An Open Letter to All Parties and House Leaders,
Canadians have given you a mandate. Sixty-three percent (63%) of us voted in favour to change the electoral system to one that is more fair, equal and democratic – a system that will make every vote count so that the will of the electorate is reflected in the House of Commons.
You have the task of improving democracy in a very undemocratic system. Seventeen million (17,000,000) Canadians cast ballots on October 19th and 4.6 million voters elected MPs who now hold a false majority. Millions of Canadians – more than two million each for the Liberals, Conservatives and New Democrats – have no representation in Ottawa. It is incumbent upon you to show us that you understand the problem, you are willing to fix it, and you are prepared to provide the leadership required to get the job done.
As a multi-partisan organization, we know that true Democracy – where all citizens enjoy equal rights and the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly through their chosen representatives – is not easy. It’s difficult to set aside partisan stripes, listen carefully to the people, cooperate, compromise and build consensus. It’s even more difficult in an unfair system where some parties have been awarded more than their fair share and some have been denied their due support. Equal representation in the legislature should be the right of every citizen in a free and democratic society. Democracy is not easy but it delivers better results and respects all voices.
That is why it is so important, during what appears to be a growing impasse that can damage the integrity of the electoral reform process, to embrace the spirit of democracy. Canadians are watching. The world is watching.
We are very concerned that the reforms are already in trouble before you have even started. You are all very aware of the fact that if you are honestly considering all options, you need to stick to a tight timeline. Since Canada’s new House of Commons first met December 3, almost six months have passed. This has raised concerns by the media and civil society groups as well as MPs in the House about the credibility of the process.
We ask you to remove your partisan hats and govern on behalf of all Canadians. Embrace the true spirit of democracy and realize that Canada cannot be truly ‘back’ until all voices are at the table.
House Leaders, we are calling on you to sit down and negotiate a date to get the Electoral Reform Special Committee motion on the floor in time to have a robust debate and move the motion forward before the House leaves for summer break.
Failure to get the Committee off the ground in order to address our democratic deficit will reflect poorly on all Parliamentarians. Failing to do the hard work will be considered by the electorate as an attack on our collective desire to create an electoral system that treats all voters, and their representatives, equally.
This is no time for finger pointing and pot shots.
In a speech in Halifax, our Prime Minister stated “We need to show, once again, that the Liberal party is not afraid to challenge the status quo, even if it means breaking with our own traditions.”
We are asking all of you to do just that. Please put your partisan differences aside, get down to the work the voters have asked you to do and show the world that Canada is serious about evolving into a modern democracy that respects and provides voice to all voters. We know you can do it. We look forward to cheering you on.
Fair Vote Canada
Une lettre ouverte à tous les partis et leaders parlementaires,
Les Canadiens vous ont donné un mandat. Soixante-trois pourcent (63%) d’entre nous ont voté en faveur d’un changement du système électoral pour un système qui est plus juste, équitable et démocratique – un système qui fera en sorte que chaque vote compte, qui fera en sorte que la volonté de l’électorat sera reflétée à la Chambre des communes.
Vous avez la tâche d’améliorer la démocratie dans un système qui ne l’est pas. Dix-sept millions (17 000 000) de Canadiens ont exprimé leur voix le 19 octobre dernier et 4,6 millions d’électeurs ont élu des députés qui ont maintenant une fausse majorité. Des millions de Canadiens – plus de deux millions chacun pour les libéraux, les conservateurs et les néo-démocrates – n’ont pas de représentation à Ottawa. C’est maintenant votre responsabilité de nous démontrer que vous comprenez le problème, que vous êtes déterminés à le régler et que vous être prêts à avoir le leadership nécessaire pour obtenir les résultats souhaités.
En tant qu’organisation multipartite, nous savons que la vraie démocratie – celle où tous les citoyens profitent de droits égaux et où le pouvoir appartient au peuple et est exercé directement par le peuple au travers de leurs représentants élus – n’est pas facile. Il est difficile de mettre de côté les allégeances, d’écouter réellement les citoyens, de coopérer, de faire des compromis et d’obtenir un consensus. C’est encore plus difficile dans le cadre d’un système injuste où certains partis ont reçu plus que leur juste part et d’autres n’ont pas l’appui auquel ils ont droit. Une représentation équitable au sein de la législature devrait être un droit inaliénable de tout citoyen dans une société libre et démocratique. La démocratie n’est pas facile, mais elle engendre de meilleurs résultats et respecte toutes les voix.
C’est pourquoi il est très important, en cette période où le processus de la réforme ressemble de plus en plus à une impasse qui pourrait en abîmer l’intégrité, de s’immerger dans l’esprit de la démocratie. Les Canadiens regardent. Le monde regarde.
Nous sommes très inquiets que cette réforme soit déjà boiteuse alors qu’elle n’est même pas commencée. Vous savez tous très bien que si vous voulez considérer sérieusement toutes les options, vous devrez vous en tenir à un échéancier serré. Depuis la première rencontre de la Chambre des communes le 3 décembre, près de 6 mois ont passé. Ceci a soulevé des inquiétudes chez les médias, les groupes de la société civile et quelques députés concernant la crédibilité du processus.
Nous vous demandons de retirer vos chapeaux partisans et de gouverner au nom de tous les Canadiens. Embrassez l’esprit de la démocratie et réalisez que le Canada ne sera pas « de retour » tant que toutes les voix ne seront pas entendues à la table.
Leaders parlementaires, nous vous demandons de vous asseoir et de négocier une échéance pour déposer la motion du Comité spécial sur la réforme électorale à temps pour pouvoir avoir un débat rigoureux et faire avancer la motion avant que la Chambre n’ajourne pour l’été.
Si le lancement du Comité qui doit affronter notre déficit démocratique devait être un échec, cela exposerait tous les parlementaires sous un très mauvais jour. Une incapacité à faire ce travail sera considérée par l’électorat comme une attaque envers notre désir collectif de créer un système électoral qui traite tous les électeurs – et leurs représentants – de manière juste.
Il n’y a pas de temps à perdre en recherche de coupable et attaques partisanes mesquines.
Lors d’un discours à Halifax, notre Premier ministre a dit : « Nous devons montrer, une fois de plus, que le parti libéral n’a pas peur de mettre au défi le statu quo, même si cela signifie être en rupture avec nos propres traditions. »
C’est exactement cela que nous vous demandons de faire. S’il-vous-plaît, mettez votre partisannerie de côté, mettez-vous au travail tel que vous le demandent les électeurs et montrez au monde que le Canada est sérieux dans son intention de mettre en place une démocratie moderne qui respecte et donne une voix à tous les électeurs. Nous savons que vous pouvez le faire. Nous avons hâte de vous applaudir.
Représentation équitable au Canada
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
A summary report of the forum held at
Mount Royal University, Moot Court Room (EA1031)
9:00am – 12:30 pm, Saturday April 9, 2016
09:00 Introduction: Kevin Heal, Moderator, outlined the format and the reason for the event – to get the issue of electoral reform into the public eye; we hear about it, but what is it? How would it work? Kevin introduced the speakers and timing of the event.
Overview of Canadian Electoral System:
Dr. Duane Bratt, Chair, Faculty of Policy Studies, Mount Royal University.
Dr. Bratt outlined the different electoral systems in use around the world and warned that changing the electoral system also affects the way people vote, so different results may be expected.
Looking Around the World:
Dr. Ian Brodie, Associate Professor, Law & Society Program, University of Calgary, former Chief of Staff to the Prime Minister of Canada.
Dr. Brodie defended the present ‘First-Past-The-Post’ plurality/majority system, on the basis it had served the nation well and he saw no reason to change; he pointed out that under Germany’s Mixed Member Proportional system, one MP had held office (and been Foreign Minister) for 29 years. Dr. Brodie indicated Canada likes an electoral system where the electorate can ‘throw the bums out’ and ‘elect a new set of bums’ until the electorate tires of them and again elects a new set of ‘bums’.
First Nation Inclusion in Democratic Renewal:
Michelle Robinson, Aboriginal Peoples’ Commission of Alberta.
Ms. Robinson pointed out the shortcomings of the present democratic system as indicated by recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and from the United Nations Declaration of the Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
A New Voting System for Canada:
Mark Hambridge, Fair Vote Calgary.
Mr. Hambridge reviewed the conclusions and recommendations of the Law Commission of Canada from 2004 and spoke about how proportional representation, now desired by 70% of Canadians, could be put into effect. Since more than 63% of Canadians had voted in October 2015 for parties promising electoral reform or proportional representation, he called for the new government to Get On With It!
Panel discussion followed by Q&A
A wide variety of topics were covered in the panel discussion – the most interesting question dealt with the possible unintended consequences of changing the electoral system, such as costs, time taken to organise an election and how the whole party system might change as new types of MP might be elected.
12:30 Moderator’s Review of proceedings and wrap up.
A more comprehensive report of the proceedings is intended to follow, including the presentations by the individual speakers.
The session was open to the general public and attended by about 35 people.