Electoral System Roundup

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
First Past The Post • Single Member Plurality

The voting system we have been using federally in Canada since Confederation.  It may appear as if we have one Canada wide election, but in reality 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
• Proportional Representation vs. Alternative Vote
• #ERRÉ #Q Committee
• #ERRÉ #Q Meetings & Transcripts
• Take The Poll ~ #ERRÉ #Q
Proportionality #ERRÉ #Q 
• The Poll’s The Thing 
• DIY Electoral Reform Info Sessions
• What WE Can Do for ERRÉ
• #ERRÉ today and Gone Tomorrow (…er, Friday)
• Redistricting Roulette 
• #ERRÉ submission Deadline TONIGHT!
#ERRÉ Submission by Laurel L. Russwurm
• The Promise: “We will make every vote count” #ERRÉ
FVC: Consultations Provide Strong Mandate for Proportional Representation #ERRÉ
PEI picks Proportional Representation
There is only one way to make every vote count #ERRÉ
Canada is Ready 4 Proportional Representation
Sign the Petition e-616
#ProportionalRepresentation Spin Cycle ~ #ERRÉ
• International Women’s Day 2017 ~ #IWD
• An Open Letter to ERRÉ Committee Liberals

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

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Stability

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

First Past The Post (FPTP)

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

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

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

List PR (Proportional Representation)

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

Canada v Spain - electoral stability

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Canada-Israel-Italy-Denmark - stability graph

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

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

Mixed Member Proportional (MMP)

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

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

Canada v New Zealand - electoral stability

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

Single Transferable Vote (STV)

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

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

Canada-Germany-Ireland stability graph

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

National Stability with Alternative Vote (AV)

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

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

FPTP-AV-stability graph

Overall Election Stability

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

a horizontal border of red graphic maple leaves

Why No Referendum?

Why Don’t We Have PR Already?
Proportional Representation 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
• #ERRÉ #Q Committee
• #ERRÉ #Q Meetings & Transcripts
• Take The Poll ~ #ERRÉ #Q
Proportionality #ERRÉ #Q 
• The Poll’s The Thing 
• DIY Electoral Reform Info Sessions
• What WE Can Do for ERRÉ
• #ERRÉ today and Gone Tomorrow (…er, Friday)
• Redistricting Roulette 
• #ERRÉ submission Deadline TONIGHT!
#ERRÉ Submission by Laurel L. Russwurm
• The Promise: “We will make every vote count” #ERRÉ
FVC: Consultations Provide Strong Mandate for Proportional Representation #ERRÉ
PEI picks Proportional Representation
There is only one way to make every vote count #ERRÉ
Canada is Ready 4 Proportional Representation
Sign the Petition e-616
#ProportionalRepresentation Spin Cycle ~ #ERRÉ
• International Women’s Day 2017 ~ #IWD
• An Open Letter to ERRÉ Committee Liberals

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

Democracy Primer

What’s So Bad About First Past The Post?

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

Lets start with the basics.

Sometimes human beings are loners, hermits who shun other humans. But that is rare.

Most human beings are social in nature.  We want to be together, to live in proximity to other humans.  We want to play together and we learn to work together.   In order for people to co-exist, human society requires some sort of boundaries. Rules.

Individual humans start out as part of a family unit.  The family unit fits into human society as part of some kind of tribe. In the modern world collections of tribes have come together to form countries. Each nation establishes its character in the style and form of policy and the framework of rules— laws— set down by its government.

There are two basic paths human beings have taken in our approach government.

Authoritarianism

Autocracy, OligarchyTotalitarianism, Dictatorship, Monarchy, Empire, Fascism… there are many different systems in which the government is all powerful and citizens are powerless.  Such governments might choose to treat citizens benevolently.  Or not.  The government decides and the citizens have no choice but to comply.

British Library illuminated medieval manuscript image of King Phillip Coronation

Democracy

Citizens very often prefer to have a say in their own governance, and this can be achieved with a democratic system of government.

According to political scientist Larry Diamond, it consists of four key elements: (a) A political system for choosing and replacing the government through free and fair elections; (b) The active participation of the people, as citizens, in politics and civic life; (c) Protection of the human rights of all citizens, and (d) A rule of law, in which the laws and procedures apply equally to all citizens.[3]

The term originates from the Greek δημοκρατία (dēmokratía) “rule of the people”,[4] which was found from δῆμος (dêmos) “people” and κράτος (krátos) “power” or “rule”, in the 5th century BC to denote the political systems then existing in Greek city-states, notably Athens; the term is an antonym to ἀριστοκρατία (aristokratía) “rule of an elite”.

Wikipedia: Democracy

Democracy draws its power and legitimacy from the support and consent of its citizens.  There are two basic ways of achieving democracy.

Democracy

Direct Democracy

All qualified citizens have the right to represent their own interests in government.  In ancient Greece, each citizen spoke for themselves, making laws by “decree of the plebs” or plebiscite.

plebiscite (noun)

  1. a direct vote of the qualified voters of a state in regard to some important public question.
  2. the vote by which the people of a political unit determine autonomy or affiliation with another country.

In a country where qualified voters number in the millions, the closest we can get to direct democracy is through holding a special plebiscite in which all qualified citizens of a state can vote on an important issue.  As digital technology progresses, there may come a time when all Canadian voters will be both qualified and able to vote electronically on every issue directly. But in today’s world, the closest we come to this is through the difficult and expensive mechanism known as a referendum.

referendum (noun)

  1. the principle or practice of referring measures proposed or passed by a legislative body to the vote of the electorate for approval or rejection.
  2. a measure thus referred.
  3. a vote on such a measure.

Representative Democracy

Since it would be hard to fit millions of people into the Parliament Buildings, like most modern democracies, Canada uses a form of Representative Democracy.  Instead of speaking for ourselves, all qualified citizens have the right to elect a representative we believe will best represent our interests in Parliament.  Although some Canadians wish it were different, referendums are not a feature of the Canadian political system.  In nearly a century and a half, our government has had only three referendums: on prohibition (in 1898), conscription (World War II) and whether to accept the Charlottetown Accord (Constitutional Amendments).  Certainly our choice of voting system was not made through this mechanism.

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

Although I have been breaking this down for simplicity, there are many ways to design electoral systems.  Most (if not all) of the electoral systems in use around the world are hybrids, as ours here in Canada is.  Our representative democracy is part of a constitutional monarchy; we share England’s monarch. In understanding our options, the most crucial distinction between types of electoral systems comes down to which family they are in.

Representative Democracy can be broken down into two main families: Winner-take-all or Proportional Representation.

Winner-take-all

Just as it sounds, a winner-take-all election is an “all or nothing” proposition.  A election which can only have a single winner necessarily ends up with the single winner getting all the power.

And when elections can only produce a single winner, unless that winner achieved 100% of the votes, there will be losers, too.  The candidate(s) who fails to win loses.  Naturally, the citizens who didn’t vote for winner end up without any representation at all.  They’re losers too.

In Canada we use a winner-take-all single member plurality system better known as First Past The Post.  Although many Canadians believe this system produces majority government it doesn’t.

A majority is defined as 50% + 1.  If there are more than 2 candidates competing for a single seat, with First Past The Post the candidate doesn’t needs to win 50% + 1 ~ s/he just needs to win more votes than any of the others.

Because Canadians aren’t happy with only two political parties, very often we elect MPs with far fewer than 50% of the votes.  In the 2015 Canadian Federal Election, 28.99% of the votes cast were enough to elect Bernard Généreux Member of Parliament for the Montmagny—L’Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup.  That’s a long way from 50% + 1.

But even 50% + 1 can leave as many as 49.9% of voters without representation at all.  That’s why I’ve become a fan of:

Proportional Representation

Vote_iconXProportional Representation isn’t the name of any single electoral system, it is a phrase that describes an electoral outcome where 39% of the vote can’t win 100% of the seats in Parliament.  Proportional Representation ensures 39% of the votes wins 39% of the seats.

Instead of polarizing citizens into winners and losers, a proportional system seeks to elect a government that reflects all citizens, by providing representation to all eligible voters.   More than 90 countries around the world (85% of OECD countries) use some form of Proportional Representation, so there is a great deal of information about how such systems work.

In Canada, over the last decade or so, Ten Canadian Commissions, Assemblies and Reports have recommended proportional representation for Canada.  In addition, Liberal MP Stéphane Dion developed his own P3 system, and later this year the Province of Prince Edward Island will consider adopting another newly devised proportional system, Sean Graham‘s Dual Member Mixed Proportional.

As this series progresses, I’ll look at the different electoral systems that have been or might reasonably be on offer for Canada.  If you aren’t already overwhelmed, I’ve provided links throughout the article so you can find out more detail from the supporting on your own.

And you might be interested in what Craig Scott had to say about Proportional Representation:

The great resource is the grass roots multi-partisan organization that advocates for meaningful Canadian electoral reform: Fair Vote Canada. You can check out their website, but you’ll also find chapters across Canada.  My local is the very active Fair Vote Waterloo Region Chapter.

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Image Credits:

Medievalart on Tumblr led me to the gorgeous public domain image Detail of a miniature of the coronation ceremonies of Philip (Coronation of King Phillip).   This artwork is part of the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts the British Library generously makes available to the public online.

Found in Wikimedia Commons, Vote icon is an original artwork dedicated to the Public Domain by its creator openclipart.org.

My Families of Electoral Systems mini poster & Democracy Flags are original artwork dedicated to the Public Domain

What’s So Bad About First Past The Post?

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
• #ERRÉ #Q Committee
• #ERRÉ #Q Meetings & Transcripts
• Take The Poll ~ #ERRÉ #Q
Proportionality #ERRÉ #Q 
• The Poll’s The Thing 
• DIY Electoral Reform Info Sessions
• What WE Can Do for ERRÉ
• #ERRÉ today and Gone Tomorrow (…er, Friday)
• Redistricting Roulette 
• #ERRÉ submission Deadline TONIGHT!
#ERRÉ Submission by Laurel L. Russwurm
• The Promise: “We will make every vote count” #ERRÉ
FVC: Consultations Provide Strong Mandate for Proportional Representation #ERRÉ
PEI picks Proportional Representation
There is only one way to make every vote count #ERRÉ
Canada is Ready 4 Proportional Representation
Sign the Petition e-616
#ProportionalRepresentation Spin Cycle ~ #ERRÉ
• International Women’s Day 2017 ~ #IWD
• An Open Letter to ERRÉ Committee Liberals

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

 

 

 

 

The Foundation Issue

When you look at what is happening in Canada, it’s easy to to be overwhelmed by all the things that are wrong. In particular, all the things that aren’t working the way we think they work.

At the heart of the problem is the democratic deficit Canada struggles under. My researches over the past several years have made me conclude the only meaningful solution open to Canada is to repair the shaky foundation of our electoral system. Winner-take-all electoral systems like First Past The Post divide Canadians into winners (who elect the government) and losers (without representation). The whole country suffers from the unstable policies that result as the electoral pendulum swings back and forth between parties.

Working hard on set: Sharon Sommerville and John Dreger
Working hard on set: Sharon Sommerville and John Dreger

Most Canadians want the stable policy that would result from more democratic government, but we won’t get that without Proportional Representation. That makes it important for all of Canada’s political parties to commit to meaningful electoral reform so that all Canadians can be represented in parliament.

Some of my Liberal friends hope to help their Party membership change their electoral policy at the next Montreal convention, so I helped them make this small film called “The Foundation.”

p.s.  You can stream or share it from YouTube, but if you want to download it visit the new Libreleft Films page.  Please share it anywhere that may do some good.

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

Fair Vote Video Contest: Why We Need Proportional Representation

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Fair Vote Canada is holding a Video Contest, to inspire the creation of videos that explain why Canada needs electoral reform to Proportional Representation.

Alexandre Deslongchamps’ entry is called Why We Need Proportional Representation

Check out all the videos, help the contestants compete for views, and spread the word about proportional representation by sharing you favourites.