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The world according to David Graham


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Recent entries

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  5. A podcast with Michael Geist on technology and politics
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  8. 2019 Fall campaign newsletter / infolettre campagne d'automne 2019
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  10. 2019-07-15 SECU 171
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  12. 2019-06-17 14:14 House intervention / intervention en chambre
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  20. 2019-06-04 INDU 166
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  22. 2019 June newsletter / infolettre juin 2019
  23. 2019-05-30 RNNR 137
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  27. 2019-05-29 ETHI 155
  28. 2019-05-28 ETHI 154
  29. 2019-05-28 ETHI 153
  30. 2019-05-27 ETHI 151
  31. older entries...

All stories filed under elections...

  1. 2006-04-13: April 13th, 2006
  2. 2006-05-27: May 27th, 2006
  3. 2006-12-11: Proportional representation would be worse than the status quo
  4. 2007-01-29: My submission to the Ontario Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform
  5. 2007-03-20: The trouble with parties
  6. 2007-05-30: Why I will vote against MMP this fall
  7. 2007-08-07: No MMP campaign gets underway
  8. 2007-08-09: Why no MMP?
  9. 2007-08-10: All the World's problems to be solved by MMP
  10. 2007-08-10: MMP change for the sake of change?
  11. 2007-08-13: The myth of the Kiwi Utopia
  12. 2007-08-14: Ten lies about MMP revisited
  13. 2007-08-15: A Dawg's bone
  14. 2007-09-13: The real truth about MMP
  15. 2007-09-25: The myth of the wasted vote
  16. 2007-10-01: On wanting the Third Way
  17. 2007-10-08: MMP contradictions keep adding up
  18. 2007-10-11: Ontario overwhelmingly defeats MMP; declares Liberal majority perfectly legitimate
  19. 2007-10-16: A short rant on electoral reform
  20. 2007-10-20: More assorted thoughts on the future of our democracy
  21. 2008-02-25: No MMP campaign issues final press release
  22. 2008-04-09: Does voter turnout matter?
  23. 2008-04-23: The Democratic Primaries and Us
  24. 2008-05-22: Why I do not support an elected Senate
  25. 2008-07-31: Jack Layton and Gloria Kovach pretend to have credibility on transit
  26. 2008-08-06: By-election thoughts
  27. 2008-08-20: What the ....
  28. 2008-08-23: Community service like no other
  29. 2008-08-29: Vandals threaten the lives of Liberal supporters in Guelph
  30. 2008-09-07: 45 days down, 37 to go
  31. 2008-09-08: Bloc, NDP, Conservatives against democratic debate
  32. 2008-10-05: Vandals threaten the lives of more Liberal supporters
  33. 2008-10-06: There is no morning-after pill for federal elections
  34. 2008-10-08: Day 76... 6 to go
  35. 2008-10-15: Election post-mortem
  36. 2008-10-24: Assorted thoughts on leadership, recessions, and highways

Displaying the most recent stories under elections...

Assorted thoughts on leadership, recessions, and highways

Today is the 79th anniversary of Black Thursday, the first of three miserable days on the stock market that signalled the start of the Great Depression. With that, rules for the Liberal leadership race about to come forward, and new developments on the highway construction front, there's lots to talk about these days.

First off, let me say that, given the choice, I want this man to run for the leadership of the Liberal Party.

With that out of the way, down to business.

This week, Ontario posted a deficit of $500 million for the first time in a few years. I have never made any secret of my disdain for deficits, and when I see a provincial government spending more billions on building new highways than you can shake a stick at go into deficit, I really have to scratch my head.

As I have noted many times before, Guelph is currently subject of, or is close to, four major highway projects: new Highway 24 (Cambridge-Brantford), new Highway 7 (Guelph-Kitchener), new GTA West corridor (Guelph-Brampton), and realignment and upgrades to Highway 6, in four separate sections each with its own EA, from south of the 401 to north of Guelph city limits.

Last night was the 4th Public Information Centre for the first of the four sections of Highway 6 to be upgraded. I am disappointed to, again, see no consideration whatsoever for the need to connect the Hanlon industrial park to the nearby rail network, which would involve crossing the Hanlon near one of the interchanges being proposed and therefore would need at least some level of planning or preparation within this environmental assessment. The changes proposed in PIC #4 for the Hanlon in their latest "preferred plan" call for a two-way service road to run between Stone and Downey Rd on the west side of the Hanlon, connecting up to Woodland Glen Dr., and the associated construction of a large retaining wall through several back yards along Old Colony Trail.

From a traffic flow perspective, it's definitely an improvement over previous plans, but from an environmental and social perspective for that area, it's a definite setback. This never-ending balancing act is frustrating to me.

I maintain that the investment in highways is a colossal waste of money if we are not also investing to at least the same level in transit infrastructure, which here and now necessarily means rail. If the as-yet unbuilt Hanlon industrial park were to connect to rail, which could be accomplished for the cost of one or two interchanges on the highway, the highway improvements would have a net long term benefit. The rail access would allow businesses to come to this industrial park to get material out of their trucks and onto the tracks, not just move it between trucks. I am all for road infrastructure improvements that help people and businesses get off the roads, but against highways for the sake of highways. Similarly, if passenger service were restored to the line between Guelph and Hamilton, some of the car pressures on Highway 6, which runs parallel to the nearly unused tracks for the entire affected area, would be reduced.

I found out just yesterday that there is an environmental assessment public information centre on Tuesday the 28th from 5-8pm at the Springfield Golf and Country Club on Gordon discussing upgrades to Maltby Rd, which would be an ideal right of way to connect the Guelph Junction Railway to the Hanlon industrial parks with minimal cost or disruption. Tracks could easily run on the edge of the road within its right of way.

With the recession coming very much as I predicted a couple of years ago, dead-end highway projects like the Halon may finally be put on hold. Given half a moment of reflection, if we are going to go into deficit to finance infrastructure and create jobs, then we should be doing so in such a way as to have high capacity, low environmental impact, low cost transportation solutions running at the other end of the recession. It remains my belief that our existing road system would be adequate if we invested properly in rail transportation rather than heavily subsidising roads while leaving rail to fend for itself.

The reality is, though, that we will continue to rip up rails in Canada and build highways nearby. This week, work began in ripping out the Kinghorn subdivision, a 195-mile railway line that was abandoned in 2005 connecting Longlac to Thunder Bay. The track itself was primarily used as a detour route in the event of problems in northern Ontario, but its removal demonstrates that we, collectively, have still not learned our lesson in rail removal. While difficult to prove, I believe Canada remains one of the few countries, if not the only one, left in the entire world still ripping out more railway lines than we are putting in.

Earlier this week, the first federal leader of a party to meaningfully recognise this reality and put it in a platform, was pushed out of the leadership of his party in a victory of politics over policy. The Liberal platform this past election included huge sums for infrastructure, and a plan to ban the removal of railway lines like the Kinghorn sub. While this horse has largely left the barn, the Kinghorn sub demonstrates that it is never too late to close this barn door.

This leads me to my next point, which is about the leadership of the Liberal party.

We should have rules handed down soon about the structure and length of the third Liberal leadership race in recent years within a few days. While pithy, Jamie's assessment is bang on and I hope some of the suggestions in his post are reflected in the rules.

Personally, I would like to see 50% of all donations to each leadership campaign be handed over to the party in lieu of a deposit, and no spending cap coupled with a ban on coming out with any debt whatsoever. We need a leader capable of fundraising as much as any other skill, and that is one way to weed out poor fundraisers. The debt lesson is a hard learned one as some of the last round of leadership candidates still have not finished paying theirs off, and I would suggest that to enforce such a no debt requirement, any candidate who still has outstanding leadership debt by the time they reach the convention be excluded from the ballot.

And on the topic of enforcement, you can read my latest presentation, this one to the Guelph Police Services Board on Thursday the 16th on behalf of the Community Volunteer Patrol, an organisation you should get involved with.

And by the way, why do so many drivers not normally get winter tires that requiring them in one province could cause such a massive shortage?

elections environment guelph highways leadership money musings politics transit 1155 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 14:35 on October 24, 2008

Election post-mortem

If I were writing the headlines this morning, and I were as biased as many papers seem to be around elections, my headline would read something to the effect: "'Not a Leader' keeps 'Cuddly Sweater Man' to minority." It was a long, tough battle in Guelph, with an 82-day campaign. Our writ was dropped on July 25th for a September 8th by-election, cancelled on September 7th, and postponed to October 14th. But our Liberal newcomer Frank Valeriote pulled it off and Guelph, almost alone in Southwest Region, stayed red.

While I did not get home from the victory celebration until almost 3 this morning, I should note that not a single one of the opposing candidates had the grace to congratulate Valeriote last night. I have a lot of thoughts about this election, both locally and nationally, to share.

I spent a good deal of the campaign volunteering, doing everything from sign crew to door-to-door to work in the office. I haven't really slept much since July. Our campaign had no paid staff on it, yet plenty of people there seven days a week. The hard work paid off as we defeated three strong candidates and six fringe candidates. Indeed, Guelph's campaign was the longest of any in the country, tied with St-Lambert and Westmount at 82 days. We had the most candidates of any riding at 10. We had the most high profile candidates, at four. As a complete aside, I want to note that several members of the campaign, including the Campaign Manager, CFO, and director of communications, along with many others, do not drive and in most cases don't have driver's licenses. That a campaign can function and win in those conditions makes me proud of our community's ever-improving transit system.

While much was made of the Green campaign in Guelph, I have to hand it to the Green supporters who think more clearly than the campaign they supported. While Greens in Guelph clearly felt they could take this riding early on, the results show them a distant third, ahead of the NDP, but well behind the second-place Conservatives. Greens and NDPers both understood the message about vote splitting, and I believe came through for the riding and the country in uniting to defeat our Conservative candidate here.

As a result of vote splitting and wide-spread strategic voting, however, Greens and NDPers especially will continue to raise proportional representation as an issue, under the guise of discussing electoral reform. As one who worked very closely on the campaign to defeat mixed-member proportional in Ontario, I will once again offer a compromise to proponents of electoral reform. I will meet you half way between STV and SMP, and support IRV, a system that would eliminate vote splitting and strategic voting, without introducing new problems to our democracy.

The NDP nationally, on the other hand, nearly achieved their goal. I have long believed that Jack Layton's goal has not so much been to become leader of the opposition, but to ensure a Stephen Harper majority. Having spent most of his campaign trying to unseat Liberals, even where the NDP itself had no chance of winning, Layton worked hard to ensure an unrestrained far right government which could ultimately lead to an extreme far left government in response to it with Jack Layton at the helm. For a party that claims to want to work with the other parties, as it does every time it offers during an election to be a coalition partner, it works very hard not to cooperate with anyone.

The Greens are going to be interesting to watch over the next couple of years. I expected them to sweep the protest vote nationally this election and come out much closer to the NDP at the end of the day. But I believe the Greens nationally understood that a vote for the Greens right now is a vote against action on climate change, and so ballot box guilt cost a lot of their support. The Greens will, however, need to ask themselves what they need to do to get their leader in the House. Running against an entrenched Conservative MP who is one of the few members of the Conservative caucus who would make strong leadership candidates when Harper moves on was not a brilliant strategic move for the party, but I appreciate the Green Party leader's decision not to run against any Liberal or NDP candidates where should would risk hurting progressives. While in any other party, with the possible exception of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives, her decision would probably cost her the leadership of her party, I believe that what she accomplished in this election far exceeds what she lost. But to really make a difference, and they will hate me for saying so, I believe the Green Party should fold, and join the Liberal Party en masse, taking over some riding assocations and their policy committees, and using the vehicle of the Liberal Party to push through an agenda we largely share in common, rather than continuing an unnecessary national division.

The Conservatives, too, will have to do some soul searching. While conventional wisdom is that Stephane Dion was the big loser last night, in my opinion it was Stephen Harper. While he kept his own expectations down, he showed that with a carefully managed campaign where the public was not invited to a single campaign event from day one to voting day, where he spent millions of dollars successfully personally destroying his opponent outside of a writ period where there are few restrictions on spending, where his main opponents were essentially flat broke, and where his secondary opponents were working primarily to unseat his main opponent, he could not win a majority. If not against a broke Liberal party with what Conservatives see as a weak leader in Dion at the helm, then Consrvatives will have to ask themselves how they will ever win a majority. The answer they will come to will ultimately be: through a more centrist and less abrasive leader.

My sense of how things would go at the start can be summarised fairly simply. I felt that Canadians, by-and-large, wanted a majority government, and didn't really care who got it. The Conservatives' gaffes, with the exception of the arts and culture cuts, didn't stick. People didn't care, they just wanted an end to the minorities, something they still did not get.

The number of times I heard at the door and elsewhere through this campaign that "all politicians are liars" and therefore "I'm voting Conservative" really caught me off guard. There is only one party that ran a campaign based completely on lies, manipulation, and deceit, and people chose it over a party that offered a clear vision and honest assessment of where we needed to go and how we would get there, because they are tired of lies, manipulation, and deceit.

This brings me to our own federal party. Readers of this blog will know that I was a strong supporter of Dion through the leadership race, and have remained loyal to him since. I still strongly believe he is the only leader in the House who has any kind of vision or true leadership skills. He is not an eloquent speaker in English, but nor is Harper an eloquent speaker in French. That, to me, is his only major flaw. While we can thank Mike Duffy for throwing Ontario -- numbers in Ontario collapsed after his partisan intervention in the campaign -- people looking objectively at the video clip he posted would realise that the interviewer asked Dion a question, Dion asked for clarification ("if I were PM 2 and a half years ago?"), the interviewer repeated his initial question instead of simply agreeing to the clarification, and slipped on his answer, so asked to reanswer the question. Why that is such a big deal to people, I am not sure. I don't think there are many politicians or interviewers who have never restarted an interview. That all said, Dion's leadership is in danger. If we lose him, we will likely get some eloquent speaker with no vision or true leadership skills other than an ability to crack a whip, and people will rejoice that we have "a leader," while pretending that someone other than Dion would have done amazingly better this election. Against today's financial machine of the Conservative party, I do not see how any winner of the 2006 leadership race would have fared any better. Dion's numbers spiked after the debates. The number of times I heard complaints about Dion's leadership dwindled. It was the first chance Canadians had ever had to meet the real Dion and they liked what they saw. If perceptions were based on reality, not on smears and attacks, we would have a very different outcome.

Which leads me to my next point: money. The Liberal Party has precisely one thing to do between now and the next election. The party must convince every supporter in every part of the country who can afford to give a dime to the cause to give that dime. The party needs money to fight elections and inter-election battles. Millions of Canadians who believe in the Liberal cause must be asked to put their money where their mouth is. We have to learn to out-fundraise our opponents, and we have the base to do it if we make that our priority. That politics is decided by money and not ideas sickens me, but that is the context in which we must learn to fight.

The Conservatives spent millions of dollars on ads between elections, something that the Liberals simply couldn't afford to do. It had an obvious and direct effect as they beat the Liberals to the punch in defining the new Liberal leader by doing so, both immediately after the leadership convention and immediately before the general election. This problem would have been essentially mooted by having a well-financed party that could have fought back. It is your responsibility, and your friends, your family, and your neighbours, to ensure that this does not ever happen again.

But this brings us to a problem. I remember reading or hearing an analysis of attack advertising some years ago. It went something like this: If Wendy's released an ad saying Harvey's burgers were made of mice, then people would stop eating Harvey's burgers. If Harvey's responded by saying Wendy's burgers are made of rats, then people would stop eating Wendy's burgers. The result, ultimately, would be that people would stop eating burgers.

This approach to politics, more than any other factor I believe, is leading to the increasingly pathetic voter turnout we are seeing in elections. It isn't that people are disaffected by the nonsense of the "wasted vote" as some would have you believe, it is that voters are tired of having to choose between rats and mice. Elections should be fought on ideas first, last, and always, but almost never are. They're fought on personality, sound bites, and scored points. The result, ultimately, is that we all lose, every time. As Chretien used to like saying, "when you throw mud, you lose ground." This election was one of the dirtiest ever. With hate ads personally attacking the Liberal leader and offering no substantive reason for doing so dominating the airwaves, and with at least five Liberal ridings having homes and vehicles severely vandalised, in many cases resulting in a direct threat to life and limb, we have reached a new low in Canada.

Now that we have a Conservative government again, what becomes of policies like the Green Shift? My bet is that the Conservatives bring in a very similar but somewhat weakened policy that will not be revenue neutral in an effort to stem the tide of deficit that they have brought on us, early on in their mandate, and claim credit for it as the best idea since sliced bread. Nothing was made of the presence of a cap-and-trade system in the Conservative Party's hastily drawn up platform at the end of the campaign.

If Obama wins next door next month, this could well be the first extended period of time in which we have a Democratic president at the same time as a Conservative government. As Conservative governments tend to draw us closer to US foreign policy, this will have a tendency to limit the damage that Harper can cause to Canada if he is there for any length of time.

As we look toward the next election, which will not be more than a couple of years out, we must consider how we will go about winning. As I said before, fundraising is the key. For a party with the support and history that the Liberal Party has to be essentially out of money is ridiculous. For my friends who blog, but who make no other contribution to the party, I will say it very simply: you are not doing your part.

We have to work together to rebuild the party from the inside out, financially and organisationally. Chretien's return at the very end of the campaign was a sign of things to come and I believe the Liberal Party has woken up to the fact this morning that it really is only one party, not two, and needs to act that way if it hopes to return to power.

May we continue to live in interesting times.

elections politics 2250 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 14:41 on October 15, 2008

Day 76... 6 to go

We're now up to no fewer than 5 ridings having Liberal supporters' cars intentionally disabled, with Mississauga-Streetsville and Niagara Falls joining in. Yesterday also saw the introduction of the Conservative party's platform, and Guelph's televised candidates' debate, with 9 of our 10 candidates attending.

I read the entire Conservative platform shortly after it came out. It struck me as a slipshod document that the war room threw together after hearing Harper announce that there would be a platform available in a few days. It's not well organised as a document, and offers nothing of substance to a country struggling under the weight of a weakened economy.

The Guelph debate last night was rather bland. As we had so many candidates, only six questions were asked from the floor during the two hours of debate, at least five of which were asked by known partisans, three of those Conservatives. For the first time in this 3-month campaign, and to the chagrin of the Green candidate, the room was not stacked with Green supporters. I had not planned on asking a question, but I drew a number from the hat for kicks and was more than a little surprised to pull out the '1'. So I asked a question that I think should be asked in every riding at all levels of government. I first heard a variation of this question asked by someone else in a debate in the municipal election here in 2006:

Do you live in this riding? If so, do you believe candidates should have the right to run in a riding in which they do not live? If not, why are you running here?

At least three of Guelph's 10 candidates do not live in the riding, and it seems to me with such a requirement our ballot would be somewhat more manageable, aside from my personal disdain for the practice of parachuting candidates. One candidate chose to take it personally, describing me as "Frank's assistant" which is not entirely accurate, though I do volunteer for him and believe he is far and away the best man for the job of the 10 people on our ballot, before saying that he does not live in the riding but has close ties to it, and that he was nominated in Guelph-Wellington before the 2003 redistribution. That's fine, but when Guelph-Wellington was redistributed, it is disingenuous to suggest that he had to run in Guelph, as he still lived in one of the two resulting ridings: Wellington-Halton Hills, and could have run there (perhaps leaving Guelph to his stronger provincial counterpart, Ben Polley). Later, that same candidate declared his opposition to strategic voting, but by this earlier answer admitted that he believes in strategic running. Running in a riding where you believe you can win rather than one in which you live is opportunism, pure and simple.

On the topic of strategic voting, I do believe it makes sense to work within the electoral system you have, and not live in some dreamland where a different system exists in your head, but not on the ballot. Strategic voting in Single Member Plurality is a necessity when the ballot is over-crowded with people with similar values who have abstract reasons for running against, rather than with, eachother. Would I like reform? Ya, I think we should have a preferential ballot and make some other structural changes, but not throw the baby out with the bathwater as proportional representation advocates would like us to do. But that is not the system we have here and now, and we must work within the context of what we do have.

elections politics 612 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 14:14 on October 08, 2008

There is no morning-after pill for federal elections

In the five days since I submitted my latest column for today's Mercury, a lot has changed. Stephane Dion owned the French debate, Harper has been accused of plagiarising no fewer than three speeches, Liberal supporters in two Toronto ridings have had their homes vandalised and their lives endangered through damage to their cars exactly as happened in Guelph six weeks ago. But one key thing hasn't changed: Harper and the Conservatives, in spite of all evidence that they are permanently unfit to govern, still lead in the polls.

While Vote for Environment, a website dedicated to helping people reconcile split votes into a non-Conservative MP, warns that Guelph is one of the hottest ridings in the country, some people in Guelph point to an obviously bogus poll released by the Green party during the by-election showing themselves a distant second as evidence that this is not the case.

During the leaders' debate last week, Elizabeth May stated that her top priority for the country is electoral reform. We need proportional representation, she asserted, preempting any policy issues like the economy or the environment. I can understand the sentiment, but not the priority. Under single-member plurality, the proper name for what we have today, we have this problem with vote splitting. But it is the system we have, and the system that we will have on voting day next week. I am in favour of electoral reform, although against proportional "representation," and look forward to that national debate, but it is not the number one priority of this country.

While I am generally sympathetic to the Green Party and believe they have a major role to play in our democracy, their push for proportional representation irks me greatly. The notion was soundly defeated with nearly identical margins in referenda in PEI and Ontario and will be nationally if presented nationally. The electoral system we should be turning to is the one used by the lower house in Australia known there as Alternate Vote, or Instant Run-Off vote. It is, or is similar to, the system all parties use to select their candidates and leaders, and benefits the voter first, the party second. It gives constituents the right to choose their MP without worrying about vote splitting, without giving MPs the right to choose their constituents as proportional representation does. I also believe in other reforms, such as the banning of candidates from running in ridings in which they do not live, and the elimination of much of the role of the Party Whip.

My latest article to the Mercury bears this disclaimer: Editor's note: Community Editorial Board columnist David Graham is a member and supporter of the Liberal Party of Canada. He has volunteered with the Frank Valeriote campaign in this federal election.

It is true. I am a Liberal, and I put my money where my mouth is. I have never made a secret of that. I joined the Liberal party and volunteer for it because I believe it is the party best suited and most capable of governing this country, and I believe by being a member of it, and serving on its policy committees and in elections, I can help steer it toward the most productive policies, something I cannot do from the outside or by working against it.

Anyway, my column...

We can't afford another Conservative government

There is no morning-after pill for federal elections.

With the very real threat that we will wake up Oct. 15 to find ourselves tied to Stephen Harper, we have to ask ourselves: do we want this man who violates his own laws, while denigrating his opponents, to be in charge of our country and our economy?

Aside from the disdain he has shown for the rule of law by suing Elections Canada, the world-renowned organization responsible for ensuring our democracy, he is the leader of the first governing party in Canadian history to have its headquarters raided by the RCMP and has called this election in violation of his own fixed election date law.

Under that law, we were not scheduled to go to the polls until October 2009. As we know here in Guelph, our byelection was cancelled the day before we were to go to the polls, as Mr. Harper evidently feared losing here.

There are few countries in the world where elections are cancelled when the leader fears the result. Canada now counts itself among the members of this exclusive club.

Harper inherited a booming Canadian economy and a well-balanced federal budget from the Liberals less than three years ago. At the time, our economy was stronger than that of our neighbour to the south, and was the strongest of the G8.

Now, as the United States prepares to bail out an economy on the verge of collapse, we find ourselves with no more budget surplus in Canada and an economy no stronger than theirs.

This Conservative government has raised billions of dollars through the wireless spectrum auction and by selling off government assets to lease them back. The effect of this is to put extra money in the budget now, from the sale of our assets, and increase our expenses later by having to pay to lease them back.

It is a budgetary time bomb.

The claim that our federal budget is actually balanced is highly dubious. If we count the assets the Harper government has quietly sold, we are likely already in a substantial deficit.

Harper's actions are the equivalent of selling your house to pay off your mortgage.

This fits the pattern of federal Conservatives through this country's history.

By the end of Brian Mulroney's government, Canada's debt-to-GDP ratio had achieved its worst peacetime level since the Great Depression, something Jean Chrtien's Liberals had to remedy in their first term in office.

Before this current Conservative government squandered the healthy budgetary surplus left to them, the last time a Conservative government balanced a budget was in 1912, the year the Titanic sank.

Since then, not a single economic boom has taken place in Canada under a Conservative government, and that trend is set to continue under Harper.

We have seen this movie before.

The job losses in Ontario since Harper came to power in 2006 add up to more people than there are working in Guelph, after a decade of unprecedented growth under the Liberals.

We cannot afford Harper for the next four years. The last time we made the mistake of giving the Conservatives power, the result was a $40-billion deficit and a strong separatist movement in Quebec.

We sent a clear message and soundly rejected this approach to managing Canada then by leaving only two lonely Progressive Conservative MPs in the House. We should learn from our mistakes.

In Guelph, our choice is clear. We have a city councillor who claims she will take our voice to Ottawa, but she has already demonstrated that instead she will be Harper's voice here in Guelph.

Asked by this paper for her opinion on Guelph resident Steven Truscott's compensation for his wrongful murder conviction, she referred the matter to Stephen Harper's office to answer for her.

As a long-time member of council, one would expect her leadership on council to bring about the support of her colleagues, but at this time not one sitting member of council has endorsed her candidacy.

Voting for the Green candidate in Guelph, who does not live in our riding, does nothing to push Green values forward. As Elizabeth May herself said recently, she would "rather have no Green seats and Stephen Harper lose, than a full caucus that stares across the floor at Stephen Harper as prime minister, because his policies are too dangerous."

The reality in Guelph is that this riding is a swing riding, not the safe Liberal seat that some seem to believe. Voting for the Green candidate only helps ensure that the Conservatives carry this riding on the split environmental vote, and that the cause of environmentalism and good government is set back for years to come.

When you cast your ballot next week, consider the true ramifications of your vote.

You cannot take it back if you do not like the result.

columns elections guelph politics 1377 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 14:26 on October 06, 2008

Vandals threaten the lives of more Liberal supporters

Six weeks after vandals tried to kill Liberals in Guelph, they've done it in exactly the same way to Liberals in Toronto. Anyone still think it's random violence?

To add to the "coincidence," the Guelph attack took place exactly eleven days before by-election voting day, and the Toronto attack took place exactly eleven days before the general election voting day. h/t Scott.

elections politics 70 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 16:14 on October 05, 2008

Bloc, NDP, Conservatives against democratic debate

Three of four federal parties already in the leadership debate won't participate in it if Elizabeth May is allowed in. The Green Party has fulfilled all of the arbitrary requirements to participate in the debate, but the broadcast consortium responsible for organising them has allowed three parties to veto a decision that is not theirs to make.

I, for one, wish Elizabeth May luck in her now inevitable court challenge to get in to the debate. Even though I have no intention of voting for a party that pushes to change the electoral system to get in the back door of parliament, I believe it is the right of the leader of any serious party to attend televised leaders debates as a participant. The federal Greens have a slate, a platform, and a member of parliament. The time for excuses is at an end.

elections leadership 150 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 20:29 on September 08, 2008

45 days down, 37 to go

Well, as everyone who doesn't live under a rock by now knows, Harper has seen fit to cancel four byelections whose results he was afraid of in violation of his own fixed election date law. Here in Guelph, that means we're 45 days down, 37 to go. Tomorrow was meant to be election day. How symbolic for Mr. Harper to take a fleet of SUVs across the street to Rideau Hall to run over us all.

elections guelph politics 82 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 02:24 on September 07, 2008

Vandals threaten the lives of Liberal supporters in Guelph

The escalation in Guelph is dramatic. Last night, over night, someone, or some group, went to all parts of the city vandalising homes with Liberal party by-election signs out front. Houses were spraypainted with slogans on the brickwork, garage, doors, and windows. But worse, much worse, is the fact that these cowards keyed the cars in the driveways with 'L' and cut the brake lines in the cars in the driveways. At least six cars are known to have had their brake lines cut. This is wreckless endangerment. Disabling the brakes on cars is a direct threat to life and limb and is way beyond the realm of acceptibility.

graffiti1 brakeline1

This is completely beyond the pale. The night of my post last week about my lawn sign walking off in front of my nose, my own car was tagged with whipped cream. The intimidation level in Guelph is getting to an incomprehensible point.

Tagging homes and cars with an 'L' is clearly an attempt to label people in a deragatory way, reminiscent of many an oppressive rgime.


elections guelph politics 185 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 02:33 on August 29, 2008

Community service like no other

Here's my column in today's Mercury on the Guelph by-election.

We need a strong advocate for transit

London North Centre MP Glen Pearson was once described by Maclean's magazine as the last decent man in Ottawa.

His years of tireless work on issues he cares about, and his humble mission to accomplish rather than to take credit, looking for accomplishment rather than attention, has earned him this respect and reputation.

Frank Valeriote, the candidate for the Liberal party in Guelph's federal byelection, is another man cut from the same cloth.

Decades of community service, both at home and abroad, have earned him an enviable list of accomplishments and enormous respect. He has served the public in Guelph since the early 1980s.

With a budget comparable to the city government and equally difficult decisions, Valeriote sat on -- and for several years chaired --the local Catholic school board, forging unprecedented co-operation with the public school board. His list of volunteer commitments, overseas mission work, and unheralded contributions to Guelph is extensive enough to fill its own page of a paper.

Valeriote has never worried about his profile or his image in the city. He just does what needs doing without fanfare, and feels no need to brag about it outside of the context of an election.

He is not asking to go to Ottawa for himself. He is not looking for glory, and as a long-practising and successful lawyer, he is not going for job stability. He is asking to go to Ottawa very simply to represent Guelph, Guelph's needs, Guelph's issues, and Guelph's residents, not himself.

Valeriote is all about principle, not about power for the sake of power.

As I have made clear many times, my number 1 issue for the future of this region is transit.

When considering the land-use demands, energy requirements, tax-dollar strain, and general economics of cars and trucks as compared to buses and trains, it is hard to see how our current path is really sustainable. Shifting our way of thinking about our way of moving will take serious, long-term leadership and the placement of principle ahead of politics.

While none of the candidates is making a point of sending his or her sign crews out on city buses, all claim to support transit.

The NDP, the party whose provincial wing cancelled GO train service to Guelph 15 years ago, even brought Leader Jack Layton here specifically to tell us how they would fund city transit. Their solution is simple: tie transit funding to car use through gas-tax based funding.

If we drive bigger cars more, we will burn more gas, pay more gas tax, and fund transit better. If we drive enough to fund transit properly, we will no longer need to drive, and transit will lose its funding. It's not quite how I envision the future of transit.

The Conservative candidate here also made a point of saying she supports transit, but it does not take much digging to find evidence directly contradicting that. Apparently Gloria Kovach believes 40-minute bus service is preferable, as earlier this year she voted against instituting 20-minute service in the city as a member of city council.

So the question for me is pretty straightforward. If I want a candidate who will be in a position to support transit, who can I look to?

Valeriote fits that bill, too. As a candidate for the only party that has a serious and immediate plan for the environment, that recognizes that environmentalism is primarily an economic argument, Valeriote, who has stated his own support for the future of transit, will be in a position in Parliament to push, and push hard, for increased transit planning and funding.

If you are trying to decide who to vote for on Sept. 8, and like me you believe that the country needs to move forward with real, honest new policy and not power for the sake of power, Frank Valeriote is your man.

I want a member of Parliament who cares about Guelph, cares about the environment, and will be in a position to do something about both. Only one candidate fits that bill.

Why settle for anything less? I recommend a strong show of support for this man of character, accomplishment, principle, and vision on Sept. 8. We owe it to ourselves.

columns elections environment guelph politics transit 726 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 14:35 on August 23, 2008

What the ....

I just glanced out the window a few minutes ago in time to watch a long, loose-haired caucasian guy in his twenties pass my driveway, pick up my lawn sign, and nonchallantly walk on. By the time I got out to the road to see where he went he was gone, along with my sign, in broad daylight. Unbelievable.

elections guelph politics 62 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 16:29 on August 20, 2008

By-election thoughts

The by-election in Guelph is still in its early 'phony war' stage, where it seems only politicos are paying much attention, but there is enough happening to keep things interesting. Some of the Liberal signs are getting 'decorated' with swasticas, a rather lame way of protesting much of anything as it automatically invokes Godwin's law. Not only is it an ineffective means of protest, the people who did it painted the swasticas backward. Way to go.

There are a few interesting blogposts and stories out in the last few days.

Jason Cherniak weighs in with a pre-post-mortem on the Guelph by-election.

The Mercury has one of its best pieces to date on this by-election, poking some fun at all of the campaigns' for some of their actions to date. They've also done an interesting analysis of all the campaign signs from a graphic design/marketing point of view.

A fourth candidate has joined the race, which will make Mike Nagy the fifth one to register once he catches up with the "Animal Alliance Environment Voters Party of Canada" (h/t GuelphVotes).

After being on a negative offensive for nearly six months, the Tories, without a hint of irony, say the Liberals are being negative. Somehow the CPC candidate being unable to answer a question without PMO's help is the Liberals' fault, I suppose.

Also worth note is that both Ontario Young Liberals and the Young Greens of Canada are converging on Guelph this weekend, which should make for an interesting few days.

elections politics 252 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 16:12 on August 06, 2008

Jack Layton and Gloria Kovach pretend to have credibility on transit

The front page headline in yesterday's local paper is "Jack Layton promising transit cash". Interesting, considering he has no power to do so. It comes from an editorial board interview that the paper held on Tuesday with Jack Layton and Tom King (who the paper all but endorsed today), once a respected author, now Guelph's NDP candidate for the on-going by-election. The NDP's plan is simple: get people to drive more gas guzzlers farther, and use a tiny fraction of the increased gas tax revenue to placate transit.

For a party whose very survival depends on a healthy auto industry, their plan does a marvelous job of achieving their goals. The plan is to give one cent of the gas tax to transit. It's a paltry, essentially meaningless commitment, as its success depends on its failure. The more fuel people use in their cars, the more money we give to transit to get them out of their cars. If people switch to transit, that money goes away, transit becomes underfunded, and they return to their cars. Brilliant strategy from the NDP.

If the NDP were serious about transit and the environment, which they most assuredly are not, their push would be on endangered plants like the GM Oshawa truck plant to switch to the manufacture of light rail vehicles, busses, and that type of vehicle. The factory workers not needed to manufacture the smaller number of larger transit vehicles would certainly be needed to drive the vehicles in cities across the country.

If the market forces are not calling for that, then that is what the NDP and every other political party should be working to solve by ending the subsidising of cars and trucks through highway construction, and investing in our woefully inadequate transit infrastructure. Promising to spend one penny from each litre of gas used in cars on public transit, which doesn't even come close to matching the governments' collective subsidies for the cars burning the gas, is disingenuous and not a real transit solution. It is nothing more than politicking and solves absolutely nothing.

Not that Guelph CPC candidate Gloria Kovach has much more to offer on this score. Earlier this year, Kovach insulted Guelph, transit, and the environment by voting against public transit. But yesterday, she told the Guelph paper:

Investment in public transit is important to reducing our carbon footprint, Kovach said, adding the last budget from the Conservative government included $500 million for that purpose.

"That will be helping us here in the city of Guelph in our local transit, and also looking at interconnectivity between communities in the region, and also will help in bringing light rail to the city," she said.

On February 19th of this year, Kovach voted against the motion: "THAT 20 minute transit service be approved to commence July 7, 2008 from the start of service until the end of the PM rush." She voted in favour of leaving busses at the ridiculous 40-minute cycle they had at that time. Fortunately most of the rest of council does support public transit, and 20 minute service now runs. Fortunately for Guelph residents, she was in the minority. For her new position, I guess she had to ask Stephen Harper: "hey, what's my opinion today?"

elections politics 555 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 16:29 on July 31, 2008

Why I do not support an elected Senate

What value would an elected Senate provide to Canada that the current Senate does not?

In my view, absolutely none. Indeed, I think an elected Senate would be more vocal and less valuable than what we have today. Given the choice, I would opt to abolish the Senate outright if the alternative were to devalue the House of Commons with an elected Senate.

An elected Senate is an empowered Senate. A Senate that is elected must keep itself relevant. Its very background as a house of "sober second thought" is thrown out the window if the sobriety of not needing to seek re-election or a post-term employment position is lost. The Senate is a house of sober second thought precisely because it is not elected, and its members need not seek employment when they are done. Elections break the former, and term limits break the latter.

Indeed, if I could change anything about the Senate, it would be to bar senators from having any other form of employment while sitting in the upper house.

The real flaw in our Senate is the same as the major flaw present in our lower house, and would not be rectified by election. The introduction of partisanship over principle or independent thought has devalued both houses and largely rendered them obsolete, with the bulk of our country's power in PMO, most of whose members are, I should point out, not elected. Any reform at any level has to be to return independent thought and decision-making to our representatives, where their opinions and consciences are more valuable than those of their parties, where debate is actually about influencing one another's opinions, ideas, and decisions.

If a senator must seek re-election, or seek employment at the end of their terms, their judgements are no longer "sober". Their decisions risk becoming clouded with self-interest. To be re-elected, they must conform to their party line, eliminating that very sobriety our bicameral system exists to provide. Their decisions become what is popular and not what is right. The Senate becomes another elected body, redundant in the presence of the Commons, with a need to assert its own relevance and damage the value of the Commons.

I am happy with the status quo for Senate appointments, and I would also be happy if premiers were given the opportunity to appoint senators, if only to break any single party's majority in that Senate, but electing senators would be a huge step backward for this country and in no way improve anything but the optics of the house of once-sober second thought.

The Senate as an appointed body exists as a check on the power of the House of Commons and the Prime Minister's Office. That balance of power would be completely gone with an elected Senate. Senators would have to watch their own backs rather than those of all Canadians. Today, Senate is not bound by rules of the House of Commons. There are no confidence bills, Conservative tactics over the crime bill notwithstanding, there are no time-limits on debate and committee research. The Prime Minister cannot railroad a bill through Senate. Bills passed for political expediency without so much as a proof-read by the lower house stop in the Senate for a careful re-read. This is what it means to be the house of "sober second thought".

Some have suggested in the extensive thread that spawned this post that in the 21st century, there should be no appointed electoral bodies. As the quality of debate and the strength of our democracy is weakened by partisanship and lack of substance, I argue that it is now, in the 21st century, more important than ever to have this appointed body, not vulnerable to political whim.

Electing the Senate is, like converting to Proportional Representation, a purely emotional and self-interested argument. It is intellectually dishonest, putting partisan interest before the good of our democracy and the effectiveness of our governing bodies. We have an elected body today. It is called the House of Commons. Electing the Senate makes little more sense than electing the Supreme Court who wield at least as much power, yet few would consider electing.

If we are serious about reforming the Senate, we should consider meaningful reform. Stripping partisan labels from members to ensure that each is there on their own merit and not as a function of a lower house party, would be meaningful reform worth pursuing. A difficult but existing means of removal for useless or AWOL Senators would also be an improvement. Requiring the unanimous consent of the House of Commons and the majority support of the Senate would probably be ok, for example. Senators are like tenured professors in that they have work to do that may be unpopular with their peers that must be done, and they need a strong defence to be able to pursue it. That defence is in their lifetime appointment and lack of need to seek re-election.

What do we gain from an elected Senate, really? Why would the Senate be anything more than a carbon copy of the partisan self-interest of the lower house? The Senate will need to make itself more relevant in order to capture the media attention needed for its members to be re-elected. A more relevant Senate is a more activist Senate. A more activist Senate risks trumping the power of the House of Commons rather than only checking it. An elected Senate will be nothing more than another lower house, more than ever subject to the direction of the PMO and party whips. What we have works today works, but an elected Senate would be worse than no Senate. The "political legitimacy" of an elected Senate is nothing more than a straw man.

An elected Senate would, quite simply, hurt our democracy.

elections essays politics 975 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 13:06 on May 22, 2008

The Democratic Primaries and Us

I have to ask my fellow Canadian bloggers: if American bloggers had taken as keen and active a partisan interest in the Liberal leadership race two years ago, spinning and defending, insulting and chastising our candidates, how would you react?

elections foreign politics 45 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 14:13 on April 23, 2008

Does voter turnout matter?

One of the major (and wholly flawed) arguments in the referendum we endured in Ontario in October was that a change in electoral system would inevitably result in increased voter turnout. While there was no evidence to back up the claim, and the turnout in the referendum showed Ontarions to be completely uninspired by a referendum that should, by its proponents' logic, have had very high turnout, it does raise some important questions about voter turnout in the first place: Is voter turnout in itself important? What does a vote represent? Should there be a "none of the above" option, and what should it do? What can we do to address low turnout in a way that actually improves democracy?

I have more questions than answers, of course, but here are my thoughts on the matter.

1) Why wasn't the referendum's turnout higher than the previous election's?

It's a simple chain of logic, really. If MMP was going to increase voter turnout, then those people who would have come out to vote under MMP, who otherwise would not have voted, should have felt empowered by the referendum to come out and vote in that referendum. Had that happened in any significant numbers, the referendum would no doubt have turned out differently, but people were not inspired by what it offered and turnout dropped over the previous election yet again.

To me, that reinforces the view that while our democracy is severely lacking in participation, it is not strictly about the voting system itself, though there are certainly improvements we could make to it. What happens as a result of the vote is a lot more important.

2) Is voter turnout in itself important?

Many people will jump on this question and say "but of course!"... but is it? I think the question is a lot deeper than that.

We currently give our voters every opportunity to vote in every election. There are mail-in/absentee ballots, advanced polls, laws to ensure sufficient time off to cast a ballot, and substantial marketing of the balloting date, among other points I am likely forgetting. But in spite of this, voter turnout drops each election.

There are, in my view, two mutually exclusive ways to interpret the dropping turnout. The first is a satisfaction with the status quo, and the second is a dissatisfaction with the status quo. In the first, people trust their peers to make electoral decisions for them, being content with whatever decision is made. I include general apathy in this category. In the second, there is a feeling of disconnection between the vote and the results, a feeling that the vote that is cast won't make a difference regardless.

To me the subtext of the question really should be: are votes informed? I would much rather have a 40% voter turnout where most of those voters have taken the time to look into the differences between the candidates and decide which one best represents them and their views. The alternative is 100% of voters turning out to vote, with large numbers of them voting for the prettiest face, the best slogan, or the slickest campaign. None of those factors have any effect on how the winner will govern, or what they believe, yet they are the most tangible aspects of a disconnected voter's vote.

This leads me to my next question.

3) What does a vote represent?

When a voter goes to the ballot box to cast a ballot, what does that vote represent? For a significant number of people, the vote is for the person or party for whom they have always voted. While this is very appealing to political parties, it is an extraordinarily broken way of choosing a government. Non-judgemental loyalty to a party, rather than support for the candidate who best represents the voter, takes away the fundamental objectivity needed to choose a government that will govern as well as possible. For another large section of the voting public, a vote can be a vote for the prettiest face, best slogan, or slickest campaign.

I believe the segment of the population that votes completely objectively based on concrete factors of the history, present actions, and plans of a candidate is quite small. So when a voter does not cast a ballot, what does it really mean? I don't know. A tellingly small handful of people register their disgust with the options by showing up and spoiling their ballot, rather than lending their support to any candidate.

4) Should there be a "None of the above" option on the ballot, and what should be its effect?

It is my view that, in a representative democracy, a voter who is unsatisfied with all options on the table has an obligation to run. As such, I don't believe a "None of the Above" option is, philosophically, appropriate, as it says that not only does the voter not agree with any of the options, but is saying that he could not do any better. It is therefore incumbent upon a voter to select one of the options on the ballot.

That said, I consider some electoral rules and practices to be undemocratic, and a hindrance to the implementation of that philosophy. The presence of a political party's name on the ballot suggests that we not only accept that many people are not voting based on the substance of the candidate, but that this is ok and we should therefore give that voter a way to cast a vote without being sufficiently informed to know anything much about the candidate. This system presents a liability to independent candidates as they are fighting to get their message out to an audience that may not be interested in listening, and without the backing of any political party's organisation. A campaign's organisation and its ability to "get out the vote" are inherently undemocratic as a victory can be far more related to the quality of the volunteers and campaign staff than the quality of the candidates themselves or their ideas. The other problem is the deposit that most jurisdictions charge its candidates, generally a significant sum. If a certain percentage of the vote is achieved, the deposit is returned. It is intended to block frivolous candidates, but it creates unnecessary barriers to entry to those who have ideas rather than organisation.

So, with those problems, a "None of the Above" option may indeed be necessary for people to express discontent if they are not going to seek the office themselves. In this case there has to be a defined result for a "None of the Above" victory in the election.

That is, if more people vote for "None of the Above" than any of the candidates, what should happen? The easiest and most obvious answer is that the electoral district will go without any representation whatsoever until the next election. Perhaps that is indeed the best option, as it would give voters a chance to ask themselves seriously, is having no representation really better than the options presented?

5) What can we do?

Mandatory voting, a solution employed by some countries and advocated by some people, is, I submit, inherently broken. It does encourage voters to vote, but it does not address the fundamental question of whether the vote was an objective, informed vote, or a subjective one based on the abstract factors of the prettiest face, best slogan, slickest campaign, or a completely random selection, and does not allow the lack of a vote as a deliberate statement.

Adding a "None of the Above" option could serve to give voters an opportunity, as I mentioned above, to ask themselves: is no representation at all better than what we have? If the answer is yes, then our system is a lot more broken than I thought. I rather suspect though that such action would bring back to the forefront what having a democracy is all about.

Voter turnout has been dropping steadily in most democratic countries over the last half century. This is well known. Could one cause of this be that our democracies have not, collectively, been threatened lately? Nothing makes a person more appreciative of something they have than losing it, and with our democracies having remained stable for so long, they are largely taken for granted by the voting public. Having a "None of the Above" option that actually results in the loss of representation would be the first real threat to their democracy that most people would have felt and would likely, I suspect, result in higher voter turnout -- and few "None of the Above" votes -- the next time around. The often expressed belief that public policy has no impact on an individual could be rather seriously challenged by a total lack of representation.

Many people advocate for a change in the voting system as the solution. While my opinion of the first attempt of that offered here in Ontario is well documented and need not be rehashed, I believe that it could, indeed, have an effect, but only a minor one, and only with an appropriate choice of alternative.

I do not believe that it is the voting system that keeps people away from the polls, but rather cynicism about what happens after they have voted. We can all go to the polls and vote for an excellent candidate in our riding, but if elected as a member of a party, everything they stand for and everything we voted for can be changed on a dime once they arrive in their parliamentary seat. It is the party structure, the party whip, the party line, and the discouragement of public intellectual discourse by party members that creates that cynicism. The only people who have any real effect on policy are not the voters or indeed the election's winners, but the small proportion of the population that take the time and effort to join a party and work on its collective policies, along with the party's leadership.

Members elected to a parliament should, before all other considerations, represent their constituents and not their party, and be free to exercise the judgement their constituents have opted to trust. To me, using one's own judgement is an important aspect of representing a constituency. A failure in judgement should result in a defeat at the next election.

The only aspect of the voting system that I believe needs changing to decrease cynicism is the abolition of the single-choice ballot. Vote splitting and the strategic voting that results means that we spend far more of our voting time voting against, rather than for, candidates and ideas. A system that disempowers party structures and empowers voters to make an honest choice with minimum strategy and maximum principle is integral to reducing cynicism of the voting system. Preferential balloting is my preferred solution, currently employed in Australia's lower house, but changing the voting system will not on its own solve the problem. Weakening the party structure and strengthening the actual power of a vote will begin to.

So, is declining voter turnout a problem?

I don't know, but an uninformed, disinterested vote is a problem. Getting people involved and understanding the issues, having their say and having it mean something to them would be beneficial to democracy as a whole. Forcing people to vote or encouraging turnout for the sake of turnout really would not solve much other than to help us all feel good about what we will cynically call "public participation".

elections essays politics reform 1921 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 20:20 on April 09, 2008

No MMP campaign issues final press release

A few months ago, Ontario unceremoniously gave FairVote Canada and its whacky notion of Mixed Member Proportional its walking papers.

It is no accident that MMP was defeated. Polls through the campaign clearly showed the trend that as people learned about MMP, they were disgusted with it. By voting day, 2/3s of those casting their ballots rejected the system designed to empower parties on a previously unimagined level. Voters did not feel empowered by the opportunity to implement this voting system, choosing in the largest numbers ever to stay home. It would be an understatement to say that election reformers have been sent back to the drawing board. While some note that 2/3s of young voters voted for MMP, the reality is that these people, too, will grow older and come to understand the true ramifications of this system better. MMP will never have a home in Canada.

If electoral reformers are serious about reform that is actually an improvement to the voters of Ontario, they will need to come up with something that well and truly empowers voters, not partisan interests. I direct them to the lower house model of preferential ballots in Australia as the only likely such change to succeed.

Without further ado, here's the text of the No campaign's final press release.

NO MMP wraps up, says that voters clearly endorse the current system

TORONTO, February 18, 2008 - NO MMP, the non-partisan political organization that successfully campaigned to defeat the Mixed Member Proportional electoral system in last provincial election, wrapped up its operations.

The results of the referendum clearly indicate that FPTP is the democratically chosen electoral system for Ontario. The results also show that the Mixed-Member Proportional system drawn up by the Ontario Citizens Assembly was thoroughly rejected by Ontarians on October 10. While the Ontario public might accept other more reasonable alternatives to the existing electoral system, it is clearly that MMP is not one of them. NO MMP was quite happy to contribute in this historical debate and dialogue, but we were very discouraged by the reaction of those on the other side of the debate.

Press releases from Fair Vote Canada said that voters rejected MMP not because they thought that it was not an adequate electoral system for Ontario, but because voters did not understand the referendum question or MMP, or that media was biased against MMP, and that Elections Ontario did not do enough to sell the merits of MMP to Ontario voters.

This is a most unfortunate reaction to a democratic vote. However, as our last official press release we would like to communicate the plain facts of the matter. It is unfortunate that some proponents of MMP wish to rewrite the story of the referendum so that history is told with blinding inaccuracies.

Polls by Environics and the Strategic Counsel done early in the campaign showed that there were many who did not know about the referendum and were undecided. But as the campaign wore on, all polls indicated that people were more informed, less undecided, and less willing to vote for MMP. Every poll indicated that FPTP had momentum among voters. Two Angus Reid polls done on September 7th and October 4th indicate similar trends. An SES poll on October 9 showed that only 17% of people surveyed felt uncomfortable making a decision on the referendum. These numbers clearly indicate that Ontarians were becoming more informed about the issue, and more likely to vote for the system.

Proponents of MMP cannot be faulted for pushing an idea that they believe in so strongly. But the referendum result cannot be interpreted any other way. MMP was thoroughly rejected by the people. It cannot be spun to indicate that there should be another referendum on this issue.

The NO MMP Financial Committee will soon table its donations and expenditures to Elections Ontario. It raised just over $14,000 which it used to finance a modest run of radio commercials in Toronto, Ottawa, and the London region, as well as posters and flyers which were distributed across the province.

elections reform 686 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 21:27 on February 25, 2008

More assorted thoughts on the future of our democracy

I plan to make my case for moving to an Australian-influenced model of elections at some point in the not too distant future. With Instant Run-Off voting in the lower house and STV in the upper house, the country down under is definitely onto an electoral system I can support. I wasn't sure about it, but after spending time talking to an Australian immigrant about the system, it seems like a no-brainer as far as a model for the electoral reform we should be seeking.

I am told that in Australia, except for one, all state legislatures are bicameral, using a system along the lines of the federal IRV/STV system. From the sounds of it, this combination of preferential balloting at the riding level for the lower house, and a preferential ballot to choose among parties in the upper house, is, unlike MMP in New Zealand, fairly non-controversial in Australia. Australia offers a split ballot for the upper house, where you can elect to rank either the parties or the candidates, but not both. The only disadvantage to the Australian model's implementation is that the voter is required to rank all candidates, not as few or as many as they would like. This requirement is not an inherent requirement of Instant Run-Off voting and better quality results can be achieved without this.

As I just noted, Australia's senate is elected by STV. But the senate is constitutionally mandated to be no more than half the size of the commons, and there is an esoteric rule in Australia allowing a joint sitting of the commons and senate with each member being allowed one vote to break a deadlock in certain circumstances. This ensures that the commons remains more powerful than the senate.

Senate reform, as proposed in Canada, poses a number of concerns for me. A senator who is appointed until he or she is 75 years old has several related advantages. In being there for life, the senator has no need to consider what they will do after their time in the senate is done, and is thus not influenced by this consideration. The senator is also not elected, and thus does not owe an electorate anything and is not under any obligation to make short term politically advantageous promises. They are also very difficult to remove, and are not seriously indebted to the prime minister who appointed them, particularly after that prime minister is no longer. This set of circumstances allows a senator to be completely objective when considering laws before them, and that is their entire value. It is what it means to be the house of "sober second thought". An 8-year term limit means a senator must consider his own future and eats away at that objectivity. As concerning to me, an elected senate that has no checks like Australia's joint sitting rule is at high risk of becoming an activist senate more powerful than the house of commons. By requiring re-election, a senator must make himself relevant and ensure he has a profile on which to campaign. All these things eat away at a senator's objectivity.

I believe all electoral and senate reforms are meaningless, though, unless we address what I see as the core problems of our democracy: cynicism, self-interest, enforced group think, and dishonesty, namely in the form of election promises. Those must be addressed if we are ever to move forward with improvements to our function of government.

Voter turnout is mandatory in a number of countries, including Australia. I am of mixed feelings about this. High voter turnout is nice, but if a voter is forced to vote, the risk of uninformed ballots increases dramatically. I really have no idea what the best approach is to the whole problem of declining voter turnout.

I have also been pondering voter turnout as a function of threats to a democracy. Turnout is apparently highest in mainland Europe, a region devestated a little over half a century ago by a massive war and occupation, and a suspension of democracy. Countries like Canada and the US which have not had their democratic rights threatened on the home front in a tangible way -- namely foreign occupation -- in a very long time tend to have depressingly low turnout. There are exceptions, of course. New Zealand has exceptionally high voter turnout without voting being required, but has not been invaded recently. There is perhaps a doctoral thesis in here somewhere for someone who wants to take on the challenge.

elections reform 761 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 20:02 on October 20, 2007

A short rant on electoral reform

Isn't the fun with Bill Casey the real problem we need to fix in our democracy? Is it not undemocratic for a party leader to be able to overrule the requests of a riding association to continue to support an MP? Why do proponents of reform want to standardise this practice by not attaching MPs to a constituency, but only to the party?

If we want real reform that will actually change the cynicism about our elected officials, we have to make it clear to all MPs and MPPs that their order of priority is their riding, their country/province, followed only then by their party. Anyone who puts the party first is against the fundamental core of democracy: rule by the people.

Our problem is not with our electoral system, it is with the institutions we call political parties. Real reform will come from weakening these institutions. Party discipline is antithetical to democracy. Whipped votes are not in the interests of the voters. Party leaders, who themselves should be elected by their caucuses once in the house, and serve at their pleasure, even those at the head of a majority government, should have to convince all members of the house - including, even especially, their own party colleagues - to support all motions, including confidence motions.

Real reform is not in eliminating the Bill Caseys of this world, it is in the elimination of the knife at the throat of our democracy: party discipline.

Our system was designed around independent representation, not party representation. Parties evolved as a means of grouping together like minded individuals, but they should never have been allowed to exceed the power of those like minded individuals. Parties may well have a role as the loose alliance of people with common values, but parties operate on the principle that independent thought outside of a policy convention is unacceptable. There is nothing democratic about that. Our representatives must represent the people, not the parties, first.

The only electoral reform I will accept is the move from an SMP ballot to a preferential ballot, eliminating the only problem that exists in our voting system: the strategic vote. Instant Run-Off Voting is a aystem that produces compromise representatives in all ridings and is the simplest of all systems. Coupled with real democratic reform, namely the elimination of party discipline, this would be a step forward.

All forms of proportional representation make the fundamental assumption that the collective will of a party is more important than the individual will of its members, and that I cannot accept. Our government must be a government of the people, not a government of the parties.

elections 448 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 18:08 on October 16, 2007

Ontario overwhelmingly defeats MMP; declares Liberal majority perfectly legitimate

It's over. MMP fell by a margin stronger than its passing requirement. A well-funded, well-organised referendum campaign was defeated by the bill of goods it tried to sell.

42% of Ontario said the Liberals should govern yesterday, but 63% and all but 6 ridings said that is the way it should be, including nearly all the ridings held by opposition parties.

The issue of electoral reform in Ontario is dead for the forseeable future. Long live representative democracy!

PEI and Ontario rejected MMP with almost identical margins. BC very nearly approved BC-STV. Given the right electoral system, Ontario may well vote for electoral reform. It is proportional representation that was rejected last night.

Give me a true single-winner/single-riding preferential ballot and we'll talk.

elections reform 132 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 14:01 on October 11, 2007

MMP contradictions keep adding up

As the Ontario provincial election and referendum campaign wraps up, it's time to address some of the endless contradictions and illogical conclusions of the MMP campaign as they try to foist an undemocratic and divisive electoral system on the province.

Do party leaders control party lists?

The Yes side has comically admitted that party leaders will be in control of the process for party list nominations. All four major party leaders have come out to say that they believe a democratic nomination process should take place. Is that not an admission that it is their decision to make? So much for party membership controlling the lists.

Are party lists democratic or are they demographic?

We are told that party lists will be created democratically, provided the leaders of the day think that is a good idea. That is to say, each party will democratically select through nomination processes a list of people to represent the party to the legislature in the quantity the electorate allows. We are also told that party lists will result in more women and minorities being represented at Queen's Park. In order for this to be true, the party nomination processes cannot be fully democratic. A party cannot say "you won the vote, but you're white -- we have enough white people on the list" and still claim that the process is democratic. It cannot be both democratic and demographic. In spite of this, this election has around 1/3 female candidates, and even MMP-supporting Equal Voice notes that FPTP can increase female participation.

If the names on the party lists are important enough for voters to vote for or against a party, what is the purpose of the platform?

We are told over and over again that if a voter does not like a name or some of the names on a party's list, they should vote against that party. While it is wildly imaginative to believe that the average voter will be able to name any names from any of the party lists, why should the names on the list have more bearing on a member's vote than the party, its platform, its leadership, or its history?

If the makeup of a party list is going to be important to the electorate and emphasised by opposing political parties, and if MMP and its proponents are serious about improving demographics, why do none of the three political parties currently holding seats in the legislature point out that the Green party, MMP's most fervent proponent, has just 17% female candidates? Surely this demographic imbalance should be an election issue now if it is to be one in the future?

If an MMP MPP cannot vote against their party, what difference does the demographic balance make?

Let us say for a moment that some parties do choose diversity over democracy. If a list MPP is unable to vote against their party line without fear of being excluded from a future party list or evicted from Queen's Park altogether and replaced with a more loyal list entry, what good is their diversity of experience? Does the quota system for demographic balance exist for any more reason than to create a diverse group of people to rubber stamp the party's policies?

If an MMP MPP quits caucus, are they entitled to keep their seat?

MMP proponents will tell you no, it is the party that is elected, not the individual, and therefore any list member who does not toe the party line and is ejected from the party's caucus should lose their seat at Queen's Park. Yet we are also told that we should base our vote based on who is on the party list. If who is on the list is, by the assertion of the MMP campaign, the most relevant factor in deciding who to vote for, does it not make sense for the members elected from those lists to be considered legitimate MPPs capable of leaving the caucus from which they entered on their own? And if not, is it not an admission that voters will not in fact be basing their votes on the names on the lists? And if that is the case, is it not also true that list MPPs represent noone but the party that sent them to Queen's Park? If an MMP MPP is forced out of caucus for voting against their party, and then forced out of Queen's park for not being in their party, is that not a strengthening of the power of political parties over its members? What is democratic about a system where a party's power supersedes that of its representatives?

If an MMP MPP quits caucus because they would like to keep their party's promise, even though the party is breaking it, as Bill Casey did earlier this year federally, who has the legitimacy to keep the seat? The list MPP or the party that is not fulfilling its promises to voters?

If FPTP is so bad, why are we keeping it with MMP?

The single most significant problem with FPTP is the strategic vote. In a riding where there is a close race, a voter will vote for a candidate they are not fond of to block a candidate they really can't stand from winning. In a riding where there is not a close race, a voter feels that voting for the candidate they want who has no chance of winning is "wasted". While I take issue with the very concept of a "wasted vote", strategic votes are troublesome as voters find themselves unable to vote for the candidate of their choice. There are electoral reform options that solve this problem, namely preferential ballots, but they are not on the ballot. And that's just it: the options on our ballot are FPTP, or FPTP plus parties representing themselves. If FPTP's vote-wasting opponents are so adamant that FPTP is bad, why are we proposing to keep the system for 70% of our seats?

Doesn't MMP get rid of strategic votes?

Strategic voting, of course, is not limited to FPTP. Under MMP, while we will still be forced to vote strategically in our ridings to select the MPPs we want, as who represents us actually matters, we will also be given several new levels of strategic voting. The most egregious form is the highly evolved strategic voting system commonplace in Germany, MMP proponents' favourite example of MMP utopianism. In Germany, there are four main parties. Two major representative parties generally form coalitions with two major list member parties. If voters generally vote for one party in their riding, and that party's natural coalition partner on the list, the effect is to create a party system nearly identical to what we have here, now, where two parties instead of one always work together to form a majority. Occasionally the balance doesn't work out right, and you end up with a system where the country's two largest parties, usually opposed to eachother, are forced to form a coalition together to govern, nicknamed the "Grand Coalition".

More fascinatingly, while MMP proponents tell us that MMP will end strategic voting because we are all slaves to political parties who will never vote strategically to ensure the MPP in our riding represents us reasonably well, they also tell us that the reason we have two ballots when we vote under MMP is so that we can vote for a candidate and a party separately. The candidate's party, of course, will continue to show on the ballot. The effect of this is to encourage strategic voting as described above and as exists in Germany, effectively ingraining it in our very electoral system.

Why does an MMP supporter's wasted vote matter if mine doesn't?

MMP supporters will often claim that voting for a losing candidate under FPTP is a wasted vote. Under the Ontario MMP proposal, a threshold of 3% of the vote must be met before a party will be given any seats. At 3%, the party receives 4 seats. For anyone who votes for a party that receives under 3% of the vote, but enough votes to win a seat, their vote is wasted by MMP proponents' own definition of a wasted vote. Why does one person's wasted vote matter and not another's? What credibility does the wasted vote argument have if we are just changing whose vote is wasted?

Most of the world uses MMP, doesn't it?

While around 70 countries use some form of proportional representation, barely 10% of those use variations on MMP. It's one of the rarest electoral systems in the world. Around 50 countries, representing the majority of the world's democratically-ruled population, use FPTP as their electoral system. That it is limited to the US, Canada, the UK, and India is completely false.

Of that small handful of countries that use MMP, how are things working out?

MMP's proponents will have you believe that the system is the panacea of electoral systems, especially in New Zealand and Germany, with Scotland occasionally being mentioned in a similar light. Scotland, it is worth noting, has a lower percentage of women in its parliament than Ontario, with a greater proportion of them coming from the FPTP riding seats than from the party list seats.

New Zealand's electoral system has shown that, in spite of claims to the contrary here, MMP has done nothing whatsoever to alleviate voter cynicism or improve voter turnout. Under MMP, the country's voter turnout has dropped to its lowest in the island nation's history. Aside from the above-mentioned strategic voting chaos in Germany, it bears pointing out that MMP was adopted in the country to get away from proportional representation, a dangerous electoral system that facilitated the election of fascist governments in both Germany and Italy prior to the second world war. Both Germany and New Zealand, unlike the CA proposal in Ontario, by the way, have laws requiring political parties to use a democratic process to generate their party lists. Unlike what we are being asked to do, those countries don't take party benevolence on faith.

Belgium had its election on June 10th, nearly four months ago, under proportional representation and has yet to have its parties cobble together a coalition. The country has no government, and proportional representation has served to emphasise and widen divisions between groups in the country. PR and MMP is all about small-tent politics, where differences and disagreements, regionalisation, and issue-based parties are encouraged and empowered.

Won't MMP increase voter turnout?

Voter turnout is already up this election in Ontario going by the advanced polls, and it's dropped in New Zealand to its lowest level in the country's history with the adoption of MMP. There is no correlation between the electoral system and voter turnout. Turnout is a function of public interest in the process. On the plus side, though, Algeria's voter turnout climbed to around 120% following their adoption of MMP.

How is giving parties their own representation equivalent to women's suffrage?

"Vote for MMP" would have you believe that MMP is the equivalent of women's suffrage, and that therefore, by implication, anyone who votes against MMP is against women's right to vote. This is as offensive as it is non-sensical, and it is entirely worth noting that all the progress listed in their press release...

... was accomplished under FPTP, an inclusive and progressive electoral system.

If MMP passes, was my vote wasted?

Finally, if MMP passes in this referendum, was my vote and the votes of all those who voted against it wasted? Our votes will not have applied toward a winner and the referendum is a winner-take-all system.

Is it time for electoral reform? There is room for improvement. But if MMP is the solution, the answer is a definite NO. MMP is a step backward, away from the principles of our democracy of representation and accountability. If you believe in democracy, vote against MMP this Wednesday.

elections reform 2048 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 14:23 on October 08, 2007

On wanting the Third Way

Russell McOrmond over at Vote for MMP argues that MMP is a stepping stone to STV, and therefore those of us wanting a preferential ballot should vote for MMP in this referendum. But he's flat out wrong. Aside from the obvious fallacy that rejecting MMP will put the issue of electoral reform to bed for generations while BC schedules its second referendum on the issue for 2009, there is no way political parties will part with their party lists after having received them.

STV combines multiple ridings into one and assigns multiple MPs elected by a preferential ballot to the combined riding, with the total number of MPs assigned being the total number of ridings merged. It's a system that requires all candidates to stand for local election, achieving proportionality by having the combined vote of multiple ridings for candidates who cannot win under the current system. It weakens but does not eliminate local representation. MMP, on the other hand, achieves proportionality by eliminating local representation for a substantial portion of MPs and giving parties the ability to appoint MPs based on province-wide party lists.

Once parties are given the ability to cast MPs by party list, there is no way that the issue will be allowed to be revisited by list-heavy smaller parties who will hold the balance of power in the perpetual minority environment of MMP. Revisiting MMP with an eye toward implementing STV would be taking away those party lists and forcing smaller parties to elect its representatives in ridings. With the balance of power they have, they will be amply able to block any such move.

British Columbia rejected STV with 57% support against a 60% passing requirement in 2005. In 2009, the issue is going back to the polls, perhaps hoping that the second time is lucky. In spite of the fact that the referendum failed, the issue has not gone to bed.

elections reform 323 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 17:21 on October 01, 2007

The myth of the wasted vote

I have been told, often angrily, by supporters of some parties that they are tired of "wasting" their vote. I know where they are coming from but, strangely, I feel no sympathy for the position. In my view, the only wasted vote is the one not cast.

The basic premise of the wasted vote theory is this: a voter votes for a candidate who does not stand a chance of winning in their riding. The voter's choice of representative goes on to, as predicted, lose their riding. The voter considers the victor to not represent them. The notion is that because they knew they were not going to win that riding, they are wasting their vote by casting it for that candidate who is not going to win.

The question I have to ask is: why should that person win? The concept of representative democracy is that the candidate who has the most support, not the least support, represents the riding. In the current electoral system, voters go to the polls and select their preferred candidate. The candidate who gets the most votes wins.

Here's the kicker: Under MMP, the exact same thing happens.

Yes, that's right, we're keeping FPTP under MMP for our ridings. Voters will still be forced to choose a strategic vote to get the representative they don't want less than the one they really don't want at the cost of the aformentioned one who has no chance of winning that they do want.

The difference is MMP will compensate the parties that the candidates who lose are affiliated with by allocating the parties -- not the candidates -- consolation seats commensurate with the percentage of the province-wide popular vote the party, not its candidates, earn. The party receives these seats based on pre-selected lists that have nothing to do with so much as the candidates' performances in the riding elections. Somehow, we are told, this solves the originally stated problem because, while your choice for representative still did not win, the party you voted for still gets a seat who may or may not have even heard of your riding because they did get a small smattering of votes across the province.

The reality is that new parties can, in fact, win seats in the legislature. In Quebec, the Parti Quebecois went from non-existent to majority government in just a few short years, among many other examples through history. All they have to do is win the mass appeal of their peers. If the people in the community of a candidate cannot be convinced that they are worth voting for in enough numbers to carry the riding, why should their party be allocated consolation seats? If their position is not beneficial to the residents of any particular area anywhere in the province, why should they win anyway?

If the problem is that peoples' first choices are not winning, why are we not considering their second choices? Or their third?

Our problem, fundamentally, is not that votes are "wasted". It is, firstly, that people who support minor players are upset that their players are minor, and, secondly, that voters often must select a less unfavourable candidate to block a more unfavourable candidate from winning. Both of these problems will continue to exist under MMP because MMP retains our current electoral system at its core, adding only an abstract layer of completely unaccountable politicians with no constituency as a consolation for those minor players.

If we wanted serious reform that addresses "wasted" votes and substantially reduces the problem of strategic votes, the question on the ballot would be offering us some form of preferential ballot, where voters can rank the candidates in their riding in order of preference, not a legalised pork-barrel scheme where 39 MPPs will always be accountable to noone but their party hierarchy, whatever that party may be.

The only wasted vote is the one not cast.

elections reform 658 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 20:32 on September 25, 2007

The real truth about MMP

MMP proponents are promising all kinds of idealistic fantasies about what MMP will bring to Ontario, but what facts are they putting before us?

Assertion: MMP will increase female and minority representation

Reality: There is no guarantee of this anywhere in the Citizens' Assembly proposal.

There is no provision in the MMP proposal, or anywhere in our laws, conventions, or our Constitution, that provides for "affirmative action" on MMP lists. All parties are free to make their lists as they see fit, as democratically or as undemocratically as they feel they can get away with. The repeated assertions by MMP supporters that MMP will increase minority and female representation is nothing more than hope -- a dream.

Assertion: MMP will increase voter participation

Reality: There is no guarantee of this anywhere in the Citizens' Assembly proposal.

There is no provision in the MMP proposal, nor anywhere in our laws, conventions, or our Constitution, that provides for an increase in voter turnout. MMP in New Zealand has resulted in record low voter turnout, for one. The second ballot will likely increase the number of checkmarks placed on ballots, as everyone will have to make twice as many of them, but there is no other likely increase in voter participation. The repeated assertions by MMP supporters that MMP will increase voter participation is nothing more than hope -- a dream.

Assertion: MMP will not reduce rural Ontario's representation

Reality: There is no guarantee of this anywhere in the Citizens' Assembly proposal.

There is no provision in the MMP proposal, nor anywhere in our laws, conventions, or our Constitution, that would ensure Northern Ontario gets list seats. Northern and rural Ontario will, like the rest of the province, lose seats when the 107 provincial seats are gerrymandered into 90 seats. Unfortunately for these regions, parties will have no obligation to include any members from these vote-poor areas on their lists. The repeated assertions by MMP supporters that the North and rural areas will get proper representation is nothing more than hope -- a dream.

Assertion: MMP will result in regional representation

Reality: There is no guarantee of this anywhere in the Citizens' Assembly proposal.

There is no provision in the MMP proposal, nor anywhere in our laws, conventions, or our Constitution, that would ensure list MPPs would have any constituency whatsoever other than the parties to represent. They would have no obligation to represent any region whatsoever. There is no benefit to a party in sitting up regional offices in regions that are not bastions of support for those parties. The repeated assertions by MMP supporters that we will have regional offices are nothing more than hope -- a dream.

Assertion: MMP will result in coalition governments

Reality: There is no guarantee of this anywhere in the Citizens' Assembly proposal.

There is no provision in the MMP proposal, nor anywhere in our laws, conventions, or our Constitution, that prevents a party from assuming power without first forming a coalition in a minority environment. There is nothing whatsoever to stop us from continuing to have dysfunctional minorities as we currently have both federally and in the province of Quebec, among others. Indeed there is not even any guarantee that we cannot continue to have majorities. The repeated assertions by MMP supporters that we will have coalition governments are nothing more than hope -- a dream.

So, what do we actually know about the proposal?

Under the proposal, Ontario will:

- have a two-part election ballot providing one vote under the current FPTP system, and one vote that creates the proportions the parties are entitled to from which Party List MPPs will be chosen.

- be reduced from 107 to 90 ridings.

- have 39 MPPs who are appointed by their parties, by a manner entirely of the parties' choosing.

That's it, those are the only guarantees we have. Those are the only facts present about switching to MMP. Everything else is nothing more than hope -- a dream.

elections reform 669 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 13:02 on September 13, 2007

A Dawg's bone

Dr. Dawg takes my challenges to his assertions and adjusts them to fit his particular views without including my reply to keep his reader informed about the actual points he is addressing. Further, in an attempt to smear me, he has posted this nonsense. Dawg is using the typical pro-MMP tactic of throwing mud (and losing ground) instead of ideas[1]. So let's go over his new arguments.

1) MMP will create unstable coalition governments.

Graham doesn't stick to the question here, but takes a scattershot approach. He argues, or rather asserts, that an MMP system is "inappropriate to represent the diversity needed" in a population larger than that of PEI. He claims, after noting that we Canadians aren't European and have separate political traditions, that only four European countries have MMP--Scotland, Wales, a province in Serbia and Germany. (Alas, this is only the first of his factual inaccuracies: I shall correct them as we go along.) He notes the relatively low Ontario threshold (3%) required to obtain a list seat, and the lack of overhang provisions, in the current model. The internal caucus horsetrading that goes on now will be reduced under MMP, he asserts, because list MPPs will have no incentive to barter--they will just follow the party line. He suggests issue-by-issue agreement will be more likely than coalitions under MMP. Finally, Graham claims that had the 2003 Ontario election been run under MMP it would have resulted in the Liberals being only one seat shy of a majority.

I never referenced PEI's population, I referenced its size. The diversity needed is regional diversity. Our MMP proposal has no provisions for this, allowing parties to create lists of indentured MPPs from any area, with little to prevent them from concentration on vote rich urban areas.

I feel like the proverbial mosquito in a nudist camp, but here goes:

This fly went straight for the wine.

* How does FPTP accommodate diversity as opposed to MMP?

FPTP's approach to diversity is democratic but not particularly effective. MMP's approach to diversity is effective, but not particularly democratic.

In order to achieve the diversity that MMP proponents inexplicably assert will magically happen under our proposal, there either needs to be a law mandating diversity on the party lists, or the parties need to create their lists in a manner that is not completely and openly democratic. For a party to disqualify anyone from any list entry based on their race, sex, religious background, or number of toes, is completely undemocratic and will be necessary to create diverse lists.

* How do our political traditions differ from the Westminster system from which they arose, and why does this make MMP inappropriate?

MMP is inappropriate because it replaces the last vestige of independent representation with another layer of party oversight, breaking away from the core tradition of the Westminster model of representatives representing their ridings to the government. That's key.

* With respect to European MMP, is Graham forgetting about the forms of it to be found in Hungary, the Ukraine, Russia and Italy (which recently abandoned its chaotic pure PR system)? Other European countries use a variety of other forms of proportional representation. Indeed, the only European country that uses FPTP is Great Britain. Most of the other countries where it's still in force are former British colonies.

It should be noted that every country that uses MMP uses FPTP to select at least half its representatives, so while more than four European countries may use MMP, every country that does uses FPTP and all the problems that entails for riding elections. To say that FPTP is bad and retain it in our proposal is hypocritical.

* the Ontario threshold is relatively low--5% rather than 3% is more common. But that can be fixed if it proves to be a problem--it's hardly an argument against MMP as a whole. Ditto for the lack of overhang provisions (addition of extra seats after an election if required to preserve proportionality), which could indeed result in rare majority governments with minority support. Far from being rare, though, such false majorities have been the rule in Ontario under FPTP.

This is, of course, more a matter of opinion than argument, but I do not share MMP proponents' hatred of majority governments, even when they are held by a party other than one that I would support. My ideal, as long as we are condemned to a party system, is to have a mixture of majority and minority governments, where when all parties misbehave with majorities we can return to minority, but when minority gets too dysfunctional we can return to majority. Both types of government have their strengths and their weaknesses. The system of purgable majority is what we have as demonstrated by the minority governments in both Ottawa and Quebec City with no return to majority in sight in either case. The issue of "false majorities" is a bit of a misnomer. Yes, majority governments happen with, in some cases, less than the plurality of the popular vote, but I believe this owes more to a democratic failing in a lack of accurate, regular redistribution of ridings and of our lack of a preferential ballot than to any inherent weakness in the riding system.

* List MPPs will be unlikely to keep their heads down and toe the party line, for a variety of reasons. First, they will very likely have to run as MPPs at some point, if the German example is any guide. Secondly, that "party line" itself evolves within a party caucus, and they will have their say like anyone else: it doesn't just fall from above. Finally, they will have to debate the issues with riding MPPs, who outnumber them two to one.

There are likely to be two classes of caucuses. The first is what we have now, with caucuses made up of riding representatives. The second is likely to be dominated by list MPPs. The Liberals and Conservatives will likely be the former, with the NDP and Green more of the latter. Within the parties where MPPs are dominated by representatives of ridings, current levels of internal discussion are likely to continue. In parties where the current party line is more important than the party principles, as in the NDP, the party-appointed members are likely to be the dominant voice within caucus and will not be as inclined to barter.

In Germany, everyone's favourite example, a 1996 study of MMP MPs found the following rather interesting bit of information:

83.2% of German constituency MPs felt that they should represent all citizens in a constituency. By contrast, only 55.6% of list MPs in Germany felt the same way.[2] This discrepency goes to show that even German MMP MPs do not share this crazy notion that there is no second tier under MMP.

* Coalitions, like parties, are built around a constellation of political values. The notion of political governance based upon issue-by-issue agreement seems unlikely, based upon experience of MMP in other countries, none of whom have that hypothetical form of governance.

Canada already has that form of governance is the point I am making here. We have had numerous minority governments in the country's history, and extraordinarily few formal coalitions. Without a requirement to form a coalition before taking office, which is not something that I would support anyway, there is no obligation for a party to form a coalition with another if it feels it can govern on an issue-by-issue basis.

* Finally, under MMP in 2003, the Ontario Liberals would have fallen five seats short of a majority, not one, according to Fair Vote Canada's analysis: I'd be interested in how Graham arrived at his result. Incidentally, with a mere 6% increase in the popular vote, the Liberals doubled their seats in the legislature.

I will save my opinion of Fair Vote Canada for another day, but Dawg is right here, I got my math wrong by 1% which makes a difference of two seats. Based on the last election, the Liberals should have had 62 seats with 2% popular overhang which is 3 seats short of the 65 seats needed for majority in a 129-seat house, still within the 3%/4-seat allocation margin for a fringe party balance of power.

2) MMP will allow small fringe parties to call the shots.

Graham simply argues that it's a hypothetical possibility, based upon his erroneous account of the 2003 Ontario election. Perhaps, however, we should actually look at how MMP functions in the real world. Would Graham provide us with examples, or is he counting upon us conflating MMP with the Israeli pure PR system where, indeed, his scenario has been frequently observed?

No other jurisdiction has a comparable MMP system to that proposed in Ontario for the reasons stated elsewhere here, such as an asymmetric list/representative set, low margin of entry, completely closed list, and the underlying political traditions and culture. What would happen here can best be described as "undefined behaviour" and my contention is that fringe party control will happen sooner or later, though not continuously.

3) MMP will elect members who represent no one, and whom no one's ever heard of.

Here Graham first argues that list-formation will not be an electoral issue, because the media will only cover controversial choices. With respect, I think he's missing the point. It's not just who end up on the list, but how they do. Rival parties will not be slow to point out weaknesses--if, for example, Party A's list is stuffed with party insiders whom nobody in the electorate has ever heard of, a smart Party B strategist would take full advantage of yet another wedge issue for the campaign.

A party with pure motives and a completely democratic list, which may or may not come to exist, will challenge the list of another less perfect party in the election, without doubt. Where I have doubt is that any party will be sufficiently uncorrupt in its party list creation to be able to make such accusations without losing more than they gain. Even a party that has its membership in a party-wide vote select its list members is no less of a corrupt procedure than the already tainted party nomination procedures already in place in ridings across the province. Parties are made up of its members, and party memberships make up a tiny fraction of the province. Barely enough Ontario voters hold party memberships to achieve the MMP minimum threshhold for being granted list seats were they all to vote themselves into their own party.

Graham goes on to display his fundamental misunderstanding of the MMP proposal by arguing that the 39 list MPPs will lighten the load in only 39 of the proposed 90 ridings, leaving 51 MPPs to do more work than their riding colleagues. But no one has claimed that a list MPP would be available only to the electors in a single riding. They could, and indeed are far more likely to, work in regions, not single constituencies.

This is not my misunderstanding: it is based on Dawg's assertion in his original "lies" piece. What I wrote is, "if this were to be the case [...] with 39 list MPPs and 90 overgrown ridings, a maximum of 39 ridings will get additional representation from list MPPs seeking an alternate way into Queens Park." The case I reference is in his quote from Louis Massicotte, where he quotes: "Typically, a list member starts out by running unsuccessfully in a constituency. To run, he or she has to become familiar with the local issues. The person tries again in the next election. If his or her party comes to power, its number of list seats will decline noticeably and the only way to get elected will likely be by running in a constituency. For this reason, such a person will remain active in the constituency during his or her term of office and give such activities almost as much effort as a "directly" elected member." Massicotte, not I, is suggesting that a list MPP is only going to be interested in representing a riding in which that person has a chance of getting elected should the need arise, which in our imbalanced MMP proposal, means that fewer than half of constituencies would get a second representative, by Dawg's own argument.

Finally, having chided me for using European examples, Graham himself indulges in silly fear-mongering, pointing to Russia where some parties sell list positions to raise funds.There is "no reason this couldn't happen here," he says. To which I can only reply, citing examples closer to home, that there is no reason it would.

Dawg misses the point here completely. Using European examples is not necessarily an applicable comparison to Ontario, whether it is Russia or it is Germany. If he would like to compare Ontario to Germany, we could just as easily compare it to Russia where the lists are openly corrupt. The system with which we will be creating our party lists is closer to that of Russia than of Germany anyway, as at least Germany has laws mandating that lists be created in a democratic way[2], something not part of the Ontario proposal and objected to by MMP's proponents.

4) MMP is less efficient than Single Member Plurality (First-Past-The-Post)

Graham cites a frustrated Helen Clark, Prime Minister of New Zealand, who said in an interview, after trying to get her way on monetary policy, that it's hard to make tough decisions under MMP. This isn't an argument, but an anecdote. One would hope, in any case, that under a democratic system, tough decisions would be made with majority legislative approval.

Tough decisions are always hard to get as party interests seldom match up with provincial or national interest. The party system, not the voting system, is my number one enemy in our democracy.

He continues his response to this point by claiming that reducing the number of riding MPPs reduces the effectiveness of riding representation, blithely ignoring the fact that there will now be list MPPs in the regions to shoulder the load. (While I can agree that Ontario, and Canada, have diverse regions that require region-specific attention, the same cannot be said of ridings. As an urban Ottawa voter, for example, I would be hard-put to name differences of interests between, say, the electors of Ottawa-Centre and of Ottawa-South.)

I agree with the Ottawa example, which is why I suggested that MMP is less inappropriate for jurisdictions smaller than PEI, which Dawg interpreted as population, but I meant as physical size. When regions are as wide and diverse as Ontario, it is necessary to have regional representation. When our largest of over a hundred ridings is 50,000 square km, or around 10 GTAs, larger than the entire country of New Zealand, our issues are bound to be very diverse. That we will have list MPPs who will represent these sparsely populated vast regions of the province rather than the vote rich urban centres, like Ottawa, is not at all clear.

5) MMP does not require parties to explain how their lists are put together

Here, once again, Graham claims that list-formation will be a non-issue. See my response under (3).

This is addressed under (3).

6) MMP will make contact with your representative more difficult

As noted originally, the German electorate make no distinctions between list and riding MPs: list MPs are accessible to citizens and do their share of constituency work. Graham insists that it is "brain-damaged" to claim that list MPPs in Ontario would represent voters; I would say that it's a little odd to argue otherwise, since voters' votes put them into the legislature.

Voters votes will have put their parties into the legislature. Parties will have put the MPPs there. Try not to overlook this critical fact. The result is that list MPPs represent their parties to the voters and to their government, and not the voters to the government and their parties. In Germany, studies show that barely half of list MPs believe representing voters is high on their priority lists.

He goes on to produce that oft-heard canard that riding MPs, once elected, represent everyone in the riding, not just those who elected them. In some rarified, theoretical sense (never mind Tom Wappel) he might be right: in practical terms, our elected representatives tend to support their respective party lines on legislative votes. On a constituency basis, of course, their offices are open to anyone, but as noted the same would be the case for list MPPs.

Tom Wappel is a disgrace without doubt for his handling of his constituency request from the supporter of another party. MMP takes Tom Wappel's behaviour and makes it the norm. MMP list MPPs especially will be expected to treat voters the way Tom Wappel did. The comment that MPPs tend to support the party line is a matter that needs addressing as part of democratic, rather than electoral, reform. One of my key objections to our system that is retained and even strengthened in MMP is the existence of whipped votes, which I find completely contrary to democracy. As I have stated in the past, if you need to tell your MPs that they have confidence in you, you do not deserve their confidence.

7) MMP is confusing.

The best Graham can do here is to point to a Scottish study that showed considerable confusion among the voters when MMP was introduced. True enough--which is why in future elections the single-ballot system proposed in Ontario will be used there as well. It is profoundly insulting to the electors, in any case, to assume that giving them both a vote for a riding candidate and a vote for a party will reduce them to sobbing incomprehension.

It is indeed offensive to suggest that, so why did you? The worst kind of incomprehension is confident incomprehension, where a voter votes believing they understand the ramifications of their vote but do not.

And, at the end of his article, Graham, without a hint of embarrassment, expresses his support for one of the most complex voting systems of all time--the Condorcet system. (See for yourself.)

Dawg again takes what I wrote and only looks at a small part of it. I expressed a preference for Condorcet, but as I stated in my submission to the assembly, I believe that, for the sake of simplicity, Approval Voting would be the optimal. In between is Instant Run-Off, variants of which nearly every party uses for its own internal elections (whether instant run-off or just run-off).

That said Condorcet is not as complex as it is made out to be. I have fought three elections under variants of Condorcet, most recently last month and the voting is the simplest of any form of preferential, while the counting system is rather complex and more or less requires computer assistance. The results, however, are the most democratic of any voting system I am aware of.

8) MMP will produce two tiers of political representative

Graham merely reasserts this--and then segues into the Speaker's alleged difficulty in recognizing members who wish to address the legislature! Members are now recognized by their riding name, he points out--whatever will the poor Speaker do when there are list MPPs as well? How will he address them?

Good grief.

Here Dawg acts deliberately obtuse. The point is that some MPPs directly represent ridings, while others do not. This is, by definition, two tiers. My question that he ignores completely is whether the two tiers is a good thing. It could be argued that it is, but at that point we should be considering a return to a bicameral government in which the proportional seats become a senate and so at least recognise the two tiers for what they are. I would argue that it is not a good thing, as all representatives should be equal.

9) MMP is undemocratic

Graham continues to argue that lists are undemocratic, and hence continues to evade the point that the electors will have the final say--and that the party selection process will be under scrutiny (he claims it won't be, which I have already indicated is a fantastic assertion). He would prefer a preferential ballot, which would, whether he supports this outcome or not, inevitably put the Natural Governing Party in a majority position, since the Liberals are everybody's first or second choice. (Conservatives will prefer Liberals over NDPers; NDPers will, as Buzz Hargrove illustrated, choose Liberals over Conservatives.) I don't see this as serious electoral reform. Under MMP, on the other hand, NDPers will support their first-choice NDP, and Conservatives, their first-choice Conservative Party.

Whether the party selection process for the lists are under scrutiny is clearly a matter of conjecture for both sides in this debate. Dawg believes they will be, I believe they will not be. That he would assert that either way is a fantastic assertion and that therefore the other is obviously right is more than a little conceited. I do not believe that the 39 names on each of the 4 major party lists and the several other lists that show up as additional parties join the fray will be under any serious scrutiny, nor do I believe that the process itself will be under serious scrutiny. Each party will have its own way of doing things, and short of selling off lines on the lists, I don't see the media caring enough to keep it on the front burner and make it an election issue. Parties may challenge eachother, but in a sufficiently corruptible process, each party will adopt the same corruptible procedures.

Preferential balloting would be a meaningful form of electoral reform as it keeps what is good about FPTP and eliminates what is bad about it. It is no more wrong to say that voters will not make the "Natural Governing Party" their first or second choice than it is to say that voters will punish parties that have questionable entries on their MMP lists. Preferential balloting, except some forms like Borda, severely reduces strategic voting. It gives the advantages of the two-sided vote MMP gives us in spades, without the disadvantages of party lists. That all said, having everyone's second choice govern is still better than having everyone's fifth choice hold the balance of power.

Graham argues that strategic voting will still occur. He is not entirely wrong on this, but it would be quite a different kind of strategic voting--apples and oranges. Currently, as I noted, strategic voting means voting for a party you don't want in order to keep out a party you want even less. Under MMP, strategic voting, if it occurs, would mean splitting your vote between your party of choice and a likely coalition partner. What's wrong with that?

Under MMP the FPTP's strategic voting model remains unchanged. The notion that it will not be suggests that MMP proponents believe the riding representatives are completely irrelevant which belies an agenda of pure Proportional Representation, an extraordinarily dangerous destination. Who wins in the riding will be just as important as who wins in the list seats to the overall outcome of the election. MMP also creates, on top of the FPTP strategic voting, a second layer of strategic voting as described.

10) MMP is divisive

Graham argues that MMP will do nothing about regionally-based parties, but he doesn't really come to grips with the issue. Currently, a party facing a national (or provincial party) with a national (or provincial) base of support is tempted to exacerbate regional differences, as I noted before. Under MMP, regional differences will not go away, but there is less incentive to blow them out of proportion, because a party can gain seats by appealing to a broader constituency rather than having to concentrate its support in a few regional ridings. Graham's counter-example uses a retired New Zealand police officer as an authority, and it doesn't bear upon the regional issue at all.

A regional party will be able to leverage far more power with far fewer seats than is now the case under MMP. If the MMP proponents' prediction of near-constant minority governments comes to pass, which I don't believe is in doubt by anyone, a regional party with just a handful of seats will have far more power than a larger regional party would have today. That said, I don't see Ontario as particularly vulnerable to regional parties as compared to Canada as a whole and therefore am not terribly concerned about geographic-regional parties, at least in the short term, although I could definitely see a GTA-vs-non-GTA rift forming with myself being firmly in the latter, especially with the likely further GTAification of Ontario politics with the advent of MMP. My counterexample, as Dawg puts it, if he had cared to read it, was addressing the overall culture of cooperation within parliament, or lack thereof, and had nothing to do with regional parties.

Concluding Note:

MMP, Graham asserts, will push us further away from such basic reforms as a legislatively elected Premier. It is not at all clear why this should be so. If the electors vote in MMP, they will see for themselves that the existing system is not part of the natural order of things, like gravity, but a structure subject to change. The debate around other reforms will be likely to grow, not dissipate.

It might, but the debate is not exactly out of sight and out of mind at the moment. What passing MMP does is start us from further back when meaningful democratic reforms are next discussed. Having a legislatively elected Premier would be nice, but giving parties more power to create their own representation and weakening independent representation will only serve to weaken any efforts to make it ever happen. I would welcome progressive change, but I do not consider MMP to be that progressive change and as I have said before, changing to MMP is not better than not changing at all. Changing to a preferential ballot and retaining a full or increased slate of representative ridings, and/or removing direct party control over the legislature would be progressive change.

Another concern of mine with the untimely passage of MMP is the probability that MMP will meet the "good enough" test of electoral reform and with previously ostensibly under-represented parties now holding a near-permanent balance of power, the issue will simply never be allowed to be re-opened unless it can be further modified to their benefit, which real democratic and electoral reforms will not be, as they would not be to the benefit of any party.

"MMP has no merit," Graham baldly concludes. I'm afraid that I have to say the same about his arguments. Readers--and, more importantly, Ontario electors--will of course decide for themselves. But I can only hope that they aren't swayed by such specious reasoning.

I maintain that MMP has no merit as an electoral system for Ontario, and nor do the arguments of the MMP lobby who have a great deal to gain at the expense of the province as a whole. One key point that proponents of MMP deliberately fail to grasp is that the representatives we send to Queen's Park actually have to govern the province through good times and through bad, and not just sit pretty.

It is fairly obvious that neither I nor this nameless Dawg will convince eachother of our viewpoints. Indeed, every discussion I have had with a supporter of MMP in person has resulted in a blank stare by my counterpart with some inane bumbling about wasted votes. MMP proponents also have a pack mentality where every time one of them says the sky is blue, the rest of the supporters post comments saying how brilliant an observation that is. Not one has yet answered the question: if I vote against MMP and it passes, am I not, by that very argument, disenfranchised?

[1] Kind of like this challenged individual who believes you can't be progressive without toeing the MMP line. I share most of my opinions with the left and centre-left of the Canadian mind space but I reserve the right to think for myself, something that Erik Abbink both claims to do and seems to think is criminal in nature: "I mean, if you're a progressive ..., then shouldn't you at least share the opinion that democratic reform is desperately needed?" Well no, Dr. Saxophonist, if you're progressive you should be capable of independent thought! Sheeple movements and group think are not in any way progressive.

[2] The Political Consequences of Germany's Mixed-Member System: Personalization at the Grass Roots? by Hans-Dieter Klingemann and Bernhard Wessels. Chapter 13 of Shugart, Matthew Soberg, and Martin P. Wattenberg. Mixed-Member Electoral Systems - The Best of Both Worlds?. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

elections reform 4823 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 19:18 on August 15, 2007

Ten lies about MMP revisited

Dawg's Blog last week posted a long entry ostensibly debunking myths about MMP. Having seen this rhetorical entry blindly flaunted just a few too many times, I feel it's time to debunk the debunker.

1) MMP will create unstable coalition governments.

This is not borne out by the record. Germany, for example, has had an equivalent system in place for decades, and has had the most stable governments of any democratic country during that time. The many other European countries with MMP have experienced no such instability either. Canada is one of the last holdouts in the world for Single Member Plurality (SMP), commonly known as First-Past-The Post.

As has been pointed out in the past, half of the population of the world that lives under a democracy lives under FPTP. Contrary to popular belief in the MMP campaign, Canada is not a European country. Our political culture is very different from Europe. Our Geography is very different from Europe. Our issues are very different from Europe. A list system in a Canadian province larger than PEI is completely inappropriate to represent the diversity needed.

It should be noted that the "many other European countries with MMP" are, according to the not always infalliable wikipedia, Germany, one of Serbia's provinces, Scotland, and Wales. In the rest of the world, Bolivia, Venezuela, Lesotho, and New Zealand round out the list, with South Africa using MMP at the municipal level. Clearly the bulk of the world has embraced MMP.

And before we get too deep into comparing ourselves with Germany and the "many" other European countries using MMP, I should note the following few facts that make its functioning very different from the proposal in front of us. In Germany, parties must win the lesser of 3 constituency seats or 5% of the vote to be considered for their lists. New Zealand also has a 5% threshold or one constituency seat requirement. Ontario has no constituency seat option and a threshold of just 3%. In both Germany and New Zealand, the MMP legislation also requires that in the event of an overhang, that is where a party wins more seats than its proportion allows, additional seats can be created to correct the proportions, something not allowed for in the Ontario MMP proposal.

We should look at the nature of a coalition, in any case. Many of the existing parties are coalitions in all but name; caucus bartering goes on all the time, attempting to reconcile varying interests across the country. Backroom dealing, which representatives of some of these very parties now profess to be afraid of, is an everyday fact of life in those parties, both inside and outside the legislature.

Internal caucus bartering will necessarily take place less, not more, under MMP. Under the current system, all members must take the interests of their immediate constituents to heart. As Bill Casey recently demonstrated federally, even a stalwart party supporter can understand the ramifications of voting for the party over the will of his constituents. In a case like that of Mr. Casey, his chances of being re-elected are improved by leaving the party. Under MMP, there is no such obligation for a list member to stand up for a specific constituency, only for the party line in hopes of getting back on the party list in the next election. If they vote against the party line, they have no constituency to return to to ask for vindication. With no such incentive to defend what is right versus the party line, one third of all MPPs will have no significant incentive to barter within caucus.

Backroom dealing is indeed a problem of our political culture that MMP not only makes no attempt to solve, but further entrenches. If we are serious about reform we will look for ways to reduce, not enhance, backroom dealing.

The necessity of forming formal coalitions will require a change in political culture, which is not a bad thing--more openness to compromise, more emphasis on win-win solutions. This is an attractive proposition on all sides of the political spectrum, but is frowned upon by those who simply want to impose their will on the province or the country with minority support.

There is an assumption in the MMP campaign, which I do not share, that coalition governments will necessarily flow out of MMP here. Coalitions, even in extended minority situations in Canada, are very much the exception. Per-issue alliances are the tradition in Canada and I do not believe that will dramatically change. There is no part of the MMP package that requires parties to form a coalition before they can be sworn in as a government. Compromise is not an inherently bad thing, and per-issue compromise is superior to coalition government at any rate.

In terms of public policy, MMP produces far more stability than does the present system. Under SMP, even a modest shift in the popular vote can result in massive policy changes, as one party or another acquires the necessary plurality to form a false majority (a majority of seats won with a minority of the popular vote). Under MMP, a modest shift in the popular vote simply produces an equally modest shift in the seat apportionment in the legislature.

It should be noted that under Ontario's MMP proposal, it will still be possible for a party to win a majority government with a minority of the popular vote as we are retaining SMP for 2/3 of the seats. In the last election, our current government would have been within one seat of a majority under MMP if voting patterns were the same under that system, without a majority of the vote. Modest shifts in the representative vote can -- and should -- still change the direction of government. This is another MMP red herring.

2) MMP will allow small fringe parties to call the shots.

False. A threshold of 3% of the popular vote will keep out many of the single-issue extremists. And even if some achieve that threshold, it is far more likely that a major party will want to make coalitions with other large parties where compromise is both possible and more agreeable. There is no history of fringe parties holding the balance of power in European countries with MMP.

As always, it depends on the individual situation. As I mentioned above, in the last election, the Liberal government would have won one seat short of a majority, if the results could be overlayed on MMP (which isn't necessarily the case, but is for the sake of this example). With that in mind, any fringe party could hold the balance of power with the 3%/4 seat minimum which I understand requires only around 150,000 votes to achieve. Such a party could, as happens in the highly unstable pure PR countries like Israel, demand a single issue in their favour in exchange for their unqualified support on all other issues. This is an attractive offer for a near-majority party to accept.

Will it happen every election? Of course not. Is it likely to happen? It is only a matter of time.

3) MMP will elect members who represent no one and whom no one's ever heard of.

False. Those members represent those who voted for their party. They are in the legislature because electors put them there. They are accountable to those electors as a whole.

This is one of the most cynical myths of the MMP movement. Parties will provide lists to Elections Ontario when the writ is dropped and the media will pour over them looking for any sign of anyone controversial. No controversy, no coverage. Without the coverage, voters will be woefully underinformed about who will represent them when they vote for a specific party on the proportional side of the ballot. Who are they accountable to? Noone but the party that put them there. All they have to do is keep their heads down and stay out of the headlines while pushing the party line to keep their jobs.

Experience indicates that the vast majority of list members have also run in constituencies. In Germany, as Quebec scholar Louis Massicotte explains,

Typically, a list member starts out by running unsuccessfully in a constituency. To run, he or she has to become familiar with the local issues. The person tries again in the next election. If his or her party comes to power, its number of list seats will decline noticeably and the only way to get elected will likely be by running in a constituency. For this reason, such a person will remain active in the constituency during his or her term of office and give such activities almost as much effort as a "directly" elected member. . . the phenomenon is recognized in official literature for the public and some parliamentary websites even explicitly indicate the constituency in which each list member works. (Federal Parliament, provincial parliaments of North Rhine-Westphalia and Lower Saxony.) [74] For example, the 1998 federal election saw a major constituency shift. Victorious in 221 constituencies in 1994, the CDU/CSU won only 112 in 1998. Meanwhile, the SPD went from 103 to 212 direct seats. No fewer than 124 members changed category: 73 incumbent list members (all from the SPD, except 2) became constituency members, whereas 51 incumbent constituency members (all from the CDU/CSU) held their seats thanks to party lists. [76]

For one thing, I don't wish to entrust my electoral system to "typical" patterns in other countries. Even if this were to be the case, which I do not grant, with 39 list MPPs and 90 overgrown ridings, a maximum of 39 ridings will get additional representation from list MPPs seeking an alternate way into Queens Park. Hardly a ringing endorsement of the list-representative side of MMP. It leaves, at the very least, 51 MPPs with 20% more work to represent their constituents.

Further, list seats are inherently corruptible. Once parties figure out the public reaction to lists, it is only a matter of time until they are severely abused. Take the Russian example of how out of hand a list system can get. In Russia, the bulk of the parties openly sell entries on their party lists as a means of fund raising. It may be an extreme example, but the point is this does happen in list-using countries and there is no reason to believe it could not happen here.

4) MMP is less efficient that Single Member Plurality (First-Past-The-Post)

This frequently-heard claim is really code for, "We worked the system, we got our majority, and we can do what we like until the next election." If strongman politics is preferred, then SMP/FPTP is the system for you. Governments can rule with only minority support, and impose their policies upon the unwilling majority until the next ballot, when all that is needed to keep doing what they're doing is to get another minority share of the vote. The ruthless efficiency of a minority-supported dictatorship-between-elections is less preferable, however, than a system where nearly every elector's choice translates into seats. If these choices produce a variety of representatives, the democratic approach is to look for compromise and consensus. The latter is not make-the-trains-run-on-time efficient, but it works best in the long run, and is more conducive to citizen involvement in their governance.

Less efficient? I'm curious where you got that one from.

Less effective, yes. A government that is rarely in a majority, as noted by the Prime Minister of New Zealand a couple of weeks ago, has a good deal of difficulty getting things done even if they are in the best interests of the country.

Citizen involvement in governance requires having an effective MPP the citizen can go to to express their concerns. Reducing the number of ridings by almost 20% necessarily reduces the number and by extension availability and effectiveness of representative MPPs.

5) MMP does not require parties to explain how their lists are put together.

This claim, made recently by Jason Cherniak and others, is simply wrong. The Ontario Citizens' Assembly specifically recommended that parties be required to make public their method of list creation by submitting their selection process to the non-partisan Elections Ontario, which would then publish that information widely. Electors could see, for example, if backroom party hacks or cronies of the Premier have been awarded the list positions, or if, on the other hand, the parties have a more democratic and open process, that does something, for example, about the representation of women and minorities, geographic balance, and so on.

I am less concerned with the colour of someone's skin or the way in which they pee than I am in their ability to be effective representatives of the people to the government. A minority representative can be just as much of a shrill for the governing party as your typical white male party hack.

As I noted earlier, the vast majority of the population are not going to be reading over the backgrounds of the 39 people on each party's list, relying instead on the media to do it for them. The media won't be particularly interested in a member who is not overly controversial, and parties are quite good at mixing controversial people in with decidedly uncontroversial people, as evidenced by the appointment of then-recently embarassed Art Eggleton and Romo Dallaire together to the senate. Guess which one got more coverage? I don't honestly believe the make-up of the lists will have a huge impact on the elections and I think parties will figure this out fairly quickly.

6) MMP will make contact with your representative more difficult.

It is worth noting that at present the vast majority of citizens a) never contact their political representative, and b) vote for the party, not the candidate. But MMP will not make contacting one's MLA more difficult--indeed, the reverse is true.

For those with short memories, Ontario had 130 ridings until Mike Harris sliced that back to 103 in 1996 with the Fewer Politicians Act. The current MMP proposal would restore almost all of those seats (129). The number of ridings would be slightly reduced (to 90 from the current 107). The rest would be apportioned to create a legislature that actually reflects the way people voted.

If part of our reform package restored Ontario's electoral map to pre-Harris representation levels instead of reducing an already sharp decline by an additional 20%, I certainly would not object. Calling the 39 list representatives anything other than party representatives, as opposed to representatives of the voters, is somewhat brain damaged.

Under MMP, citizens who want to contact their representative between elections now have a choice: to go the riding MLA, or, if that person is not to their political taste, to approach a list member from their party of choice.

An MPP is intended to represent all their constituents, not only those who voted for them. This turns that basic concept of representative democracy on its head on two counts. The implication here is that the riding representative should only represent those who voted for them, while the list representative should also only represent those who voted for them. These are both troubling notions that are contrary to the principles of democracy.

7) MMP is confusing.

Wrong. What's confusing is the welter of lies, distortions and misapprehensions emanating from the special interests who oppose MMP. MMP is in fact simplicity itself: an elector gets two votes, one for the party of choice, and one for the riding candidate of choice. Once the riding contests are decided, the popular vote determines how list seats are handed out. End of story. Not rocket science, but common democratic sense.

The special interests who support MMP, on the other hand, would never twist reality to leverage support for MMP, as evidenced by your completely factual, totally unbiased, and completely objective look at MMP... I look at MMP objectively and I see serious problems. I represent no special interests other than my own interest in an honest democracy, which MMP takes us further away from, not closer to.

It should also be noted that, according to the same wikipedia entry linked earlier, voters in Scotland are rather baffled - and increasingly so - by what MMP actually means. Clearly clarity has prevailed.

8) MMP will produce two tiers of political representative.

Once again, this has not been the case in Germany, with its long history of MMP. As Louis Massicotte points out,

The assumption, that the two-vote system produces two kinds of MP, the constituency MP and the Landesliste MP, is empirically refutable. Contrary to widespread opinions, it is of absolutely no importance whether a mandate is obtained through the constituency and the Landesliste. Double candidatures are the rule. The voters do not perceive the difference at all. [61]

Whether a voter perceives the difference is not the issue. Whether there is a difference is. Like it or not, admit it or not, there will be two tiers of MPPs. The argument that should be debated is whether or not that is a good thing. I do not believe it is.

When the speaker recognises a member, he does so by the member's riding. Under MMP, this will not be the case for list MPPs who will be flagged, perhaps as the "seventh member from the NDP list" every time they rise to speak. This is a second tier. Their responsibilities will also vary. Whether one tier has more or less work is a matter of debate, but that they will have different workloads is not disputable.

9) MMP is undemocratic.

"MMP gives parties too much power!" This is a bit rich, coming from those who represent parties that prefer to go on ruling with minority popular support, whose candidates can be shoehorned by the party leader into constituencies over the objections of the local riding associations, and all of whose riding candidates in any case are selected by the party.

Nowhere do I or most of my peers state that we are not interested in some level of reform. The nomination process as a whole is something that I would like to jettison entirely, which is something that could be accomplished with a preferential or approval ballot, which in turn would represent reform I could support while MMP does not.

That said, MMP does give parties still more power than they have now. The nomination process will not go anywhere. The FPTP ridings will not go anywhere, they are just being reduced in quantity. The parties will be given the nomination-process like ability on a macro scale to create its lists, further empowering parties to appoint its representatives without even having to then face its individual representatives against the electorate, but only the list as a whole.

So now the party lists will also be selected by the party--no change there. And the parties, as noted, will have to make the public aware of their process of choosing list candidates. Any Ignatieff or Anders shenanigans on a list-wide basis will almost certainly meet with elector resistance. A system that produces majorities in Ontario that since the early 1930s have had only minority support is not democratic. A system that allows the party that gets fewer votes than their rival to form a majority government (as happened recently in New Brunswick) isn't democratic. A system that prevents political views held by a substantial number of electors from being represented in the legislature because they aren't concentrated in a handful of ridings is undemocratic. A system that produces wide swings in policy when only a minor shift in public opinion has taken place is undemocratic.

A system in which representatives who do not represent anyone but the party that appointed them is undemocratic. It begs the American Revolution slogan "taxation without representation is tyranny". There are solutions to a lot of the problems with the plurality system that do not require an evisceration of the principles of representative demoracy, namely in the form of a preferential ballot where voter intentions can be made far more clear and honest without the risk of vote splitting and with a reduced risk of strategic voting.

MMP, on the other hand, is a significant move in the direction of democratic governance. An elector's vote will make a difference: even in a solid Liberal riding, a vote for the Greens or the NDP will count. The legislature, as noted, will come much closer to reflecting the range and the relative strengths of the political views held by the electorate. So-called "strategic voting," in which electors are tempted to vote for a party they don't want to keep out another party they want even less, will become unnecessary, and they can vote for the party they do want, knowing that their votes will be counted. Now, that's democratic.

Strategic voting is one of the greatest flaws in both FPTP and MMP. MMP does absolutely nothing to solve strategic voting, even introducing another whole level of it.

It will still be necessary to vote strategically in your riding, unless the MMP campaign's contention is that the riding MPP is completely irrelevant. Further, it will now be possible and tacitly encouraged by the electoral system to vote strategically to give your chosen party a boost by voting for a clear winner in the riding and by a coalition ally on the party lists. It will be possible to strategically vote our way back into majority governments with minority interests dominating as per point #2.

10) MMP is divisive.

This claim is based upon the false notion that a large number of parties will create chaos in the legislature--something not borne out by actual experience. But let's look at the divisiveness created and fostered by the present system.

... which MMP does nothing to correct.

First-Past-The-Post encourages a narrow regionalism rather than national or provincial consensus. In order to have a chance against an established, entrenched party like the Liberals, another party will lean towards a strategy of concentrating its riding votes by exaggerating regional differences. We have seen this clearly on the federal stage in the case of both the Reform Party and the Bloc Qubcois. In the former case, a coalition came into being, but the Conservative Party of Canada still trades on Western alienation. In Ontario, we have northern vs. southern and urban vs. rural; even in Toronto we have the "905" folks vs. the "416" people.

Not to mention those of us in the 519/705/613 belt who are likely to be ignored by the feuding 905/416/647 folks as they make up their party lists.

MMP does nothing to correct this. We will still have 90 ridings that use the plurality system to select its representatives. Regional parties will still be possible, with the further addition of inteluctual-regional parties as opposed to geographical-regional parties through the list system. These issues are not solved by MMP.

MMP, on the other hand, will yield roughly proportional results that make riding concentration unnecessary. The efforts of political parties could be re-directed towards the actual issues and towards consensus instead of division. None of this is to say, of course, that genuine regional differences and interests will disappear--only that they will be less likely to be opportunistically used and abused by parties vying for seats.

This is a myth. Once again pointing to the New Zealand example, New Zealand Central District police commander Mark Lammas complained that MMP has not changed the political culture in the country in the decade since its introduction just last week. Political parties will not look at MMP and say "oh my gosh, we'd better all get along and start playing the harp," the parties will each look at how to leverage the system for its own adventages, as they would under absolutely any system. What we need to do as a public is provide them with a system that is gamed in favour of the population over the will of the parties.

Concluding note:

MMP is not a panacea, and will not produce a democratic utopia. There are far too many other aspects of our system of governance that would have to be looked at--for example, why should the Premier be chosen by the party instead of by the electorate? Why should the Cabinet be appointed by the Premier instead of by the legislature as a whole? How can Aboriginal interests be effectively represented in the legislature under either the current system or MMP? These are other questions, for other debates, but in the meantime MMP is clearly a step in the right direction. To let this opportunity slip through our fingers because of the deliberate prevarication of entrenched special interests would be a tragedy. Let's not let that happen.

This exposes one of the key contradictions of the MMP movement, "why should the Premier be chosen by the party instead of the electorate?" Indeed. But instead of putting us on a path toward this eventuality, MMP pushes us further from this goal, empowering the party to select its own MPs not only through a relatively easily contestably nomination process, but also now through an uncontestable party list system.

Personally I believe the Premier should serve at the pleasure of the legislature as a whole, selected in the same secret ballot manner as the speaker, while retaining the ability to appoint his or her own cabinet, from and only from within the legislature.

MMP is clearly a step in the wrong direction. It moves us away from the very democratic reforms its change-for-the-sake-of-change proponents seek. This "opportunity" to empower parties at the cost of the electorate and of democratic reform should be shot down with extreme prejudice.

There are solutions for our electoral system that stand a better chance of leading to meaningful democratic reform. A multi-vote representative ballot, ie a preferential (Condorcet, preferably, or Instant Run-Off) ballot, or an Approval Vote (where the voter simply checks off all acceptable candidates in their riding) would do a great deal more for reform than giving political parties their own representatives in the legislature.

There are indeed special interests in this debate. Three parties have a great deal to gain from MMP at the expense of the fourth. The Liberals, more than any other party, stand to gain from MMP with their tradition of centrism allowing them to much more easily form coalitions with the left wing parties itching to get MMP through so they can hold this balance of power, with the Tories standing to lose the most.

I, for one, am fighting this campaign on its merits, not out of partisan interest, and MMP has no merit.

elections reform 4458 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 19:09 on August 14, 2007

The myth of the Kiwi Utopia

New Zealand is held up as an example of the success of MMP by its proponents, but a quick look at the country with less area than the Ontario riding of Kenora-Rainy River, with a population a little less than that of the GTA, shows that the New Zealand Utopia promise of the Ontario MMP propagandists is far off the mark.

Just last week, New Zealand Central District police commander Mark Lammas is quoted as saying:

"MMP hasn't made any observable change in opposition parties.

"A lot of people hoped that the system would bring a greater degree of consensus but until the politicians stop treating each other so badly it's unlikely the public sector will fare any better."

Even the Prime Minister is frustrated by the system. In an interview with Guyon Espiner, Prime Minister Helen Clark says, "Well see here we're coming to one of the weaknesses in the MMP system that it does become quite hard for tough decisions to be taken which may be in the public interest, and there tends not to be any majority for trying to reinforce monetary policy with certain tools." Prompted, she continues, "As I say with MMP and a very fractured parliament like this it's not easy to get tough decisions taken by parliament."

What we learn observing New Zealand is that while some parties benefit from Mixed Member Proportional, they gain at the expense of the country as a whole. No tangible benefits have come to New Zealand where the police chief says things are no better off and even the Prime Minister says issues in the public interest cannot be solved within the system.

At least MMP improves voter participation and involvement, right?

Well, not exactly.

While New Zealand's voter turnout numbers put all of North America to shame, they show a massive and significant drop-off after the introduction of MMP. In 1984, under FPTP, voter turnout was 89%. 18 years later with MMP in place and no longer a novelty, the voter participation rate sank to the lowest in the country's history, with just 72.5% showing up to vote in 2002.

When MMP supporters blather about the success of MMP in New Zealand, what are they smoking?

MMP has reduced the effectiveness of the New Zealand government, according to the country's Prime Minister.

MMP has not improved the cultural behaviour of politicians in the New Zealand government, according to the country's Central District police commander.

MMP has resulted in a massive reduction in voter participation in New Zealand elections, according to the country's own government information.

What, exactly, does MMP meaningfully improve in New Zealand? Why is it held up as an example of the success of MMP for Ontario?

elections reform 458 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 13:58 on August 13, 2007

MMP change for the sake of change?

SamDomm at voteyesformmp.ca argues that we should switch to MMP because it isn't any worse than FPTP. Strong reason. From the post...

These past few days we have seen the No MMP side reveal itself and its virulent bloggers become sharper in their attacks. The most common trait if you read those blogs is that opponents of MMP tend to be very cynical about democracy and politics. This is most obvious when they claim that MMP will balkanize Ontario politics, our government will become controlled by narrow-minded interest groups and our political culture will become dysfunctional and corrupt.

I'm not at all cynical about politics. I am, however, deeply cynical about political parties. Every party that comes to power throws away its ideals and holds on to power for dear life. Aside from that, MMP will do nothing to debalkanise Ontario politics, which should be a goal of any electoral reform. No matter how you cut it, MMP still leads to an adverserial system of government changing only how many people are on each side of the front line. Voters will still be forced to vote for one single candidate in their riding, without being able to express any kind of alternative choices to reduce strategic voting or eliminate vote splitting, and will still be limited to expressing blind faith in one single party's judgement for its list candidates.

Our political culture is already dysfunctional and corrupt, but MMP will only increase the level of corruption. In Russia, political parties blatantly sell spots on their lists in elections as a means of fundraising. How is that not an increase in corruption?

FPTP is not perfect, but MMP is far worse.

What frankly I find ironic is that according to the news media voters under our CURRENT voting system already think politics is balkanized, interest groups control the political agenda and our government, and our political culture is dysfunctional. Hence, it is ironic that the No MMP side claims that MMP will do precisely this. Even if that were true, it would simply mean that MMP is not better than our current system. So why would it be such a big deal to switch then?

A dramatic change in any democratic system should not be taken on the basis that it is "not any better" than the current system. Any change should offer a serious improvement next to the existing system without introducing an entirely new set of problems. With that in mind, at best MMP is not better than FPTP, and realistically is a severe deterioration. We are keeping every aspect of FPTP that is bad, and making it worse by enlarging the ridings and reducing the number of them.

Let's take a concrete example. The No MMP side's pet peeve is 'list' members. They claim that the Party vote would lead to either 'list' members that are no good, were undemocratically chosen or the voter does not get a say on who gets picked. Surprisingly, that is what I think first-past-the-post does. Let me explain.

MMP preserves first past the post and its suboptimal means of choosing candidates for ridings, and adds lists, with its entirely undefined procedures for selecting candidates. How is preserving a weak system and adding a weaker system to it a strengthening of the system?

Most people vote first for a party in our current voting system, then the party leader, then the candidate. Therefore, most voters did not in their mind vote for a candidate. The end result is that I might well end up with a candidate that is no good, even though I voted for the party I like best.

If this is true, which I do not doubt it is, then why are we not addressing that problem? Are we so scared of political discourse in Canada that the notion of electoral reform leading to a return to meaningful local representation instead of a legitimisation of the centralisation of party power is completely taboo?

Under the current voting system, a party leader is allowed to pick candidates unilaterally and undemocratically. Hence, once again the No side claims that MMP is bad for what we already know first-past-the-post to be.

Local ridings still have the option of ejecting a specific candidate who has been appointed by a party. So-called "safe ridings" are never assured. Under MMP, we have no option whatsoever to eject a bad candidate who is high on the Proportional party list short of ejecting the party as a whole.

Finally, under our current voting system, local party members generally pick a candidate but since most voters do not vote for a candidate but for a party, voters do not really get a say in who is the candidate.

This is being preserved, and we are asking our province wide party members to, at best, take this same approach to appointing list candidates. You admit yourself that having the party members pick the candidates is not ideal.

Now, if we compare this with MMP, the big advantage of MMP is that there are two votes: one for the party and one for the candidate. This allows voters to truly express their views by picking the candidate we like best and picking the party we like best. It is true that a party might contain some low quality candidates but at least under MMP you have the choice to vote for a different party if you're not satisfied. Under first-past-the-post, you're tied: you either vote for your preferred candidate or your preferred party, but rarely both.

What improvement is MMP offering here?

Our candidates still matter. Local representatives will still represent 70% of the seats in the house. Strategic voting for and against candidates in your riding will still be necessary. The list vote offers no meaningful improvement to this situation. All the list MPPs will provide to us is MPPs who represent their parties, with no other constituency to represent, to the government.

elections reform 1000 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 14:29 on August 10, 2007

All the World's problems to be solved by MMP

After reading everything the proponents of MMP have to say, I am convinced. I will join the cause.

Why? Because it is going to bring justice and equality to all, bring peace and liberty to the planet ending all wars, and set the world on a path to democracy.

It is true, it will do all these things. It must be true, I have been told that over and over again.

MMP will bring more women to politics. It will bring more minorities to politics. It will end the party establishments' grip on parliament. It will empower the grassroots. It will lead to coalition governments. Cabinet ministers will serve based on merit and no longer at the discretion of the Premier. Heck, the Greens might even get a seat. Yes, it will all happen under MMP. MMP is the magic bullet we have all been waiting for.

One of the most convincing arguments to push me over the edge so far in a comment on this blog, "It is this discontent with the leadership style of Harper that I am urging all Liberals to support MMP." Yes, indeed, I don't want Harper governing my country any more. Surely having minority governments will end his reign.

The plurality system will be kept with MMP, but it won't mean anything any more. I will be granted a second vote in which I can say I do not agree with the party of the person I just voted for. This will end all strategic voting, because after all, who cares who their MPP is? The party matters far more! The grassroots will control the party lists with the same determination in which they control the party leadership and riding nominations today. Democracy will reach untold new heights.

Yes, MMP will bring Ontario its long-sought Utopia.

elections reform 311 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 12:14 on August 10, 2007

Why no MMP?

MMP represents a solution to the wrong problem in Ontario.

In my view, the fundamental problem with our system of governance is the parties themselves. Parties have far too much power, stifling the opinions of an increasingly small segment of the population still prone to independent thought.

In Parliament, MPPs are expected to mindlessly vote with their parties, which in turn represent only the small fraction of the population that have the time, money, and energy to be involved in political parties in any meaningful way.

This is the problem we need to solve. We need to strengthen independent representation and weaken the party hold on MPPs. MPPs should be representing the views of their constituents to Parliament, and not the views of their parties.

MMP does the opposite. MMP acknowledges the strength of parties and legitimises it by giving parties still greater power and authority over its MPPs, reducing the number of ridings, reducing the effectiveness of ridings, making it still more difficult for independent candidates to win, and creating a whole list of completely illegitimate MPPs accountable to noone but their parties, responsible to noone but their parties, incapable of seeking reelection if they stand up to their parties.

No, MMP is not for me. It's not for Ontario. It's not for Democracy. MMP is only for the parties, which in turn will happily tell you how democratic they are. And you had better agree that they are democratic or you'll be out of the party.

Is FPTP the be-all and end-all of democracy?

No, but it's not that bad.

There is local accountability, local representation, and the possibility for independent thought and representation. Its biggest flaw is the requirement that voters vote strategically and thus their vote may not actually represent their opinions, a failing retained by MMP. A non-comprehensive preferential ballot, that is, one where you are not required to rank all candidates, such as IRV or Condorcet, or an even simpler system of Approval Voting would both be marked improvements in our democracy that I would support whole-heartedly. But changing the way we vote is only half the battle. The real reform needs to come in Parliament. The real reform needed is the elimination of the Party Whip, the Party Line, and the Party Vote.

Eliminate those, and a Majority Government will mean nothing, but a Majority Vote will mean everything.

elections reform 399 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 19:46 on August 09, 2007

No MMP campaign gets underway

I'm going to disagree with many of my friends who, like me, consider themselves progressive and left of centre and assert, unequivocally and without reservation, that I think the proposed MMP reform is a step backward onto a rusty nail for Ontario. The core of my objection to MMP comes down to the simple question: who represents who to who? To that end, I'm doing something about it. I've joined the No MMP campaign and we now have a website. Short and to the point, I invite you to see many of my objections and those of the unaffiliated No MMP campaign team at NoMMP.ca.

Who represents who to who?

In a representative democracy, the voter votes for a person to represent them and their interests to the government. This person is meant to be answerable only to the voters of his or her jurisdiction, in this case their riding, and not beholden to any other interests.

The advents of political parties and campaign financing have weakened this core principle of representative democracy. The proposal before us asks us to forego this notion of representation and accountability.

Under MMP, we are asked to reduce the number of representative ridings by a significant proportion, enlarging those already large ridings by around 20%. This will increase the workload and decrease the accessibility of local representatives for their ridings. This will weaken the effectiveness of these representatives and reduce their value as representatives of the public to the government.

Further, one third of our provincial parliament will be made up of representatives with an interesting, small, and highly over-represented riding: their political party. List members have no concrete accountability to anyone but the establishment of their party. If they are kicked out of their caucus for standing for what is right over what their party says is right, they do not have the option to seek re-election in the same manner they sought election in the first place, as their real riding representative counterparts do. Their accountability is therefore to their party only, and not directly to the voting public. The public will have to rely on the party's own sense of accountability for useful representation. Under this system, these list MPPs will act as representatives of their party to the government, and as representatives of their party to the voters.

Why would anyone vote for a system where we trade in our ability to select representation for ourselves to our governments and to our parties for a system in which we invite parties to represent themselves to our government and to ourselves?

Is there possible electoral reform? Absolutely there is. We could move forward with nearly any variation on preferential or approval voting, where strategic voting and vote splitting is reduced without the expense of the core principles of our democracy.

Vote for democracy. Vote against MMP.

elections reform 480 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 14:24 on August 07, 2007

Why I will vote against MMP this fall

It is official: Ontarians will be asked this autumn to support changing our electoral system from first past the post to mixed member proportional. It is a shame, really, that the Citizens' Assembly would recommend a system so much worse than what we have.

Fundamentally, I believe the referendum on MMP and the switch to a form of proportional representation addresses the wrong problem.

The problem MMP attempts to address in a half-assed way is vote splitting. In each riding we will still have first past the post, there will still be vote splitting, and an unpopular candidate who gets just over half the vote of two of their opponents' combined vote who are on the same side of the political spectrum will still win. People will still be forced to vote strategically to block said candidates instead of supporting who they truly want to.

Then to top it all off the leadership of each party will be granted the ability to provide the electoral officer with a list of people who may have no qualifications whatsoever other than that they are known by the leadership. From this list the electoral officer will take the top portion, an amount defined by a percentage of the vote, and grant these arbitrary people seats. The parties, both small and large are thus further empowered. They are granted the ability to put their friends in office without even the guise of a nomination battle.

Is this not the worst of everything?

By granting seats to parties to assign more or less as they see fit to anyone they choose, we send an important and destructive message to the government: Under proportional representation, we elect parties to send representatives to the people and we give up the right to send representatives to the government ourselves, and we give up the right to independent representation. Under first past the post, we give up the right to vote for the candidate we choose lest the candidate we really don't want finds a way in.

The problem we truly need to be addressing is the power vested in political parties which the people of Ontario are blindly seeking to enhance. Our representatives, all of them, should represent us, the people, to the government at Queen's Park. The parties should not be sending us representatives.

There are definitely reforms needed in our political governance and electoral system. One for each, in fact.

For governance: Get rid of party whips. There should be no such thing as a whipped vote. All votes, including and especially confidence votes, should be free votes. The purpose of our representatives it to represent us and us alone, not their parties, not the government, not any special interests, just us, the electorate. MPs should be empowered to vote the way they believe is right at every vote. They are accountable to their constituents, who are free to vote them out at the next election. The party must have no place in displacing them for voting on behalf of their constituents.

For the electoral system: Do not limit voters to a single vote.

This may sound a little strange at first glance, but it is the most sensible form of electoral reform ever conceived, yet, to the best of my knowledge, no (party-controlled) government has ever been willing to try it.

Give us, the voters, the same ballots we have now and allow us to check off all the candidates we approve of. Vote splitting and strategic voting will become a thing of the past when there is an electoral system in which all voters can vote for all candidates who they would consider acceptable. This simple, ground-breaking system is called Approval Voting, and was presented to the Citizens' Assembly, yet they did not even put this option on their ballot for consideration. For shame.

Mixed Member Proportional, or MMP, takes away representation from the people and gives that power to the parties. Proportional representation is a misnomer, as there is no representation with proportional. There is no accountability for an MP who need only stay in his party's good stead to stay high on his party's list. There is no representation for the people when a party sends its own representatives to office. Parties are a means of allowing people to say they share values. Parties are not a special interest group that deserves special representation in Parliament over and above that of the people.

I don't care about minority versus majority governments or coalitions; without party whips it would be moot anyway. I care first and foremost about my ability to elect my representative to the government, and will not tolerate the introduction of a system that allows parties to have more power than the voters who elect them in any circumstances at any time.

I cannot and will not vote for MMP.

elections reform 818 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 13:25 on May 30, 2007

The trouble with parties

The trouble with our electoral system is not the method with which we vote, it is simply that our political parties are far more interested in power than in their basic philosophies. Across the country it is apparent. The Bloc does better philosophically with a Conservative government, but better politically with a Liberal government. The NDP does better philosophically with a Liberal government, but better politically with a Conservative government. In both cases, in order to maintain the political advantage of those governments, they must vigorously oppose them.

The Bloc Quebecois ostensibly wants a decentralised federation and a separatist Quebec government that will ultimately lead to a separate Quebec. This ultimate goal is unattainable and for reasons of survival, the Bloc Quebecois knows that separation must never actually take place. No political party that has found a source of power is going to will itself out of existence. In a separate Quebec, the Bloc Quebecois and its membership will no longer have a role in Quebec politics.

With separatism not therefore being the first priority of the separatist party, what is? Philosophically, it is more money and autonomy for Quebec without outright separation. The current Conservative government is the best vehicle for this the Bloc has ever had. But the trouble is if the federal government is giving in on these demands based on its own governing philosophy, the Bloc Quebecois becomes redundant and its electoral fortunes risk declining. Thus getting what it wants is bad for it.

With a Liberal government, a party that strongly supports a united Canada and a useful central government, the Bloc gets a party that will not pander to its interests. Philosophically, this is terrible. With the Liberals in power, especially with a Quebecker leading as is usually the case when the Liberals actually win, Quebec gets treated as an equal instead of as a superior being by the federal government. The Bloc then has an issue to go to the Quebeckers with: we need independence from this nonsense of being called a province of Canada! It is the only way the Bloc Quebecois's electoral fortunes can improve.

This rather odd situation means that the Bloc Quebecois benefits the most politically from the party that is furthest from it philosophically. It also means that the Bloc's philosophy of independence for Quebec is contradictory in its own right and can never be fulfilled.

Because the Bloc cannot admit to this reality, we find incidents like the Bloc resentfully supporting yesterday's federal budget because of the billions of dollars it gives to Quebec. If their priority was philosophy and more for Quebec was their primary objective, they would be waving this budget enthusiastically in Quebec to say 'look, we accomplished part of what we set out to accomplish', and Duceppe would not be coming out mid-speech to announce they will be supporting the budget in an effort to get this good news for the Bloc's objectives out of the headlines as fast as possible.

The NDP is in a similar situation of contradiction.

The NDP has accomplished the most on its agenda through its history when there is a strong Liberal minority that needs the NDP's balance of power for support. However whenever that happens, the NDP's fortunes drop in the next election because the Liberal party has moved slightly to the left, encroaching on the NDP's narrow band of support.

The NDP does best in federal elections when the Conservatives come to power, as evidenced by Ed Broadbent's leadership during the Mulroney years. He is hailed by the NDP as their most successful leader, even though he accomplished nothing whatsoever of the NDP's left-wing agenda, because under his leadership next to a strong Conservative majority they scored 44 seats, although could do nothing with any of them.

With the recent election of Stephen Harper, Jack Layton has also achieved some level of success for the party, bringing it up to 29 seats although the NDP is finding itself unable to meaningfully push any part of its agenda even with a Conservative minority government. Unlike a Liberal minority, there is no part of the Conservative government that shares any beliefs with the NDP. While the NDP had a balance of power, albeit a very marginal one, with the Paul Martin Liberal minority, they squandered it in an effort to gain more seats.

In order to appeal to its left wing base, the NDP must vigorously oppose a Conservative government, but not too harshly, lest they get a Liberal government back which is bad for their electoral fortunes. The result is that the NDP spends as much time attacking the Liberals, if not more, than attacking the Conservatives, even now, over a year after the election. A strong right wing means a consolidated left wing for the NDP to tap and so its fortunes are tied to the presence of a Conservative government. A Liberal government is a centrist government which adopts, and thus moots, some of the principles of the NDP and is therefore bad for the party's survival, even if it is good for the party's philosophy.

The Liberals and the Conservatives are themselves not immune from this game. Their counterparts are, rather, the provincial governments of Quebec and Ontario.

While counter-intuitive, it is in the Conservative party's interests to keep Liberal governments in power in both Quebec and Ontario. For whatever reason, it is extremely rare for a Liberal government to be in power in both provinces and federally at the same time. This is made easier currently by the Quebec Liberal leader being a former federal Progressive Conservative leader. Arguably, the Quebec Liberal party would be better named the Quebec Conservative party, as it tends to be far more aligned with Conservative than Liberal principals. Similarly, the Conservatives perform better when there is not a Conservative government in Ontario, although many of the cabinet ministers in the current federal Conservative government are former Ontario provincial Conservative cabinet ministers.

The Liberals on the other hand do best federally when the Liberals are not in power in either province. This is a direct correlation with the Conservatives doing better when the Liberals are in power in both provinces. The Liberals do best when the PQ is in power provincially: there is a clear need for an uncompromising federalist party when that is the case lest the country disappear in a puff of separatist smoke.

I am still trying to figure out how, exactly, the Green party figures into this formula of interdependent opposites, but from their push for proportional representation it is clear that seats are more important than philosophy for that party as well. Proportional representation further strengthens the parties and weakens core representative democratic principals.

What solutions do we have?

The simplest, best, and least likely ever to happen, is the outright abolishment of parties in Canada. Our first past the post representative electoral system was built around the principal that each community would send one person to represent their local interests in the government. That person would be answerable only to the people who elected them and would sit in the Commons on their behalf.

Parties have gained too much power in this country and must be returned to being a vehicle for loosely representing common philosophies rather than merely existing as a means of acquiring and retaining power. Our representative democracy is meant to represent us to the Commons. It is not meant to have the parties send representatives to us via the Commons.

When parties put their own interests ahead of their own philosophies, our democracy is broken.

elections politics 1272 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 15:36 on March 20, 2007

My submission to the Ontario Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform

The current system of elections in Ontario known as the first past the post system is not inherently broken as some would lead us to believe. It could use improvements, but it is imperative that the electoral system not be jettisoned entirely and replaced with a system that has an entirely different set of faults. The problem that exists with our electoral system is simply that political parties are over-emphasised by it.

I ask that your recommendations include the following three points:

MPPs should be selected by Approval Voting, a means of selecting all candidates on the ballot who are approved by the voter using ballots identical to those we already use.

In first past the post, the citizens of each riding select their representatives by voting for their candidate of choice. The candidate most often chosen is the winner, regardless of second choices or whether any kind of majority has been attained by that candidate. The winner then goes on to represent the riding until the following election, being responsible for and answerable to their riding first and foremost.

The only widely discussed fundamental problem with this approach is that some people feel that their vote is wasted or that they are not represented when the person they have voted for to represent them is not elected. I disagree that this assessment is a flaw, as I find no system under which everyone can get their first choice of representation.

In my view, the only real flaw in this system is that we are limited to selecting only one candidate in each riding. If I would be perfectly happy with three of the six candidates seeking the seat in my riding, I should be free to vote for all three of them. An electoral system exists that provides this capability. It is called "Approval Voting."

This system is very simple. Our existing electoral infrastructure and ballots need not be changed. Each voter selects all of the candidates on the ballot who they would feel comfortable representing them. As is the case now, the candidate with the most votes is declared the winner, and representation continues as it always has. This simple change nullifies the age-old Canadian problem of strategic voting, it allows continued riding representation, and has other potential advantages not often discussed, which I come back to in a moment.

By way of explanation, with the Approval Voting system, if I approve of candidate A, C, D, and G in a field of candidates A through G, I can simply check off 'A', 'C', 'D', and 'G' on my ballot. During the count, each of A, C, D, and G would receive one vote on their tally when my ballot is counted. If my first choice candidate was 'D' then in the current system I would be forced to select only D, but with Approval Voting I could also approve of A, C, and G. Another person may have a first choice of candidate F, but also approves of candidate 'C', while neither of us would have chosen C in our current system, both of us consider C to be an acceptable candidate, and candidate C would win the election. The count for the election would be candidate A: 1 vote, B: 0 votes, C: 2 votes, D: 1 vote, E: 0 votes, F: 1 vote, and G: 0 votes, from two voters. The ballot used would be exactly the same as the one we use today.

In this system, it would be possible for candidates A, B, and C to be from one party, D, E, and F, to be from another party, and G to be an independent. No nomination process would be needed in the parties, and independent candidates would not be excluded from the electoral process.

Approval Voting, the selection of all candidates on a ballot who are acceptable to a voter, would be the most democratic practical system available to the province of Ontario and many other jurisdictions:

Is Approval Voting the best system available? No, but it is the best practical and most easily implemented system.

Approval Voting is not the best electoral system available, but it is far and away the most practical good system possible. The best system would be a system of preferential balloting known as Condorcet, where any number of candidates may be ranked in a preferential manner on any ballot, and where the election is counted as a series of pairwise elections between each candidate until one has won the most pairwise votes. This system is used extensively by Internet-based communities that use elections to select their leadership, but is far too complicated to explain to the average person or to count in a simple, effective, and accountable way.

Approval Voting, as mentioned earlier, is my suggestion for the system that is the most conformant to all the requirements in the Assembly's mandate but one. It is fair, it is simple, it creates the legitimacy and accountability of clearly selected members representing clearly delineated constituencies, but it does not make more effective parties, a requirement that makes the assumption in the Assembly's mandate that parties are indeed important.

Among the many advantages of Approval Voting is that party nominations would no longer be necessary, further opening the democratic process to anyone interested in participating. Anyone could run under any banner, and because constituents could select as many people as they would like, party members and riding associations would not have to pre-select a member to run on their behalf. This would further increase accountability and fairness in our electoral system, as members would be primarily accountable to their constituents far more than to their parties.

No form of Proportional Representation should be implemented in any way, as it strengthens parties and weakens democracy.

The system most often pushed by those seeking electoral reform is Proportional Representation or one of its many variants. If all candidates in any particular political party were exact carbon copies of their leader, this would indeed be the best system. But candidates for election are meant to be representatives of their community to the province and to their party, not representatives of their party to the province and to their community.

Any form of proportional representation, whether mixed member, or absolute, requires a new method for selecting candidates and MPPs. The simplest and most often discussed is the mixed member proportional system, or MMP, where an arbitrary number of additional seats are created and allocated to parties that are statistically short-changed in the election to fill with seats as the leader of the party sees fit, removing all measurable accountability from these party-tier MPPs to anyone but the party leadership. The lower tier would still be selected by the First Past the Post electoral system, giving us the worst of two systems together.

An alternative form of selection for members under the MMP system suggested at the Assembly hearing in Guelph was the 'best-loser' or 'second-past-the-post' system, where candidates who came in a strong second in their riding are selected for their party's list. This curious system makes coming in a strong second a quite comfortable place to be for candidates. There is no guarantee that an MPP selected using a best-loser system would have any responsibility to the riding from which they were selected and indeed in an asymmetrical MMP system, where there are more ridings than proportional seats, having the best-loser seats retain any specific regions of responsibility would be impossible, with responsibility for geographical areas not able to elect them.

In an MMP system, there are two tiers of MPPs. The first tier is the current, riding representative members whose primary accountability is to their riding. They must work for their riding and their constituents or they will fail to gain re-election. The second tier is the tier that is elected either through the above-mentioned second-past-the-post or by an arbitrary party list who have no riding accountability and therefore less responsibility to their riding. Being a proportional-tier MPP would be a quite enviable position as all the powers and none of the responsibilities of a normal MPP would be present.

Proportional representation, in all its forms, emphasises parties over individual representatives or individual viewpoints. To support PR or its variants is to support a system of uniform thinking and top-down politics, the very things the citizens of this province want to get away from. It would eliminate independent MPPs from any proportional portion of a governing system, a critically important capability of our electoral system. MPPs should not be forced to be a member of a party to have access to all the seats in the provincial parliament.

I refuse to consider Proportional Representation in any form to be an acceptable or democratic electoral system for this province. It does not solve any problems, but rather it changes and adds to our problems.

The triple-majority requirement for passing any changes should be retained: No change in our electoral system should be implemented without a decisive opinion across the province.

Proponents of PR suggest that the triple-super-majority requirement for selecting our electoral system is unfair, that only 50%+1 should have to endorse any changes to the electoral system. I disagree on this point. PR proponents say that the purpose of PR is to allow everyone's vote to count, a myth as no-one's vote would count much any more with the total lack of any meaningful accountability PR would cause, yet suggest that 50%-1 of Ontario's vote should not count, and would even be wasted, in the discussion of a change of electoral system. I lived in Quebec in 1995, at the time too young to vote, but not too young to understand that my country was on the chopping block, subject only to a 50%+1 requirement, with a 49.4% for-50.6% against result, and from that experience, I will never accept that any radical change should be implemented with only a one-vote majority in a referendum.

On the importance of parties and of members crossing the floor

People who complain about members crossing the floor are missing the point of our representative-based electoral system. Crossing the floor or becoming independent should be encouraged, not discouraged or frowned upon. All MPPs should be selected on their own merits, not that of their parties, and should be free to sit with the party in which they feel the most comfortable, even if it means changing part-way through their term in office. If their constituents do not agree with their representative's shift in ideology, it is their right and obligation to vote them out at the next election. An MPP who shifts parties and expresses independent thought should not be criticised, but condoned for putting their constituents before their own party's demands.

Parties provide a mechanism by which a selection of people can control the agenda of the province in an undemocratic way. It is not that parties don't have adequate representation in government, it is that they have too much.

The party system we have could be phased out or deformalised over time. Every riding could select an independent MPP via Approval Voting who would then head to Queen's Park and to the parliament of independent MPPs. The MPPs would then get together and select a premier, in much the same way the speaker is selected. The premier would then seek a cabinet from the independent members and all governing would be more or less consensus based, much the way nearly every city council across the country and at least one of the Territories work. The premier would be accountable to the entire provincial parliament, not only his or her own party or constituency, and could be fired and replaced at any time by the very same parliament that selected him or her to lead.

In summary

Ontario's electoral system is not inherently broken, but its party system is. There is a system available which can fix both called Approval Voting and I strongly recommend it for the province of Ontario.

Our electoral system should allow all voters to select all candidates in their ridings who they would consider appropriate representatives for their local needs. Proportional representation puts the priorities of the parties well before the priorities of the people. The current, first past the post system also requires voters to select one single individual to represent them without having a chance to express their opinions on all of the candidates, allowing parties to dominate the electoral process. There is one system that strengthens the people and removes the handicap of the single vote. The Approval Voting method is simple, easily implemented, and meets all the priorities of the Citizens' Assembly while empowering citizens.

Thank you for taking the time to read this and for conducting these hearings across Ontario.

Respectfully submitted,

David Graham
Guelph, Ontario

elections reform 2390 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 18:03 on January 29, 2007

Proportional representation would be worse than the status quo

There is a large and growing voice in our country demanding that we switch to a partially or fully proportional system for our federal elections. I disagree wholeheartedly. First past the post has some serious weaknesses, but the drawbacks of proportional representation far outweigh its strengths. More importantly, there is a third, much better, option available to us that neither status quo nor proportional representation proponents ever discuss: preferential balloting.

In short, a preferential ballot is a single-ballot run-off system. There are numerous variations of the preferential ballot. The two most important ones are called Borda and Condorcet. Borda is the simplest, but Condorcet is by far the best for a federal election and is the one I will concentrate on.

I challenge the notion that a vote for a losing candidate is a wasted vote. Every vote for every candidate is equally important in determining the outcome of an election. That is the purpose of the vote.

My most fundamental problem with proportional representation is the sacrificing of individual representation in favour of party representation, followed closely by the sacrificing of riding-level representation in favour of a national system.

I live in the city of Guelph, Ontario, which, in our municipal election last month, voted overwhelmingly to retain our ward system for municipal elections, dumping both the notion of an at-large system for elections and virtually the entire council that suggested it. Of 12 councillors and the mayor, only four won re-election, and the mayor was not one of them.

To me, the at-large system is the municipal equivalent of proportional representation. Under at-large, ward representation is thrown out, and everyone must elect representatives from and for the entire city. Campaign costs would be driven up, distribution of representation would not be assured, and local issues that would matter to a ward representative could be safely ignored without jeopardising the seats of at-large councillors. Under proportional representation, all these things are true on a macro scale.

So, first off, I would like to assess what I see as the strengths of having riding-level representation are compared to what can best be described as a national at-large system.

The strengths of riding-level representation

The weaknesses of riding-level representation

So with that bit out of the way, here are my assessments of many of the various possible electoral systems:

The strengths of the status quo - first past the post

The weaknesses of the status quo - first past the post

The strengths of full proportional representation

The weaknesses of full proportional representation

The strengths of mixed member proportional representation

The weaknesses of mixed member proportional representation

The strengths of a single transferable vote

The weaknesses of a single transferable vote

The strengths of a select-all-that-apply system

The weaknesses of a select-all-that-apply system

The strengths of preferential balloting under Borda

The weaknesses of preferential balloting under Borda

The strengths of preferential balloting under Condorcet

The weaknesses of preferential balloting under Condorcet

Based on this comparison and in thinking about it, I would prefer, ranked in order of preference, the following system:

  1. Preferential/Condorcet
  2. Select-all-that-apply
  3. The status quo/first past the post
  4. Preferential/Borda (instant run-off)
  5. Single Transferable Vote
  6. Mixed Member proportional representation
  7. Proportional representation

This is a preliminary list of strengths and weaknesses, and I would be curious to hear others' reactions to it. I've also written a bit on this topic before.

elections 1369 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 18:25 on December 11, 2006

May 27th, 2006

Harper wants to give us fixed election dates every 4 years, "except in cases where the government is defeated in a House of Commons vote or is otherwise 'prevented from governing.'" (from the linked article).

Technically, in Canada, we already have them. The only difference is that the constitutional version of Harper's law provides for 5 year terms.

Let's take a quick look at our constitution:

Democratic Rights

Democratic rights of citizens
3. Every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly and to be qualified for membership therein.
Maximum duration of legislative bodies
4. (1) No House of Commons and no legislative assembly shall continue for longer than five years from the date fixed for the return of the writs of a general election of its members.
Continuation in special circumstances
   (2) In time of real or apprehended war, invasion or insurrection, a House of Commons may be continued by Parliament and a legislative assembly may be continued by the legislature beyond five years if such continuation is not opposed by the votes of more than one-third of the members of the House of Commons or the legislative assembly, as the case may be.
Annual sitting of legislative bodies
5. There shall be a sitting of Parliament and of each legislature at least once every twelve months.

In the case of Harper's law, a government that loses a vote of non-confidence will still cause an immediate dissolution of parliament and election, meaning any government that seriously wants to can bring itself down early. It's also quite feasable for any subsequent parliament to simply revoke the 4 year election law as it is not enshrined in the constitution.

It's also interesting to note that Harper's law would allow the country to go to election if the government is "prevented from governing". I'm awfully curious to hear the legal definition of "prevented from governing".

Left undefined, it could mean anything from the Prime Minister having a cold to an independent MP filibustering a motion to adjourn to the parliament buildings being locked down for security reasons to the parliamentary press gallery asking too many questions.

Regardless of all this, I don't believe it is an accident that this law is being introduced in an acrimonious minority parliament and not in a future majority parliament. If the bill fails, Harper will not lose a political advantage he doesn't really want to lose anyway, and gets all the political points of having tried.

elections politics 429 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 14:02 on May 27, 2006

April 13th, 2006

I wrote this a while ago on my belief that proportional representation is no less bad for Canada than our current system, but never found a place to publish it. In light of the floor-walking controversy and its denial of the fundamental principle that we have the option in Canada to vote for people, not just for parties, why not put it here?

Why Proportional Representation is Not the Answer for Canada - but nor is the current system

Jack Layton has told the country that a condition of the NDP joining any federal coalition is that the new government would hold a nationwide referendum on proportional representation. While this may benefit the NDP, it's not really good for Canada. But other systems might be.

Under the proportional representation system, everyone in Canada would vote not for a person to represent them locally, but for a party. The party provides a list to the Chief Elections Officer of all their candidates, in order that they are to be elected. The party is then awarded a proportion of the seats equivalent to the proportion of the vote they receive.

If 20 million Canadians vote in a federal election, and 4 million of them vote for the NDP, the NDP will win 61 seats. Under the current system they would likely win between 15 and 30. And that's great, every vote really does count, but at the cost of local representation, and the cost of allowing people in this country to vote for a person, not for a party.

If a party has a stallwart supporter, or just a big campaign contributor, the party can put them very high on their list and they are guaranteed a seat. In that way, people could literally buy their way into a seat in parliament. From there, our democracy can rapidly decline.

Is this better than our current system? I'm not sure. In our current system, each riding has a set of candidates and the person who receives the most number of votes, even if it's only one more than the next candidate, wins the riding. In that way, 2 people, or 2 parties who represent a similar point of view hurt eachother when their total vote exceeds another candidate's tally, but the other person came out above either one of them and thus wins the election.

There are at least two ways we can improve our system without sacrificing the ability to choose our representatives. One is a minor, perhaps even intermediate, change from our current system, and the other is a significant change from our current system.

Canadians, historically, have had a tendency to vote against certain people or parties, not for certain people or parties. In Quebec, I voted against the Bloq, not necessarily for the Liberals or my local candidate. In Ontario, I have voted against the Alliance or tories, not for the Liberals. We call it strategic voting, but it's really just voting against someone.

What we should do instead is allow people to vote one of two ways on their ballots. You can either vote for someone, or you can vote against someone. Instead of casting a strategic vote for a person or a party you don't really like, in order to not help one you like even less, we should allow people to vote against candidates.

Instead of one column on our ballots, we would get two. The left column would be "for", the right column would be "against". You would still only be allowed to vote once, but you would have the option of voting against someone, which would reduce their total votes by one, instead of in favour of someone else. While the results at the end of an election could contain negative votes in a net count for some candidates, it would allow Canadians to vote the way they already do, but properly.

The other alternative system we could use that allows every vote to count, preserves local representation, and preserves the selection of our own candidates, is the preferential ballot.

Australia has a preferential balloting system that is a poor implementation because it forces every voter to rank all candidates in their ridings. There exists a preferential balloting system that does not force people to do this. It is called the Condorcet system of pair-wise preferences.

It works by each voter ranking candidates on their ballot by who they prefer. For example, if I prefer candidate C over candidate A, and don't really care about the rest, I would vote for C as 1, and A as 2 on my ballot. This would tell the ballot counters that I prefer C over A, and both C and A over all the other candidates. If I only select one candidate, that tells the counters that I prefer that one candidate over every other candidate. At the end of the day, someone will be preferred over the others more than anyone else in a riding, and that person wins the election.

Political parties have for years demonstrated a preference for preferential balloting, including the NDP. It was by a preferential ballot that Jack Layton became leader of the party.

The preferential balloting system solves the problem of local representation, choosing between voting for a person or a party, choosing who you vote for, allowing voters to vote for more than one person, run-off votes, and vote-splitting, all in one fell swoop. With that, the power stays in the hands of the people.

elections politics reform 919 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 16:46 on April 13, 2006

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