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!

Tom Mulcair on the BDS Motion

"Let's be clear, the Conservatives are proposing to limit what topics Canadians are allowed to debate. That's not the role of government. This goes against our fundamental freedoms and the NDP will be voting against it." — Tom Mulcair “Let’s be clear, the Conservatives are proposing to limit what topics Canadians are allowed to debate. That’s not the role of government. This goes against our fundamental freedoms and the NDP will be voting against it.”
— Tom Mulcair

Sounds like CBC is waking up ~ read the article Liberals denounce and agree with Tory motion condemning Israel boycotters

Fair Elections Act

“In Canada, our problem isn't people voting more than once, it's people voting less than once.”

Elections Canada is the independent, non-partisan agency responsible for conducting federal elections and referendums. Once appointed by the House of Commons, the Chief Electoral Officer reports directly to Parliament and serves until retirement at age 65 or until he or she resigns.  She can only be removed from the position by the Governor General of Canada for cause in a process requiring a joint motion and majority vote in both the House of Commons and the Senate.

Elections Canada is charged with running fair elections. It provides the public with information about our election system, ensures eligible voters are registered and can vote, registers political parties, monitors election spending and helping adjust federal riding boundaries, and enforces election legislation.

Well, that’s what it did until now.

Yesterday, February 4th, 2014, was a bad day for Canada, when the Harper Government unveiled Bill C-23, the so-called “Fair Elections Act.”

Appointed in 2007, our current Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand was unanimously approved by the House of Commons in 2007.  [post script: every single Member of Parliament in every party, including Mr. Harper during the last Harper Government minority, supported the choice of Mark Mayrand. ] Throughout Mayrand’s term of office, there have been what seems an never ending list of electoral scandals, ranging from creative financing all the way up to the Robocalls.  Here are a few of the highlights:

Conservative Minister for Democratic Reform Pierre Poilievre was quoted as saying, “The referee should not be wearing a team jersey,” a clear indication the Harper Government feels Elections Canada has been unfairly targeting Conservatives.

And while Prime Minister Harper can’t remove Marc Mayrand from his job, it seems he can remove half of Elections Canada. It certainly looks like revenge to me.  My own opinion is that Elections Canada’s has been treating the Harper Government with kid gloves.

“The reason I doubt anything the Conservatives say on electoral matters is they have a proven track record of consistently cheating in elections,” NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said outside the Commons

“Huffington Post, Fair Elections Act: Changes Will Register Robocalls, Raise Spending Caps by Bruce Cheadle.

This law aims to crack down on voter fraud by making it harder for Canadians to vote. There are many good reasons for citizens eligible to vote to lack sufficient credentials. Not everyone has photo ID.  Wallets are stolen, people who have just moved often lack proof of residence. In the past, such situations could be overcome by having a voter with the correct credentials vouch for you. It is estimated that this change will prevent thousands of Canadians from voting. This change will hit the young and the homeless hardest.

There have been suggestions that this Law will create an independent Electoral Commissioner, but in reality, the Independent Commissioner exists already; they are simply moving him.  [post script: The current system protects the Election Commissioner and the process of policing the Elections Act from partisan interference.  Placing the Commissioner of Elections under the authority of the Public Prosecutor, who is himself a political party appointee, would appear to remove such protection.  If I am correct, this law will effectively remove any accountability in Canadian electoral law.]

The idea is supposed to be to hold those responsible for electoral fraud accountable.  But how are they planning to find these frauds? Well, it seems political parties engaging in Robocalls will be required to register and submit their scripts to the CRTC. This is voluntary registration is supposed to protect citizens from being deliberately disenfranchised by fraudulent robocalls that send them to non-existent polling stations.

If someone wants to commit robocall fraud, are they really going to turn themselves in to the CRTC ahead of time?   I think not.

The Green Party’s Democratic Reform Critic, Bruce Hyer, said,

If the Conservatives were serious about electoral reform, we would be talking about ending First Past the Post and introducing Proportional Representation, reforming our unelected and unaccountable Senate, and ending the practice of having party leaders sign off on candidates’ nomination forms.  Unlike Michael Chong’s important Reform Act, this is just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.


Image Credit
Elizabeth May by Mike Gifford released under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license
Plain Text: “In Canada, our problem isn’t people voting more than once, it’s people voting less than once.” ` Elizabeth May

What’s wrong with Canada’s Electoral System?

horse and buggy

Canada has a form of “Representative Democracy” known as “Single Member Plurality.” Each geographic electoral district (that we call ridings) elects a single candidate to send to parliament.

outdated

Canada’s First Past The Post electoral system, the basis of our Representative Democracy, was progressive in 1867. Before automobiles, telephones, airplanes, space travel, computers or the Internet. Our antiquated electoral system is totally inadequate for Canada in 2013.

unfair

Our winner take all system is inequitable. Some votes count more than others, and some don’t count at all.

Steam Train

mysterious

It has long been considered impolite, if not downright rude, for Canadians to talk about politics. Most Canadians are proud we are not “flag wavers” like Americans are. But although there is plenty wrong with the American electoral system, they understand the mechanics of how their government works. Americans learn about politics in school, and talk about it ever after. Any Canadians who feel the urge to talk about politics tend to talk about American politics.

After all, we know more about how the American system works than we understand our own. We can no longer afford not to talk about politics. We need to learn how our system works.

democracy

We think Canada is governed democratically. But it’s not.

When an election produces a majority government, as is often the case, our government is effectively a time limited dictatorship. And if you take a look at Canadian History, you’ll see that our majoritan electoral system has traditionally produced serial dictatorships.

The only element of democracy in the current system is that Canadians get to vote periodically.

broken

While most of us think we have “majority rule,” the reality is that a minority of voters elect our government. The majority of Canadians are not actually represented in Parliament.

The system is so bady broken, almost half of our eligible voters don’t vote. After all, what incentive is there to vote when your vote doesn’t count?

Since the system is stacked against us, as things have steadily worsened, Canadians have been trying to outsmart the system by voting strategically.

But the point of representative democracy is to allow citizens to vote for the candidate who will best represent our interests in parliament. Yet if we’re voting strategically, we aren’t voting for who we want, we’re voting against someone else.

The fact Canadians have come to accept strategic voting as legitimate demonstrates just how broken our supposed democracy actually is.

crisis

Our civil liberties, human rights, guaranteed Canadians by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, are being steadily eroded. The public good is ignored in favour of special interest lobbyists.

checks and balances

Canada’s Upper House, The Senate, was supposed to catch ill advised government policy. The reality is succeeding governments stack the senate with partisan senators, robbing Canadians of the protection of “sober second thought,” and now all we can expect from the Senate is a rubber stamp.

There are no effective checks and balances available to Canadians. Our system grants majority governments absolute authority for the term; our only recourse is public opinion, the same as in any monarchy or dictatorship.

proportional representation

Most modern democracies have chosen proportional representation. England, Canada and the United States are the only hold outs clinging to our outdated First-Past-The-Post systems.

“Democracy is NOT about picking winners and losers. You are thinking of sports, or perhaps capitalism. Democracy is about working together to accomplish more than we can do as individuals. It is about bringing all stakeholders to the table so everyone can get what they need. When democracy functions as it should, we are all winners. For that, you need a fair voting system”  Wayne Smith, Executive Director, Fair Vote Canada

we want democracy

If two thirds of Canadians want proportional representation, why don’t we have it already?

the problem

The people with the authority to change the system, are the same people who got into power with this system.  If they change the system, they will lose the unfair advantages that put them in power.  One of the loudest advocates for electoral reform to proportional representation was Stephen Harper… before he became Prime Minister.  NDP Party policy supports electoral reform to Proportional Representation, yet they have done nothing to implement it in the two provinces where the currently NDP holds a majority, which begs the question: can we trust the NDP to implement electoral reform?

to be continued . . .

I started out to write “Why I’m a “Liberal Party of Canada” Supporter” but as it turned out, I had to first write this necessary prequel. I will be unable to finish the next article tomorrow, but I hope to have it posted by Saturday night.
a horizontal border of red graphic maple leaves

Why Canada Needs the Senate: Omnibus Crime Bill

yes, another one... against a cyan sky

legislation

In the world of books, an omnibus is a perfectly acceptable way to package a collection of previously published stories, related either by content or author, in a single over sized volume.

black and white head and shoulders photo of uniformed officer from behind

But in government, especially in a democracy, an omnibus bill is problematic.

An omnibus bill is several pieces of unpassed draft legislation lumped together into an unwieldy package, and inevitably fast tracked. Because the original drafts have already been part way through the process, they have received varying amounts of scrutiny and debate. Legislators can have a sense of déjà vu about the disparate parts of an omnibus, even without having completely examined it all.

The sheer size of an omnibus bill makes it difficult or impossible for it to get the same kind of scrutiny any individual piece of legislation would receive. It is allotted about the same amount of time as any individual piece of legislation. It’s one thing to skim a book you’ve already read; but it is something else entirely for a legislature to skim through draft legislation.

Laws need to be debated and weighed to ensure they fulfill the needs of a democratic society.

The problem, of course, is that our less than perfect “first-past-the-post” adversarial political system allows any government that holds a majority of parliamentary seats — the “majority party” — to pass any law it wants.

And they frequently do. This is the government equivalent of a parental rules that exist “because I said so.”

I don’t know about you, but I would rather see laws made with care instead of rushed to completion. Fast tracked laws have more chance of unintended consequences than laws that are more carefully considered.

crime

black and white snap of toddler and mother

Not just as a citizen, but as a parent, Bill C-10 strikes me as totally wrong.
My child was raised with logical consequences, not unreasonable harshness. Punishment should always be a last resort.

Experience has taught me that prevention and inclusion are far more effective than punishment and exclusion — in both parenting and society — because they deter bad behaviour. Isn’t that the point of law?

Child poverty in Canada is as bad — or worse — than it was when first identified as a priority years — maybe decades? — ago. Modern statistics say crime rates have been dropping across Canada. So I don’t understand why our government wants to invest vast sums into building bigger jails and incarcerating more Canadians.

Black and white: looking up at the Don Jail

If it costs around $100,000 a year to incarcerate someone, shouldn’t we be concentrating on prevention? Canadian tax dollars could be better spent on social programs that address child poverty and the appalling conditions in which many of our first nations citizens struggle.

black and white police car parked in a lot

What I don’t understand is why our government would spend money we don’t have on jails we don’t need.

As a parent I know that the children who are excluded are the ones that become a problem.  The same is true for citizens.  People who do not feel a part of society have no motivation to fit in or follow societal laws.  Harsh punishments result in hardened criminals.

You don’t have to take my word for it: that’s what the experts say, too.

senatorial oversight

The Canadian electoral system is archaic and horribly overdue for reform. Our “First Past The Post” system was established in the days of quill pens, so it isn’t surprising to find it unsuited to the computer age.  Nonetheless we seem to be stuck with this unstable adversarial system that confers an unfair advantage to the political party that achieves the most seats, and thus a majority government even without a majority of votes.

The inequities in our system are so great that it is common for political parties that are not in power to rail against the inequity. They can clearly see how Canada’s outmoded electoral system is detrimental to Canada — until their own party benefits from the inequity and achieves a majority.

It is an adversarial system which has winners and losers. But the biggest loser is always Canadian democracy, particularly when we have a majority government typically elected by 30-40% of the popular vote.  With a system so imbalanced, huge numbers of Canadians vote “strategically” in futile attempts to make their votes count.

Fewer than 30% of eligible voters voted for the Conservatives, who currently hold the majority of seats in parliament. 

Our system makes no provision for a majority of Canadians to oppose any draft legislation. The majority government is vested with the authority to act as an effective dictatorship until the next election.  The majority has the power to pass any law it likes, and there is nothing Canadians can do about it.

Canada is out of luck…

black and white emergency poleOr is it?

Isn’t this why the Senate exists?

Senators are appointed for life which frees them to make their own choices. Senators can’t lose their Senate seats for stopping harmful legislation and sending it back to the drawing board.

Which is why Senators are appointed for life.

Many Canadians question the validity of the Canadian Senate, since succeeding governments have attempted to suborn the institution by “stacking the deck” with patronage appointments intended to turn the Senate into a mere rubber stamp for their party agendas.

sober second thought

The Senate exists to provide necessary checks and balances to our imbalanced system of governance. The Senate has the opportunity to slow or stop laws that may well prove terribly detrimental to Canada.

It is far better to legislate with care rather than with haste. Bundling many different bits of draft legislation together into an omnibus bill is always dangerous; and without proper scrutiny, laws passed hastily can cause harm.

But it is within the Senate’s purview to review the evidence. The Senate’s constitutional role is to make substantive analysis of legislation, especially for bills of far reaching consequence, and then submit needed improvements through amendments which are then sent back to the House of Commons. The Senate’s role is most crucial when we have a majority government.

This is why our Senate has the power of oversight, to ensure that a single political party’s agenda doesn’t act against the public good.

black and white image of a stop sign at an angle

What’s the rush?

We are at the beginning of a new term of a majority government.  We are told that majority rule is “more stable,” since majority governments have both the luxury of time and the last word. So what harm is there in taking the time, doing the research,  listening to the experts and examining the evidence before rushing to legislate?

Bill C-10 has been fast-tracked, and the House of Representatives has passed it hastily in the wake of growing objections from many quarters.

The Crime Omnibus is precisely why Canada need an Upper House. We need the Senate to perform the function for which our Upper House was created. It should not matter which government appointed a Senator; the Senate’s purpose goes beyond party politics, stretching into the wider purpose of serving Canada.

Canada truly needs some sober second thought.


Bill C-10: What The Experts Say

References courtesy of leadnow.ca:

The leadnow.ca page has a form e-letter to make it easy for you to send a message to your senators. For those of us who prefer crafting our own missives for our elected representatives, I’m putting together an online senatorial contact list to allow easy contact with the appropriate senators.

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What’s Wrong With Strategic Voting

Our electoral process is badly broken. Some Canadian electoral ridings can be “won” with as little as 29% of the vote.

Every vote is not equal.  Under our current system, some votes count more than others, and others not at all.

Which means that only a small proportion of Canadians are represented by the candidates who are elected to Parliament.   Because of this, many Canadians feel disenfranchised and have stopped voting altogether.

true or false

We are told that majority government is good for Canada.

letter FBut the truth is that majority government is a very bad thing for everyone except the party holding the majority.  And of course, all of their friends. (You know, the ones who get all those lovely patronage plums.)

Under our current system, without electoral reform, the only time our government is at all accountable is during a minority government.   So although a majority government is easier for the politicians, minority government is actually better for Canadians.

We are told that our only real choices are Conservative or Liberal.
false
They have experience.
The polls say they have [insert latest poll figure here] support.
They are more fiscally responsible.

trueIn this campaign, the Liberals and Conservatives spent most of their time and money attacking one another on the past record. [experience?] Televised attack ads cost a lot of money, so the requests for donations have seemed unending. [fiscally responsible?]

The other parties can’t get a majority because of [insert latest poll figure here] or they can’t form a government because they only have [insert latest poll figure here] support.

In this election, there are actually four political parties who could have enough candidates elected to form a Canada wide majority government. Polls are at best an educated guess.   At worst, a poll is marketing propaganda.

A weather forecast is more accurate.

Mumbles about the New Democratic Party.

trueThe NDP are reputed to have “socialist” leanings. Of course, without these socialists Canada wouldn’t have social programs. What’s wrong with social programs? Aren’t they a good thing?

Isn’t it ironic that Michael Ignatieff is offering to save Canadian Health Care when the reason our prized Universal Health Care System is in crisis is thanks to massive cuts to Federal transfer payments made by a previous Liberal government? Fiscal responsibility seems to mean providing corporate welfare (bail-outs) at the expense of human needs.

Then there is misinformation about the Green Party.

false

The Green Party is only concerned with the environment – they have only a one plank platform.   That was true when they started, but has not been the case for years.

Today’s Green Party of Canada has a well rounded platform, with a better grasp of technology issues than most of our former Conservative government. The Green Party’s exclusion from the televised leadership debates also feeds into the erroneous assumption that the Green Party could not form a government.  Unlike the Bloc Québécois the  Green Party is running enough candidates across Canada to be able to form a government.

they tell us to vote strategically

For a long time now, with every election we hear renewed calls for strategic voting.
When I first heard of it it didn’t sound so bad; after all, my vote didn’t count for much.
The biggest part of the problem, the thing that prompts even smart people to consider strategic voting is that around a third of the votes can result in a majority government.

Fairvote Canada logo

The problem is that it doesn’t solve the problem, We need to fix the system. Anyone even thinking about strategic voting should find their local Fairvote Canada chapter and get involved.

Because strategic voting does not solve the problem.

It might seem to be a “work-around” but in practice it has entrenched the Conservative/Liberal two-step.

don’t vote “strategically”

The strategy is to convince us to vote for candidates we don’t want elected.

We are told that if Harper were elected Prime Minister in this election he will do all sorts of dreadful things.

A:  But anyone elected Prime Minister might do dreadful things. We KNOW previous Liberal and Conservative governments have done dreadful things.

Opinion polls say that [insert name of the political party you support here] can’t possibly win, it is important to vote for [insert name of the political party the ‘strategic voting advocate’ supports] instead so that ‘we’ can defeat Harper.

A: Opinion polls can be manipulated, their accuracy is speculative at best. If they were accurate, we wouldn’t need to bother with elections. There are different voters on the rolls this time. Many Canadians will be voting for the first time.

Last time was last time. We have no idea who will win the election because it has not yet been held.  No one has been elected ∗ yet ∗

all Canadian votes should be equal but they are not…

… which makes my devalued vote even more important.  If I don’t vote, my voice would count even less than it does now.

If I don’t vote for the party I support, the party I support won’t know that I support them.

If I don’t vote for the good person I think will best represent me in parliament, that person may not feel supported enough to continue in public service.  That candidate may decide not to run again.

Strategic voting doesn’t just cast your vote for a candidate you don’t support, but against the candidate you do.  If I vote for a candidate I don’t support, I deserve what I get.

This is a new day. A new election day.

Don’t vote strategically – especially if there is a candidate you believe in.

If we don’t start voting for the candidates we believe in, we will never get the government we want.



The only Canadian political parties opposed to electoral reform are the Conservative and Liberal parties. Canada has other choices.

Visit the Elections Canada site to see what choices are available in your riding.

P.S. Just found this great article: The perils of strategic voting



#Flanagan again

Tom Flanagan  in front of a Fraser Institute backdrop

Is it just me?

Am I the only one angry that the current administration of the University of Calgary doesn’t think Tom Flanagan has done anything wrong?

In case you missed it, Tom Flanagan, formerly a mentor/adviser to our sitting Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, currently a Political Science professor at the University of Calgary, broke the law while on the CBC news program “Power and Politics with Evan Solomon” when he “counsel[ed] other persons to commit offences.” The indictable offence he advocated was the assassination of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

at New Media Days

Some people think Tom Flanagan’s remarks are a joking matter.

Julian Assange does not

find this assassination threat amusing, particularly in light of other threats of physical harm leveled at himself and his family.

Some, like the National Post’s George Jonas, think Tom Flanagan can be excused because they say he intended it as a joke.

Maybe it could be taken as a joke if Tom Flanagan was a telephone lineman, a museum curator, or a manicurist.

But he’s not. The media is downplaying Tom Flanagan’s strong ties to the Canadian government. Flanagan wasn’t just “a Harper aid.”

Tom Flanagan was a chief of staff and policy adviser for the Prime Minister of Canada.

Jack Bauer is played by actor Kiefer Sutherland, pictured holding a gun, standing in front of a California map, with digital clock style numeral 24 inset

Tom Flanagan has been described as a mentor/adviser/strategist to the Prime Minister.  He ran political campaigns and walked the halls of Parliament.

This is a man who most certainly knows better.

Tom Flanagan would very likely know and be known by the Canadian CSIS equivalent to Jack Bauer, and almost certainly have contacts within the American government security forces.

I do not know Tom Flanagan, but he comments regularly on CBC and Evan Solomon clearly took Tom Flanagan’s statements seriously, in fact giving Flanagan an opportunity to back down by making it a joke. That an astute political player like Flanagan did not strongly indicates how serious he was.

Evan Solomon was not soliciting a man-in-the-street opinion from a computer programmer or a supermarket cashier or a priest, he was conducting an expert interview with one of his “regular cast of star panelists“.  Tom Flanagan was on the program to provide credible expert commentary.

Tom Flanagan’s commentary is credible BECAUSE he is a professor of Political Science, employed to teach some of the best and brightest Canadian students, at the University of Calgary.

Tom Flanagan’s commentary is credible BECAUSE of his strong ties to the sitting government.

THIS is what qualifies him as an expert, and this is WHY he must be charged for this crime.

ethics & reputation

The only response offered by the University administration has been this weak statement made December 7:

“The University of Calgary’s position remains that the opinions expressed by Dr. Tom Flanagan on CBC news last week were made as an individual. Dr. Flanagan spoke on a matter unrelated to the university, and his comments, for which Dr. Flanagan has expressed regret, do not represent the view of the University of Calgary. “

Yet the University of Calgary has declined to administer even a slap on the wrist to Tom Flanagan for his unacceptable behavior. The University’s position of refusing to make the barest of reprimands to Flanagan implies University support of Flanagan’s crime. A school that unquestioningly supports an educator who blatantly commits a crime television is simply not qualified to speak about “ethics.”

My child will not attend a school that condones assassination.

What does Tom Flanagan teach at the University of Calgary:  Assassinate the opposition? 
His words have certainly assassinated the University’s reputation internationally.

Left unchallenged, Canada’s reputation both at home and abroad is seriously damaged. As a citizen, I am furious.

If you have any doubt about whether there has been damage to our national reputation as a result of Flanagan’s crime, all you need do is watch the animated video titled Wikileaks Keeps Publishing despite arrest” published on YouTube December 7th, 2010. I first saw it on a Dutch web page. Two weeks later the video has had nearly 300,000 page views. That doesn’t count the web pages like this one that have embedded it. That’s a lot of of page views, particularly considering that it doesn’t top the WikiLeaks list:

For those with accessibility issues, I am also hosting the OGG version here.
crest above words University of Calgary Alumni with woman's hands above and below

Reading the comments on the YouTube page, and all over the Internet, citizens around the world have expressed dismay and outrage over this reprehensible incident.

U of C Community Outrage

Clearly, the University of Calgary community is not happy with the current state of affairs. 60 U of C alumni along with 25 others (current U of C students/staff/supporters across Canada & abroad) sent an open letter asking the University to address the situation. To date there has been none.

You can read their original letter and the follow up on the dedicated blog: Censure Tom Flanagan: Open letter to University of Calgary President Dr. Elizabeth Cannon regarding Dr. Tom Flanagan’s remarks

There is also an online Petition that anyone can sign here:

Graffiti portrait on a brick wall

To: University of calgary

Dr. Elizabeth Cannon
University of Calgary

Dr. Cannon,

The last time there was a live televised order to assassinate someone was the religious edict issued by Ayatollah Khomeini to kill Salman Rushdie, the Author of Satanic Verses. Unfortunately in November 2010, Dr. Tom Flanagan called for the assassination of Mr. Julian Assange, the Founder of the Wikileaks website. Based on Canada’s criminal code incitement to commit murder is a crime, not to mention a gross unethical and immoral act.

We, signatories of this petition, demand Dr. Flanagan’s immediate expulsion from University of Calgary. We hope that University of Calgary does not squander its reputation by associating with someone who condones murder in the name of politics.

Sincerely,

The Undersigned
PETITION: Dr. Tom Flanagan’s immediate expulsion from University of Calgary

And there’s a FaceBook page:

Facebook Page: Investigate Tom Flanagan for inciting murder against Julian Assange

People feel strongly about the issue because the University’s implied support casts a pall on the reputations of staff, students and alumni. The institution’s inexplicable silence is only making things worse.

Letter: Dismiss Tom Flanagan

Peter Bowal: Double standard on free speech at U of C

If you wish to write a personal letter, you may do so by writing to:

Elizabeth Cannon, the President of the U of Calgary. Her email is
president@ucalgary.ca
and you might wish to CC this suggested list:
chair@ucalgary.ca
senate@ucalgary.ca
jim.dinning@senate.ucalgary.ca
alumni@ucalgary.ca
eosler@ucalgary.ca

sitting in front of a wine rack and Fraser Institue banner

Compounding the Situation

Because Tom Flanagan said these things on CBC, and because of who he is, his remarks have been heard around the world.

Canada used to have a reputation for being a good world citizen. Allowing these remarks to go unchecked makes us all look bad.

Tom Flanagan didn’t just make an empty threat on CBC, he didn’t just encourage the assassination of someone he disagrees with, he also threatened a woman who sent him an email he didn’t like. One may have been a mistake.  Two makes it a whole different ballgame. I have to wonder, what other things has Tom Flanagan said or done that went away because of his powerful friends and allies?

Tom Flanagan’s “joke defense” goes up in smoke when you add the threatening email into the mix.

This is world class bullying.

Either Flanagan doesn’t get the point, or else is confident he may act as he pleases with impunity.

Apparently he’s right.

All he had to do is say “I’m sorry” and all is well with the world.  Why do we waste money on a criminal justice system if all that’s necessary to get out of criminal charges is an apology? The Toronto Star reports that the Toronto Woman Gets Apology from former Harper Aid

So all is well, right? Except it is not.

The Pirate Party of Canada is planning a “Rally To Support Wikileaks”
Saturday, January 15, 2011 · 2:00pm – 5:00pm
Location University of Calgary, outside the social sciences building.
Calgary, AB
“Join with the Pirate Party of Canada and Pirate Parties around the world in peaceful assembly to support WikiLeaks, open government, freedom of the press, and freedom of speech. Take a stand against calls to assassinate journalists and whistleblowers.”
For more information contact mikkel@pirateparty.ca
https://www.pirateparty.ca/

implications of not charging Tom Flanagan

Friendly Media Relations

The law is written clearly and specifically to provide for prosecution whether or not the counseled indictable offence is ever carried out. Counseling assassination breaks the law as much as actually carrying out an assassination.

The media is downplaying Flanagan’s crime as a joke.

And perhaps his friends in our government don’t want him inconvenienced.

Was this “joke” was made with the blessing of our government. Was this a way to publicly threaten WikiLeaks with political deniability?

No one should be above the law.

Since politicians are the usual targets of assassination, I would have thought our governments would be very careful about allowing such cavalier advocacy.

Tom Flanagan has broken the law.  That’s clear enough. Tom Flanagan should NOT be able to break the law on National Television with impunity.

Tom Flanagan must be charged.   If he’s not, it makes a mockery of Canada’s criminal justice system.

A court of law must decide.

“Something has to be done to let the people who have received his message know that assassination is murder, and a crime in every country of the world,”

–Gail Davidson, The Montreal Gazette: Charge ex-Harper aide for ‘assassinate Julian Assange’ comment: lawyer

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Image Credits:

Tom Flanagan at OPUS Hotel photo by Urban Mixer / Raj Taneja on Flickr released under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic

Julian AssangeThis photo by New Media Days / Peter Erichsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.

“Jack Bauer” – Wallpaper by Tim Norris under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic License

University of Calgary Alumni photo by damclean under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License

Ayatollah Khomeini by travfotos / Terry Feuerborn under an Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic Creative Commons License on Flickr

Tom Flanagan at OPUS Hotel photo by Urban Mixer / Raj Taneja on Flickr released under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic

Tom Flanagan at OPUS Hotel photo by Urban Mixer / Raj Taneja on Flickr released under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic

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