Electoral System Roundup

Why No Referendum?When Canadians Learn about PR with CGP Grey

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

Rep By Pop

George Brown
George Brown

Canadians have been arguing about how we should vote since before Confederation.

At that time, Upper Canada (what would become Ontario) and Lower Canada (what would become Quebec) had equal representation in government.  When the system was initially put in place, the French population outnumbered the English, but by the time of Confederation, only about 40% were French.  If Upper Canada’s George Brown had his way, the government of the new Dominion of Canada would be elected with Rep by Pop (Representation by Population) in which every vote cast across the Canada would be equal.

Since the regions that were to contemplating federation were unequally endowed in population, compromise was needed, so the decision was made to establish proportionate representation among the provinces.

Every province and territory is allocated a certain number of seats in the House of Commons according to a formula set out in section 51 of the Constitution Act, 1867, along with other historical seat guarantees found in the constitution.”
Electoral Systems and Electoral Reform in Canada and Elsewhere: An Overview: 2.1 Canada’s “First-Past-the-Post” Electoral System

Sir Sandford Fleming
Sir Sandford Fleming

In 1892 the renowned Canadian engineer and inventor Sir Sandford Flemming lobbied for the implementation of Proportional Representation with “An appeal to the Canadian institute on the rectification of Parliament.” Unfortunately, then, as now, powerful forces were employed to preserve the unfair status quo.

Still, the idea of embracing Proportional Representation in order to attain electoral fairness didn’t die out.  Voting reform has moved to the forefront as Canadians have become increasingly aware that our votes don’t count.

Recommended for Canada

Over the years the inadequacies in Canada’s Voting system has resulted in much study.

  1. 1977: Manitoba Law Reform Commission Working Paper on Electoral Reform recommended Single Transferable Vote (STV) in urban areas.
  2. 1979: Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s Pepin-Robarts Commission recommended Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) for Canada
  3. 1984:  Quebec Electoral Representation Commission tabled a report recommending Proportional Representation
  4. 2003: Quebec’s Estates General on the Reform of Democratic Institutions recommended Mixed Member Proportional (MMP)
  5. 2003:  Prince Edward Island’s Hon. Norman Carruthers Report recommended Mixed Member Proportional (MMP)
  6. 2003:  Quebec government study led to a Quebec government recommendation of MMP
  7. 2004:  The Law Commission of Canada 3 three-year study/Consultation recommended Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) for Canada
  8. 2004:  British Columbia Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform recommended Single Transferable Vote (STV)
  9. 2005:  New Brunswick’s Commission on Legislative Democracy recommended Mixed Member Proportional (MMP)
  10. 2006:  Quebec Citizens’ Committee Report recommended Mixed Member Proportional (MMP)
  11. 2006:  Quebec Select Committee Report recommended Mixed Member Proportional (MMP)
  12. 2007:  Ontario Citizens’ Assembly recommended Mixed Member Proportional (MMP)
  13. 2007:  Quebec Chief Electoral Officer’s Report recommended Mixed Member Proportional (MMP)

[Note: For more detail on the list of 13 recommendations please visit  Fair Vote Canada’s Thirteen Canadian Commissions, Assemblies and Reports that have recommended proportional representation Page.

Electoral Systems

We tend to think the ballot has more power than it actually has because it is the public face of the election contest.  It’s our user interface.  Which is why it is important for the ballot to be easy for voters to understand— voters shouldn’t have to come out from behind the privacy screen in the voting station to ask the poll clerk how their ballot should be marked.  Voters need to be able to indicate their preference if they are to have any hope of electing the Member of Parliament that will best represent them.  But the ballot is still just one of the elements of electoral system design.

The procedure by which qualified voters determine who our representative will be is called an electoral system.  The different elements that go together to make up an electoral system determine:

  • the structure of the ballot
  • how votes are cast
  • the way votes are counted, and
  • the criteria needed to win

At this point most Canadian electoral reformers have a very good idea which voting systems are more likely to go over well with Canadians. Because this is such a confusing topic, I have chosen to limit this article to the electoral systems that might be used in Canada.
Winner-Take-All

Plurality or Majority

Only one winner is possible in a winner-take-all voting system. Just as it sounds, at the end of the election contest, one winner gets it all, the candidates who against them are losers, the citizens who voted for them are left without effective representation in Parliament.


FPTPFPTP
First Past The Post • Single Member Plurality

The voting system we have been using federally in Canada since Confederation.  It may appear as if we have one Canada wide election, but in reality we actually elect Members of Parliament in 338 individual winner-take-all elections.

The area within each province is divided into separate electoral districts, or ridings, each represented by a single member of Parliament. During an election, the successful candidate is the individual who garners the highest number of votes (or a plurality) in the riding, regardless of whether that represents a majority of the votes cast or not. The leader of the party that secures the largest number of seats in the House, and can therefore hold its confidence, is generally invited by the Governor General to be the prime minister and form government.”

— Electoral Systems and Electoral Reform in Canada and Elsewhere: An Overview: 2.1 Canada’s “First-Past-the-Post” Electoral System

And, of course, this is the voting system Mr. Trudeau vowed to replace.


AVAVAV (Alternative Vote)
Alternative Vote
majority-preferential
Preferential Voting
PV
Preferential Ballot
PB
Instant Runoff Voting
IRV
Ranked Ballot
The system is most accepted in single winner elections (as for Mayor or President,) but the system flaws have tends to be found wanting because it doesn’t produce outcomes very different than our current winner-take-all First Past The Post system.

Alternative Vote (AV):
This system is also known as preferential voting.
On the ballot, voters rank the candidates running in their riding in order of their preference.
To be elected, a candidate must receive a majority of the eligible votes cast.
Should no candidate garner a majority on the first count, the candidate with the fewest votes is dropped, and the second preferences on those ballots are redistributed to the remaining candidates.
This process continues until one candidate receives the necessary majority.

— Electoral Systems and Electoral Reform in Canada and Elsewhere: 3.1 Plurality or Majority Systems

Over the years Alternative Vote has been adopted here and there though out the world for varying periods of time.  Here in Canada the province of British Columbia used AV in its 1951 and 1952 elections, and Manitoba used AV in its rural ridings for about three decades ending in the 1950s.

The only country that has used the Alternative Vote system at the federal level of government for any length of time is Australia, where this winner-take-all system was adopted in 1918.  But the 1948 majority government decided to implement the Single Transferable Vote Proportional Representation to its Senate elections.

But a fresh review of the historical record shows that the 1948 decision was really the final stage in a frequently-deferred plan of parliamentary reform that goes back to Federation. Even before Federation, many prominent constitutional framers had expected the first Parliament to legislate for proportional representation for the Senate. Sure enough, the Barton government included Senate proportional representation in the original Electoral Act, but this was rejected in the Senate on the plausible ground that it would undermine the established conventions of strong party government.”
Parliament of Australia: Why We Chose Proportional Representation

A mix of Alternative Vote (majority-preferential) and Proportional Representation (quota-preferential) can also be found in Australia’s provincial Upper and Lower Houses.

Although this system is so little used, the data is fairly consistent.  New and small parties are allowed to participate, but the system is designed to funnel their votes back to the major parties, so although voters may be freer to actually vote for the candidate that would best represent their interests in Parliament, they are unlikely to ever elect them.

Because Alternative Vote raises the bar to 50%+1, Alternative Vote makes it even more difficult to elect women and minorities than under First Past the Post.

Alternative Vote is thought to provide an edge to centrist parties because centrist parties are likely to be the second choice of voters on both left and right.  But this is still a winner-take-all system that leaves too large a proportion of Canadians without representation in Parliament.   Adopting Alternative Vote would give the appearance of change while effectively retaining the status quo.

Does any electoral system have more aliases than Alternative Vote?  Proponents of this system seem to be continually rebranding their favored winner-take-all electoral system, presumably to better market it to voters.  This proliferation of names for the same system adds a great deal to the confusion around voting reform.

You might have noticed that Fair Vote Canada’s Thirteen Canadian Commissions, Assemblies and Reports that have recommended proportional representation Page doesn’t include a single recommendation for Alternative Vote.

proportional representation

Proportional Representation

While Alternative Vote is a single system with many different names, the defenders of the status quo very often give the impression that Proportional Representation is a single electoral system.  This tactic frees them to cherry pick the worst examples of problems found among the 90+ countries that have adopted Proportional systems over the last century or so to “prove” this will happen if we adopt Proportional Representation.

Proportional Representation is not a single electoral system, it is the name given to the family of electoral systems that share the principle of proportionality. The one good thing about Canada’s tardiness in attending the Proportional Representation party is the wealth of data from which we can learn about successes and failures experienced by other countries.  This way we can avoid the pitfalls while cherry picking the features we need to get the benefits we want from electoral reform.

The phrase “Proportional Representation” describes the outcome of elections in which the voting system ensures seats in Parliament are won in the proportion in which votes are cast.  Which is to say 39% of the votes would equal 39% of the power in the legislature.


STVSTVSTV (Single Transferable Vote) ballot
Single Transferable Vote
quota-preferential
ranked ballot
Proportional Ballot
Preferential Ballot

At a glance, the Single Transferable Vote looks very much like Alternative Vote.  After all, both systems make use of the ranked ballot.

Very often the proven benefits of STV (the Single Transferable Vote) are mistakenly cited as benefits that would be achieved with Alternative Vote.

Single Transferable Vote (STV):
Citizens in multi-member ridings rank candidates on the ballot.
They may rank as few or as many candidates as they wish.
Winners are declared by first determining the total number of valid votes cast, and establishing a vote quota (or a minimum number of votes garnered); candidates must meet or exceed the quota in order to be elected.
Candidates who receive the number of first-preference votes needed to satisfy the quota are elected. Any remaining votes for these candidates (that is, first-preference votes in excess of the quota) are redistributed to the second choices on those ballots.
Once these votes are redistributed, if there are still seats available after the second count, the candidate with the fewest first-preference votes is dropped and the second-preference votes for that candidate are redistributed.
This process continues until enough candidates achieve the quota to fill all available seats.

— Electoral Systems and Electoral Reform in Canada and Elsewhere: 3.2 Proportional Representation Systems

In order to retain the size of the legislature, riding boundaries would need to be redrawn, so existing electoral districts would be amalgamated into larger districts.  Voters can vote exclusively for the candidates they feel would represent them best, and partisan voters would have the opportunity to rank the candidates in their favoured party.  Single Transferable Vote achieves proportionality naturally, without giving political parties any extra advantage.

Single Transferable Vote achieves proportionality simply by increasing the number of MPs that would represent each district.  When only a single winner is possible, every party scrambles to run the candidate most likely to win most of the votes.  This generally results in a pretty homogeneous bunch of candidates; in Canada it almost always means a white male.  This is why Canada has such an abysmal record of electing women and minorities to our legislature, in spite of our vaunted multicultural diversity.  Around the world Proportional Representation has track record of electing more diverse governments that better represent the diversity of the electorate.  STV seems to do this best.

As I understand it, the difficulty in applying STV to a geographically enormous country like Canada can be quite a challenge.  In order to achieve a reasonable level of proportionality, there must be a large enough number of enough MPs.  Nine to Twelve member districts would be ideal, but would prove impractical. Such a system would require a fair bit of made-in-Canada tweaking for STV to be made to work effectively across this great nation.

Still, this is the 21st Century.  We live in a time when digital technology has made two way communication with far away people not only possible, but easy. The Internet helps shrink enormous geographic distances into workable communities.


MMPMMPFair Vote MMP mock election ballot
Mixed-Member Proportional
MMPR
MMPRS
Additional Member System
AMS

You may have noticed this is the electoral system that has been most often recommended for Canada in the Recommended for Canada section near the top of this article.  What you won’t see from my list is the many different ways of implementing a made-in-Canada version of MMP detailed on Fair Vote Canada’s Thirteen Canadian Commissions, Assemblies and Reports that have recommended proportional representation Page.

Mock MMPR Ballot #2That’s the thing about MMP, it is an extraordinarily customizable system.  Whenever anyone says, “this is MMP” and begins to explain it to you, chances are they are explaining their favoured rendition of it.  The Canadian Government website’s description isn’t quite right, nor do I much like the UK Electoral Reform Society’s explanation of their version of MMP called Additional Member System as used in the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, and the Greater London Assembly.

What we all agree on is MMP is a hybrid system combining a Plurality and List PR systems, imposed on post WWII West Germany by the Allies.
The ballot comes in two parts, one side contains a list of candidates, and the voter marks an “X” beside the name of the chosen candidate.
The voter is expected to mark an “X” to indicate their favoured party on the other side of the ballot.

Everything is changeable.Mock MMPR Ballot #3

Although the Candidate/Constituency side of the ballot is generally a First Past The Post ballot, it could just as easy be a ranked AV or STV style ballot. The Party side of the ballot also results in MPs, so the proportion of MPs on both sides is variable too.  There might be more party MPs or less, or they could just as easily be the same.

But the most changable portion of the MMP vallot is the Party side.  This is where we get into lists.  There are three kinds of lists:

Closed List MMP
The list of candidates is decided by the party.  The party ranks its candidates in the order in which it wants them.

Open List MMP
Mock MMPR Ballot #4
The list of candidates is included on the ballot, and the elector can vote for specific party candidate they like.  This side of the ballot might be done with an “x” or it might be ranked.

Listless MMP
As the name suggests, this system includes no list, like the Fair Vote mock Election MMPR ballots pictured here.  In this type of system, the candidates on the first side are elected in the usual way, and the list side candidates are determined from among the candidates who were not elected.  The party that needs 2 top-up candidates would get seats for their two unelected candidates who received the most votes.

Former Liberal Party Leader (and current cabinet minister) Stéphane Dion developed his own version of MMP he calls P3


DMPDual-member Mixed Proportional ballot
Dual Member Proportional Representation
Dual-member Mixed Proportional

Dual Member Proportional (more formally known as Dual-member Mixed Proportional) is a proportional electoral system that was created by Sean Graham in 2013 with funding from the University of Alberta’s Undergraduate Research Initiative. It was designed to meet Canada’s unique needs and to bridge the gap between Single Transferable Vote and Mixed Member Proportional advocates.
About DMP

Existing single member electoral districts would be amalgamated into 2 member ridings, so no new seats would need to be added to the Assembly.  Each Party can field up to two candidates in each riding, but voters each cast only a single vote, either for an Independent candidate, or one of two ranked candidates running for a party (or only one party candidate if only one is nominated).

Each district would elect two MPs, the 1st candidate in the party with the most votes would win the first seat, and the second seat would be used to ensure overall proportionality.

A nice twist is that Independent candidates get a little edge; if an Independent candidate comes first or second, s/he will be guaranteed a seat.

This made-in-Canada Proportional system was been chosen to be one of the electoral systems included in the upcoming referendum scheduled to take place in November 2016 in Prince Edward Island.


So there you have it. If you are interested in more detailed information, both Fair Vote Canada and Wikipedia are good sources. Also, check out my PR4Canada resources page (which has a link in the sidebar).

Next up will be my Voting Glossary.


Erratum

Although I will correct a typo, rearrange text for clarification or clean up other formatting errors without comment, when I make a substantive change to the content of an article published online, I always make note of it, as I am doing here: I’ve removed the following error of fact from the section about AV (Alternative Vote) above: “Since adopting AV, Australians have only ever managed to elect candidates from the three main parties to their House of Representatives.”

Thanks to Geoff Powell of PRSA (Proportional Representation Society of Australia) for pointing out my error:

Adam Bandt (Greens) is the member for Melbourne in the House of Representatives. Independents have been elected to the House, but usually after falling out with the party under whose banner they were originally elected. Greens are making inroads in inner Melbourne and Sydney as these areas become gentrified. Of course Greens get close to their fair share in the [Proportional] Senate despite its malapportionment.”

Thanks, Geoff!

Families of Electoral SystemsWhen Canadians Learn about PR with CGP Grey

Why No Referendum?
Proportional Representation For Canada series so far:

• Proportional Representation for Canada
• What’s so bad about First Past The Post
• Democracy Primer
• Working for Democracy
• The Popular Vote
• Why Don’t We Have PR Already?
• Stability
• Why No Referendum?
• Electoral System Roundup
• When Canadians Learn about PR with CGP Grey
• Entitlement
• Proportional Representation vs. Alternative Vote
• #ERRÉ #Q Committee
• #ERRÉ #Q Meetings & Transcripts
• Take The Poll ~ #ERRÉ #Q
Proportionality #ERRÉ #Q 
• The Poll’s The Thing 
• DIY Electoral Reform Info Sessions
• What WE Can Do for ERRÉ
• #ERRÉ today and Gone Tomorrow (…er, Friday)
• Redistricting Roulette 
• #ERRÉ submission Deadline TONIGHT!
#ERRÉ Submission by Laurel L. Russwurm
• The Promise: “We will make every vote count” #ERRÉ
FVC: Consultations Provide Strong Mandate for Proportional Representation #ERRÉ
PEI picks Proportional Representation
There is only one way to make every vote count #ERRÉ
Canada is Ready 4 Proportional Representation
Sign the Petition e-616
#ProportionalRepresentation Spin Cycle ~ #ERRÉ
• International Women’s Day 2017 ~ #IWD
• An Open Letter to ERRÉ Committee Liberals

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

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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!

80% of Canadians Want Climate Action

a horizontal border of red graphic maple leaves

Elizabeth May
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May

The Harper Government disallowed the participation of opposition parties to attend the COP19 climate change negotiations in Warsaw as part of the Canadian Delegation.  

Elizabeth May, Canada’s Green Party leader, attended the conference as part of the Afghanistan Delegation. 

What a dramatic illustration of the lack of representation Canadians have in what we are told is a democratic government.

The problem is that a winner-take-all electoral system, like the one we have now, means the majority of Canadians do not have a voice in parliament.

Canada needs to reclaim democracy before it is too late.

In 2015 we all must vote for candidates committed to electoral reform to proportional representation.

Nearly 50% of eligible Canadians voters don’t vote, many because our inequitable electoral system has made them feel disenfranchised.  Because only some votes count in our unfair out dated First Past The Post electoral system. We need to encourage everyone to vote for candidates committed to meaningful electoral reform in 2015.  If Canadians cast enough fractional votes for candidates committed to Proportional Representation, we will all win.

We need to make all our votes count.

a horizontal border of red graphic maple leaves

Image Credit
Elizabeth May by ItzaFineDay released under a creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License

For information on Proportional Representation visit FairVote.ca

Memo to NDP: Canada Needs Proportional Representation

Canadian FlagOne of the most compelling reasons Canada needs an electoral system that will produce an outcome of Proportional Representation is our diversity.  One size does not fit all.

Some Canadians support the political party they’ve chosen with the fervour of a hockey fan supporting their favorite team ~ no matter what. Others try to support the party that seems to best reflect the voter’s own ideology. Others, like me, don’t support any one party, but vote for the individual candidate that we hope will best represent our interests on an election by election basis.

As a small Ontario school child I was taught Canada is a democracy. It seemed the only fair way to govern a free country, so I was pretty pleased to be a Canadian. As I grew up and learned more about how our political system actually works, I discovered that what we here in Canada call democracy isn’t what I thought it was. Representation in government is a privilege only enjoyed by a few, denying most citizens an equal say in the decisions that affect our lives.

The disproportionate outcome of our Winner-Take-All electoral system infects our entire political system with inequity.  Here in Canada 30% of the vote can deliver a majority, because all our votes are not created equal.  Some votes count more than others, but most votes don’t count at all. Besides polarizing Canadians into “winners” and “losers”, this deprives us of democracy, a sad situation that can only be corrected through Proportional Representation.

Canada’s New Democratic Party (NDP) platform has supported Proportional Representation for a long time. But how strong is the NDP’s commitment to PR?

Julien Lamarche, President of the NCR chapter of Fair Vote Canada writes:

NDP flag

“Bonjour supporters,

As parties approach power, they have a natural tendency to drop the commitment to Proportional Represemtation.

It is important that we show to NDP leadership that the membership still cares about this issue.

If you are an NDP member, please:

0. Call Craig Scott at 613-992-9381 or 416-405-8914, tell them you’re an NDP member and you support resolution 5-40-13, 5-42-13, and 5-37-13 for proportional representation.

AND / OR

1. phone someone on your EDA (local riding) executive,

EDA info can be found here:
http://www.elections.ca/wpr_search.aspx?textonly=false&pagename=association_search&lang=e

2. find out who is going to the convention from your electoral district (riding),

3. call the delegates, see if one of them is willing to go to Panel 5 (Governing in an Inclusive and Fair Canada) on Friday morning,

4. ask that delegate to support the three resolutions making PR a fundamental plank of the next NDP election platform.

Fair Vote Canada display


error correction:
When I originally posted this I misquoted Julien as saying:
“tell your NDP member you support resolution”
when it should have said:
… “tell them you’re an NDP member and you support resolution” …
My error has now been corrected in the above text. ~ Laurel L. Russwurm

leadership

Canadian Political Party Logos

If you’ve read this blog before, you may know I’ve never belonged to a political party.

My own preference would be the eventual elimination of political parties altogether.

But parties are entrenched in our current system and are unlikely to go away any time soon.

So why would I sign up as a Liberal Party of Canada supporter?

I’ve known good people across the spectrum of Canadian Political Parties. The very existence of so many political parties speaks to the fact that a mere two parties is woefully inadequate to the task of representing us.

Canadians are quite a diverse bunch ~ one size does not fit all.

Like many Canadians, I want to see Canada redefined into a real democracy that actually seeks to represent all of us. But the only way to achieve that is through meaningful electoral reform. I think we deserve democracy.

“Democracy is a form of government in which all eligible citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. Democracy allows eligible citizens to participate equally—either directly or through elected representatives—in the proposal, development, and creation of laws. It encompasses social, economic and cultural conditions that enable the free and equal practice of political self-determination.”

Wikipedia: Democracy

Canadians have been led to believe that the ability to vote our government out of office makes our electoral system democratic. We’re supposed to have a representative democracy, but our electoral system is so unfair our “representatives” are virtually unaccountable.

Canadian FlagThe majority have learned that casting votes is futile in a system where some votes count more than others, and some count not at all. Since voting is disheartening; it’s hard to get out and vote, knowing the chance of actually being represented is slim to none. In fact, it’s not very democratic at all.

Worse, when we elect a majority government it’s effectively a dictatorship for the length of the term. And like any Winner-Take-All electoral system, ours is adversarial by nature, which guarantees that competition will trump consensus every time.

So candidates win or lose.

And parties win or lose.

But worst of all, citizens win or lose.

That may be a fine way to run a dictatorship, but a democracy? Not at all.

“The idea that someone whom you didn’t vote for, who does not agree with you on the issue you are concerned about can be an effective representative for you is ludicrous. “Representation” is not about removing uncertainty about which phone number to call to report potholes; it is about being connected to someone who shares your politics who can advocate for things you believe in in a legislative context.”

Stuart Parker

getting there

In the Globe and Mail

In the Globe and Mail:
Representative democracy is supposed to provide all citizens with representation in government.
But the reality is that most Canadians are not represented most of the time. The only part of our antiquated inequitable Winner-Take-All electoral system that might be called democratic is our right to vote. But how democratic is it when the majority of Canadians cast votes that don’t count?
In more than 30 years of voting, I’ve yet to elect an MP. Canada needs proportional representation so that all our votes count.

Political parties are the chief beneficiaries of the unfairness in the electoral system that put them in power. It’s no wonder they are unlikely to make a change. As more Canadians have come to understand the unfairness inherent in our electoral system, the support for Proportional Representation has grown. Even though growing numbers of Canadians want to see a change to a more democratic system of Proportional Representation, it hasn’t happened.

If we’re to have any chance of Proportional Representation, it’s important for Canadians to convince Political Parties (and Party Leaders) to support Proportional Representation while they still struggle at a disadvantage.

where will we find electoral reform

The New Democratic Party has long included electoral reform as an important policy plank. Yet there has been no move toward electoral reform since forming a majority government in Nova Scotia, or in Manitoba, where the NDP has formed four consecutive Provincial Governments.

Federally, in 2011 the New Democratic Party became Canada’s Official Opposition Party for the first time in history. While you might think this means adoption of Proportional Representation will naturally follow in the event of a federal win next time, I’m not so sure.

You can see from the party’s recent choice of Party Leader that now it’s all about winning. After reading about the autocratic way Mulcair muzzled NDP MPs, I’m wondering if he was not chosen as the candidate most like Jack Layton, but rather as the one most like Stephen Harper.

Because our adversarial electoral system is all about choosing a boss, the perception is that we need an autocrat, someone capable of running the show, someone comfortable bossing everyone else around. Like a king.

And of course, Winner-Take-All electoral systems favors the ruthless. The man who would be king. Dictator. Führer. Bully. We’ve been sold the idea that Candidates who can work cooperatively are not  “leadership material.”

What is the right kind of leader for a democracy?

Ontario’s Premier Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals were returned to power for the third consecutive term in 2011. But for the first time, their mandate was one seat shy of a majority. Heads turned a few months into the term when the Premier gave a plum position Conservative Elizabeth Witmer, enticing her to vacate the seat she’d held in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario since 1990. In the ensuing by-election, NDP candidate Catharine Fife won Witmer’s vacant seat by asking citizens to deny Mr. McGuinty a majority.

Catherine Fife (NDP) chats with Elizabeth Rowley (Communist) at Fair Vote Canada’s “Politics Underground” during 2012 Democracy Week

After two previous majority wins, Premier Dalton McGuinty resigned, apparently unequal to the task of governing democratically.

feudalism vs. democracy

Although ostensibly democratic, our political system has actually been slipping further into a kind of nouveau feudalism, as the checks and balances we may have had have been eroded and stripped away over time, and power centralized into fewer and fewer hands.

The difference between Winner-Take-All and an electoral system with an outcome of Proportional Representation is apparent in the resulting style of governance. Where Winner-Take-All produces bosses who tell citizens what to do, Proportional Representation encourages consensus, and a government that doesn’t just give the appearance of listening to constituents but actually governs for the public good. But this requires leaders capable of listening and working well with others, rather than simply issuing commands and bullying citizens.

The closest Canada has ever come to this ideal has been with minority governments, without which we would never have produced one of the policies Canadians value most, universal health care.

Today, of course, Canadians are struggling under the majority Conservative government produced by our Winner-Take-All electoral system. More than ever before, backbench MPs themselves have little if any say, and are often effectively prevented from actually representing constituents.

reinventing the Liberal party

Dion addressed a Liberal Party  Electoral Reform Debate

Although both Parties have undergone great upheavals, Canada has been alternately governed by two parties over the course of our history. Yet for the first time since the founding of Canada, the federal Liberal Party has fallen to third place, and so is trying to reinvent itself.

Political parties do that kind of thing when they lose power; some people think Parties exist for ideological reasons, but ideology is simply the “product.” The real reason political parties exist is to get and hold power. If the product doesn’t sell, the party can’t get or hold power, and so it must change.

The most dramatic change the Liberal Party did was to open up voting in their leadership race to anyone who is not a supporter of another political party.

Although I am still unconvinced that Cooperate for Canada is the right way for Canada to go, I decided to sign up as a Liberal Party supporter after meeting and talking to one of the original Cooperate Liberal Leadership candidates, B.C.’s David Merner. David impressed me as an intelligent and grounded individual concerned with actually solving Canada’s problems, but devoid of the self importance Canadians are used to from traditional FPTP Party Leaders. The purpose behind Cooperate is a one time strategic cooperation for the express purpose of implementing electoral reform to a multiple winner system that will have an outcome of Proportional Representation, so I was sorry to see David drop out.  Even so, I have continued to follow the leaderdhip race.  Because so long as Canada has political parties, the public interest will be best served if those parties have the best leaders.

electoral reform

Stéphane Dion close profile

Apparently former Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion suggested electoral reform would be a good start, and to that end, he floated an idea for a system the Liberal Party has since adopted as “Preferential Ballot” to reform our electoral system.

But as it turns out, what the Liberal Party calls “Preferential Ballot” is more accurately known as “Alternative Vote.” At first blush this might seem to be a reasonable interim step toward proportional representation, especially because AV is thought advantageous to centrist parties like the Liberals.

Whether you call the system “Preferential Ballot” or “Alternative Vote,” a closer look reveals it to be another Winner-Take-All system very much like the First Past the Post we’re presemtly saddled with.

Switching to “Liberal Style Preferential Ballot” wouldn’t really change anything much for Canadians, since AV isn’t much different from what we have. Some Liberals have latched onto this system because of the perception that it could return their party to the catbird seat. Yet electoral system scholars paint a very different picture, harking back to the near destruction of the Provincial Liberal Party following adoption of AV out west.

Incredibly, since the Liberal adoption of Preferential Voting, Stéphane Dion has proven himself to be of that rare breed who would rather get it right than pretend infallability. His own genuine concern for the public good led him to continue to investigate electoral reform, and his research brought him to the realization that Proportional Representation would be much better for Canada. He’s since been promoting his own plan for Proportional Representation he calls P3.

Joyce Murray Portrait

voting for a Liberal Leader

The Liberal Leadership Race voting began yesterday. Liberal Party Members and registered Liberal Party Supporters (like myself) can now cast our votes for the next Liberal Party Leader.

The candidates are down to a handful: Deborah Coyne, Martha Hall Findlay, Martin Cauchon, Karen McCrimmon, Justin Trudeau and Joyce Murray.

Joyce Murray is the only remaining Cooperate for Canada candidate.

Justin Trudeau’s famous name catapulted the young geography-drama-teacher-cum-MP into the lead the moment he threw his hat into the ring. He’s personable, good looking, well spoken and the son of a legendary Liberal leader.

Still, It’s hard to know what, if anything, he actually stands for, beyond riding his father’s coat tails. Of all the candidates he’s said the least, presumably so as not to put his foot in it.

The one subject Trudeau has taken a firm stand on is electoral reform. On his website he states in no uncertain terms that:

“I do not support proportional representation because I believe deeply that every Member of Parliament should represent actual Canadians and Canadian communities, not just political parties.”

Justin Trudeau

Trudeau is doggedly hanging onto the Liberal version of AV as the way back to Liberal Glory. He says he’s “listening” but when asked why he brushed off the Canadians asking for Proportional Representation, he said he knew better. Clearly, Justin has inhereited his father’s arrogance along with his mother’s looks. It seems Justin expects Liberals to blindly place their trust in him, policy unseen, not because he’s has a stellar record in the House of Commons… or anywhere else… because he hasn’t. His only real claim to fame is his parentage. But wouldn’t someone planning a career in politics study law, or at the very least, history… but drama?

"Joyce Murray"  and "Your "Vote Should Count" lapel buttons

If the Party chooses the young Trudeau as their leader, it could very well spell the end of the Liberal party as we know it. Although we Canadians try not to speak ill of the dead, and Pierre Trudeau was a Liberal icon, he was not revered by all Canadians.

Our electoral system was just as inequitable in his father’s time, so I’m guessing the advantage his name confers in Liberal circles will become a disavantage out in the wider world. It might be different if he had done something, or stood for something, but he hasn’t.

Further, Justin’s decision to slag Proportional Representation using nonsensical arguments doesn’t win him any points with me.

Joyce MurrayLiberal leadership candidates do their party no favours by trying to fool their membership into thinking Alternate Vote would provide meaningful reform, since it is simply another flavour of Winner-Take-All. Fortunately for the Liberals, those seeking to reclaim power at all costs are just one faction. There are principled Liberal Party members who are eager to restore their party to greatness, but through honesty and fair voting. Liberals For Fair Voting queried all the candidates about Proportional Representation, and even made up a nice little chart that shows clearly where the candidates stand.

my only choice

Since a majority of Canadians support Proportional Representation, the only reasonable Liberal Leadership contender is Joyce Murray. Whether or not she decides to cooperate, she is the only candidate solidly committed to Proportional Representation.

“I’m talking about winning the next election for a purpose. To reform Canada’s ailing electoral system to create a more representative and more collaborative Parliament; to harness all our talents for a sustainable society for the next seven generations.”

— Joyce Murray

As a Liberal Supporter, I will be casting my vote for Joyce Murray today.

With Ms. Murray at the helm pushing for Proportional Representation, I may very well end up casting my first vote for the LPC in 2015.

a horizontal border of red graphic maple leaves


All photographs by laurelrusswurm licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

Doesn’t the the Harper Government believe in Science?

Sunrise over Lake Ontario, one of the 5 Great Lakes, the largest concentration of freshwater in the world

People around the world are flabbergasted by the Canadian Government’s emphatic rejection of a parliamentary motion calling for “evidence-based policy-making” on March 20th this year.

Vote No. 631
41st Parliament, 1st Session
Sitting No. 225 – Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Sponsor: Mr. Stewart (Burnaby—Douglas)

“That, in the opinion of the House: (a) public science, basic research and the free and open exchange of scientific information are essential to evidence-based policy-making; (b) federal government scientists must be enabled to discuss openly their findings with their colleagues and the public; and (c) the federal government should maintain support for its basic scientific capacity across Canada, including immediately extending funding, until a new operator is found, to the world-renowned Experimental Lakes Area Research Facility to pursue its unique research program.”

Sitting No. 225 – Wednesday, March 20, 2013

All 137 NDP, Liberal, Bloc Québécois, Green and the one Independent MPs voted in favour of the motion.
All 156 Conservative and the one Conservative Independent MP Voted Against it.

Science impacts on everyone, regardless of party affiliation. But facts are immutable; they don’t change based on party lines. Facts aren’t opinions; they are still true even if we don’t choose to believe in them.

Policy not based on evidence is very likely to be against the public interest.

Q: Why would the Conservative party of Canada unanimously vote against “evidence-based policy-making”?

A: Because they can.

The Conservative party has won 100% of the power with 24.3% of eligible Canadian votes.

Under Canada’s winner-take-all First Past The Post electoral system, 39% of those Canadians who voted have elected a majority Conservative Government, effectively a dictatorship with a time limit.

Our electoral system grants a Majority Government absolute power to legally pass or veto any law it wants. Evidence need not enter into it.

Maybe I missed something.

Maybe there is something bad buried in the text of the motion. Lets look at it bit by bit.

(a) public science, basic research and the free and open exchange of scientific information are essential to evidence-based policy-making;

This seems pretty straight forward. The Harper Conservatives don’t want to be tied to evidence-based policy making. Which is like saying the news needn’t be based on facts. Oh, wait…

(b)  If federal government scientists must be enabled to discuss openly their findings with their colleagues and the public; and…

What possible reason could there to prevent federal government scientists from discussing their findings? Sharing information with other scientists is how innovation and scientific advancements are achieved. The public foots the bill for such research, why shouldn’t the public have the right to know?

Does our government want the right to prevent scientists from telling us our water supply has been compromised by

Have federal employees been stripped of their right to free speech?

Will this put our federal scientists at personal risk of becoming whistle blowers if they decide to inform the public of public hazards? Don’t federal employees, even scientists — enjoy the fundamental protections guaranteed under The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms?

(c)  the federal government should maintain support for its basic scientific capacity across Canada, including immediately extending funding, until a new operator is found, to the world-renowned Experimental Lakes Area Research Facility to pursue its unique research program.

Maybe it’s just about this. Maybe they just don’t want to spend the money.

The Experimental Lakes Area Research Facility only cost at most $2 million a year. The Canadian Government spent more money ~ $28 million ~ advertising the anniversary of the War of 1812 to the mystification of all of Canada.

Our government didn’t just close the Experimental Lakes Area Research Facility, but they are actively preventing fully funded experiments from finishing up. This is throwing away research that has already been done and paid for with taxpayer dollars.

Why would the Harper Conservatives do this?

Is science or free speech a left/right thing?

It shouldn’t be.

Is it a religious thing?

The Harper Conservatives have made no secret they are predominantly a conservative Christian Party. How many people say their belief in religion is grounded in the wonders of the natural world. Shouldn’t a Christian Party be working to protect the environment that God gave mankind stewardship over?

Perhaps they think if they don’t know the facts, if the environment should be damaged beyond repair, perhaps they’re hoping for plausible deniability when they meet their maker.

It’s pretty basic: if they don’t collect the facts, there will be no evidence to prevent policy based on guesswork and beliefs. Not collecting scientific data about the environment makes it easier to pass “business friendly” laws harmful to the environment.

If the government allows the collection of facts that give scientists ammunition to say we’re damaging the environment beyond repair, the public may get upset about government policy… they might not be able to do what they want.  And the people making policy decisions in the Harper Government reportedly don’t believe in climate change.

from sea to sea

We all need to breathe the air, drink the water, walk on the land. Why would sane people wilfully, deliberately, damage our environment beyond repair? That I can’t answer.

Unless they just don’t believe in it.

a horizontal border of red graphic maple leaves

Must Read:
Franke James pictorial essay: What is Harper Afraid Of? and sign her petition.

Please ask the Government of Canada to reverse its decision to terminate Canada’s Experimental Lakes Area by signing the Public Petition to Save ELA

Get informed about electoral reform; find your local Fair Vote Canada chapter and sign the Declaration of Voter’s Rights. We need to tell all our elected officials, and all our political parties, that Canada needs electoral reform to Proportional Representation NOW.