Tuesday, November 18, 2008

An alternative to proportional representation: IRV?

Liberal blogger and Guelph Mercury Community Editorial Board member David Graham writes in the Guelph Mercury today in favour of Instant Run-off Voting (or IRV).

This site officially endorses moving toward some form of proportional representation in Canada. While Canadian voters have rejected mixed member systems in Ontario and Prince Edward Island in recent referenda, voters in British Columbia endorsed a system called Single Transferable Vote (or STV) with 58% support in a 2005 vote. That support wasn't sufficient to change systems in B.C. because the government set approval for the change at 60%. But the government of Gordon Campbell has set a repeat vote on STV in B.C. for May 2009.

Few jurisdictions in the world exclusively use an Instant Run-Off voting system as Graham proposes. Australia does use IRV to elect members to its lower house, while using a form of proportional representation to elect its upper house (thus balancing off the tendency of IRV, like First Past the Post, to shut out representation for voters who back smaller parties.)

As Canadians don't seem to want to change to a mixed member system, this site continues to endorse Single Transferable Vote as the best alternative to our existing Winner-Take-All, or First Past The Post system in Canada. If voters in British Columbia give STV enough support next May, it will be a huge win for proportional representation in Canada and might promote the cause across the country.

If STV fails in B.C. this May, it might be a fatal blow to the PR dream in Canada. If that happens, alternatives like IRV as proposed by Graham might be the only type of electoral change possible in this country.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Orphan Voters.ca: "Please, sir, I want some democracy!"

Fair Vote Canada has recently launched a timely new site called 'Orphan Voters.ca'.

Who are Orphan Voters? The site defines them as: "The neglected and democraticallly abused [Canadian] citizens who find the doors of Parliament slammed in their faces because their votes elected no one."

The site estimates that over 7.5 million Canadians cast votes in the last election in 2006 which had no effect whatsoever on the make-up of the Parliament. That was 51.2% of all voters who took the effort to cast a ballot, yet their vote essentially counted for nothing.

Check out the site when you have the time and take part in the contest guessing how many orphan votes will be cast in this 2008 election.

The site looks great. Congrats to Fair Vote for getting creative in their messaging and their ongoing campaign to keep this issue at the forefront.

With all the talk in this election of how Harper is flirting with a majority government with only 38-40% of the vote, it begs the question: Why do we put up with our archaic, anti-democratic voting system?

40% is not a majority anywhere else in life. Why is it a majority in our Canadian elections? Do the majority of Canadians really want Harper's policies shoved down their throats? No. Could it happen anyway because of our archaic First-Past-The-Post system? Yes. Do we need to change our voting system as soon as possible? Yes!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Minority government has become workable

Vancouver Sun columnist Barbara Yaffe writes today that "a new political reality has taken hold in Ottawa. Minority government has become the norm."

Here's an excerpt of particular interest to supporters of electoral reform, particularly reform that would make every vote count:

"University of Montreal political scientist Henry Milner is expressing dismay that more Canadians -- particularly the chattering classes -- have not picked up on the change...Milner says voters are getting what they want out of the current Parliament; polls show Canadians like minority governments. And MPs seem to understand their constituents don't want repeated electoral contests. Workable minority governments are a novel idea for Canada. Once, opponents of proportional representation voting systems argued that PR would yield unstable minority governments. With the current experience of workable minority government that manages stability, this threat surely will be less potent."

One of the main arguments used by electoral reform opponents during last year's Ontario referendum was that frequent minority governments, where parties are forced to work together in the interests of Canadians, would never be workable. Clearly, that argument has been proven false by the current reality in Ottawa (not to mention Nova Scotia, where the Tories have also governed with a minority since 2003.)

Most countries in the Western world have proportional electoral systems that don't hand one party a majority of seats with only a minority of votes. It's time Canada rejected our antiquated, vote-distorting 'Winner-Take-All' system and embrace reform that truly reflects the wishes of voters.

Minority governments are better than one-party majority dictatorships.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Biased media, neutered education campaign, disinterested public blamed for MMP's defeat last fall

Fair Vote Canada held its annual general meeting this past weekend in Toronto. The following Canadian Press story sums up some of the discussion at the meeting, which focussed mainly on Ontario's recent referendum fiasco on Mixed Member Proportional (or MMP).

Here's an excerpt from the article:

"These kinds of initiatives are very appealing to opposition parties," said Lawrence LeDuc, a political scientist at the University of Toronto, in a panel discussion on the outcome of the referendum. "Opposition parties always like to get themselves on the side of reform movements of one kind or another, and then usually when they come to power they lose interest in those ideas or, even worse than that, they try to kill them."

LeDuc blamed the "one-sided" news coverage during the election campaign for the referendum's failure.

"They had made up their minds very early on that the whole thing was just a joke, not worth reporting on," he said, citing a study that indicates the news coverage of MMP was overwhelmingly negative.

But the government is also to blame for failing to properly inform voters about the new system in the lead-up to the election, added LeDuc.

"(Elections Ontario) were basically, I think, mandated to not say anything at all that could be construed as real information. So, therefore, the information they put out said there's going to be a referendum, and your vote in that referendum is really important. Full stop."

Because so many people were uninformed - less than a week before the election, 24 per cent of people surveyed said they didn't know anything about MMP - we should be careful how we evaluate the results of the referendum, said George Thomson, the former chair of the Ontario Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform.

"Perhaps Ontarians prefer the status quo. I just wish we'd had a process that I could look at and feel more confident that an informed Ontario electorate prefers the status quo," said Thomson.

Thomson described the Elections Ontario information campaign as "$70,000 spent on this big picture of a fellow looking confused and not much else."

An informed electorate is essential if Fair Vote wants to change the way Canadians elect their politicians, agreed June Macdonald, president of Fair Vote Ontario.

"This expanding through the province, through the dint of personal communication, people talking to people, I think that's what makes the difference," said Macdonald. "Whenever I talk to people, they understand it. They get it."

But LeDuc cautioned that people shouldn't expect another referendum on MMP any time soon.

"However you view the referendum outcome, the fact that there was a referendum and an outcome creates a real barrier that has to be confronted," he said.

Although another referendum may be a long way off, the McGuinty government will strike a select committee on electoral reform next week. No major changes will be considered, but the committee will look at encouraging voter turnout after only 52 per cent of Ontario residents voted in the last election."

Thursday, March 13, 2008

PMO's power threatens democracy, Gomery says

The growing power among unelected personnel in the Prime Minister's Office is a threat to democracy, retired Justice John Gomery says.

Gomery told a parliamentary committee today centralized power in the PMO is a "danger to Canadian democracy" and paves the way to political interference in public administration.

He said there is growing gulf between the executive, the Prime Minister and cabinet, and Parliament, giving less voice to MPs.

He raised concerns about the political staff in the PMO, saying they are not elected and are not subjected to any rules or laws, yet "have the ear of the most important and powerful person in Canadian government."

"I suggest that this trend is a danger to Canadian democracy and leaves the door wide open to the kind of political interference in the day-to-day administration of government programs that led to what is commonly called the sponsorship scandal."

To read more, click here or here and here.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Vancouver Sun: Lopsided Alberta vote underscores B.C.'s unfinished electoral work

The Vancouver Sun reflects on the recent lopsided election result in Alberta and how it illustrates the need to re-examine how we elect our governments in Canada.

"[Alberta Premier Ed] Stelmach's efficient leverage of a minority of the potential popular vote into a sizeable majority is a potent reminder for British Columbians of the unfinished business we face in the next provincial election. In addition to voting for a new government, we are getting another chance to vote on whether to change our electoral system to one under which lopsided victories such as the one in Alberta would be less likely to occur...

"BC-STV fell just short of the required approval threshold in 2005. Proponents complained that there was no budget for an education campaign to explain how it would work and many voters were simply confused by the apparent complexity of the system. This time the province has budgeted $1.5 million for an education campaign, to be shared in part with "Yes" and "No" forces, but a significant hitch has developed in the electoral boundary reform process that was to have illustrated how an STV system would carve up the province.

"Unless members of the legislature are able to forge a compromise that will rescue the politically unpalatable recommendations of the Electoral Boundaries Commission, voters will face another vote on whether to change the system while still uncertain as to how it will look in their home communities.

"That would be a shame -- a waste of thousands of hours of work by the Citizens' Assembly and millions of dollars invested in the Electoral Boundaries Commission."

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

"Winner-Take-All" Misrepresents Alberta Voters

The following was released today by Fair Vote Canada:

For only the third time over the past two decades, Albertans will have a majority government actually elected by a majority of those casting votes, but Albertans supporting opposition parties continue to be dramatically under-represented.

By winning 53% of the popular vote, Ed Stelmach’s Progressive Conservatives avoided the false majority results of the 2004, 1993 and 1989 elections in which the party captured a majority of seats even though they failed to win a majority of votes.

“As usual, the first-past-the-post voting system distorted the results and denied fair representation to a significant portion of the electorate,” said Stephen Broscoe, President, Fair Vote Canada, a national citizens' organization promoting fair voting systems across the country. “Just under half of Albertans voted for opposition parties and they gained only 11 of 83 seats.”

"We congratulate Premier Stelmach and the Progressive Conservative Party on their victory," said Broscoe. "The PC Party won a legitimate majority government. However, they should not be rewarded with 88% of the seats."

"These types of distortions occur regularly with the first-past-the-post system used all across Canada, " said J.D. Crookshanks, spokesman for Fair Vote Alberta , the provincial wing of Fair Vote Canada . "To put tonight's results into perspective, it only took about 7,000 votes province-wide to elect a PC candidate. It took 31,000 votes to elect a Liberal MLA, and 40,000 votes to elect a representative of the NDP. The 64,000 voters who cast ballots for the Wild Rose Alliance were shut out completely, as were the 43,000 supporters of the Alberta Greens. It is no wonder that Albertans are tuning out on a massive scale when so few of their votes count."

"With a fair voting system that treats all voters equally, the number of seats won by the parties closely matches the will of the voters," said Broscoe. "We can never know exactly what the results would have been under a different system, but if all votes cast had equal value, Albertans would likely have elected about 44 PC, 22 Liberal, 7 NDP, 6 Wild Rose Alliance and 4 Green MLAs. We would have seen a much stronger opposition, a more balanced legislature, and most importantly, Albertans would have seen their votes accurately reflected in the election results."

"Similar outcomes in other provinces have led them to examine alternatives to first-past-the-post," said Crookshanks. " British Columbia and Ontario have convened citizens' assemblies to study different types of voting systems in use around the world, and recommend alternatives. In fact, in May 2009 British Columbians will be voting in a referendum on a fairer voting system called BC-STV, recommended by the BC Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform. Given last night's results, we call on Premier Stelmach to convene an Alberta Citizens' Assembly to study the voting system and determine if a better alternative exists for this province."

- 30 -

Friday, February 15, 2008

Majority governments make Canadian PM more powerful than a President, U.S. envoy says

Canada's "Winner-Take-All" voting system, which frequently hands one political party's leader (and his or her unelected backroom hacks) all the power, is given a little perspective today by U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Wilkins.

Says Wilkins: "In your form of government, particularly in a majority government, your prime minister has much more power concentrated in that one position than our president ever thought about having," the ambassador said...

Canada's system has an executive and legislative branch effectively controlled by one person.

Can you imagine, Wilkins asked, what it would be like for the U.S. president to be able to appoint cabinet members, senators and judges without lengthy confirmation hearings?

"It would change the dynamics (of Washington, D.C.) overnight," he said.

But before he set Canadians' heads spinning too much, Wilkins did add a caveat.

His boss doesn't face the daily grind of question period in the House of Commons.

Wilkins said he liked the Canadian system better "if my guy's in power," but prefers the U.S. system's checks and balances if he's not.


Wilkins' statements are right on the money. Canada's voting system hands all the power to one person for four or five straight years with little or no checks on that power, no mid-term elections, no PR-elected Senate (like in Australia).

Canada needs more checks and balances on the immense power of our Prime MInisters and Premiers. Fair voting reform, where parties win representation in our legislatures based on the percentage of their votes, would accomplish that without fundamentally changing our parliamentary system.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Minority governments produce better foreign policy

For those who continue to believe our antiquated "Winner-Take-All" voting system produces better government by handing one party all the power, please check out this article in today's Ottawa Citizen by writer Adam Chapnick.

As Chapnick points out, minority governments in Canada (where the ruling party is forced to work with opposition parties) tend to produce better foreign policy.

Here's an excerpt:

"Stephen Harper's decision to reach out to Stéphane Dion's Liberals last week on the question of the future of the Canadian contribution to the mission in Afghanistan is an excellent move, but it is also not as shocking as recent analyses have suggested."

"It is rather evidence that, like a number of leaders of minority governments before him, the prime minister has come to realize that an ideologically bold approach to foreign policy in Canada results in neither tangible electoral gains nor the advancement of Canadian interests..."

"...The Harper Conservatives now recognize that co-operation with members of the opposition (who are willing to co-operate) on this file will only benefit Canadians, the Afghan people, and the government itself."


Of course, based on previous election results in Canada, the Harper Conservatives could walk away with a majority government under our current "Winner-Take-All" voting system simply by winning an additional one or two percentage points in support, far short of 50%. Such a scenario would clearly fly in the face of Canadian interests with regard to foreign policy.

We need a voting system that ensures power is divided in our Parliament proportional to how people actually voted so that one party cannot impose its ideological vision on the majority of Canadians. For those who assume the parties can't or won't work together for the benefit of our country under such a system, recent deliberations in Ottawa over Afghanistan prove otherwise.

Alberta Liberals Promise Citizens' Assembly to Explore Electoral Reform

The Alberta Liberal Party, under leader Kevin Taft (pictured), is promising a comprehensive plan to improve government and democracy in Alberta, if elected in the upcoming provincial election.

Taft will be facing off against Tory incumbent premier Ed Stelmach in a race most observers expect to be called as early as today.

For years, the Alberta Liberals, like all opposition parties in the province, have been victimized by our antiquated "Winner-Take-All" voting system in this country. In 2004, the Alberta Liberals won close to 30% of the vote, but won only 19% of the seats, while the Tories under former premier Ralph Klein won 75% of the seats with only 47% of the vote. In the 2001 election, 27% of the vote for the Liberals translated into only 8% of the seats. The history of distorted electoral results in Alberta, with huge, lop-sided majorities, is well-documented.

Taft has outlined an Action Plan for Open, Accountable Government.

The plan includes a promise to create a Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform to study other voting systems, such as proportional representation. A province-wide plebiscite will follow.

"Democracy has become derailed in Alberta. Let’s put it back on track. The Alberta Liberals will define and shape genuine democratic processes that restore people’s involvement in government," says the Alberta Liberal website.

If the Alberta Liberals form a government and Taft follows through on his promise, it would be provide another opportunity for citizens to revisit our dreadful "Winner-Take-All" voting system and look at alternatives. Taft has got it right with his pledge to leave this issue in the hands of citizens. Political parties have an inherent conflict of interest when deciding how we elect our governments.

Most politicians whose parties frequently seize power under our existing "Winner-Take-All" system have long cherished it and don't want to give it up. It seems Taft, as a longtime Alberta progressive, understands the importance of improving our voting system to make it more proportional to the votes actually cast.

For more on the Alberta Liberal plan, click here.

Many observers are predicting the upcoming Alberta election will be one of the closest and hardest-fought races in decades.

Even former Tory premier Ralph Klein is predicting his long-ruling party will lose seats in the upcoming election.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Single Transferable Vote (STV) is the best alternative to our antiquated "Winner-Take-All" voting system

Check out this great piece on OpEdNews.com which highlights the strengths of the Single Transferable Vote, or STV, a voting system which ensures representation for all voters in the final results, be they in the Iowa Democratic Caucuses or in legislative or parliamentary elections. Some U.S. primaries simply use the "Winner-Take-All" system, handing an entire state's delegates to one winning candidate simply because that candidate won the highest number of votes; the other votes count for nothing.

In parliamentary elections using STV, voters rank candidates running in multi-member ridings (instead of casting a single 'X' next to one candidate). A group of candidates is elected, representing various parties and perspectives, all of them are accountable to the voters. Instead of one person representing your interests, you have several people elected to represent your interests. This is different from our "Winner-Take-All" system where one candidate with the most votes wins the whole constituency outright.

Voters in British Columbia are set to get another chance to endorse STV in a referendum in 2009 (58% of B.C. voters endorsed STV in a 2005 referendum, but the government-imposed 60% threshold meant passage was denied.) If over 60% of B.C. voters embrace STV in 2009, it will mark the beginning of true democracy in Canadian elections...

"STV ensures that a representative democracy is truly representative — that the opinions of all blocs of voters are represented, in the proportion with which those opinions are held by the population. It is used for a variety of elections in many Western democracies, including the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. About two-dozen U.S. cities, including New York, have used STV at various points; Cambridge, Mass., still does, and Minneapolis will starting in 2009 for certain offices..."

"Voters just head to the voting booth and rank candidates by preference on a standard ballot; if a voter’s first choice doesn’t get the number of votes needed to win a seat, his or her vote is counted in the next round for their second choice, and so on. STV makes it more likely that a given individual’s vote, or a give bloc of votes, will make a difference. And because of this, it tends to sharply boost participation. It minimizes the problem of the “wasted” vote, whereby some votes don’t help elect any candidate at all, and voters for that candidate go entirely unrepresented. STV also makes politics less negative, encouraging cooperation among candidates."

"A candidate wants to be the first choice of as many voters as possible, but also wants to be the second choice of the rest, and so doesn’t want to turn them off. Dennis Kucinich, for instance, urged his supporters to caucus for Barack Obama in precincts where Kucinich didn’t have enough support to win a delegate of his own."

"There’s a strong case to be made that one reason STV is used less than it used to be in the United States is precisely because it actually achieved its aims: It yielded a level of popular representation and participation that made it harder for the wealthy and party bosses to wield ironclad control over politics in jurisdictions where it was used, and so they pushed back and got rid of it."

Monday, January 7, 2008

Canadians like minority government, survey finds

An interesting survey came out over the weekend. Canadian voters seem comfortable with the idea of a minority federal government and reluctant to give any party a commanding majority, a poll suggests.

The Canadian Press Harris/Decima survey asked respondents to choose the kind of split they'd ideally like to see in a hypothetical Parliament of 100 seats. The results, on average, gave 36 seats to the Liberals, 31 to the Conservatives, 15 to the NDP, 10 to the Bloc Québécois and eight to the Green party.

Projecting those percentages to the actual House of Commons of 308 seats, the Liberals would end up with 111 seats rather than their current 96 and the Tories would have 95 instead of their present 125.

The NDP would have 46 seats instead of 30, the Bloc 31 instead of 49 and the Greens 25 rather than zero.

Of course, under Canada's "Winner-Take-All" system, one political party with as little as 38% of the vote can form a majority government. This survey suggests Canadians are indeed comfortable with minority governments and are hesitant to grant one party all the power. It's regrettable that our voting system undermines that sentiment and frequently hands one party and its backroom hacks all the power in our governments.

Of particular note is the desire among Canadians to see significant representation for the Green Party. But as we know, our "Winner-Take-All" system ensures that the Greens will likely never win representation in Canadian legislatures.

Without a fair voting system that ensures party representation matches voter support, Canadians will never get the Parliament they seem to truly want.