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.

a horizontal border of red graphic maple leaves

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!

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#digicon

was #copycon futile?

Last year the Canadian Government held a Copyright Consultation to ask Canadians what we thought was important for Canadian copyright law. More than 8,000 Canadians from all across Canada made #copycon submissions. We have yet to see if we were heard, although rumour has it that the legislature will be seeing a new Canadian Copyright bill soon… possibly for June 2010. Many of us have serious concerns about whether it was an exercise in futility or not.

No.

From my perspective, even if the government does not listen and learn from the #copycon, I know I have learned an enormous amount about copyright and how we think from other Canadians who made submissions. From things I’ve read and learned from the #copycon, if I were to make a copyright submission today it would be very different. But that’s another post.

Canadians are talking about copyright, and understanding the forces at play much better. The conversation is far from over, and we need to get a handle on things and come to a consensus about before law is made.

What was said by Canadians in the formal Copyright Consultation submissions has laid the foundation of a valuable resource for all Canadians. A reference primer of “What Canadians Want”.

we don’t want bad law

But the law may be made anyway. Rumours that the government will try to push through a Canadian DMCA (a Bill C61 clone) have many citizens worried. But sometimes that happens, bad laws get passed.

Probably one of the biggest exercises in lawmaking futility was the American 1919 Volstead Act which we know more familiarly as Prohibition. God fearing law abiding solid citizens— people who wouldn’t have so much as dreamt of jay walking before Prohibition— instantly transformed into criminals frequenting speakeasies when the American law outlawing alcoholic beverages went into effect. The roaring twenties came and went before Prohibition was repealed in 1933.

Because prohibition favored the goals of a special interest group over society’s mores it just couldn’t work. Aside from fostering near universal flagrant contempt for the law among citizens, a serious byproduct was the support this bad law gave to the growth of organized crime. Before American Prohibition, the mafia was just some petty disorganized criminals. After Prohibition gangsters became rock stars. How many books, articles, movies and even musicals have grown up out of the gangster mystique. Canada’s own gangster wannabes in The Boyd Gang seem to have hatched out of the gangster mythology. Folk heroes even.

Friar Tuck and Robin Hood in Sherwood Forest, Robin In The Hood Festival
Hundreds of years later we still idolize Robin Hood

What I know of history has shown that when bad laws are passed the populace initially chafes and suffers. Although the government passing the bad law hopes that people will put up with it, one thing that they never seem to expect is that bad laws provide their opponents with points of commonality.

Often people who are ideologically incapable of co-operating are galvanized into finding a way to work together when a bad law is passed. The bad law itself becomes a visible rallying point, a specific dragon to slay.

One of the most compelling things that any bad law provides to its detractors are the martyrs.

Although I talked about this story as an example of what to expect if the secret A.C.T.A. treaty is passed, it is a real life demonstration of what is happening right now in the US under the existing American DMCA. A young woman went to jail for the crime of recording her sister’s birthday party.

And although history shows that bad laws tend to be overturned in time, I still think it’s better not to have bad laws in the first place.

In the case of copyright, the people who will be most harmed by bad copyright law are the younger generation, many of whom have not attained voting age. As a mother, this special interest group is important to me, because I don’t want to see bad things happen to our best and brightest.

As a student of history I do know that there will very soon be a time when this generation will not only be able to vote but, may well be able to form a government. When I was a teenager we thought running for student council was a big deal. Today Canada’s newest political party has been formed largely by people barely old enough to vote.

Digital Economy Consultation

In the meantime the Canadian government has again asked us for our input.

This time it is for a Digital Economy Consultation. How the Canadian Government reacts to the changes caused by the digital world will have a huge impact on our future. Our economy.

A long time ago Canada had climbed to the forefront of the world of technology with the Avro Arrow. Yet an incredibly short sighted government pulled the plug on that and well and truly killed the project. Naturally it triggered a “brain drain”, as many of Canada’s best and brightest migrated to the United States to work at NASA. Surely we don’t want to go that route again.

Acryllic on Illustration board painting by Aviation Artist Lance Russwurm
Once Canada led the world in technology...

We certainly don’t want to end up in a legislative shambles the way the United Kingdom has. Their ill advised Digital Economy Bill (know to Twitterati as #DEBill) which was rushed through the legislative procedure without proper scrutiny resulted in a hung parliament and the fall of a Prime Minister. Surely Canada doesn’t want to go that route either.

All Canadians should try to participate…

…even if we say what we think and what we want, and they choose not to hear, the ideas will still be out there floating in the ether.

Judging by the quantity and passion of the comments I’ve been reading in online articles to do with weighty issues like UBB and copyright, many of us have thought about this and have a lot of good ideas. This is a good place to put them. And what better time to be heard than when we are lucky enough to have a minority government. At times like this, governments at least try to give the appearance of listening.

Maybe that doesn’t sound like much, but as a mom I can tell you, when you ask your kid to pretend to go to sleep, before long he really is asleep. Maybe if our government starts out by appearing to listen to our submissions they will accidentally find themselves actually listening.

It’s worth a shot.

#digicon

I think that the #digicon will be just as valuable for Canadians as the #copycon was. The process isn’t quite the same as the earlier consultation. As I understand it, off topic comments (such as talking about copyright reform) are likely to be moderated out of the forums.

Read the #digicon Consultation Paper
Participate in the digicon forums – see what other people have to say
DENT about #digicon
tweet about #digicon.
Talk about it on your wall.
Then write your own submission.
**Note: They want a 250 – 500 word summary of the submission as well. I assume to make it easier to sort the piles.

the process

It seems that although the 40 page Submission Guidelines can be downloaded as a PDF, they are also available in clear HTML on the website. Yay! I love that they are asking for submissions in

text-only format or as a document upload (e.g., Word, RTF or WordPerfect formats”

http://de-en.gc.ca/submissions/

Sounds like they’d rather not get stuck in the PDF morass they had for copycon. Deconstructing all the PDF submissions is probably the chief reason why it took so long for all the submissions to be posted online.
(I hate PDFs!)

time limit

As of today, there are 49 days to make a submission. But there’s a lot to think about, so don’t leave it until the last minute (as so many of us did with #copycon)

Things you might say today may help someone else develop a brilliant strategy that would benefit us all. (Hint: that’s why re:mixing is such a good idea)

back-up

I read a comment yesterday from someone who was concerned that the comment or link they’d posted to the #digicon page had been subsequently removed (or moved somewhere else).

If you’re concerned that may happen to your comments or links, or if you’ve something you want to say about the Canadian Digital Economy Consultation that you feel may not survive their moderation, feel free to put it in the #digicon links & comments
My only rules: no spam, no personal attacks/hate mongering.

Similarly, if you have pertinent links you think may help answer questions or examine the issues, feel free to include them. If they start to pile up, when I have a minute I’ll list them under #digicon links in the sidebar.

insurance

Because some Canadians are a bit cynical, we not only submitted our formal #copycon submission to the government, we also posted it on our blogs or websites as (ahem) insurance.

As any emerging artist knows, the wider you can disseminate your art the more people will have the opportunity to become a fan. Or in this case, the more people who can see and read the argument, the more can understand the argument.

to blog or not to blog

If you don’t have one, you can get a free blog from various sources; personally I’d recommend WordPress.
If you don’t want a blog, but want to be heard, I’m willing to post submissions on the Oh! Canada blog as a guest post.

Consultation Questions

Innovation Using Digital Technologies

  • Should Canada focus on increasing innovation in some key sectors or focus on providing the foundation for innovation across the economy?
  • Which conditions best incent and promote adoption of ICT by Canadian business?
  • What would a successful digital strategy look like for your firm or sector? What are the barriers to implementation?
  • Once copyright, anti-spam and data breach/privacy amendments are in place, are their other legislative or policy changes needed to deal with emerging issues?
  • How can Canada use its regulatory and policy regime to promote Canada as a favourable environment for e-commerce?

Digital Infrastructure

  • What speeds and other service characteristics are needed by users (e.g., consumers, businesses, public sector bodies) and how should Canada set goals for next generation networks?
  • What steps must be taken to meet these goals? Are the current regulatory and legislative frameworks conducive to incenting investment and competition? What are the appropriate roles of stakeholders in the public and private sectors?
  • What steps should be taken to ensure there is sufficient radio spectrum available to support advanced infrastructure development?
  • How best can we ensure that rural and remote communities are not left behind in terms of access to advanced networks and what are the priority areas for attention in these regions?

Growing the ICT Industry

  • Do our current investments in R&D effectively lead to innovation, and the creation of new businesses, products and services? Should we promote investments in small start-ups to expand our innovation capacity?
  • What is needed to innovate and grow the size of the ICT industry including the number of large ICT firms headquartered in Canada?
  • What would best position Canada as a destination of choice for venture capital and investments in global research and development mandates?
  • What efforts are needed to address the talent needs in the coming years?

Canada’s Digital Content

  • What does creating Canada’s digital content advantage mean to you?
  • What elements do you want to see in Canada’s marketplace framework for digital media and content?
  • How do you see digital content contributing to Canada’s prosperity?
  • What kinds of infrastructure investments do you foresee making in the future? What kinds of infrastructure will you need in the future to be successful at home and abroad?
  • How can stakeholders encourage investment, particularly early stage investment, in the development of innovative digital media and content?

Building Digital Skills

  • What do you see as the most critical challenges in skills development for a digital economy?
  • What is the best way to address these challenges?
  • What can we do to ensure that labour market entrants have digital skills?
  • What is the best way to ensure the current workforce gets the continuous upskilling required to remain competitive in the digital economy? Are different tactics required for SMEs versus large enterprises?
  • How will the digital economy impact the learning system in Canada? How we teach? How we learn?
  • What strategies could be employed to address the digital divide?

Improving Canada’s Digital Advantage

  • Should we set targets for our made-in-Canada digital strategy? And if so, what should those targets be?
  • What should the timelines be to reach these targets?

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There are a lot of questions. After reading the material, listening and/or participating in the forum discussions, chatting with co-workers around the water cooler or the oil rig, or the kids in your youth group, or with your e-friends on Identi,ca, Twitter or Facebook…

Say what you think.

Our government is asking us for input. Let’s give it to them.

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[Digital Economy Simulpost: Since this will affect all Canadians, I’m posting the same post in all three of my blogs, Oh! Canada, StopUBB, and in the wind]