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Entitlement

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When Canadians Learn about PR with CGP Grey

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

Canada’s current electoral system results in disproportional representation.  This is breathtakingly apparent when you look at the back to back “majority” governments we’ve had.  The thing that hits the eye with these two election result graphs is the almost identical consecutive wins achieved by different parties.  The 2011 Conservatives won a phony majority with 39% of the vote, just as the 2015 Liberals won a phony majority with 39% of the vote.  This is a winner take all system, so that’s the only part of the graph that matters.
Election Results: 2011 and 2015But looking at the details, you can see a clear picture of the unfairness in the system.

PopularVote-Seats-Bloc-Green 2011

 

In 2011 the Bloc Québécois won 4 seats with 6% of the vote.  In 2015 the Bloc Québécois won 10 seats with only 4.7% of the vote.

I don’t know about you, but I just can’t get my mind around the idea that fewer votes can more than double a party’s seats in Parliament.

In these two elections, the Green Party outcome was consistent, winning 1 seat with approximately 3 percent of the vote. 

While the Green Party’s 3-4% of the vote only won a single seat in Parliament, the Bloc’s 4-6% won four and ten seats respectively.   Such crazy math in the “easy to understand” First Past The Post is one of the reasons Canadians are likely to say “I don’t understand politics.”

There is a reason for the disparity between the two small parties.  While both parties suffer from the inequity in our Winner-Take-All system, the Green Party’s support is spread out across the Canada but Bloc voters are concentrated in the same geographic region.  With more Bloc voters in a riding, the party has a much better chance to win seats.

PopularVote-Seats-Bloc-Green 2011

With our single member plurality electoral system, the party that wins a majority of seats wins a disproportional amount of power.  This gives the candidate (and party) with the most votes the win.

Not just any win, THE win.

For a candidate, that means s/he is elected to be the only representative — and the only voice — for the electoral district where s/he was elected.  For a political party, that means a majority of seats, even though that party failed to win a majority of the votes cast.  And whenever anyone talks about electoral reform, that’s pretty much what everyone looks at: how our system works for political parties.

Too often forgotten in discussions of electoral reform is how our system works — or doesn’t — for the Canadian people.

Politics isn’t a job creation program for politicians, it is supposed to provide citizens with representation in Parliament so our laws and policy reflects what citizens want and need.

Our representatives are elected in single member electoral districts: that means each district elects only a single Member of Parliament who is expected to represent everyone in the electoral district.  That’s what Canadians are used to, and I (like most of us, I suspect) have long thought this is how it has to be because this is how it’s always been.  And yet I’ve learned Canada has used a variety of different voting methods in different parts of Canada over the years.   Although our MP can help us all equally if we bring them an administrative problem that requires cutting through bureaucratic red tape, or sometimes find a compromise that will satisfy most citizens, when it comes to policy, none of us can realistically expect an MP who campaigns in favour of one issue to fight against it after they have been elected.

As you can imagine, it isn’t often we’ll hear any sitting MP talking about this problem in public; so it was pretty impressive to hear former Guelph MP, Frank Valeriote admit this publicly during his last term of office.

What ordinary people expect from democracy — what we are told to expect — is that our MP will represent us. But the reality is that one person can’t possibly represent the opposing views of a hundred thousand constituents.

This is why multi-member districts — larger electoral districts which elect multiple MPs — are a great idea.  When more than one MP is elected in a district, more than one view from the district can be represented in Parliament. And after all, isn’t that the point of democracy?

Electoral Reform for Greens

How many votes does it take to get a seat in Parliament?

How many votes does it take to get a seat in Parliament?

Small parties almost always favour Proportional Representation because small parties and independent candidates are the most disadvantaged by winner-take-all systems.  The graph shows us just how badly the Green Party of Canada fared in 2015.  We all know that it was even worse in 2008 when almost a million votes failed to elect any Green candidates at all.  From the outside it looks as though the Green Party is doing badly… worse, in fact, than 2008.  Although I haven’t done a scientific study, or even conducted a public opinion poll, I don’t believe that for a minute.

Green supporters don’t often stop thinking green thoughts or wanting a sustainable future or believing green policy.  But in the face of an electoral system that makes it nearly impossible to get candidates elected, intelligent people very often switch to other parties in desperation.  Although we are all very much aware of the bigger parties appropriating Green policies, we don’t often realize this is often because Green supporters have brought them.

This is not just a Canadian problem; this is a feature of the First Past the Post electoral system.  If we look across the pond we can see the UK has the same problems with FPTP as we do.  In some ways even worse, as it took four million votes to elect a single UKIP MP in their most recent election.

Politics is not simply a numbers game.  Even though most Canadians haven’t really understood why our political system fails to work the way we think it should (by providing us with representation), most of us have known the system is badly broken for a very long time.  And since the system has not been working for us, so many Canadians have fallen under the spell of strategic voting in vain hopes of gaming the system to make it work for us.

I can’t tell you how many times during the campaign that people told Bob how much they wanted to vote for him but felt they couldn’t.  One of the very worst things about all this strategic voting is that because so many Canadians are not voting for who/what they want, the reality is there is no way to tell what most Canadians actually do want.  It’s kind of like not having accurate census data: in the absence of fact, the government is free to do whatever it likes.  Especially when a single party holds a majority.   And it is worse still when it’s a phony majority, as most of ours are.   Since 1945 there have only been 2 majority governments a majority of Canadians voted for, and before that, only 4 Canadian “majority” governments in Canada were actually elected by more than 50% of the vote.  And defenders of the status quo try to paint coalition government as undemocratic!

Proportional Representation for Canada will mean larger electoral districts which have more than a single MP, and they will almost always result in coalition governments. Far from being undemocratic, majority coalition governments are elected by an actual majority of voters!

Some people think the political parties advocating for electoral reform to Proportional Representation are doing it because it will give them an advantage.  This is simply not true.  Proportional Representation would most certainly improve the lot of the smaller parties, but not by giving them an unfair advantage, but by removing the unfair advantage the winning party gets under our winner-take-all system.  Proportional Representation is intended to ensure the votes each candidate and/or party earns is reflected in the power they get in Parliament.

Institutional Discrimination

Small parties suffer systemic discrimination in the Canadian system.  Even with sitting MPs, the Green Party of Canada and the Bloc Québécois are treated as equal.

The argument is that neither party has enough seats in the House of Commons to be counted as an official party.

But political parties are required to jump through bureaucratic government hoops to get registered by the government before any candidate is allowed to compete in an election under the party banner.  Federal Registration is how a political party gets on the ballot and becomes a real party.   Why isn’t a “Registered Party” an “Official Party”?

So where did this crazy idea that a party with a sitting MP is not a real party until X number of candidates have been elected come from?  If there was ever any doubt about the fact “X” is a purely arbitrary construct designed to privilege the two largest parties, it was dispelled in the aftermath of the 1993 Canadian election when the Progressive Conservative Party was reduced to two seats.  At that point an exception was made to allow the Progressive Conservative Party to retain the special perks of “official party” status even though it had only 2 seats.  In spite of the fact the Canadian electorate had just unambiguously indicated that party should no longer be so entitled.

So while the Progressive Conservative Party whose governance angered an overwhelming number of Canadians was allowed to retain its privilege, a Green Party with 2 sitting MPs was not an “Official Party,” any more than the Bloc Québécois is today with 10 sitting MPs.

The Parliament Buildings

If the number of votes needed to elect a Member of Parliament was consistent, the Green Party would have earned enough votes to elect 16 MPs in 2015.  Which ought to be more than enough to achieve official party status even in our Winner-Take-All world.  But the system we have in place is not about fairness for Canadians, it’s about keeping the real power in the right hands.

The idea that any candidate who wins an election and goes to Ottawa to sit as a Member of Parliament should be denied the same rights and respect as any other MP is not only ludicrous, it is undemocratic.  

The problem is not so much that the candidate or the party is discriminated against, although that certainly isn’t fair.  The real trouble is that the citizens who elected these MPs are being discriminated against.  Our winner-take-all system has allowed the deck to be stacked against small parties and independent candidates, but worst of all, against citizens.

A million and a half Canadian voters who ought to be entitled to representation — even in our terribly unrepresentative representative democracy — have been relegated to second class status.

The Committee Has Landed

Nathan Cullen's proposed committeeNow the Liberals have finally announced the electoral reform committee, and I am rather put out at its announced composition.  The pessimist part of me (worried the Liberal Party is merely going through the motions with a pre-determined outcome ahead) was kind of expecting something like this.  Particularly after the NDP’s Nathan Cullen’s made a public proposal for a proportional committee.  That the Government chose to ignore Mr. Cullen’s proposal undermines Liberal talk of overcoming partisanship.  Winner-take-all voting systems inherently discourage parties from working together, even when they are in full agreement because working together might help the other party to be the single winner and lock your party out.  If the Liberal plan is to come out of this with Alternative Vote (another winner-take-all voting system) this would make a lot of sense.

Although the Greens and the Bloc have been invited to the supposed “all party committee,” their participation has been limited to second class status as they are not allowed to make motions or vote.  But that’s okay… they’re not “official.”

 Referendum?

Those calling for a referendum on whether we should have electoral reform have said there is no mandate for any such a change since the Liberal Party was only elected with 39% of the votes cast.   I have argued that even though the Liberal Party was not elected by a majority of citizens, a clear majority of citizens voted for parties supporting electoral reform.  This broad base of support for electoral reform does indeed provide a mandate for change.  But any way you slice it, the election we just had did not deliver deliver a broad base of support for unilateral electoral reform imposed by the Liberal Party.  Referenda are not now (nor have ever been) a part of Canada’s political framework.   This means first that no Canadian government has any constitutional requirement to have one for any reason.  But what it also means that any government that chooses to have a referendum has absolute freedom to do it any way they like.  Which makes it inordinately easy for our referendums to be designed to fail.

Canadians have been trying to get electoral reform for a long time.  We are at a point now where we no longer have the luxury of sitting on our hands and waiting for some benevolent government to give it to us.  That is simply not going to happen.  I suspect the real reason electoral reform is on the table at all is due to the growing frustration Canadians have felt with a “representative government” that doesn’t function as advertised.  Although Canadian governments have no qualms about ignoring what Canadians want  in the regular scheme of things, but they are clever enough to listen to public opinion that is loud enough.

What we can do

Still, most Canadians are not aware of the importance of electoral reform, in large part due to the absolutely stellar job the mainstream media has done to in ignoring the issue or publishing misinformation about it.  There is no doubt in my mind that New Zealand’s success in adopting Proportional Representation had a lot to do with the fact some of the mainstream media supported it, and so the public actually got enough public education to be able to make an informed choice.

While we do not have that luxury, what we do have is the Internet, alternate media and social media.  We need to keep talking about this publicly, online and in person.  The beauty of social media is that it means we can share links to articles with our family and friends without having to get into arguments at the family picnic.

Even though we don’t control the mainstream media, we have the Internet.

If we want Proportional Representation, if we want to make the world a better place for our kids, we have to do what we can now, before the window of opportunity closes.

What this really boils down to is that all Canadians are entitled to representation in Parliament.  There are many ways to do that, but they *all* involve some form of Proportional Representation. Elizabeth May cropped cc 4311sm

Sign and Share Elizabeth May’s
Proportional Representation Petition
http://elizabethmaymp.ca/get-involved/proportional-representation

The Broadbent Institute has an electoral reform petition too:
http://www.broadbentinstitute.ca/pr_petition

as does Leadnow:
http://www.leadnow.ca/votebetter/

 

a horizontal border of red graphic maple leaves

Image Credits:

Nathan Cullen in Montreal by Jonathan Allard was released under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)  license
Parliament Buildings by Roger Duhamel is in the Public Domain
All other images by Laurel L. Russwurm are released under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License of the blog or dedicated to the Public Domain via CC0


back to When Canadians Learn about PR with CGP Grey

Proportional Representation For Canada series so far:

• Proportional Representation for Canada
• What’s so bad about First Past The Post
• Democracy Primer
• Working for Democracy
• The Popular Vote
• Why Don’t We Have PR Already?
• Stability
• Why No Referendum?
• Electoral System Roundup
• When Canadians Learn about PR with CGP Grey
• Entitlement
and don’t forget to check out the PR4Canada Resources page!

Written by Laurel L. Russwurm

May 13, 2016 at 11:27 pm

2 minutes on the TPP

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This is a guest post by Verna Brunet, an ordinary Canadian with serious concerns about the Trans-Pacific Partnership.


TPP Rally in Ottawa cc by SumOfUs
Yesterday I went to Windsor, Ontario to join the protest against the TPP outside the hotel where the Trudeau Liberal government was holding consultations on this treasonous trade agreement.

My sign read:

TPP is Oligarchy
Oligarchy is a corruption of Democracy

I was told that we could speak to the government for maximum 2 minutes between 2pm and 3pm, if we signed up.

The problem with me has never been how to get me to shoot off my mouth. The usual issue is how in the world to shut me up once I get started.

Didn’t have anything prepared. Had to scramble some notes.

Here’s what I said:

The people of Canada elected your party to administer our DEMOCRACY.
The TPP destroys our democracy, replacing it with OLIGARCHY.
We the people have never given you the authority to do that.
The TPP makes the Trudeau Liberals, like the Harper Conservatives before them, a rogue government.

Secret ISDS courts are a swift kick I’m the face of
Democracy
and a sucker punch to the gut of
Justice

The only right protected by this sickening trade agreement is the insane, irrational right of millionaires to make a profit.

We elected you to govern in a manner that protects our economic rights.
Instead you have sold our economic rights to the elite 1%.
You are a rogue government.

The TPP allows the pathologically greedy millionaires to erase the last shreds of our cherished and democratic environmental protection laws.

These are the same environmental laws we elected you to protect and enforce.

With these toxic trade agreements you have become a rogue government like the Harper Conservative government before you.

The TPP allows pathologically greedy millionaires to erase the last frail shreds of our civil rights — the same rights we elected you to restore.

You have betrayed us.
You are a rogue government.

You campaigned on CHANGE
You have failed to change:
the TPP
the ISDS courts.

As a Democratic government you are a failure.

a horizontal border of red graphic maple leaves
Image Credit
TPP rally. Ottawa, Canada, June 10 2014 by SumOfUs was released under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license.

Written by Laurel L. Russwurm

May 13, 2016 at 8:22 pm

Special Committee on electoral reform

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The Honourable Maryam Monsef, Minister of Democratic InstitutionsDuring the 2015 Federal Election, the Liberal Party promised to convene an All Party Committee to consider electoral reform so that 2015 would be our last election using First Past The Post.

Minister Monsef and House Leader LeBlanc are scheduled to Make an Announcement on Electoral Reform at 9:00am today ~ Wednesday, May 11, 2016

From the Order Paper we learn the Canadian Government has announced the electoral reform committee:

Government Business

No. 5
— May 10, 2016
— The Minister of Democratic Institutions —
That a Special Committee on electoral reform be appointed to identify and conduct a study of viable alternate voting systems, such as preferential ballots and proportional representation, to replace the first-past-the-post system, as well as to examine mandatory voting and online voting, and to assess the extent to which the options identified could advance the following principles for electoral reform:

(a) Effectiveness and legitimacy: that the proposed measure would increase public confidence among Canadians that their democratic will, as expressed by their votes, will be fairly translated and that the proposed measure reduces distortion and strengthens the link between voter intention and the election of representatives;

(b) Engagement: that the proposed measure would encourage voting and participation in the democratic process, foster greater civility and collaboration in politics, enhance social cohesion and offer opportunities for inclusion of underrepresented groups in the political process;

(c) Accessibility and inclusiveness: that the proposed measure would avoid undue complexity in the voting process, while respecting the other principles, and that it would support access by all eligible voters regardless of physical or social condition;

(d) Integrity: that the proposed measure can be implemented while safeguarding public trust in the election process, by ensuring reliable and verifiable results obtained through an effective and objective process that is secure and preserves vote secrecy for individual Canadians;

(e) Local representation: that the proposed measure would ensure accountability and recognize the value that Canadians attach to community, to Members of Parliament understanding local conditions and advancing local needs at the national level, and to having access to Members of Parliament to facilitate resolution of their concerns and participation in the democratic process;

that the Committee be directed to issue an invitation to each Member of Parliament to conduct a town hall in their respective constituencies and provide the Committee with a written report of the input from their constituents to be filed with the Clerk of the Committee no later than October 1, 2016;

that the Committee be directed to take into account the applicable constitutional, legal and implementation parameters in the development of its recommendations; accordingly, the Committee should seek out expert testimony on these matters;

that the Committee be directed to consult broadly with relevant experts and organizations, take into consideration consultations that have been undertaken on the issue, examine relevant research studies and literature, and review models being used or developed in other jurisdictions;

that the Committee be directed to develop its consultation agenda, working methods, and recommendations on electoral reform with the goal of strengthening the inclusion of all Canadians in our diverse society, including women, Indigenous Peoples, youth, seniors, Canadians with disabilities, new Canadians and residents of rural and remote communities;

that the Committee be directed to conduct a national engagement process that includes a comprehensive and inclusive consultation with Canadians through written submissions and online engagement tools;

that the Committee be composed of ten (10) members of which six (6) shall be government members, three (3) shall be from the Official Opposition, and one (1) shall be from the New Democratic Party; and that one (1) member from the Bloc Québécois, and the Member for Saanich-Gulf Islands also be members of the Committee but without the right to vote or move any motion;

that changes in the membership of the Committee be effective immediately after notification by the Whip has been filed with the Clerk of the House;

that membership substitutions be permitted, if required, in the manner provided for in Standing Order 114(2);

that, with the exception of the Member for Saanich-Gulf Islands, all other members shall be named by their respective Whip by depositing with the Clerk of the House the list of their members to serve on the Committee no later than ten (10) sitting days following the adoption of this motion;

that the Committee be chaired by a member of the government party; that, in addition to the Chair, there be one (1) Vice-Chair from the Official Opposition and one (1) Vice-Chair from the New Democratic Party, and that, notwithstanding Standing Order 106(3), all candidates for the position of Chair or Vice-Chair from the Official Opposition shall be elected by secret ballot, and that each candidate be permitted to address the Committee for not more than three (3) minutes;

that the quorum of the Committee be as provided for in Standing Order 118, provided that at least four members are present and provided that one (1) member from the government party and one (1) member from an opposition party are present;

that the Committee be granted all of the powers of a standing committee, as provided in the Standing Orders, as well as the power to travel, accompanied by the necessary staff, inside and outside of Canada;

that the Committee have the power to authorize video and audio broadcasting of any or all of its proceedings; and

that the Committee present its final report no later than December 1, 2016.

Notice Paper | No. 53 | Wednesday, May 11, 2016 |2:00 p.m.

Of concern to me is the composition of the 10 members of the Committee:

  • 6 Liberals
  • 3 Conservatives
  • 1 NDP
  • 1 Bloc
  • 1 Green

Which is 12 seats on the committee of ten… which seems confusing until you read the part that says the Bloc and Green MPs are unequal members of the Committee,

 

…without the right to vote or move any motion;”

So it seems that the promised “all party committee” is more optical illusion than a reflection of reality.

This does not bode well.

a horizontal border of red graphic maple leaves

Image Credit:

“The Honourable Maryam Monsef, Minister of Democratic Institutions” by Laurel Russwurm is released under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License

When Canadians Learn about PR with CGP Grey

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Electoral System Roundup

Go to "Entitlement"Canadians Deserve Better -Proportional Representation - on Canadian Flag backgroundThis is the tenth in the Whoa!Canada: Proportional Representation Series

Electoral Reform is a complex subject, and worse, one Canadians don’t have a lot of experience with, so misinforming us is far too easy.

To understand Proportional Representation, and a lot of people start with C.G.P Grey’s “Politics In The Animal Kingdom” video series on voting systems.  His videos are engaging and easy to understand.  I would recommend

Part I: The Problems With First Past The Post Voting, Part III: Gerrymandering, and Part V: Single Transferable Vote to anyone, but I have issues with the other two videos.


Part II: The Alternative VoteKing Murray

CGP Grey says, “any problem Alternative Vote has, First Past The Post also shares.”

But this is not entirely true.  To start, Alternative Vote raises the threshold to be elected from simply getting the most votes to a requirement for 50+1%.  This has the unfortunate effect of making it even more difficult for women and minorities to get elected.   This is why, much as I dislike FPTP, given a choice between keeping what we have and moving to  AV (Alternative Vote) I would choose FPTP (as the United Kingdom Did).

Then Mr. Grey goes on to note both winner-take-all systems:

  • allow gerrymandering
  • are not proportional
  • can’t guarantee a Condorcet winner
  • prevent political diversity and trend toward a 2 party system

These disadvantages are all true (and why we need Proportional Representation).

But then Mr. Grey tells us that Alternative Vote has one huge advantage over FPTP: No Spoiler Effect.

Spoiler Effect: When there are more than two parties in a winner-take-all election, small party candidates can earn votes that would otherwise go to a big party, preventing it from becoming the winner when the other big party would not have become the single winner otherwise.

Since the spoiler effect tends to result in election outcomes people don’t want, many voters resort to “strategic voting.”  This has become an increasingly accepted necessary evil embraced by Canadians in an attempt to game our broken system.  Canadian citizens who support small parties are constantly urged not to vote for the candidate they believe will best represent them, but rather to vote for a candidate/party they don’t really like to prevent a candidate/party they really hate from being the winner.

And yet in any election, there is always a possibility — no matter how slight — that a small party might win a majority (if it has enough candidates). The Canadian reality is you can never be absolutely certain which party is the “spoiler,” as we saw during the 2011 Election, when the Liberals urged everyone to vote for their candidates.  But it was only after the election that we learned the Liberal Party had actually been the spoiler preventing the NDP from forming government.

“Using the Alternative Vote, citizens can help support and grow smaller parties they agree with without worrying they will put someone they don’t like into office.”
CGP Grey, The Alternative Vote

The main source of Alternative Vote data is Australia, the only country that has stuck with Alternative Vote for any length of time.  AV was adopted in 1912, but even there, although they continued to use this winner-take-all system in their House of Representatives, in the 1940’s Proportional Representation was implemented in their Senate.  And what we do know from Australia is that even though strategic voting is more difficult with a preferential voting system, far from eliminating strategic voting, Australia’s political parties have institutionalized the process.  They hand out “how to vote” cards so their voters know precisely how they must mark their ballots to achieve their strategic objectives.

It is important for anyone watching the C G P Grey video to be mindful that Alternative Vote:

(a) raises the bar (from plurality to majority) which places women and minority candidates at greater disadvantage,

(b) doesn’t eliminate the spoiler effect, and can result in the institutionalization of strategic voting,and

(c) although AV makes it safe to vote for who we want, if we don’t support the big parties, we are no more likely to actually elect who we want.

And even if our second choice might help elect someone else, nothing in the world will make a second choice equivalent to a first choice. I’m already a second class voter, I don’t need a new electoral system that does the same thing.

All of which suggests that AV is likely even worse than FPTP.


Part IV: Mixed Member Proportional

The problem with the CGP Grey MMP video is that it presents Closed List MMP as the way to do MMP.  This is indeed how it is done in New Zealand, but there are many ways to accomplish Mixed Member Proportional Representation, and MMP needn’t have Closed Lists at all.

The way in which lists are handled in MMP can make a huge difference.

For Ontario’s electoral reform referendum in 2007, the Citizen’s coalition tasked with studying different systems settled on Mixed Member Proportional. But because they were pressed for time, they were not up to speed on the List issue, so they chose Closed List MMP.  There were many factors in the failure of the 2007 referendum, but because the system on offer was Closed List MMP, many electoral reformers voted against it.

The truth is that New Zealand and Germany are both happy with Closed List MMP.  But Canadians are very resistant to giving extra power over elections to political parties.  Mr. Gray points out this problem, but his video makes it seem as though this is a necessary part of MMP.  But it isn’t.  Canadians are much more likely to choose Open Lists that allow voters to vote for specific candidates on the party list side of the ballot, or even a listless system, where the party side MPs are chosen from the candidates with the greatest number of votes who did not win constituency seats.

It’s also possible to use AV or STV instead of FPTP to elect local candidates, but the point is there are *many* different ways MMP can be achieved, but Mr. Gray’s excellent video makes a case for the form of MMP most electoral reformers believe Canadians are least likely to accept.


Mr. Gray’s series of videos is very good, but it is important for Canadian learners to be aware of these issues.
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I had hoped to have my Glossary finished for today, but as I am still editing the PR vs AV video, there simply wasn’t time. I hope to manage to get both finished by the end of next week.

Electoral System Roundup

Go to "Entitlement"
Proportional Representation For Canada series so far:

 Proportional Representation for Canada
• What’s so bad about First Past The Post
• Democracy Primer
• Working for Democracy
• The Popular Vote
• Why Don’t We Have PR Already?
• Stability
• Why No Referendum?
• Electoral System Roundup
• When Canadians Learn about PR with CGP Grey
• Entitlement
and don’t forget to check out the PR4Canada Resources page!

Written by Laurel L. Russwurm

May 6, 2016 at 8:54 pm

Posted in Canada

Electoral System Roundup

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Why No Referendum?When Canadians Learn about PR with CGP Grey

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

Rep By Pop

George Brown

George Brown

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

Sir Sandford Fleming

Sir Sandford Fleming

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.

  1. 1977: Manitoba Law Reform Commission Working Paper on Electoral Reform recommended Single Transferable Vote (STV) in urban areas.
  2. 1979: Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s Pepin-Robarts Commission recommended Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) for Canada
  3. 1984:  Quebec Electoral Representation Commission tabled a report recommending Proportional Representation
  4. 2003: Quebec’s Estates General on the Reform of Democratic Institutions recommended Mixed Member Proportional (MMP)
  5. 2003:  Prince Edward Island’s Hon. Norman Carruthers Report recommended Mixed Member Proportional (MMP)
  6. 2003:  Quebec government study led to a Quebec government recommendation of MMP
  7. 2004:  The Law Commission of Canada 3 three-year study/Consultation recommended Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) for Canada
  8. 2004:  British Columbia Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform recommended Single Transferable Vote (STV)
  9. 2005:  New Brunswick’s Commission on Legislative Democracy recommended Mixed Member Proportional (MMP)
  10. 2006:  Quebec Citizens’ Committee Report recommended Mixed Member Proportional (MMP)
  11. 2006:  Quebec Select Committee Report recommended Mixed Member Proportional (MMP)
  12. 2007:  Ontario Citizens’ Assembly recommended Mixed Member Proportional (MMP)
  13. 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.

Electoral Systems

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.
Winner-Take-All

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.


FPTPFPTP
FPTP ballotFirst 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.”

— Electoral Systems and Electoral Reform in Canada and Elsewhere: An Overview: 2.1 Canada’s “First-Past-the-Post” Electoral System

And, of course, this is the voting system Mr. Trudeau vowed to replace.


AVAVAV (Alternative Vote)
Alternative Vote
majority-preferential
Preferential Voting
PV
Preferential Ballot
PB
Instant Runoff Voting
IRV
Ranked Ballot
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.

— Electoral Systems and Electoral Reform in Canada and Elsewhere: 3.1 Plurality or Majority Systems

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.

proportional representation

Proportional Representation

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.


STVSTVSTV (Single Transferable Vote) ballot
Single Transferable Vote
quota-preferential
ranked ballot
Proportional Ballot
Preferential Ballot

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.

— Electoral Systems and Electoral Reform in Canada and Elsewhere: 3.2 Proportional Representation Systems

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.


MMPMMPFair Vote MMP mock election ballot
Mixed-Member Proportional
MMPR
MMPRS
Additional Member System
AMS

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.

Mock MMPR Ballot #2That’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.Mock MMPR Ballot #3

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
Mock MMPR Ballot #4
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.

Listless MMP
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


DMPDual-member Mixed Proportional ballot
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.


Erratum

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.”

Thanks, Geoff!

Families of Electoral SystemsWhen Canadians Learn about PR with CGP Grey

Why No Referendum?
Proportional Representation For Canada series so far:

 Proportional Representation for Canada
 What’s so bad about First Past The Post
 Democracy Primer
 Working for Democracy
 The Popular Vote
 Why Don’t We Have PR Already?
 Stability
 Why No Referendum?
 Electoral System Roundup
 When Canadians Learn about PR with CGP Grey
 Entitlement
and don’t forget to check out the PR4Canada Resources page!

Written by Laurel L. Russwurm

April 30, 2016 at 6:58 pm

Posted in Canada, Electoral Reform, Politics

Tagged with , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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 »

StabilityElectoral System Roundup
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 Vote Waterloo YouTube Channel here:

Electoral System Roundup

Stability
Proportional Representation For Canada series so far:

 Proportional Representation for Canada
 What’s so bad about First Past The Post
 Democracy Primer
 Working for Democracy
 The Popular Vote
 Why Don’t We Have PR Already?
 Stability
 Why No Referendum?
 Electoral System Roundup
 When Canadians Learn about PR with CGP Grey
 Entitlement
and don’t forget to check out the PR4Canada Resources page!

Written by Laurel L. Russwurm

April 16, 2016 at 2:42 am

Posted in Canada

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