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 -