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!

Advertisements

Proportional Representation for Canada

Ahead to What’s So Bad About First Past The Post?
Canadian Flag Banner
I’m a Canadian.  Like many I come from settler stock… my paternal ancestors emigrated to Canada before confederation (although my paternal grandmother didn’t arrive until the 1920’s), and my maternal ancestors fled the Russian Revolution. My husband’s family emigrated from the Netherlands in 1967.

I have always been happy to be Canadian, and Canada is a pretty good country to live in.  The problem is that instead of getting better, far too much has gotten worse over the course of my lifetime.

Circular File for VotesCitizen Engagement

When I was in high school, I wrote letters to Perrin Beatty, my local MP.  And I was blown away when  he called me to discuss my issues.  So that’s how I thought it was supposed to work.  But it’s different now.  If a letter mailed to MPs or MPPs might elicit a response, it generally comes months later, and is far more likely to be a form letter than anything that actually responds to what I’ve written.

The issues that have bothered me throughout my adulthood never seem to get better; they’ve just multiplied.  It isn’t that I’ve given up, but my voting has never made any difference.  It took me a long time to understand that the fundamental problem is that although Canada is a representative democracy, it isn’t very representative.  After voting in every election for more than 30 years, no one I have ever voted for has ever been elected to Parliament.  Or Queen’s Park.  Our representative democracy certainly has not represented me.

Whenever I vote, I cast my vote for the candidate I think will best represent my interests in Parliament.  It’s not that I only vote for fringe parties, I have voted for all the majors at one point or another.  What I started noticing is the candidates and parties that actually listen to citizens are those with no hope of getting elected this time. When winning a majority becomes a possibility, they stop listening to us and start telling us.

Naturally, off and on over the years I’ve been upset enough to join the odd protest in hopes of convincing this government or that to listen. But that too has rarely worked.

Voting has always been a futile exercise for me, so I was teetering on the brink of giving it up.  Except… I’m a mother.  Didn’t your mother ever tell you the sign of a good guest is to leave a place better than you found it?  In an alarming number of ways, the Canada of today is much worse than the Canada I started with, and frankly, that isn’t the Canada I want to leave to my son, or any of the generations to follow.

Meaningful Electoral Reform Election Results: 2011 and 2015

Many people think the act of casting a ballot makes for democracy.  But I’ve been doing it my whole life and it it has never resulted in representation in Parliament.  The problem in Canada is that some votes count more than others, while most don’t count at all.  So it’s no wonder so many people give up on voting.  Why waste your time doing something so pointless?  Defenders of the status quo insist that all is well with our First Past The Post electoral system because all our votes are counted.  But just because my vote is counted does not mean it counts.

Which is why I was on the verge of giving up myself, until I discovered our FPTP winner-take-all system isn’t the only democratic system.  This is difficult for us because it’s the only way most of us have any familiarity with. Our system is based on the UK Westminster Parliament and although there are significant differences, the American presidential model of goverment is also a winner-take-all system.  More formally known as “majoritan/plurality,” electoral systems that only allow for a single winner are “winner-take-all.”  Elections in Canadian electoral districts result in a single winner. This winner only rarely wins a majority of votes, because s/he only needs to win the most votes.  In a 5 candidate race that might mean as little as twenty something percent of the votes cast.

Our current majority Liberal government was elected with 39.5% of the votes cast by Canadians.  This government replaced a majority Conservative government elected with 39.6% of the vote.  The net result is that a majority of Canadians did not vote for the party that won all the power.  A majority of Canadian votes didn’t count.  The reality is that more eligible Canadian voters did not vote at all than voted for the Liberal Party (or the Conservative Party before them).

But this isn’t the way it has to be.  We don’t have to settle for winner-take all politics, there are different kinds of voting systems that result in Proportional Representation. All that means is that 39% of the votes only deliver 39% of the power in Parliament. The reality is 90+ countries use some form of Proportional Representation.

And we could too.

It’s easy for Canadians to to get confused by the different factors because we have little or no experience with Proportional Representation.  But if we are ever going to be able to solve the most important problems we face we must adopt some form of Proportional Representation.   Since Canadians have given the  Liberal Government an actual mandate to replace our unfair winner-take-all First Past The Post system following consultation with Canadians, it is incredibly important for us to become informed so we can achieve the meaningful electoral reform we need.

Although I’m not an expert, over the last few years I’ve been learning a lot about Proportional Representation.  Over the next months I will do my best to share what I’ve learned with you.  There’s so much to cover, so I plan on posting a new article in the series at least once a week (on Fridays) but more if I have time.  If Canada is to truly be a Representative Democracy, we all need representation.

Resources

I’ll be putting together a resources page in the sidebar, but to get you started, Fair Vote Canada is a multi-partisan grass roots organization that advocates for Proportional Representation.

I’ve been putting together an Electoral Reform Playlist of videos in YouTube you may find helpful.

a horizontal border of red graphic maple leaves
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!

Canadians Deserve Facts from the Main Stream Media

06 vote_1745
GPC candidate Bob Jonkman casts his vote (2015)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NONSENSE!

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

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

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

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

what do Liberals want?

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

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

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

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

regional representation

Mixed Member Proportional ballot in mock election

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

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

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

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

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

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

do we really want to retain the status quo?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

flag_1422banner


Image Credits

Borgen by Tommeh72 released under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License

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

Is the NDP Greener than Green?

I’m no expert, but I have been told by NDP friends that their party policy is dramatically “greener” than Green Party policy on environment issues.  When the NDP’s Linda McQuaig spoke out,  I thought …maybe…  But as it turns out, I was wrong.  Climate scientist Andrew Weaver is an environment expert. He is also the Green Party Member of the Legislative Assembly for Oak Bay-Gordon Head in BC, so I am very pleased to be able to present his much more informed perspective on the two environmental policies in this guest post.

a horizontal border of red graphic maple leaves

Elizabeth May
“Only the Federal Green Party has been honest
about the need to keep oil sands production
at two million barrels a day. “

Greenwashing

by Andrew Weaver

Linda McQuaig speaks the truth and rather than supporting her, the NDP party brass throw her under the bus. I am disappointed that the Liberals criticized McQuaig but expected as much from the Harper Tories.

Only the Federal Green Party has been honest about the need to keep oil sands production at two million barrels a day.

Federally, Mulcair is so twisted up in inconsistencies re: Kinder Morgan that it is stunning. He wants to wait until the NEB process is over. But that didn’t stop the NDP being against Northern Gateway before the NEB process was over. And the NEB process this time is so rigged it’s not funny. The reality is, it is entirely unsafe and completely irresponsible to be increasing our shipments of diluted bitumen threefold. Vancouver is trying to brand itself as the world’s greenest city by 2020. That can’t happen when it becomes one of the world’s great fossil fuel exporters.

And finally here is what Horgan, the BC NDP leader tells the Kids for Climate Action Group when asked if he would sign their pledge to keep BC’s 2020 targets. He called it a “shallow publicity stunt, saying the target won’t be met and he wouldn’t sign the document because it isn’t possible”. And not a single BC NDP MLA asked was willing to sign the Kids for Climate Action commitment to take steps to limit thermal coal. Why? It’s obvious. The BC NDP are more concerned about what taking such a position might look to their labour union puppet masters than they are about thinking of intergenerational equity.

The Best, Worst, and Strangest of our Government’s Plan for Climate Change

So the evidence is clear, the NDP both provincially and federally are all over the map and completely unprincipled on actions to deal with climate change.

Thomas Mulcair, federal NDP Leader
“Federally, Mulcair is so twisted up in inconsistencies re: Kinder Morgan that it is stunning.”

Rather than pretending they are something that they are not, they should be honest with people. I would actually have far more respect for them if they were.

Some will argue “Let’s give them a chance it will be better”. Frankly we only have to look at the about face of Notley’s climate campaigning once she got elected to know what we can expect. What happened to her talk about proportional representation? Sorry. It’s about trust and you have to earn that. NDP actions clearly demonstrate otherwise.

Dion
“The federal NDP attacked Stéphane Dion’s green shift which was designed to put a price on carbon
yet offered nothing of substance up in return.”

 

 

 

 

And as Ed Wiebe pointed out, what is the NDP GHG reduction plan? It doesn’t exist. The Climate Change Accountability Act was only a monitoring Act. They’ve offered absolutely nothing but have the audacity to pretend that we should “trust them”.

I remember too well when the NDP attacked Gordon Campbell’s carbon tax with their cynical “axe the tax” campaign. The federal NDP attacked Stéphane Dion’s green shift which was designed to put a price on carbon yet offered nothing of substance up in return.

To my NDP friends, take a look in the mirror and please stop kidding yourselves. The BC and Federal NDP will not put in place any substantive plan to deal with climate change. You can take that to the bank.

a horizontal border of red graphic maple leaves
Image Credits:
My own photos of Elizabeth May, Thomas Mulcair and Stéphane Dion are released under a Creative Commons Attribution Unported 2.0 license available via Flickr.

For more information download the pdf

A COMPREHENSIVE GUIDE TO THE ALBERTA OIL SANDS: Understanding the Environmental and Human Impacxts, Export Implications and Political, Economic and Industry Influences bt Michelle Mech

42nd Canadian Election #elxn42

X marks the ballotThe long awaited 2015 federal election has been called, so Canadians are now being treated to one of the longest Federal Elections in Canadian History.  Because of strict spending caps, the standard election period has traditionally been half as long as the one we are having now.  Since the passage of the Harper Government’s Orwellianly titled “Fair Elections Act,” any party with an absurdly large budget (like, say, the Conservative Party of Canada) has an even better chance to outspend the other parties.  Will they be able to effectively “buy” an election win in this way?  I hope not.

Right now all the parties are scrambling to put on their game faces, but I have no doubt election fever will slow down a good bit until we get closer to the election.  We have time to catch our breath.  More important, we have time to start conversations about the Canada we want to have.  About the future we want for ourselves, and for our kids.

British SuffragetteThey call it “voter apathy” but I believe that’s a misnomer: we ought to call it “Voter Disillusionment.”  Although our electoral system is not only antiquated but unfair, a great many Canadians — on the order of 40% in 2011 — have become disillusioned or have other reasons for not getting out to vote.  The fewer Canadians who vote, the weaker our representation in Parliament, as we can see from much of the legislation pushed through with little or no scrutiny by our current majority government.

Originally, our First Past The Post electoral system was designed to serve rich white men.  It was only well into the 20th century that all Canadian citizens of legal age finally achieved the right to vote, but still, the system adopted before confederation wasn’t never intended to serve all Canadians.   No one knows better than I — after 30+ years of voting in every election without ever sending a representative to Parliament — just how unfair our winner-take-all electoral system actually is.  However, this year, meaningful electoral reform to Proportional Representation is indeed on the table.  The Harper Government has a majority government– and 100% of the power — based on less than 40% of the vote.  In the last election, more eligible Canadian voters did not vote than those who voted for the Harper Government’s majority.   If all the disillusioned Canadian voters were to vote this year, things would indeed change.

Canada’s fortunes will certainly improve with a switch to a better form of representative democracy, so I encourage everyone reading this to do your best to engage any other eligible voters you know who might ordinarily not vote to go to the polls this fall.  We see enough attack ads on tv… it is time for civil discussion about politics in our real lives.  My own strong hope is that the disillusioned voters will cast their votes for candidates who support Proportional Representation, but just voting for what you want is just as important.  Please consider: it is the Canadians who don’t vote who have the least representation in Ottawa.

It may help to direct any such potential voters to the many valuable online resources (here’s a borrowed list) to help them get informed, but please try not to influence their decision.  People who don’t believe they can vote for what they want are much less likely to vote at all, so please try to encourage them to vote for the candidate they believe will best represent them in Ottawa. Canada Flag Banner

 

 

 

 

Municipal Proportional Representation

My submission to Ontario’s municipal ranked ballot consultation

Q: What are your thoughts on using ranked ballots for Ontario municipal elections?
A: I disagree with even considering ranked ballots for municipal use unless they are used to introduce an element of proportionality to the electoral process. In order to achieve this there is a need for multi-member districts or offices so Ranked Ballots might be used in an STV (Single Transferable Vote) system.

Q: Should municipalities be able to use ranked ballots for certain offices and not others? For example, only for mayor?

A: I have never bought into the idea that instant runoff voting is somehow more democratic than any other winner-take-all system. This is why I don’t agree with any winner-take-all method to elect a mayor. Ranked ballots should only be used in multi-member races to ensure a proportional outcome (again, as in STV).

The proportionally elected municipal council could select the mayor. The idea of democracy is to make government accountable to the people, so investing a disproportionate amount of power in the office of leader seems more like re-establishing a non-hereditary monarchy via by election. That might have seemed reasonable when they signed the Magna Carta, but we ought to be able to do better than that in the 21st century.

Q: Should public consultation by a municipality be required before implementing ranked ballots or before changing from ranked ballots back to the current system?

A: Any major change to our electoral process should require both public education and consultation.

Q: What form should that consultation take?

A: Empanelling an independent citizen’s assembly to study the issue and make recommendations would be a good start. It is critical that enough time is allotted to do this work. After the recommendations are made, there should be should be public consultation meetings, ideally conducted both online and off before following up with a binding referendum requiring a simple majority. Once the new system is chosen there should be a set time or number of elections for the new system to be practiced, after which a second referendum to determine whether to keep it, try something else or return to the old way should be held.

Q: Unlike the current system, ranked ballots can involve multiple rounds of counting before all the seats to be elected have been won.

How much information would you want about election results? For example, where there have been multiple rounds of counting would you want to see the results of each round of counting or just the final results?

A: The details of all the results should be shared in the interest of open government. This can be done easily and cheaply in a digital world.

Q: Are there other ideas you wish to share on ranked ballots that you would like us to consider?

A: If ranked ballots are to be used in a non-proportional winner-take-all system, multiple rounds of counting wherein candidates are dropped from the race must require multiple votes, not instant runoff voting.
ON pr

Voters can use Talking Points too

Harold Albrecht, my MP
Harold Albrecht

When a candidate (or her canvasser) shows up at your door, or when you get an opportunity to chat at the local Canada Day celebration, or maybe at a Fund Raiser, or on social media, or at the debates, isn’t it high time we start letting them know what is really important to us?  This is supposed to be a democracy, right?  That means they are supposed to be working for us.

But instead of actually conversing with us, very often candidates or elected representative use well rehearsed “talking points,” which are really just a prearranged script provided by the party to inform us of their party line.  Isn’t it hight time we turned the tables?

If my MP were to appear at my door, I might ask Harold, “Why are you sending your advertisements monthly when we both know you are only allowed to mail out 4 a year?”

The trick is to take a few minutes and think of what you want to ask before you actually see them.  Or maybe wait until you are inspired by their political ads.  Write your concerns down in point form and you’ll have your own set of “talking points.”

You might want to ask, “What do you think about outlawing political ads and giving Elections Canada the teeth to enforce it?”

The single most important issue for me is meaningful electoral reform.  I think the growing list of unsolved problems facing us are largely unsolved because there is no incentive to actually solve our problems under a winner-take-all system.  And I don’t think any party should have 100% of the power unless 100% of the population voted for it.  If even 51% voted for them, that still means 49% didn’t.  In 2011 14,720,580 Canadians voted. But the reality is that a mere 6,201 votes in 14 hotly contested electoral districts gave the Harper Government a majority.  So my own talking points are all about PR.

The thing to remember is that you don’t have to be a Proportional Representation expert to ask:

  • Should elections be about a few swing voters in a few swing ridings leaving most voters unrepresented or ignored?
  • Do you think a party gets 39% of the vote should get 39% of the seats?
  • Do you think some votes should be worth more than others, while some are worth nothing at all?
  • What will you do to make every vote will count, and count equally?
Fair Vote booth at the Kitchener Multicultural Festival
Fair Vote Canada’s Bob Jonkman and Sharon Sommerville discuss Proportional Representation at the Kitchener Multicultural Festival.

I want 2015 to be the last unfair election.  Don’t you?

a horizontal border of red graphic maple leaves

(Maybe we should all be writing to CBC to encourage them to air the Danish political series “Borgen” a political series like “House of Cards” set in a nation that successfully uses Proportional Representation.   But then, we should also be writing to tell them to air the “The Secret Trial 5” too.)

Image Credit:

Photos by me released under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License