Canadians Deserve Facts from the Main Stream Media

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GPC candidate Bob Jonkman casts his vote (2015)

We are beginning to see a proliferation of Main Stream Media “journalism” about electoral reform. Canadian unfamiliarity with other electoral systems makes it incredibly easy for the main stream news media to get the facts wrong, and pass along misinformation as fact when discussing “Proportional Representation” and “Preferential Ballot/Alternate Vote/Instant Runoff Voting.”

Canada’s first federal government was elected with the antiquated First Past The Post electoral system, and that’s what we have used ever since.   Like many Canadians, I’ve spent my life frustrated by unrepresentative and unaccountable governments, watching helplessly at the erosion of many of the things we hold dear.   After having voted all my life without ever electing anyone, I was on the verge of giving up on our hopelessly undemocratic democracy when I discovered that it does not have to be this way.

As it turns out, there are many other ways to have representative democracy.  85% of OECD nations have some proportionality in their electoral systems, and in the wider world more than 80 countries have adopted Proportional Representation.  And since so many countries have adopted the principle that votes should translate into representation, there are plenty of real world examples that furnish valuable information that allows us to see what works and what doesn’t.

Everything has changed so much since 1867, and we’ve adapted to so many things; it is high time our electoral system was modernized.   Just as we have welcomed indoor plumbing and automobiles and the Internet, Canadians can as easily adopt Proportional Representation.   With three of our four major political parties campaigning to get rid of First Past The Post in our 42nd federal election, it looks like we’ve finally found the political will to upgrade to a system that will better serve Canadians.

Although I’m no expert, I have learned a great deal about Proportional Representation from Fair Vote Canada.  Since electoral reform is such an important topic, I have been making notes as I consider how best to share what I’ve learned about meaningful electoral reform.  But John Ivison’s December 4th, 2015 National Post article “Liberals’ electoral reform vow an existential threat to the Conservative Party” required an immediate answer.

By way of refutation, I made some comments on the article.  However, I know how easy it is for comments to get lost, particularly on a contentious issue, so I decided it best to incorporate them here.

“The repeated commitment to look at the prospect of electoral reform, specifically use of a preferential ballot system, represents an existential threat to the Conservative Party of Canada.”

— National Post: “John Ivison: Liberals’ electoral reform vow an existential threat to the Conservative Party

NONSENSE!

X marks the ballotPeople keep making this unsubstantiated claim about Alternate Vote (AV), the winner-take-electoral system the Liberals call “Preferential Voting” (PV), a system also sold under the name “Instant Runoff Voting” (IRV).  While some people like the idea, this pronouncement is no more than wishful thinking.

The best information we have about AV/PV/IRV comes from Australia, the only country on earth to have stuck with this system for any length of time. Australia uses “Alternative Vote” in their lower house, and has done for decades. What we can see in the Australian example is that AV/PV/IRV has proven to be even more effective than First Past The Post at polarizing a political system into a 2 Party dance of alternating left-right majorities.

At least in Oz they are lucky enough to have an effective proportionally elected senate which has served as a check on majority excesses that would otherwise have occurred there. Although detractors deride it as legislative “gridlock,” the Australian Senate has actually been known to stop bad laws from being passed by majority governments.  As Canadians are painfully aware, we have no such check on bad legislation here in Canada.

The point is that no matter what you call it, the adoption of Preferential Voting— aka Alternate Vote (AV) aka Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) aka “ranked ballot system” — will not disenfranchise the current Conservative Party.  Quite the contrary; the Australian evidence suggests this system would be more likely to entrench the two-party system Canadians have resisted for so long.  Far from being an existential threat, this electoral system would shore up the crumbling status quo at the expense of the smaller parties, freeing up the Conservative and Liberal Parties to govern alternately as they always have.

what do Liberals want?

Working hard on set: Sharon Sommerville and John Dreger
The Foundation” video pitch for LPC Resolution 31

That is the question. The wording in the Liberal policy on which their electoral campaign promise is based is:

AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT immediately after the next election, an all-Party process be instituted, involving expert assistance and citizen participation, to report to Parliament within 12 months with recommendations for electoral reforms including, without limitation, a preferential ballot and/or a form of proportional representation, to represent Canadians more fairly and serve Canada better.
Policy Resolution 31

The Liberal Party is divided on the issue of Preferential Ballot/AV/IRV or Proportional Representation.  While some Liberals prefer the idea of Preferential Voting thinking it will give the Liberal Party an edge, many Liberals support Proportional Representation because they understand consensus government is the only way to a stable government that will be able to make long term policy and pass properly formed laws that will stand the test of time.  Since all the evidence supports the adoption of an electoral system that will ensure Proportional Representation, my Liberal friends assure me their party’s devotion to evidence based policy will win out and Proportional Representation will be chosen for the good of all. The real question may well be whether the new Prime Minister will be swayed by the evidence.

regional representation

Mixed Member Proportional ballot in mock election

Mr. Ivison’s suggestion that Proportional Representation fails to provide “directly elected MPs to represent their communities” demonstrates his failure to understand that Proportional Representation is not the name of a single electoral system. Instead, “Proportional Representation” describes any electoral system resulting in a Parliament that represents voters in the proportion in which votes have been cast.  All that really means is 39% of votes will give a party 39% of the seats.  It will not allow 39% of the votes to give a single party 100% of the power, which is what happens under a winner-take-all system like the one we we have now.

There are many ways to achieve a proportional electoral system. Over the last decade or so ten independent Canadian commissions, assemblies and reports made by Canadians have studied the problem of electoral reform, and *all* have recommended adoption of Proportional Representation.  And of these recommendations, each and every system recommended for Canada includes directly elected MPs to represent their communities.

You can find out more about these recommendations in Wilf Day’s blog Ten Canadian Commissions, Assemblies and Reports that have recommended proportional representation.

Although Canadians tend to have no direct experience of Proportional Representation, there is no shortage of information about the many ways of achieving such a system.  We have the examples of of more than 80 OECD nations that have adopted such systems over the last century or so. If the news media wishes to inform Canadians about electoral options, we would be better served if journalists like Mr. Ivison would provide us with factual information.  The grass root multipartisan group Fair Vote Canada has been studying proportional voting systems for more than a decade and has a great deal of good information on offer on the Fair Vote Canada website.  My local Fair Vote Chapter has a wealth of info online as well.

800px-Borgen_tbane_01For those of you (like me) who often learn best accidentally through good drama, you might want to check out “Borgen,” an excellent dramatic tv political series that plays out in the framework of Denmark’s system of Proportional Representation. Although similar to “House of Cards,” I enjoyed “Borgen” much more, subtitles and all. (You stop noticing them very quickly.) The popular Danish series has spread through the EU, and now North America, and was aired on TVO earlier this year. I hope TVO takes this opportunity to run it again, although it might be better if CBC were to pick it up so the show will be available across Canada. The entire series is available in a DVD box set; even if you don’t want to spring for it, your local library may be interested in carrying it, or getting it in through inter-library loan.

In the meantime, there are many good videos available on YouTube, including these I have assembled into an Electoral Reform Playlist.

do we really want to retain the status quo?

Election Results: 2011 and 2015
39% of the votes = 100% of the power

What Mr. Ivison describes as “strong, stable governments” produced by our “much-maligned status quo” does not reflect the Canadian reality.

What Canadians are accustomed to under our winner-take-all electoral system is alternating “majority” governments with a disproportionate amount of power.

What makes a government strong? Giving a single party 100% of the power based on 39% of the vote gives a single party government the power to dictate terms to the other 61% of Canadians. It that strength? It certainly doesn’t seem like democracy.

What makes for government stability? For many, it means fewer elections. But the fact is Canada has had more elections since 1945 than even the worst iterations of Proportional Representation.

For me real stability is policy and legislation that will stand the test of time….policy that lasts.  And yet the first order of business for our new Liberal majority government is to undo many of the policies implemented by the outgoing Conservative majority government. It is this instability (known as policy lurch) that inclines many Liberals and Conservatives to reject winner-take-all First Past The Post electoral system.  Adopting another winner-take-all system just doesn’t seem to make sense.   If your house is falling down, fixing it, or moving to one that is more solid is a better solution than slapping on a coat of paint.  Switching from First Past The Post to Preferential Voting/AV/IRV) is merely a superficial change like a coat of paint  It might cheer us up because it looks better, but the problems will still be there.

The reality Canadians have today is an electoral system where some votes count more than others, but most votes don’t count at all. If we want real change, we need to choose a fair electoral system that will give us Proportional Representation, because all Canadians deserve an equal and effective vote to give us voice in parliament.

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Image Credits

Borgen by Tommeh72 released under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License

All other photos by Laurel L. Russwurm are dedicated to the Public Domain via CC0

80% of Canadians Want Climate Action

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Elizabeth May
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May

The Harper Government disallowed the participation of opposition parties to attend the COP19 climate change negotiations in Warsaw as part of the Canadian Delegation.  

Elizabeth May, Canada’s Green Party leader, attended the conference as part of the Afghanistan Delegation. 

What a dramatic illustration of the lack of representation Canadians have in what we are told is a democratic government.

The problem is that a winner-take-all electoral system, like the one we have now, means the majority of Canadians do not have a voice in parliament.

Canada needs to reclaim democracy before it is too late.

In 2015 we all must vote for candidates committed to electoral reform to proportional representation.

Nearly 50% of eligible Canadians voters don’t vote, many because our inequitable electoral system has made them feel disenfranchised.  Because only some votes count in our unfair out dated First Past The Post electoral system. We need to encourage everyone to vote for candidates committed to meaningful electoral reform in 2015.  If Canadians cast enough fractional votes for candidates committed to Proportional Representation, we will all win.

We need to make all our votes count.

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Image Credit
Elizabeth May by ItzaFineDay released under a creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License

For information on Proportional Representation visit FairVote.ca

Doesn’t the the Harper Government believe in Science?

Sunrise over Lake Ontario, one of the 5 Great Lakes, the largest concentration of freshwater in the world

People around the world are flabbergasted by the Canadian Government’s emphatic rejection of a parliamentary motion calling for “evidence-based policy-making” on March 20th this year.

Vote No. 631
41st Parliament, 1st Session
Sitting No. 225 – Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Sponsor: Mr. Stewart (Burnaby—Douglas)

“That, in the opinion of the House: (a) public science, basic research and the free and open exchange of scientific information are essential to evidence-based policy-making; (b) federal government scientists must be enabled to discuss openly their findings with their colleagues and the public; and (c) the federal government should maintain support for its basic scientific capacity across Canada, including immediately extending funding, until a new operator is found, to the world-renowned Experimental Lakes Area Research Facility to pursue its unique research program.”

Sitting No. 225 – Wednesday, March 20, 2013

All 137 NDP, Liberal, Bloc Québécois, Green and the one Independent MPs voted in favour of the motion.
All 156 Conservative and the one Conservative Independent MP Voted Against it.

Science impacts on everyone, regardless of party affiliation. But facts are immutable; they don’t change based on party lines. Facts aren’t opinions; they are still true even if we don’t choose to believe in them.

Policy not based on evidence is very likely to be against the public interest.

Q: Why would the Conservative party of Canada unanimously vote against “evidence-based policy-making”?

A: Because they can.

The Conservative party has won 100% of the power with 24.3% of eligible Canadian votes.

Under Canada’s winner-take-all First Past The Post electoral system, 39% of those Canadians who voted have elected a majority Conservative Government, effectively a dictatorship with a time limit.

Our electoral system grants a Majority Government absolute power to legally pass or veto any law it wants. Evidence need not enter into it.

Maybe I missed something.

Maybe there is something bad buried in the text of the motion. Lets look at it bit by bit.

(a) public science, basic research and the free and open exchange of scientific information are essential to evidence-based policy-making;

This seems pretty straight forward. The Harper Conservatives don’t want to be tied to evidence-based policy making. Which is like saying the news needn’t be based on facts. Oh, wait…

(b)  If federal government scientists must be enabled to discuss openly their findings with their colleagues and the public; and…

What possible reason could there to prevent federal government scientists from discussing their findings? Sharing information with other scientists is how innovation and scientific advancements are achieved. The public foots the bill for such research, why shouldn’t the public have the right to know?

Does our government want the right to prevent scientists from telling us our water supply has been compromised by

Have federal employees been stripped of their right to free speech?

Will this put our federal scientists at personal risk of becoming whistle blowers if they decide to inform the public of public hazards? Don’t federal employees, even scientists — enjoy the fundamental protections guaranteed under The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms?

(c)  the federal government should maintain support for its basic scientific capacity across Canada, including immediately extending funding, until a new operator is found, to the world-renowned Experimental Lakes Area Research Facility to pursue its unique research program.

Maybe it’s just about this. Maybe they just don’t want to spend the money.

The Experimental Lakes Area Research Facility only cost at most $2 million a year. The Canadian Government spent more money ~ $28 million ~ advertising the anniversary of the War of 1812 to the mystification of all of Canada.

Our government didn’t just close the Experimental Lakes Area Research Facility, but they are actively preventing fully funded experiments from finishing up. This is throwing away research that has already been done and paid for with taxpayer dollars.

Why would the Harper Conservatives do this?

Is science or free speech a left/right thing?

It shouldn’t be.

Is it a religious thing?

The Harper Conservatives have made no secret they are predominantly a conservative Christian Party. How many people say their belief in religion is grounded in the wonders of the natural world. Shouldn’t a Christian Party be working to protect the environment that God gave mankind stewardship over?

Perhaps they think if they don’t know the facts, if the environment should be damaged beyond repair, perhaps they’re hoping for plausible deniability when they meet their maker.

It’s pretty basic: if they don’t collect the facts, there will be no evidence to prevent policy based on guesswork and beliefs. Not collecting scientific data about the environment makes it easier to pass “business friendly” laws harmful to the environment.

If the government allows the collection of facts that give scientists ammunition to say we’re damaging the environment beyond repair, the public may get upset about government policy… they might not be able to do what they want.  And the people making policy decisions in the Harper Government reportedly don’t believe in climate change.

from sea to sea

We all need to breathe the air, drink the water, walk on the land. Why would sane people wilfully, deliberately, damage our environment beyond repair? That I can’t answer.

Unless they just don’t believe in it.

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Must Read:
Franke James pictorial essay: What is Harper Afraid Of? and sign her petition.

Please ask the Government of Canada to reverse its decision to terminate Canada’s Experimental Lakes Area by signing the Public Petition to Save ELA

Get informed about electoral reform; find your local Fair Vote Canada chapter and sign the Declaration of Voter’s Rights. We need to tell all our elected officials, and all our political parties, that Canada needs electoral reform to Proportional Representation NOW.

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

twenty dollar bills
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.
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Ontario Provincial Politics ~ Kitchener-Waterloo By-Election

the Ontario flag flag flies against a blue sky

If memory serves, the well respected Elizabeth Witmer, was one of only two or three Conservative MPs who actually retained their seats after the Mike Harris Government was voted out. Ms Witmer has been Minister of something more often than not during the course of her career, so her Kitchener-Waterloo riding was the very definition of a Conservative “safe seat.” So long as she occupied it.

During the election, Ms Witmer insisted more than once she would serve out her term if elected. Now, less than a year in, Dalton McGuinty has generously appointed her Chair of Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board. .

So there will be a by-election in her vacant Kitchener-Waterloo riding. Strategically this election is very important, since a single seat is all that stands between the McGuinty Liberals and a majority. Dalton McGuinty has got to want that seat very badly.

I received a robo-call inviting me to Wednesday’s Kitchener-Waterloo Progressive-Conservative “Town Hall” to meet Tim Hudak and Tracey Weiler, the new Progressive-Conservative Candidate who will be running in the by-election caused by Elizabeth Witmer’s resignation.

But I don’t live in that riding.

Not even close, and my phone number is clearly tied to a street address in my riding. So why did I get the call?

Probably because I listened to a robo-call “Town Hall” over the very same phone line during the last election. It turned out to be what sounded like a tightly scripted conversation between Tim Hudak and my riding candidate, and felt kind of like a personalized election commercial. My guess is that the party would assume anyone willing to listen to such a thing would be a supporter.

Thing is, I’m not. I don’t support any political party. I don’t even like the party system, particularly as practised here. I don’t vote by rote. Every election campaign is a new adventure, and I learn who the candidates are and try to find out what they stand for before casting my vote.

As long as we continue with this antiquated electoral system, the absolute last thing we need is a majority government. Still, even if I went to the meeting and decided Tracey Weiler was the perfect candidate, I can’t vote for her unless I move there. Not gonna happen.

So why would   the PC party want me there? Perhaps to pack the hall with party faithful, more than can be drummed up from the actual riding. Having a full house would make for better photos. These days the appearance of strength has the power to tip an election. When you have an adversarial system like ours, backing the winner can be its own reward. In the same way polls can help manipulate an electoral outcome, this is a clear case of messing with the electorate’s perceptions. It’s exactly the type of thing that makes me dislike party politics.

Even so, if you live in the Kitchener-Waterloo riding, you might want to check out this Town Hall.

the ontario flag hangs limp

I can well understand why Mr. McGuinty would want to regain a majority: it’s much more difficult to govern a province democratically. Except for the term limit, any majority won under our inequitable electoral system is indistinguishable from a dictatorship, so a government majority is never good for citizens.

I agree with the Fair Vote Canada contention: “Your vote should count,” which is why strategic voting is not something I ever endorse. Even if it brings the short term result I’d like, but it is really an attempt to game the system that only helps entrench it. We’ll never change it if we think we can fool it into working. My thinking is simply that we will never elect the candidates we want if we don’t vote for them.

But this isn’t a general election. This is a by-election which could turn the McGuinty Liberal Minority into a Majority. Which is, of course, the only explanation why a Liberal Premier would give such a plumb to such a powerful enemy. It’s why all the parties are campaigning so hard for this crucial seat.

And it’s another reason I dislike our system.  Although the politicians we elect to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario are supposed to govern Ontario on our behalf, the winner-take-all nature of our adversarial political system discourages anything like co-operation, instead polarizing the parties into enemy camps. Political parties look out for the party first, and constituents second.  I’d prefer to live in a place where the Premier would make such an appointment because it was the right thing to do, not because it gives him a second chance at a majority. Instead live in a province where patronage is the norm.

So although I don’t actually live in the Kitchener-Waterloo riding, I would be seriously considering voting strategically in this by-election if I did. Because no majority government is ever good for the citizens.  And I wonder,

Can Ontario really afford another majority government?

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