Proportional Representation vs Alternative Vote Debate in Kitchener

PR v AV poster

What’s the difference between a Proportional Representation voting system and Alternative Vote?

If you’re in or near enough to Waterloo Region and can make it out to Kitchener City Hall tonight (that’s Thursday night), you’ll have a chance to find out from the experts when Waterloo city councillor (and former NDP candidate) Diane Freeman moderates a panel discussion between WLU’s Associate Professor of Political Science, Barry Kay and York University’s Associate Professor of Political Science, Dennis Pilon.

Barry Kay and Dennis Pilon will be talking about representative democracy and electoral reform, with special emphasis on the winner-take-all electoral system Alternative Vote (known variously as Instant Runoff Voting/Preferential Voting/ranked voting) and the many different ways in which Proportional Representation will be achieved.

Alternative Vote is the electoral system the Liberal Party of Canada voted to support at the party’s 2012 Convention.  But the issue was revisited at the party’s next convention, when Liberal Policy Resolution 31 was passed.  This formed the basis ~ almost word for word ~ for the Liberal campaign promise.

In resolution 31, Alternative Vote was referred to as “a preferential ballot,” and as “ranked ballots” in the campaign promise.   And we know that this is the electoral system Prime Minister Justin Trudeau favours, and has been championed by his advisor Robert Asselin of the Liberal think-tank Canada 2020.

But Alternative Vote isn’t a system the results in Proportional Representation.  It’s another winner-take-all voting system, very much like the First Past The Post winner-take-all system we use now.  I see no value in switching from one winner-take-all system to another.

But maybe I’m wrong.  Perhaps Mr. Kay will enlighten me tonight.

After the talk there will be an audience Q & A, and who better to answer you questions than experts of this calibre.

I hope to see you there!

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Kitchener Casseroles

assembly begins

When I arrived at Kitchener City Hall for “Casseroles Night In Canada,” I was proud to see how many people had turned out to show our support, not just for the striking Quebec students (as of this writing the strike is now at Day 110), but because of concern about the erosion of Canadian civil rights by laws like Quebec’s Bill 78 or C-309.

And the crowd kept growing.

the crowd stretches along the front of Kitcener City Hall

Imagine my surprise at reading macleans.ca: Modest crowds at Casserole Nights

being interviewed at the protest
Organizer Charles Boyes

Hah! There were a lot more than a hundred people there, by the end of the night there were closer to 300 collected at the Kitchener Casseroles rally.

With barely more than a day spent in organizing the “event” on Facebook, that was an awfully impressive turnout for a mid sized Ontario city to muster in support of our Quebecois neighbours.

Bill 78

As many have pointed out,  Jean Charest’s National Assembly of Quebec passed Bill 78 which severely restricts peaceful protest in direct contravention of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

This law has a two year limit, which is apparently to get around any constitutional challenge. This blatant manipulation of the mechanics of government to deliberately strip citizens of our civil rights should not be tolerated.

banging a pot with a wooden spoon
“Casseroles” is a traditional form of political protest in Quebec

… In Quebec, an event is also underway. The organizers gave their route to the police. Monday night, the police department of the City of Quebec (SPVQ) has arrested dozens of protesters outside the building where the negotiations took place between the government and student associations.

— Huffington Post: 36e manifestation nocturne à Montréal [google translation]

protester bangs a pot holding a poster poster

There are a lot of problems facing Canada, and many of them boil down to the fact the Canadian electoral system is seriously broken.

We’ve seen growing voter apathy over the last decades precisely because the Canadian government does *not* listen to citizens, especially when there is a majority government.

A great many citizens have given up on voting in frustration . . . after all, what is the point of educating yourself about the issues and the candidates, and then going out to the polls to cast a vote that doesn’t count? The frustration is very hard to take. As far as I know, the only group working for electoral reform is Fair Vote Canada, a grass roots multi-partisan group seeking to bring fairness to our electoral system.

Protests like this give citizens a voice, and remind us that our voices *should* be heard.

As long as half the Canadian voters stay home from the polls, as long as the system remains broken, this will not get better. The only way to change the system is to engage the citizens who feel disenfranchised. Protests like these can engage Canadians who have come to distrust our so-called representative democracy. Giving a voice to the citizens who have lost faith in our antiquated non-responsive un-representative system is a valuable end, in and of itself.

Standing up for the civil liberties guaranteed Canadians in Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is worth taking to the streets for.

Quebec’s Bill 78 and the federal Private Member’s Bill C-309 criminalize the wearing of masks and/or covering of faces at a protest. Freedom of association, religious freedom, health considerations, and the right to anonymous protest are among the civil liberties threatened by these laws.

When I hear government ministers like James Moore argue that Canadian copyright law needs to be “modernized” because it hasn’t been updated in a few decades makes me wonder why our government isn’t fighting to modernize an electoral system older than Confederation. Could it be because the current system grants a disproportionate amount of power to the few?

We are at a point where technology could be fuelling a period of unprecedented democracy, equality and prosperity for Canadians. I have high hopes that we will be able to achieve meaningful electoral reform and can pass real democracy to our children.

In the Interim. large numbers of Canadians protesting *does* get their attention, even in a majority government. Thank you, Kitchener, for standing up for what’s right, for a better Quebec, and a better Canada.

There had been a police presence on the periphery from the beginning; when the Kitchener Casseroles protest spilled out into King street and spontaneously turned into a march, the police cars moved in with lights flashing, following the protest. I think this made everyone a little bit nervous, but it turned out they were simply effecting traffic control. I would like to extend my thanks to the Waterloo Region Police for rendering this service.

The march wended its way to the Kitchener Market, where anyone who wanted to speak was allowed a forum. Speakers discussed the situation in Quebec, conditions imposed by Bill 78, and discussed the support the protesters have been getting from Quebec citizens and the business community. One professor spoke of the importance of extending educational opportunities to all, and a student from Quebec expressed her thanks to the assemblage for our support.

I am so proud of Kitchener . . . and the rest of Canada 🙂

whose election is it anyway? #elxn41

Elected Members of Parliament from the previous session of parliament are by no means guaranteed a seat in the next Parliament.

The clearest example of the change that can take place in the course of a single election can be seen by comparing the 34th Canadian Parliament and the 35th Canadian Parliament.

Every registered political party running candidates in the election should be treated the same. Because NO ONE has been elected yet.

Gilles Duceppe on the Campaign Trail with Berard Bigras

During the televised “Leadership Debate” Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe stated:

“Mr. Layton, you know this just as much as I do.   I, say it, will never be prime minister. And you know, you won’t be prime minister either,”

—Gilles Duceppe, “Duceppe says he has saved Canada from a Harper majority

Although M. Duceppe is quite correct in stating that he can not hope to be Prime Minister of Canada, it is because thus far his party exists only in La Province du Québec. Even winning every possible riding in La Belle Province can not garner enough seats to form a Canadian Federal Government. If Mr Duceppe wishes to be Prime Minister of Canada, he first needs to extend his base of support beyond Quebec’s borders.

This is not true of Jack Layton’s NDP.

The New Democratic Party of Canada has fielded Candidates across the country. This means that enough NDP MPs could be elected to form a federal government. Which would transform Jack Layton into the Prime Minster of Canada. Not impossible.

Jack Layton at rally, standing in front of flag.
Prime Minister Layton?

Particularly considering the ideological bankruptcy of both the CPC (Conservative Party of Canada) and the LPC (Liberal Party of Canada).

Prime Minster May?

The same is true for Elizabeth May. The Green Party of Canada (GPC) has fielded candidates all across Canada. If enough Green Party candidates are elected, as the leader of the Green Party of Canada, Elizabeth may would become our Prime Minister.

This is why the televised Leadership Debate was such a travesty. The arbitrary rules set by the consortium are in fact meaningless. In a first-past-the-post democracy, it does not matter who formed the last government. That’s old news. Just because they have been elected in the past doesn’t mean they will be elected again. That’s history. All the leaders of all registered parties should have been included.

Every election is a fresh start, as Anne of Green Gables would say, “with no mistakes in it.”

Because no one has been elected, all the candidates are supposed to start on a level playing field.

Canadians have been under the apparently mistaken impression that the Elections Canada mandate was to ensure a fair election. To ensure as level a field as possible. Yet it seems Elections Canada was powerless over the televised Leadership Debates. The way the “debates” were conducted was left entirely in the hands of “the consortium.” This utterly unaccountable media consortium decided that the only leaders allowed on the televised debates would be the ones with elected representatives.

Elections Canada lacks any authority to mandate any rules of fairness.

Previous governments have written laws allowing these unaccountable media corporations to define the terms of election broadcasts. This places the broadcast media in control of what the electorate is allowed to see.

More than ever before, this election is being held at a time when the unaccountable consortium of broadcasters is a special interest group.

Who is in charge of Canada’s mainstream media “consortium”?

Ahem. Bell Canada Enterprises just happens to own the CTV Network, The Globe And Mail, much of Canada’s land and cell phone networks, as well as a huge chunk of the Internet backbone. The supposedly arms length CRTC has failed Canadians by granting the gigantic Bell more and more control over the Canadian media when in fact a good regulator would be breaking it down into smaller parts to diminish the unhealthy stranglehold this corporation has over the Canadian digital economy. Usage Based Billing is just one of the perks that Bell has attempted with the assistance of the CRTC.

Suffice it to say that Elections Canada should be calling the shots, not media special interest groups.

democracy #fail

The deliberate exclusion of Green Party candidates by the media in the supposedly non-partisan meetings seems the recurring theme for this election. The media supposedly “covering” these all candidates meetings and debates is actually controlling them.

The Renfrew Conservative candidate walked out of a debate that had excluded the local Green Party candidate.

Then there was the “Kitchener Centre Forum” put on by the Greater KW Chamber of Commerce at Kitchener City Hall on April 21st. This forum only invited four of the seven candidates registered to run in this riding. Stephen Woodworth (Conservative Party of Canada), Karen Redman (Liberal Party of Canada), Peter Thurley (New Democratic Party), and Byron Williston (Green Party of Canada) were allowed to attend while Mark Corbiere (Marxist-Leninist Party of Canada), Alan Rimmer (Independent), and Martin Suter (Communist Party of Canada) were excluded.

Canadian media coverage used to be equitable to all the candidates.

Instead of fair election coverage, Canadians are getting scripted debates and reality TV.

up close and personal: local level debates

I missed the first Kitchener-Conestoga all-candidates meeting in my riding since it conflicted with the televised leadership debate.

What I heard went on revealed it to have been something of a travesty. Albert Ashley, the Green Candidate was absent altogether (out of the country), making the “All Candidate” meeting short one candidate. Like the televised “Leadership Debate”, this local debate was rigidly controlled by the media companies, in this case, Rogers Cable and The Record newspaper. Apparently candidate answers were limited to 30 second sound bites, making the answers, for the most part, shorter than the questions.

The published Record story downplays the fact that the incumbent Albrecht’s ‘office’ had been caught out for registering his opponent’s domain name and putting spurious content online.

What would have been a major scandal back when we still had a watch-dog press, instead came out in the Record as a partisan whitewash. The characterized this breach of ethics (if not law ) as “website pranks.” In fact it is very close to Identity theft, and may well constitute libel or fraud in the business world.

What the Record would call it if someone were to register the http://www.thekwrecord.com/ domain name and load it with spurious content?

Apparently Harold Albrecht laid off the responsibility for this attack on “an overzealous volunteer,” named by the Record as “his former chief of staff Jeff Chatterton.” Apparently Albrecht offered to sell the domain names to Liberal Candidate Bob Rosehart.

A closer look reveals Jeff Chatterton is no eager innocent, but rather a former journalist who hung out a public relations shingle and cut his teeth in damage control for the City of Walkerton during the Walkerton water crisis. Chatterton’s bio indicates he has made a career of characterizing scientific findings in opposition to his corporate client’s interests as “junk science.” According to Chatterton’s Facebook Page, the tag line for his company, Checkmate Public Affairs, is “Keeping clients OUT of the news – and doing it alarmingly well.”

Which makes me wonder what other improprieties are conducted in Mr. Albrecht’s office that can be blamed on underlings.
What ever happened to personal responsibility?

Possibly the most disturbing thing about the article is the Record implication that the Green Party candidate’s absence is spurious. Scheduling an all candidates meeting for a date when one of the four candidates is out of the country, and then blaming that candidate for the absence is masterful politicking.

But it is not what one would expect from an unbiased media.

looking over a creek at a very nice neighborhood in winter

The Elmira All Candidates Meeting

Put on by the “Greater KW Chamber of Commerce,” and again run by the media, this time the local 570 News Radio station. There were perhaps 200 to 300 seats, all filled, with an additional 50 or so standing room only attendees.

This indicates a far larger turnout than expected. (Interestingly, I also heard that Tuesday’s Kitchener-Waterloo All Candidates meeting was also standing room only, but their reported overages were in the hundreds.)

The format of the meeting was to pose a series of questions, which each candidate had the opportunity to answer. And at the end, “if time permits” they said they ‘might’ take questions from the audience. In other words, the corporate radio station decided the questions to be asked, while the citizens in attendance would only be allowed to pose questions on sufferance.

[They did, in fact, take audience questions at the end, and the moderator made a bee line to a young man in a suit whose first question exposed him as an embarrassingly blatant conservative shill.]

Applause

While it is may be reasonable to applaud a panel of candidates when introduced at the outset of such a meeting, it is wholly inappropriate to applaud each answer.
hands clapping

Since time was supposedly an issue, no applause should have been allowed. Interestingly, the applause was loudest and absurdly long for the only professional candidate, the Conservative incumbent, Harold Albrecht.

The applause reminded me of those talent programs where the loudest cheering section, not talent, decides the winner. It doesn’t matter how talented or not the participant is, the contest is won by how many friends they can bring. This bit of showmanship is important only as a demonstration of political power.

Which is, of course, precisely why applause should not be allowed at an ostensibly non-partisan political meeting held during an election. I wonder how much that influenced the trickle of attendees who walked out though out the show…
er, meeting.

Party Platforms

The theme of all answers given by both the Conservative Party incumbent and the Liberal Party challenger was to attack each other’s ruling party record. Of course the Conservative cheering section applauded Harold Albrecht’s Liberal attack-answers just as the Liberal cheering section applauded Bob Rosehart’s Conservative attack-answers.

The worst of it is, both cheering sections were right. Every bad Liberal deed that Albrecht pointed out was true, just as every bad Conservative deed Rosehart mentioned was. The problem is that the partisan cheering section doesn’t seem to care that the team they cheer … er their party … has done bad stuff, too.

Many who blindly pick a leader and a party will follow them no matter what bad deeds they have done or are going to continue to do. They have made a choice to allow someone else to decide what to think and who to vote for, and are not going to change. And that’s their right. Where it becomes a problem is when they pack a hall and engage in an “applause battle” in an attempt to exert peer pressure, itself a form of bullying, to pressure others to vote for your team… er, party.

Since the NDP and Green Party haven’t ever had the opportunity to rule, they weren’t included in the slagging match, and had no choice but to answer the questions. The Green Party’s Albert Ashley made it clear that his candidacy was last minute, so he was really just getting up to speed, and clearly not as conversant with his party’s platform as the other candidates. He did manage to crack up the audience with the observation that no one had hijacked his domain name. NDP candidate Lorne Bruce answered all the questions posed concisely and well, something not often seen in a campaign.

Ironically, one of the key topics was the decisions that lay ahead for the Region in regard to the expansion of public transit. The implication was that these decisions for the region would be made at rarefied stratas by the rich and powerful who do not have to actually use public transit. Which may explain why both Conservative Harold Albrecht and Liberal challenger Bob Rosehart champion the sexy LRT expansion option, rather than the more prosaic NDP intention to expand bus service to ensure citizen access before adding luxury bells and whistles.

But clearly, any citizens actually needing public transit have been excluded from the Kitchener-Conestoga all-candidates meetings.

IXpress bus driving in urban area

As it turns out, a third All Candidates meeting was added for the Kitchener-Conestoga riding tonight. When I first heard, I thought it would provide an opportunity to allow citizens reliant to transit access to the electoral process. Silly me. This one was held in New Hamburg, and again without and public transit access. I didn’t attend this one.

Since all four candidates are on Facebook, yesterday I asked them all this question:

Laurel Russwurm
What are you doing to compensate for the fact that the only “All Candidates Meetings” held in Kitchener-Conestoga were held in venues inaccessible to Public Transit?

I do understand that time is short, and social networking is anything but universally adopted. It takes time to master, and there is an election to run. So I don’t hold it against the two candidates who have not yet responded. Still, the responses I did receive were interesting.

First, I need to mention that I included the link to my Voter Apathy article with the question, as I felt it provided background on the disenfranchisement of voters. And three of the four candidate facebook pages allowed the link to be posted.

The only one that didn’t was Harold Albrecht’s. His Facebook page is also the only one that does not allow visitors/fans to initiate content. So the only way to post my question was to attach it to an existing Harold Albrecht status as a comment. So I did.

Imagine my surprise when someone other than Harold Albrecht responded for Mr. Albrecht. This is the exchange:

Laurel Russwurm
What are you doing to compensate for the fact that the only “All Candidates Meetings” held in Kitchener-Conestoga were held in venues inaccessible to Public Transit?

Jeff Chatterton
Laurel – Harold is no more to blame for All-Candidates Meeting locations than you or I. He simply goes where the meeting is held, he doesn’t organize them.

Laurel Russwurm
I asked what he will do to compensate for the fact no “All Candidates Meetings” are being held in transit accessible venues. How is he reaching out to the citizens that rely on public transit?

Greg McLean
Harold, your re-election office is less than 2km’s to my neighbourhood. Haven’t seen you or any or your team door-knocking.. how come?

Harold Albrecht
‎@Laurel, I’m reaching out to citizens with or without access to public transit the same ways: advertising, doorknocking, a website, this facebook page, and participating in All-Candidates’ Meetings. As was noted above, I do not control w…ho invites me to attend ACM’s.

@ Greg, it may be that we’ve knocked on your door and missed you, or it may be that we haven’t reached your neighborhood yet. It’s physically impossible for me to meet in person at the doorstep with the 100,000+ citizens I’m privileged to represent, but as the thousands of people I’ve had the privilege to meet during this campaign will attest, I’m trying my best.

Thank you both for your questions.

Harold Albrecht’s Facebook Page

At the time I received the defensive answer from Jeff Chatterton I had no idea who he was. Possibly a zealous Albrecht booster, but more likely a staffer. Having discovered he was Harold Albrecht’s “former campaign manager,” the speed and firmness of his defensive response makes me seriously wonder how “former” his association with Harold Albrecht really is.

The other response I got was from the NDP candidate, Lorne Bruce.

Laurel Russwurm
What are you doing to compensate for the fact that the only “All Candidates Meetings” held in Kitchener-Conestoga were held in venues inaccessible to Public Transit?

Lorne Bruce
Laurel, I understand how you feel about this issue. Many of my campaign staff use transit as well. Because we do not plan these all candidates meetings we have very little say in where they are held. The best we can and have been doing is organizing car pools for those who do not drive. There is one debate left in New Hamburg on Tuesday. If you would like us to try and arrange a carpool give us a call or email @ 519-569-4040 ndp@kcndp.ca and we will do our best.

Lorne Bruce Facebook Page

It was refreshing to hear someone wasn’t making excuses, but putting an effort into addressing the inequity.

All in all, I am left feeling quite disturbed about the way this election is being run.

Why are business associations and media special interests allowed to dictate the course of the election process?

It is disturbing that previous governments have granted so much unaccountable power to corporations. They have put in place election rules and legislation that allows this undemocratic manipulation. If these practices continue, we are likely to end up with some new form of corporate feudalism. Personally, I’d rather see a restoration of democracy.

The Conservatives and Liberals are more concerned with attacking each other than Canada’s problems.

Perhaps because they are responsible for many of them.

Four Canadian political parties have fielded enough candidates to form the 41st Federal Government. I think it is time for a change.

Don’t you?

Conservative NDP Green and Liberal logos



[note: Public figures and their staff are fair dealing to quote particularly during an election; private citizens, however, are not.   I have included Greg McLean’s permission to include his question, which I thought particularly germane to the Voter Apathy issue.]

Image Credits
Gilles Duceppe on the Campaign Trail with Berard Bigras photo by davehuehn under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) License

Jack Layton photo by Matt Jiggins

Elizabeth May photo by Grant Neufeld, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.5) License

“Applause” cc by laurelrusswurm

All political logos reproduced as fair dealing.

Politics and the Clock Tower

The restored Clock Tower in Kitchener's Victoria Park

Happy Canada Day!

When the bus pulls into the downtown Kitchener Bus Depot, you can see the Clock Tower standing a short way inside Kitchener’s Victoria Park.

It’s a classic structure, and
having caught it with the
Canadian Flag flying so prettily
off the top I thought it was
an appropriate image for a
Canada Day blog post.

Clock Tower Face detail

Of course, there’s a story to go with it.

Once upon a time this elegant clock tower graced the top of the neo-classical Kitchener’s City Hall. In my childhood. One of my family’s rituals was driving around to check out the Christmas light displays, and Kitchener City Hall was always one of the high points.

acrylic painting by Lance Russwurm shows the old Kitchener City Hall at Christmas

In the 1960’s and 1970’s municipalities felt a real push to “modernize”. Old fashioned buildings, even those in perfect shape, buildings that had been built to last, were discarded. Toronto made a big to-do about finding an architect and a space age design and then building their new City Hall. Yet Toronto cleverly retained their “Old City Hall”, which is a gorgeous functioning public building to this day.

Looking up at the Stratford City Hall Facade over the front door

The Kitchener City Council chose to jump on the band wagon of change, although apparently “radical elements” from Waterloo tried to stop it. Not only did the Council decide they wanted to get rid of the fifty year old City Hall, they went further, deciding they didn’t want to be bothered with owning a City Hall building at all.

So Kitchener City Hall went under the wrecking ball in 1973 and the City of Kitchener began renting space downtown in which to conduct official business.

The City of Stratford very nearly followed suit, but their politicians came to their senses. Anyone who has had a wander after visiting the Stratford Shakespeare Festival will appreciate the old style ambiance such lovely architecture provides to their thriving downtown core.

After years of renting, in the 1990’s Kitchener built a brand new City Hall to the tune of $43.4 million dollars.

They bulldozed the cool old city hall in favor of this:

The sterile glass and steel Kitchener City Hall of today.

The elements of the Clock Tower were set aside, fortunately, and funds were raised to restore it and erect it in Kitchener’s Victoria Park. Ironically, today the City of Kitchener uses the iconic clock tower as a logo on their website.

a horizontal border of red graphic maple leaves

[Image Credit: “Kitchener Christmas Past”acryllic painting by Lance Russwurm]