The Popular Vote

Working for DemocracyWhy Don’t We Have PR Already?

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Language of Elections

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

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

Why Don’t We Have PR Already?

Working for Democracy
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
• Proportional Representation vs. Alternative Vote
• #ERRE #Q Committee
• #ERRE #Q Meetings & Transcripts
• Take The Poll ~ #ERRE #Q
Proportionality #ERRE #Q 
• The Poll’s The Thing 
• DIY Electoral Reform Info Sessions
• What WE Can Do for ERRE
• #ERRE today and Gone Tomorrow (…er, Friday) 
• Redistricting Roulette 
• #ERRE submission Deadline TONIGHT!

 and don’t forget to check out the PR4Canada Resources page!

42nd Canadian Election #elxn42

X marks the ballotThe long awaited 2015 federal election has been called, so Canadians are now being treated to one of the longest Federal Elections in Canadian History.  Because of strict spending caps, the standard election period has traditionally been half as long as the one we are having now.  Since the passage of the Harper Government’s Orwellianly titled “Fair Elections Act,” any party with an absurdly large budget (like, say, the Conservative Party of Canada) has an even better chance to outspend the other parties.  Will they be able to effectively “buy” an election win in this way?  I hope not.

Right now all the parties are scrambling to put on their game faces, but I have no doubt election fever will slow down a good bit until we get closer to the election.  We have time to catch our breath.  More important, we have time to start conversations about the Canada we want to have.  About the future we want for ourselves, and for our kids.

British SuffragetteThey call it “voter apathy” but I believe that’s a misnomer: we ought to call it “Voter Disillusionment.”  Although our electoral system is not only antiquated but unfair, a great many Canadians — on the order of 40% in 2011 — have become disillusioned or have other reasons for not getting out to vote.  The fewer Canadians who vote, the weaker our representation in Parliament, as we can see from much of the legislation pushed through with little or no scrutiny by our current majority government.

Originally, our First Past The Post electoral system was designed to serve rich white men.  It was only well into the 20th century that all Canadian citizens of legal age finally achieved the right to vote, but still, the system adopted before confederation wasn’t never intended to serve all Canadians.   No one knows better than I — after 30+ years of voting in every election without ever sending a representative to Parliament — just how unfair our winner-take-all electoral system actually is.  However, this year, meaningful electoral reform to Proportional Representation is indeed on the table.  The Harper Government has a majority government– and 100% of the power — based on less than 40% of the vote.  In the last election, more eligible Canadian voters did not vote than those who voted for the Harper Government’s majority.   If all the disillusioned Canadian voters were to vote this year, things would indeed change.

Canada’s fortunes will certainly improve with a switch to a better form of representative democracy, so I encourage everyone reading this to do your best to engage any other eligible voters you know who might ordinarily not vote to go to the polls this fall.  We see enough attack ads on tv… it is time for civil discussion about politics in our real lives.  My own strong hope is that the disillusioned voters will cast their votes for candidates who support Proportional Representation, but just voting for what you want is just as important.  Please consider: it is the Canadians who don’t vote who have the least representation in Ottawa.

It may help to direct any such potential voters to the many valuable online resources (here’s a borrowed list) to help them get informed, but please try not to influence their decision.  People who don’t believe they can vote for what they want are much less likely to vote at all, so please try to encourage them to vote for the candidate they believe will best represent them in Ottawa. Canada Flag Banner

 

 

 

 

FVC Waterloo meets MP Stephen Woodworth

Stephen Woodworth's Kitchener Centre Constituency Office
Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth’s Kitchener Centre constituency office.

Bob Jonkman and Sharon Sommerville
Fair Vote Waterloo’s former Co-Chair Bob Jonkman with current FVC WRC Co-Chair Sharon Sommerville

David, Bob and Sharon look at the map

Getting a sneak peak at Waterloo Region’s new electoral riding.

The FVC WRC Delegation
The Delegation:  David Lubell, Shannon Adshade, Sharon Sommerville and Bob Jonkman
present MP Stephen Woodworth with a petition asking for electoral reform.

MP Stephen Woodworth

Mr. Woodworth accepts the Fair Vote Electoral Reform Petition which he will present to Parliament.

The MP holds the petition

MP Stephen Woodworth and FV WRC co-chair Shannon Adshade

MP Stephen Woodworth and FVC WRC Co-Chair Shannon Adshade.

Stephen Woodworth discusses electoral reform with the delegation.

MP Stephen Woodworth is the current Conservative Member of Parliament
for Kitchener Centre in Ontario.

Discussing political reformA lively discussion: MP Stephen Woodworth discusses parliamentary reform with the FVC delegation,
Shannon Adshade, Bob Jonkman, David Lubell and Sharon Sommerville.

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All photographs by Laurel L. Russwurm are released under a
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0) License

Democracy Theatre

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In the National Post, Andrew Coyne asks:

“The economy is in good shape, so why is support for the Conservatives slumping?”

I’m making Mother’s Day cards right now so I don’t have time to read the article, but even having only read the blurb, I find myself disagreeing with Andrew Coyne’s conclusion.

The Tories have not gone out of their way to alienate anyone. They are simply doing the job they were elected to do.

The Harper governmenr is doing an excellent job of serving the only constituents they represent. Their party is legally empowered to govern in this way because our inequitable winner-take-all electoral system gives all of the power to the party that secures more seats than any other. 

Ours is not a democratic system. 

The problem with a winner-take-all system like ours is that a majority government is a dictatorship.

 flag smallThe rest of us don’t count any more than our votes do.

That is the reality built into Canada’s winner-take-all electoral system.

Only the elite whose votes elect the government secure representation in government.

The electoral reform Andrew Coyne supports is called “Alternative Vote” ~ although various spin doctors have rebranded it “Preferential Voting” (Liberal Party) or “IRV” (RaBIT). Some people like this alternate winner-take-all electoral system because they believe it will game the system so their party will get the dictatorial power currently enjoyed by the ruling party.

No matter how good the intentions, no matter how benevolent, a dictatorship is not democratic. Every time I hear people slamming Canadians for our low voter turnout it makes my blood boil. It isn’t that Canadians don’t care, it’s that each generation has learned that our elections are as meaningless as the elections in any banana republic.

When most votes don’t count, what you’re left with is really only democracy theatre.

I don’t think we can afford to pay the price demanded by anyone’s defacto dictatorship.

On this Mother’s Day, I reflect on why I write this blog: as a mother, I believe all of our kids deserve to live in a real democracy. But that will only happen with meaningful electoral reform to Proportional Representation.

All Canadians should be represented by our government. 

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Minister Fantino’s Inappropriate Use of Government Website

A Canadian flag flies at half mast against a blue skyGovernment of Canada websites have, for the most part, made extremely good use of the Internet. Canadians benefit from access to government information and legislation available online.

Until now.

It was quite shocking to find a vitriolic tirade Canadian International Development Agency | Dear NDP: CIDA Does Not Need Your Economic Advice published on a Government of Canada website by Canada’s Minister for International Cooperation, Julian Fantino.

[Note: The CIDA page was taken down, so the above link goes to the article in the Google cache ]

Although Canada currently has a government formed by the Conservative Party of Canada, the New Democratic Party has enough elected Members of Parliament to form the Official Opposition, which is also a part of the Canadian Government. Even if the NDP did not, as a duly registered political party representing any number of Canadian citizens, members of the NDP are certainly entitled to their own opinions and policies. Even when such opinions are published in the Huffington Post.

If Minister Fantino wished to respond to MP Helen Laverdière’s piece, he could have done so with his own submission to the Huffington Post. Or he could have submitted such a rebuttal elsewhere. Surely the Globe and Mail or the National Post would have been happy to oblige. Had he preferred to dispense with editorial oversight, he could have instead posted this diatribe under his own byline on his own blog. Or on any Conservative Party of Canada website or blog.

Minister Fantino’s ill advised decision to publish this partisan attack on a Federal Government website is clearly inappropriate.

Canadian Government websites are ultimately the property of Canadians, who come in many different shapes, sizes and ideologies. In order to properly serve our multifaceted, multicultural, multipartisan nation, Canadian Government websites must remain politically nonpartisan if they are to retain any credibility.

Minister Fantino has given the Canadian Government a black eye through this self serving overreach of authority. And Canada’s Minister for International Cooperation seems incapable of cooperating with his peers.

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P.S. I am pleased to report that Minister Fantino’s original article was taken down during the writing of this article. For anyone interested in reading it I’ve provided a link to Google’s cache of the document.

Canadian Politics

protester holding a sign in the 13 Heros protestGenerally speaking, I don’t like political parties.

What I don’t like is the idea of political parties in this land that is supposed to be a representative democracy.  The way a representative democracy is supposed to work, is that we vote for and elect the candidate we think will best represent us. We elect the candidate we believe will vote for or against proposed laws as we would.  So that our best interests will be represented within the halls of our democratic government.

The problem is, once elected, “our” elected representative is more likely to do the bidding of their party than they are to do what we want.  Which rather makes a mockery of our “representatation.”

The inequity of our “winner take all” political system means any party holding a majority of seats in parliament has absolute power to enact any legislation it wants.  For the entire term.

looking up at protesters and signs

Our political system is older than Canada.  Perhaps our flavour of representative democracy was good enough back in 1867, when communication and transportation were far from instantaneous, and governing a land mass the size of Canada was geographically challenging.  But with today’s connectivity and access to information, our political system is sorely outdated and hugely inequitable.  Worse, our “democracy” has few if any checks and balances to prevent abuse.  When we are cursed with a majority government, what we effectively have is a time limited dictatorship.

(The Senate is supposed to provide “sober second thought,” but partisan Senate padding has resulted in the upper chamber being transformed into a rubber stamp for the party that stacks it the most.)

Because our electoral system is so terribly broken,  when any such a majority government seeks to pass laws  we don’t approve — the only recourse open to Canadians is to apply the pressure of public opinion.  Citizens have to protest in any way we can.  All we can do is hope that our government will take heed of our concerns and correct or drop legislation that is not in the public good.

KW Voted 4 U

Last summer a great many Canadians were upset by the Conservative “Black Mark Budget”  Omnibus bill.   Under our woefully antiquated “democracy,” any majority government has the power to pass any law, no matter how unpopular.  And when many pieces of unrelated legislation are bundled together and called an “omnibus,” it means these laws are very nearly being passed in secret, because they receive only the most cursory public scrutiny and debate.  In a democratic state, at minimum legislation deserves examination and dissent must be heard, even if the system allows for bad law to be passed anyway in the end.  We deserve to know when bad law is made.

Because of the current Federal Conservative Majority, the only way to stop the Bill C-38 ominbudget from passing would have been for 13 Conservative MPs to vote against it.  An awful lot of ordinary Canadians took to the streets in protest.  People who had never lifted before lifted a picket sign in their lives waved them with gusto.   Grandparemts, parents, children.   A great deal of public pressure was in fact brought to bear.  In Waterloo Region, Peter Braid pretended not to have seen the protest outside his office, while Stephen Woodworth magnanimously offered his protesters coffee.  Still, in spite of the many protests made at Conservative MP constituency offices across Canada, not a single Conservative MP voted against Party dictates.

Not long afterward, I heard Stephen Woodworth defending his decision to vote against his constituents at the Kitchener Multicultural Festival.   In the few minutes I was there,  the Member of Parliament explained to two different constituents that he had been unable to vote against Bill C-38 as they wanted,  because it would have meant opposing the directives of his political party.  The orders issued by his party prevented him from representing the voters who elected him.

Omnibudget Protest 2012

Money Makes the World Go Around

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Things are pretty bad when a supposedly democratic government ignores the voters.  Our system wasn’t entirely fair back in 1867, but it has been gamed and fiddled with by succeeding governments in attempts to give the ruling party an unfair advantage ever since.  Is it any wonder that almost half of our eligible voters don’t even bother anymore? Canadians know all too well that all votes don’t count, nor are all votes equal.  The system is so badly broken that strategic voting is considered a legitimate option.  Something’s got to give.

The Canada that my child will inherit is much worse than the Canada I inherited. We no longer have the option of leaving politics to the politicians.  Canadians need to start talking and thinking about politics. We have to stand up for change now or things will keep getting worse.

Today’s political parties seem to spend more time fund raising than campaigning. Why do they need so much cash? Seems they all need oodles of money to pay the costs of television advertising, which gets more expensive all the time. Of course, print advertising and robocalls don’t come cheap either…

With the phasing out of the per vote subsidy, money becomes a much bigger issue, particularly for the smaller political parties.

It is always easier for the rich to bankroll their political party (and get the laws that benefit them passed) but the rest of us need some political representation too.  If you feel any political party has stood up for you, or the issues you feel are important maybe you ought to send them a donation.

Perhaps the Pirate Party stood up for privacy and Internet Freedom… or the Green Party fought for the environment… or the Liberal Party is changing the way a political party works… or the NDP is standing up for First Nations… or the Conservative Party put the abortion debate back to sleep.

If you happen to have any cash left on hand after the holidays and want to encourage the party of your choice to keep up the good work, now is the time to make a donation.  A $10.00 donation actually only costs you $2.50 after you get $7.50 back in tax credit.

This is how it works:

Canadian Political Donation Facts

Maximum political contribution limit: $1,200
Donations between 0 and $400 ~ a 75% tax credit
Donations between $400 and $750 ~ $300 tax credit plus 50% of any amount over $400;
Donations over $750 ~ $475 + 33.3% of amount over $750 (max $650 per year tax credit)
Any contributions must be made by Monday, December 31st to be eligible for 2012 tax credits.

Another thing to do is get involved. Find out when and where the local political parties meet, and go sit in. Look for your local Fair Vote chapter or Co-Operate for Canada. Read the news. Follow #CDNpoli on Twitter. Listen. Learn.

Canadians need to start talking about politics, and get involved to effect change in one way or another. We can’t afford not to anymore.

If we’re stuck with a party system, maybe it’s time to join the party.
Get involved.a horizontal border of red graphic maple leaves