The CBC announced this morning that the Parliamentary Committee to study and report on electoral reform will be initiated by a motion in the House of Commons today – see
More to follow later . . .
The following letter was sent to The Honourable Maryam Monsef, Minister of Democratic Institutions, following publication (with comments) in iPolitics of the eight principles she enunciated on Thursday 14 April 2016. The full letter, which includes references and footnotes, can be downloaded from here.
April 17, 2016
Dear Ms. Monsef:
Eight Principles That Will Guide Electoral Reform
I am responding to the report in iPolitics of your address on Thursday 14 April 2016 to a group at the University of Ottawa.
● The Law Commission of Canada, in its 2004 report entitled ‘Voting Counts: Electoral Reform for Canada’ after Canada-wide hearings and careful deliberation established ten criteria for assessing electoral systems (page 58, table 3):
○ representation of parties
○ demographic representation
○ diversity of ideas
○ geographic representation
○ effective government
○ effective opposition
○ valuing votes
○ regional balance
○ inclusive decision making
I suggest that these should be the starting point for discussions in the yet-to-be-appointed Special Parliamentary Committee. Your eight principles, as reported by iPolitics, would seem to pre-empt the authority and independence of the proposed committee to make an independent recommendation to Parliament.
However I will address your eight points as reported by iPolitics:
1. “Canadians should believe that their intentions as voters are fairly translated into election results, without (the) significant distortion that often characterizes elections conducted under the first-past-the-post system”. Of course I couldn’t agree more, having studied proportional representation (PR) in high school in the UK in the 1950s and worked toward attaining PR in Canada since I joined Fair Vote Canada in 2006. I note that PR seems also to be the policy of the Liberal government since the Liberal Party adopted Fair Vote Canada’s rallying cry to ‘Make Every Vote Count’ after winning the 42nd General Election under FPTP, thus making 2015 the last unfair election.
2. Canadians’ confidence needs to be restored – in their ability to influence politics and in their belief that their vote is meaningful. It is clear that many Canadians have abandoned any thought of influencing politics under a winner-take-all or First-Past-the-Post (FPTP) electoral system, as evidenced by their unwillingness to even vote (60% turnout in the 42nd general election). Others have become disgusted with manipulating their vote, thus voting strategically, to ensure a person that they don’t want is elected rather than see a candidate elected that they consider to be an even worse choice. Changing to a suitable PR system is urgently needed and could restore participation rates by at least 7% (the evidence of other countries using PR). Retaining a ‘winner take all’ system such as the Alternative Vote (AV), where 50%-1 votes are discarded or the current FPTP (where with five candidates, 25% of the vote can ‘win’ a local seat and 75% of the votes are discarded) is no longer acceptable to the 70% of Canadians who are calling for PR.
3. Reforms need to increase diversity in the House of Commons and politics more broadly. Studies in other countries show an increase in participation by women as candidates as well as in voting under PR. A party which seeks success will ensure there is a diversity of candidates reflecting the electoral district for election under a PR system such as Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) or Single Transferable Vote (STV). You might consider mandating quotas for women and minorities in electoral reform legislation and (most importantly) ensuring that voters can cast votes for candidates from ‘open’ or flexible lists, not party-dominated ‘closed’ lists.
4. The chosen reform can’t make the electoral system more complex. The present apparently simple system where a voter marks a ballot for one candidate with an X from a list of perhaps as many as seven candidates is fraught with complexity for a strategic, thinking voter. I refer you to my remarks concerning your principle #2 above. By contrast, a PR system where a voter marks his or her preferences in a numerical order is almost unbelievably simple and allows the voter to vote for the candidate(s) he or she prefers. A PR system is essential. A preferential ballot in a multi-member constituency produces the fairest, most proportional result. A preferential ballot in a single-MP election (the Alternative Vote, AV) produces an attractive result for the winner (‘I got 50%+1, a majority!’) but in reality it disenfranchises 50%-1 of the electorate, wastes almost half the votes, and perpetuates unfair elections.
5. Voting needs to be more user-friendly and accessible. This is relatively simple to achieve by:
a. adding voting days including weekend days,
b. adding voting hours,
c. ensuring advance polls are many and accessible,
d. facilitating electronic voting,
e. legislating a mandatory use of space required for electoral offices and polling stations if necessary using the power of ‘eminent domain’
are just a few ideas that come immediately to mind. The inconvenience to ‘hosts’ of polling stations for a few days every four or five years is a small price to pay for an effective democracy.
6. (Voting) needs to maintain the vital local connection an MP has with their constituents. This is one of the reasons the Law Commission recommended MMP as its preferred reform. However, 12 years on we have a myriad more ways to connect with our MPs including Skype, Facebook, Twitter, telephone, webinar … it is no longer essential for a constituent to be within a day’s horseback ‘ride’ to the MP’s local office.
7. (Voting) needs to be secure and verifiable. Elections Canada has achieved this very effectively for a number of years and Canada does not experience the personal security or most of the electoral fraud issues experienced in many third world countries. Electronic voting could raise issues of privacy and security of the ballot. Electronic or machine reading of ballots could be satisfactorily achieved with a high degree of security. American-style electronic voting carried out by (possibly biased) contractors should be carefully avoided.
8. Canadians need to be inspired to find common ground and consensus. If Canadians have a PR electoral system where every vote counts – fairly and equally – we can elect MPs who themselves can negotiate to common ground and consensus in committee and the House instead of the adversarial party-based winner-take-all-for-five-years system with which we are now burdened. I believe first adopting a fair voting system, in conjunction with reforms such as those proposed by Michael Chong in the original version of the Reform Act, will lead to a more collaborative Parliament where MPs respond to the people who elected them and decisions are made by consensus and with a longer view than the next election.
I have read your mandate letter and I am impressed with what you have been charged, especially:
“ . . . your overarching goal will be to strengthen the openness and fairness of Canada’s public institutions. You will lead on electoral and Senate reform to restore Canadians’ trust and participation in our democratic processes.
“In particular, I will expect you to work with your colleagues and through established legislative, regulatory, and Cabinet processes to deliver on your top priorities:
“Bring forward a proposal to establish a special parliamentary committee to consult on electoral reform, including preferential ballots, proportional representation, mandatory voting and online voting”.
If the 42nd General Election in 2015 was indeed to be the last unfair election and you and the government are intent on making every vote count in 2019, it is imperative that the Parliamentary Committee be announced very soon, as time is slipping away; Parliament and Elections Canada must have sufficient time to properly prepare for the 43rd general election, the first to be conducted under proportional representation in 2019.
Courtesy Copies: Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister; Rona Ambrose, Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition; Elizabeth May, Leader, Green Party of Canada; Tom Mulcair, Leader, New Democratic Party; Len Webber, MP, Calgary Confederation; Fair Vote Canada
The Legislative Assembly of Alberta Select Special Ethics and Accountability Committee recently announced it is reviewing legislation and asked ‘What do you (we) think?’ about Whistleblowing, Conflicts of Interest, Elections, and Election Financing.
I have prepared and sent a submission to the committee advocating the introduction of proportional representation in time for the next provincial general election (2019). You can download it here. It is a brief outline of where we are now, what some options are, where we could be going, and resources to assist in reaching the right decision.
The big part is asking for Albertans to be involved in designing and developing the system – so it is up to us to ensure we are informed and knowledgeable, so as to help our friends and neighbours make the right decisions when (I assume!) we are asked what we want to see happen.
This is urgent as the deadline is very soon! And it only recently came to my attention.
The Legislative Assembly of Alberta Select Special Ethics and Accountability Committee would like to hear from you on “… how provincial elections are run …” (among other things) which could result in changes to the Elections Act and other legislation. The committee web site at assembly.ab.ca/committees/ethicsandaccountability has more information.
Submissions will be accepted until Friday February 26, 2016.
Now is the time to express your thoughts succinctly and forcefully about changing our electoral system from the undemocratic majoritarian or ‘First Past the Post’ system to a proportional representation system which would make every vote count equally, and produce a legislature which reflected the popular vote in the province; no more ‘false majorities’. The new electoral system should be selected by the people of Alberta, not the political parties and legislators, through a comprehensive and wide-ranging public education and information system. There are several methods that could be used to introduce proportional representation to Alberta.
Submissions should be sent by email to firstname.lastname@example.org
or mailed to Select Special Ethics and Accountability Committee, third floor, 9820 – 107 Street NW, Edmonton, AB T5K 1E7
Fair Vote Canada strongly encourages proportional representation (PR) as a better way to elect MPs (or MLAs or municipal councillors) than our present pluralitarian system, more commonly known as Winner Take All (WTA) or First-Past-the-Post (FPTP). That sort of electoral system produces distorted results. In the 41st Canadian General Election in 2011 where only 61% of the electorate voted, 39% voted Conservative and won 54% of the seats in Parliament. When you have 54% of the seats, you have an absolute majority so 100% of the power. Sixty-one percent of the votes cast, including many Conservative votes, were wasted and served to elect no-one. Put another way, 23% of the electorate gave the government 100% of the power.
The Alberta general election produced a similar result in May 2015. Albertans voted 40.6% for the NDP which won 61% of the seats in the legislature and 100% of the power. Only 54.2% of electors actually voted, so 22% of the electorate gave the government 100% of the power. It is the voting system that is broken, not party politics at work, since the WTA or FPTP problem seems to apply to all elections.
Fair Vote Canada and Fair Vote Calgary have been trying to find out where parties and candidates stand on PR. The results are encouraging, and in keeping with the polls that have been conducted over the last few years – about 70% of Canadians want to see PR introduced to replace our WTA system, and many candidates support electoral reform and possibly the introduction of PR.
This graphic shows where the parties stand (click to enlarge image):
Fair Vote Canada has developed a Canada-wide listing of candidates who have responded to a questionnaire about PR and you can find it here.
Fair Vote Calgary has done a similar exercise focussing on candidates south of Red Deer. You can see here which candidates and parties have declared support for PR.
There are further details of all local candidates (where their position is known) in a table which you can download here.
So, in answer to the question ‘Who should I vote for’ the reasoning works like this:
• The greatest threat we have in Canada is to democracy itself which is under serious attack from our politicians. Since the 1970s politicians have progressively been taking more and more power from the people and adding it to the party leadership and government, particularly recently to the unelected and not-answerable-to-Parliament Prime Minister’s Office.
• The first step to correct this issue is to now elect MPs who have committed to introduce PR so that every vote counts toward electing an MP. In future, membership of the House of Commons would reflect the popular vote. Decisions by Parliament should reflect the wishes of the electorate. (There’s much more work to do to achieve that goal, outside the scope of the present election and Fair Vote’s mandate).
• In this election, each of us should vote for a candidate who if (no, when!) elected will work to introduce PR. A majority of MPs (170) could ensure PR is introduced by the next scheduled general election in 2019.
• Check out the information referenced above and make your candidate choice, or perhaps select alternative candidates you might vote for.
• In some electoral districts, it may be preferable to vote strategically for a candidate who is likely to win if he or she attracts enough votes and who supports PR but is not necessarily your first choice.
Most important of all – Just Vote!
Don’t be among the 40% of the electorate that stays away from the ballot box.
Make sure you are registered to vote, don’t find out at the last minute you need extra information under the new identification requirements. If you are registered to vote, you should by now have received a Voter’s Card with the information you need. If you haven’t, contact your local Elections Canada office as soon as possible. You can find it’s address on their web site.
There’s little to no excuse not to vote – you can go now to the Elections Canada office in your electoral district (the address is on your voter’s card), until 6.00 p.m. on Tuesday 13 October.
You can go to an advance poll (the days, place and opening times are on your voter’s card).
You can even go to your polling station on Election Day, Monday 19 October (the address is on your voter’s card – but also check Elections Canada’s web site).
Liberal Party of Canada moves one step closer to Proportional Representation by committing to END Canada’s Winner-Take-All voting system!
“Fair Vote Canada is delighted the Liberal Party (of Canada) is joining us in making 2015 The Last Unfair Election. We congratulate Justin Trudeau for starting today’s announcement with the words Make Every Vote Count,” says Doug Bailie, President of Fair Vote Canada (FVC).
Today over half of all voters are unable to elect a representative who reflects their views. A new electoral system should not only end First-Past-The-Post but firmly commit to moving away from all winner-take-all voting systems. Fair Vote Canada supports Justin Trudeau’s statement that “promoting partisan interests at the cost of public trust” must stop. Absolutely, we should aim for the best system for Canadians and not compromise our values by favouring partisan solutions.
Kelly Carmichael, FVC’s Executive Director reminds us, “Federal election results exaggerate regional divisions, under-represent Canadian diversity and treat voters unequally. We are confident that when Liberals examine the vast store of research with the best interests of Canadians in mind, they will conclude that a system which includes an element of proportionality is the only way to go. We trust that the timeline laid out by the Liberal party will provide ample time to study and implement the best system for Canadians.”
A fair system makes first choices count, provides better governance thorough consensus, supports more women in politics, builds stronger economies, implements better climate policy and puts Canadians in the driver’s seat. Building an electoral system that entrenches good governance and puts citizens first by eliminating winner-take-all politics is a healthy step forward.
Fair Vote Canada is a grassroots organization representing over 57,000 Canadians calling for equal and effective votes for all citizens through the use of proportional representation.
Dr. Max Anderson has researched and discussed with Elections Canada an option for election financing which reduces the iniquity with which Independent candidates are treated (compared to party candidates). Read the discussion.
Rob Lewis – a 34 year old junior high science teacher, hasn’t voted for many years. The CBC Eyeopener is asking people to persuade Rob to vote — here is Fair Vote Calgary’s effort.
Rob – your vote is important, even if it doesn’t serve to elect someone. What?
By NOT even going to vote, you are signalling that you accept the present state of affairs, which you clearly don’t. Your comments about not finding someone suitable to vote FOR are fine, but you can more effectively register a protest by going to the poll, registering to vote, and declining to accept a ballot.
Some people choose to spoil their ballot. This doesn’t tell anyone anything – you might have made a mistake in marking the paper, or you might have written ‘None of the Above’, or marked the ballot in a preferential order. None of that will be recorded – just that the ballot was spoiled and discarded.
Under the present First-Past-The-Post system only the votes for the candidate who gets the most are counted toward electing someone. In a four-candidate electoral district, that could be as low as 30% of the vote. That means 70% of the votes cast did not elect anyone – they are ‘wasted’. No wonder even those of us who DO vote are dissatisfied with the present system; there IS a better way!
Proportional representation works to make every vote count toward electing someone; the way the ballots are designed and the way the votes are counted makes all the difference. The goal is to ensure that the representation in the legislature or Parliament reflects the provincial or national popular vote. Get 39% of the vote – get 39% of the seats; not 60% of the seats (and 100% of the power!) This is not unique to the present federal government – in 2012, in Alberta, the PCs got 44% of the vote, 61 of 87 (70%) seats in the legislature, so 100% of the power.
So, Rob, carefully evaluate the parties’ policies and support — that is, get out on Tuesday (or in an advance poll) — and vote for a candidate who will support the introduction of proportional representation, regardless of political colour or stripe. You can find out a lot more on Fair Vote Calgary’s web site here and here. In Alberta, we need a simple majority, 44 of 87 MLAs (50.6%), to support proportional representation, and then you will have helped make 2015 the last unfair election.
Leader, Fair Vote Calgary – a Fair Vote Canada Action Team
Make Every Vote Count! Make 2015 the Last Unfair Election!
Alberta’s general election has been called for Tuesday 5 May 2015, and at the half-way mark:
* I have emailed (nearly#) all 150 Calgary area candidates asking them to declare their position on proportional representation (PR) by signing the Declaration of Voters’ Rights – Politician’s Pledge. So far, five have replied and signed the declaration.
* I have sought the position on PR of the various parties and their leaders – their declared positions are shown here
* This evening the four party leaders who already had representatives in the legislature at dissolution debated on television what journalists and some Albertans thought were important matters. Electoral reform was not even mentioned. The Green Party, Alberta Party, Social Credit Party and Communist Party leaders were not included in the debate.
* As campaigning proceeds and if the positions change, these pages will be updated.
# Some candidates have not published email addresses, and the Alberta Liberal Party has created a web page with a contact form which does not serve our purposes – so below there is an open letter to Liberal candidates.
Dear Alberta Liberal Party Calgary Area Candidate:
I tried to write to you individually but regrettably your web sites do not provide email addresses so I am compelled to address you openly, in the same manner as I have emailed individually all other Calgary area candidates of all political parties.
Please excuse the impersonal addressing . . .
I’m writing on behalf of Fair Vote Calgary to seek your signature to the Declaration of Voters’ Rights — Politician’s Pledge, which in short says that you will work toward getting proportional representation (PR) introduced in Alberta. The Pledge is attached; I ask you to print, sign, scan and return the document to me (or mail it back to me at the address below). Please keep a copy to display in your campaign headquarters. I have created a page on the Fair Vote Calgary web site on which I will publish the names of candidates who are in favour of PR and who have signed the Pledge.
I am in the process of contacting all Calgary area candidates from all parties for this information. The goal is to tell all Calgary area voters which candidates are in favour of PR so their voting intentions are informed. From the Alberta Liberal party’s web site, the policy seems not to be in favour of PR since it states under Better Democracy: “Change Alberta’s electoral system to instant-runoff (preferential) voting.” This of course is not proportional representation – it is in fact a more severe form of the present undemocratic form of First-Past-the-Post, where 50% plus one would see a candidate elected, leaving 50% minus one who would not be represented at all.
PR seeks to ‘Make Every Vote Count’ and Fair Vote Calgary’s intention is to ‘Make 2015 the Last Unfair Election’. Under PR, almost every vote would help to elect a candidate, and the resulting legislature would reflect the popular vote rather than the distortions which now result from FPTP (and would be aggravated by Instant Run-off or preferential voting, unless the preferential system incorporated a measure to achieve PR).
PR is used in advanced democracies world-wide; only a few countries still use our present outdated First-Past-the-Post majoritarian-plurality system. In a national poll conducted for Fair Vote Canada and LeadNow by Environics in 2013, 70% of Canadians strongly or somewhat supported the adoption of PR. 77% of Liberals strongly or somewhat supported the adoption of PR. If the 2012 general election had been conducted under PR, by my calculation the legislature would have “ … had nine MLAs from each of the Liberal and New Democratic Parties and one Alberta Party MLA. Most interesting of all, there could have been 30 Wildrose and 38 Progressive Conservative MLAs …” (before the by-elections and floor-crossings last fall; from my personal blog at http://hambridge.com/index.php/conservative-alberta-elections-and-fair-voting/).
There is much more information in the documents also attached ‘Why PR – Review of Evidence’ and ‘Fair Vote Canada FAQ’. I also ask you to consider the questions on Qs for Candidates and add your brief thoughts or questions. If you return them, we will do our best to address them for you before the election.
Leader, Fair Vote Calgary – a Fair Vote Canada Action Team
Make Every Vote Count! Make 2015 the Last Unfair Election!
1003-4555 Varsity Lane NW Calgary, AB T3A 2V6
Phone +1 403 239 5516