligible votes cast.
Should no candidate garner a majority on the first count, the candidate with the fewest votes is dropped, and the second preferences on those ballots are redistributed to the remaining candidates.
This process continues until one candidate receives the necessary majority.
Over the years Alternative Vote has been adopted here and there though out the world for varying periods of time. Here in Canada the province of British Columbia used AV in its 1951 and 1952 elections, and Manitoba used AV in its rural ridings for about three decades ending in the 1950s.
The only country that has used the Alternative Vote system at the federal level of government for any length of time is Australia, where this winner-take-all system was adopted in 1918. But the 1948 majority government decided to implement the Single Transferable Vote Proportional Representation to its Senate elections.
But a fresh review of the historical record shows that the 1948 decision was really the final stage in a frequently-deferred plan of parliamentary reform that goes back to Federation. Even before Federation, many prominent constitutional framers had expected the first Parliament to legislate for proportional representation for the Senate. Sure enough, the Barton government included Senate proportional representation in the original Electoral Act, but this was rejected in the Senate on the plausible ground that it would undermine the established conventions of strong party government.”
— Parliament of Australia: Why We Chose Proportional Representation
A mix of Alternative Vote (majority-preferential) and Proportional Representation (quota-preferential) can also be found in Australia’s provincial Upper and Lower Houses.
Although this system is so little used, the data is fairly consistent. New and small parties are allowed to participate, but the system is designed to funnel their votes back to the major parties, so although voters may be freer to actually vote for the candidate that would best represent their interests in Parliament, they are unlikely to ever elect them.
Because Alternative Vote raises the bar to 50%+1, Alternative Vote makes it even more difficult to elect women and minorities than under First Past the Post.
Alternative Vote is thought to provide an edge to centrist parties because centrist parties are likely to be the second choice of voters on both left and right. But this is still a winner-take-all system that leaves too large a proportion of Canadians without representation in Parliament. Adopting Alternative Vote would give the appearance of change while effectively retaining the status quo.
Does any electoral system have more aliases than Alternative Vote? Proponents of this system seem to be continually rebranding their favored winner-take-all electoral system, presumably to better market it to voters. This proliferation of names for the same system adds a great deal to the confusion around voting reform.
You might have noticed that Fair Vote Canada’s Thirteen Canadian Commissions, Assemblies and Reports that have recommended proportional representation Page doesn’t include a single recommendation for Alternative Vote.
While Alternative Vote is a single system with many different names, the defenders of the status quo very often give the impression that Proportional Representation is a single electoral system. This tactic frees them to cherry pick the worst examples of problems found among the 90+ countries that have adopted Proportional systems over the last century or so to “prove” this will happen if we adopt Proportional Representation.
Proportional Representation is not a single electoral system, it is the name given to the family of electoral systems that share the principle of proportionality. The one good thing about Canada’s tardiness in attending the Proportional Representation party is the wealth of data from which we can learn about successes and failures experienced by other countries. This way we can avoid the pitfalls while cherry picking the features we need to get the benefits we want from electoral reform.
The phrase “Proportional Representation” describes the outcome of elections in which the voting system ensures seats in Parliament are won in the proportion in which votes are cast. Which is to say 39% of the votes would equal 39% of the power in the legislature.
Single Transferable Vote
At a glance, the Single Transferable Vote looks very much like Alternative Vote. After all, both systems make use of the ranked ballot.
Very often the proven benefits of STV (the Single Transferable Vote) are mistakenly cited as benefits that would be achieved with Alternative Vote.
Single Transferable Vote (STV):
Citizens in multi-member ridings rank candidates on the ballot.
They may rank as few or as many candidates as they wish.
Winners are declared by first determining the total number of valid votes cast, and establishing a vote quota (or a minimum number of votes garnered); candidates must meet or exceed the quota in order to be elected.
Candidates who receive the number of first-preference votes needed to satisfy the quota are elected. Any remaining votes for these candidates (that is, first-preference votes in excess of the quota) are redistributed to the second choices on those ballots.
Once these votes are redistributed, if there are still seats available after the second count, the candidate with the fewest first-preference votes is dropped and the second-preference votes for that candidate are redistributed.
This process continues until enough candidates achieve the quota to fill all available seats.
In order to retain the size of the legislature, riding boundaries would need to be redrawn, so existing electoral districts would be amalgamated into larger districts. Voters can vote exclusively for the candidates they feel would represent them best, and partisan voters would have the opportunity to rank the candidates in their favoured party. Single Transferable Vote achieves proportionality naturally, without giving political parties any extra advantage.
Single Transferable Vote achieves proportionality simply by increasing the number of MPs that would represent each district. When only a single winner is possible, every party scrambles to run the candidate most likely to win most of the votes. This generally results in a pretty homogeneous bunch of candidates; in Canada it almost always means a white male. This is why Canada has such an abysmal record of electing women and minorities to our legislature, in spite of our vaunted multicultural diversity. Around the world Proportional Representation has track record of electing more diverse governments that better represent the diversity of the electorate. STV seems to do this best.
As I understand it, the difficulty in applying STV to a geographically enormous country like Canada can be quite a challenge. In order to achieve a reasonable level of proportionality, there must be a large enough number of enough MPs. Nine to Twelve member districts would be ideal, but would prove impractical. Such a system would require a fair bit of made-in-Canada tweaking for STV to be made to work effectively across this great nation.
Still, this is the 21st Century. We live in a time when digital technology has made two way communication with far away people not only possible, but easy. The Internet helps shrink enormous geographic distances into workable communities.
Additional Member System
You may have noticed this is the electoral system that has been most often recommended for Canada in the Recommended for Canada section near the top of this article. What you won’t see from my list is the many different ways of implementing a made-in-Canada version of MMP detailed on Fair Vote Canada’s Thirteen Canadian Commissions, Assemblies and Reports that have recommended proportional representation Page.
That’s the thing about MMP, it is an extraordinarily customizable system. Whenever anyone says, “this is MMP” and begins to explain it to you, chances are they are explaining their favoured rendition of it. The Canadian Government website’s description isn’t quite right, nor do I much like the UK Electoral Reform Society’s explanation of their version of MMP called Additional Member System as used in the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, and the Greater London Assembly.
What we all agree on is MMP is a hybrid system combining a Plurality and List PR systems, imposed on post WWII West Germany by the Allies.
The ballot comes in two parts, one side contains a list of candidates, and the voter marks an “X” beside the name of the chosen candidate.
The voter is expected to mark an “X” to indicate their favoured party on the other side of the ballot.
Everything is changeable.
Although the Candidate/Constituency side of the ballot is generally a First Past The Post ballot, it could just as easy be a ranked AV or STV style ballot. The Party side of the ballot also results in MPs, so the proportion of MPs on both sides is variable too. There might be more party MPs or less, or they could just as easily be the same.
But the most changable portion of the MMP vallot is the Party side. This is where we get into lists. There are three kinds of lists:
Closed List MMP
The list of candidates is decided by the party. The party ranks its candidates in the order in which it wants them.
Open List MMP
The list of candidates is included on the ballot, and the elector can vote for specific party candidate they like. This side of the ballot might be done with an “x” or it might be ranked.
As the name suggests, this system includes no list, like the Fair Vote mock Election MMPR ballots pictured here. In this type of system, the candidates on the first side are elected in the usual way, and the list side candidates are determined from among the candidates who were not elected. The party that needs 2 top-up candidates would get seats for their two unelected candidates who received the most votes.
Former Liberal Party Leader (and current cabinet minister) Stéphane Dion developed his own version of MMP he calls P3
Dual Member Proportional Representation
Dual-member Mixed Proportional
Dual Member Proportional (more formally known as Dual-member Mixed Proportional) is a proportional electoral system that was created by Sean Graham in 2013 with funding from the University of Alberta’s Undergraduate Research Initiative. It was designed to meet Canada’s unique needs and to bridge the gap between Single Transferable Vote and Mixed Member Proportional advocates.
— About DMP
Existing single member electoral districts would be amalgamated into 2 member ridings, so no new seats would need to be added to the Assembly. Each Party can field up to two candidates in each riding, but voters each cast only a single vote, either for an Independent candidate, or one of two ranked candidates running for a party (or only one party candidate if only one is nominated).
Each district would elect two MPs, the 1st candidate in the party with the most votes would win the first seat, and the second seat would be used to ensure overall proportionality.
A nice twist is that Independent candidates get a little edge; if an Independent candidate comes first or second, s/he will be guaranteed a seat.
This made-in-Canada Proportional system was been chosen to be one of the electoral systems included in the upcoming referendum scheduled to take place in November 2016 in Prince Edward Island.
So there you have it. If you are interested in more detailed information, both Fair Vote Canada and Wikipedia are good sources. Also, check out my PR4Canada resources page (which has a link in the sidebar).
Next up will be my Voting Glossary.
Although I will correct a typo, rearrange text for clarification or clean up other formatting errors without comment, when I make a substantive change to the content of an article published online, I always make note of it, as I am doing here: I’ve removed the following error of fact from the section about AV (Alternative Vote) above: “Since adopting AV, Australians have only ever managed to elect candidates from the three main parties to their House of Representatives.”
Thanks to Geoff Powell of PRSA (Proportional Representation Society of Australia) for pointing out my error:
“Adam Bandt (Greens) is the member for Melbourne in the House of Representatives. Independents have been elected to the House, but usually after falling out with the party under whose banner they were originally elected. Greens are making inroads in inner Melbourne and Sydney as these areas become gentrified. Of course Greens get close to their fair share in the [Proportional] Senate despite its malapportionment.”
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.
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 those 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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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!
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.
“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.
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 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:
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.
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.
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.
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.