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Recent entries

  1. A podcast with Michael Geist on technology and politics
  2. Next steps
  3. On what electoral reform reforms
  4. 2019 Fall campaign newsletter / infolettre campagne d'automne 2019
  5. 2019 Summer newsletter / infolettre été 2019
  6. 2019-07-15 SECU 171
  7. 2019-06-20 RNNR 140
  8. 2019-06-17 14:14 House intervention / intervention en chambre
  9. 2019-06-17 SECU 169
  10. 2019-06-13 PROC 162
  11. 2019-06-10 SECU 167
  12. 2019-06-06 PROC 160
  13. 2019-06-06 INDU 167
  14. 2019-06-05 23:27 House intervention / intervention en chambre
  15. 2019-06-05 15:11 House intervention / intervention en chambre
  16. older entries...

Latest comments

Michael D on Keeping Track - Bus system overhaul coming to Guelph while GO station might go to Lafarge after all
Steve Host on Keeping Track - Bus system overhaul coming to Guelph while GO station might go to Lafarge after all
G. T. on Abolish the Ontario Municipal Board
Anonymous on The myth of the wasted vote
fellow guelphite on Keeping Track - Rethinking the commute

Links of interest

  1. 2009-03-27: The Mother of All Rejection Letters
  2. 2009-02: Road Worriers
  3. 2008-12-29: Who should go to university?
  4. 2008-12-24: Tory aide tried to scuttle Hanukah event, school says
  5. 2008-11-07: You might not like Obama's promises
  6. 2008-09-19: Harper a threat to democracy: independent
  7. 2008-09-16: Tory dissenters 'idiots, turds'
  8. 2008-09-02: Canadians willing to ride bus, but transit systems are letting them down: survey
  9. 2008-08-19: Guelph transit riders happy with 20-minute bus service changes
  10. 2008=08-06: More people riding Edmonton buses, LRT
  11. 2008-08-01: U.S. border agents given power to seize travellers' laptops, cellphones
  12. 2008-07-14: Planning for new roads with a green blueprint
  13. 2008-07-12: Disappointed by Layton, former MPP likes `pretty solid' Dion
  14. 2008-07-11: Riders on the GO
  15. 2008-07-09: MPs took donations from firm in RCMP deal
  16. older links...

All stories filed under reform...

  1. 2007-01-29: My submission to the Ontario Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform
  2. 2007-05-30: Why I will vote against MMP this fall
  3. 2007-08-07: No MMP campaign gets underway
  4. 2007-08-09: Why no MMP?
  5. 2007-08-10: All the World's problems to be solved by MMP
  6. 2007-08-10: MMP change for the sake of change?
  7. 2007-08-13: The myth of the Kiwi Utopia
  8. 2007-08-14: Ten lies about MMP revisited
  9. 2007-08-15: A Dawg's bone
  10. 2007-09-12: Dalton McGuinty responsible for 7200 deaths, says tory candidate
  11. 2007-09-13: The real truth about MMP
  12. 2007-09-25: The myth of the wasted vote
  13. 2007-10-01: On wanting the Third Way
  14. 2007-10-08: MMP contradictions keep adding up
  15. 2007-10-11: Ontario overwhelmingly defeats MMP; declares Liberal majority perfectly legitimate
  16. 2007-10-20: More assorted thoughts on the future of our democracy
  17. 2008-02-25: No MMP campaign issues final press release
  18. 2008-04-09: Does voter turnout matter?
  19. 2008-05-28: Thoughts on meeting Elizabeth May
  20. 2008-09-12: Day 50 of the Guelph campaign
  21. 2008-11-18: An alternative to proportional representation
  22. 2009-05-06: On May 12, vote safely: Don't give BC an STV
  23. 2009-05-13: BC defeats PR nearly as soundly as PEI and Ontario

Displaying the most recent stories under reform...

BC defeats PR nearly as soundly as PEI and Ontario

With the change of name from "Know STV" to "No STV", the pro-SMP campaign in BC caught up with the rest of the country in defeating FairVote Canada's latest hare-brained scheme. For those in Canada who are serious about electoral reform, there is only one realistic option remaining: Instant Run-Off Voting. It's the only system Canadians will ever get behind, and it offers substantial improvement over the current system without introducing the breakage inherent in proportional representation. See Danielle and Scott among others on the pro-PR side who are coming to this conclusion. FairVote, now is your chance. Join your American counterpart in pushing for the one electoral system that actually offers an improvement.

For a group that purports to promote the democratic process, FairVote must accept the democratic will of the people who have soundly defeated their core ideology of proportional representation three times.

reform 155 words - permanent link - comments: 3. Posted at 13:11 on May 13, 2009

On May 12, vote safely: Don't give BC an STV

Electoral reformers in Canada have proven time and time again that they want absolutely anything, as long as it isn't what we have. Their latest principle compromise is the referendum in BC next week, where the province will vote, for the second time, on an obscure and barely used electoral system called the Single Transferable Vote (STV). At its core is the best possible electoral system: a preferential ballot, but the proposal in BC then takes a good idea and bastardises it so totally that, were it to pass, BC could kiss representation goodbye.

The problem is simple. BC intends to turn simple, single-member ridings into massive conglomerations of unrelated communities with multiple representatives forced to compete with local politicians to keep themselves relevant. These mega-ridings will be made up of as many as seven current ridings, with seven representatives. The premise is that with multiple representatives per riding, small parties have a chance of winning where they would currently be shut out on the vote split. While there's little evidence to support this, there is a misconception that the off-chance of a fringe party winning a seat if the mega-riding is sufficiently diverse makes the electoral system "proportional." It isn't.

Were this to be in Ontario, the equivalent where I live would be to have the ridings of Guelph, Wellington Halton-Hills, Flamborough-Dundas-Ancaster, Kitchener-Conestoga, Kitchener-Centre, Kitchener-Waterloo, and Cambridge merged into one mega-riding.

It's pretty easy to see where the problems would be. In the recent federal election, Guelph had ten candidates. Between these seven ridings there would have been more than forty.

Imagine, for a moment, an all-candidates debate with forty candidates.

If you live in Georgetown, a city that is significant within the current riding of Wellington-Halton Hills, do you expect ever, in an entire 36 day campaign, to hear from any of the forty candidates in your riding when they each have every door in Kitchener-Waterloo, Cambridge, and if they get to it, Guelph to knock on?

Having gone door-to-door in the last election in Guelph, I know how difficult it is to hit every door in the city. We had an 82-day campaign, thanks to the cancellation of our by-election, and one riding. Every candidate in an STV election would normally have a 36 day campaign and seven ridings to cover, giving a maximum of five days per current riding to campaign.

It isn't rational. And if you expect your MPs to give your community any reasonable representation, you're in for a surprise under STV. Just like a campaign is likely to concentrate on vote-rich communities within a mega-riding, representation by seven people of the same riding will concentrate where the most political points can be gained. As every representative has to cover seven times as much territory -- and they all overlap, unlike today where each representative has a clearly defined limit -- small pockets of the mega-riding will be massively overrepresented, and the rest will be hard-pressed to get any attention whatsoever.

Moreover, by having overlapping ridings, as I have been told happens in Ireland one of a tiny number of countries in the world to use this system, representatives will compete with each-other to do more on the local level, and step on the toes of municipally elected politicians.

Once again, a province in Canada is voting on electoral reform that is change for the sake of change, with its proponents having failed to think through the ramifications of its adoption. Single-winner, single-riding STV, known as Instant Run-Off Voting, would be an ideal sort of system. Mashing up the province with mega-ridings, and pretending that it adds proportionality, negates any benefits of the reform and hurts the democratic representation the province deserves.

For me as someone outside of BC who thinks electoral reform should be careful and considered, not slipshod and emotional, this referendum is very important. The result of this referendum in BC has national implications. The passage of STV, were it to happen, could ultimately result in a national STV campaign. Pro-STV activists, who know the destructive effects of this system but have a stated agenda of pure proportional representation, want this to happen quickly, before BC has another election under the new system.

When BC votes next Tuesday, I urge them to consider their vote, and its ramifications carefully. Just because it is different does not make it better.

Think it through. Don't give BC an STV.

politics reform 746 words - permanent link - comments: 5. Posted at 13:22 on May 06, 2009

An alternative to proportional representation

My opinion on proportional representation is no secret. I think electoral reform is favourable, but I think proportional representation is an inherently flawed concept. For more on that, here's my column in today's Mercury.

The recent federal election confirmed, once again, that our electoral and democratic system needs improvement.

When 70 per cent of voters in Guelph can vote for a progressive candidate, yet the Conservative candidate can come within three per cent of taking the riding, we need to do something to fix the system.

But I disagree with the conventional wisdom that some form of "proportional representation" is the answer.

Proportional representation, the system that a group called FairVote Canada seeks to implement, is not representative. It is a simple electoral system in which political parties are assigned a number of seats in Parliament based entirely on how many votes they received in the election across the country.

It sounds great, until you consider that it means that the members of Parliament the system elects are answerable only to the political parties that named them.

Proportional representation, then, allows parties to be represented in Parliament, but does not represent the people who elected them. Under proportional representation, there would be no Frank Valeriote representing Guelph, no Mike Nagy building his profile and popularity in the city, no Tom King running as a local star candidate.

MPs would live or die by how high on the party list their party put them, not by whether voters selected them to govern.

I disagree fundamentally with the concept of "proportionality" as a worthwhile value in democracy. Democracy means "governance by the people," not "governance by the parties."

On the surface, proportionality sounds wonderful: nearly everyone in the country who votes directly affects how many seats each party will be assigned. In a representative democracy, my question is: who represents who to whom? If we are electing parties to send their representatives to Parliament, we are asking for parties, not voters, to be represented in Parliament. Under any variant of "proportional representation" we have to ask: who represents you and me, and how do you fire MPs if they do a bad job if they are assigned to Parliament by their party and not by us?

Some will tell you that the system Ontario proposed in last year's defeated referendum fixed this by keeping the current plurality system.

All the system, called Mixed Member Proportional, would have done, and would do federally, is give us a system where our local decisions still have to be made strategically, and our votes are still split. Our national parties would stack their lists with friends who are accountable to the party rather than to the electorate.

In essence, Mixed Member Proportional combines the worst of both systems.

I believe our democracy needs some fundamental improvement. There should be fewer appointed candidates and fewer party-line votes in Parliament.

Since Confederation, power has been drifting from the hands of the MP to the hands of the party. Each party is becoming a dictatorship of the party leader, and any form of proportional representation would continue this trend. Power should always be handed to the people before the political party. With that in mind, there is an electoral system I would endorse that solves most of our strategic and vote-splitting problems in one go, without disproportionately empowering political parties or separating individual members of Parliament from the accountability of being elected.

Instant Run-off Voting (IRV), a system used non-controversially in Australia's lower House, is the ideal solution. With it, each voter gets the opportunity to rank their preferences within their riding. To decide the winner, a tally is done only of the first choices on the ballot.

Instead of looking for an 'X', poll clerks would look for the number '1'. If no candidate has more than 50 per cent of the vote, the candidate who received the fewest '1's is dropped, and that candidate's ballots are redistributed to the remainder counting the '2's. This is repeated until a candidate has more than 50 per cent of the vote.

Vote splitting and strategic voting essentially cease to exist under such a system, without the flaws introduced by the concept of "proportionality." By being able to rank your choices, there would be no risk in voting for a candidate you don't actually believe will win, as voting for that candidate will not negatively affect any others.

FairVote's American counterpart calls for this system to be used in the United States.

I would like to see IRV implemented at all levels of government, including municipally. I believe democracy works more in spite of political parties than because of them, a statement that even Green party Leader Elizabeth May agreed with when she spoke to us at an editorial board meeting this summer.

In an environment where the role of parties is reduced, such as in our municipal government, there is still a risk of vote splitting that IRV would eliminate.

Allowing constituents to order their preferences for whom they would like to represent them, allows the constituents to be the real winners in every election, and it allows everyone to vote their consciences without worrying about voting strategy or vote splitting. It also returns authority and accountability to the person who wins.

That's what elections should be about.

columns reform 893 words - permanent link - comments: 15. Posted at 19:44 on November 18, 2008

Day 50 of the Guelph campaign

With only 32 days left to voting day, it's just about the home stretch.

Yesterday, Guelph NDP candidate Tom King said "I consider (the Liberals) to be in the same bed as Stephen Harper." The irony and hypocrisy are palpable in light of the exposure of collusion between Stephen Harper and Jack Layton to keep the Greens out of the federal debate.

In the same article, Green campaign manager Stan Kozak is purported to have said, paraphrased by the paper, that "none of the major parties have ever advocated for proportional representation, which means they're not serious about working together." This grates me particularly because it is the push for proportional representation itself that tells me that the Green party is not sincere about democratic values.

A single-winner, single-seat preferential ballot would offer more honest choices to electors and would have my unqualified support. The system would allow most-liked instead of least-disliked candidates to win as strategic voting is weakened. Preferential balloting allows voters to always vote for who they truly want to win, without ever worrying about voting for someone they don't like to keep out someone they really don't like. Preferential balloting allows them to make a statement about a particularly bad candidate by ranking them dead last on their ballot.

Proportional representation offers none of this. It is all about dis-empowering and unrepresenting voters to the benefit of political parties. Under proportional representation, an MP is not entitled to exercise judgement of his or her own. The system works by eliminating ridings as we know them, and putting the whole country on list systems. Parties provide lists to Elections Canada, voters vote for the parties, and seats are assigned as a proportion of the vote. 30% of the vote in a 300-member parliament means 90 seats, with no geographic requirements.

But who are those 90 people? Under proportional representation, it does not matter who they are; they could be chicken sandwiches, because they have no effect on the decision making process, they exist only to rubber stamp the policies of their parties. The demographic representation in parliament could improve, but it would be hollow. A parliament made up of 50% women who are completely muzzled is not an improvement over a parliament with 25% women who are free to speak their minds. Under proportional representation, they do not represent anyone but their party and have no recourse if they step out of line. While having 50% (or perhaps more) of parliament be empowered women would be hugely beneficial to the function of government, proportional representation completely misses the mark.

If an MP from a list system is kicked out of caucus, they lose the legitimacy of having a seat in parliament at all. They do not represent a constituency, only a party list, and have no recourse to re-election outside of that list. Someone ranked highly on a party's list has no danger of not being returned to parliament.

But I can see the appeal of this to the Green Party in Guelph, whose own candidate does not even live in the riding. Their slogan here is "Guelph is Going Green," their message clearly that they want the Green Party represented in Guelph, not Guelph represented in Ottawa.

While the Liberal candidate here has made it clear in that same article that a cooperative left-of-Harper movement is needed and worthwhile, the Greens and the NDP candidate in Guelph and the NDP's leadership have shown that the only cooperation they are interested in is collusion to break the fabric of our democracy, the NDP by working with the Conservatives to keep out the Greens, and the Greens by pushing to take the weak electoral system we have and turn it into a completely dysfunctional one.

politics reform 631 words - permanent link - comments: 7. Posted at 09:30 on September 12, 2008

Thoughts on meeting Elizabeth May

On Monday, I joined fellow members of the Guelph Mercury's Community Editorial Board in an hour-long interview with Green Party leader Elizabeth May, her predecessor Jim Harris, and local Green candidate Mike Nagy.

With 12 people in the room, 7 of which were asking questions, no single one of us had a lot of time to ask much. Elizabeth May proved herself very adept at answering questions in sufficient detail to keep follow-ups to a minimum, while making the questioner feel like their question was being taken seriously.

The purpose of her trip to Guelph, she said in her opening remarks, is two-fold. One reason is to get Mike Nagy elected as the MP in Guelph when our by-election shows up. The other is to get Elizabeth May a spot in the federal election debates during the next election. I agree with one of these two goals.

She took several jabs at our electoral system, advocating for proportional representation, during her opening remarks and in answers to several questions. When I got my chance to ask my questions, I went after this issue. First, I asked, does she believe that our politics work because of, or in spite of, political parties? Without reservation, she said that our politics indeed work in spite of political parties. So I asked, why, then, do you support proportional representation, which enhances the role of the party? She said that proportional representation reduces partisanship because everyone can vote the way they want. I asked her why she wouldn't support a compromise position like preferential balloting? To this, she did not disagree, but said what she would like to see is a nation-wide Citizens Assembly with the result being a two-part ballot. One: do we want to change our electoral system, and two: if so, which of these systems would you prefer? She said the MMP proposal in Ontario failed because people were getting caught up in the details of the proposal, rather than the concept.

I had more questions on other matters, but the time did not allow for much else. She did assure the room that about half of her travel around the country is by train, with all internal Ontario travel being that way, and said that the Green Party plans to lease a train from Via Rail in the next election to do the first rail-based campaign in Canada in generations. This is a concept I support and would like to see all parties do. Support for our rail system needs to be a non-partisan issue.

Another interesting bit of the meeting was when Mike Nagy, in explaining why the Green Party should be taken seriously for the leadership debate, commented that the Green Party is "not accountable" for the federal funding they receive because they don't have a seat. I don't think it was entirely what he meant, but it's an interesting point. The Green Party does receive $1.82 of federal funding per year per vote they received in the last election, which gives them about a million tax-dollars per year to operate their party.

More interesting to me was when friend and fellow community editorial board member and blogger Cam Guthrie, a local Conservative, asked Are you ticked that Stephane Dion stole your Carbon Tax platform? Her answer was as unequivocal as it was enlightening. No, she said, she is thrilled. More parties and more people should steal the Green Party's platform. She said that after their last policy convention, the Green Party distributed their policies to all the other parties with a cover letter inviting them and encouraging them to adopt the policies as their own. It is this role as a party of ideas and not one of power that makes the Green party relevant in Canada. But I wonder if their idealism will remain once they have seats in the House, or if partisanship will prevail as it has so completely for the Green's predecessor protest party, the New Democratic Party. If their push for a back-door into the House of Commons is anything to go by, partisanship will indeed prevail.

She took a lot of swipes at Stephen Harper for his made-in-Washington policies and at Jack Layton for putting partisanship before principle while defending Stephane Dion, during the interview. She said that in Dion's one year as environment minister, he did more than anyone else on that file. She worked with him in her days at the Sierra Club and seemed to have a lot of respect for him. She commented that she told Dion that he was her second choice for Prime Minister, to which she said he responded, "oh, who is your first?" "Me, of course". "Oh, ok then." She also expressed surprise that Dion was willing to go along with her suggestion of following the long tradition of leader's courtesy in not running someone against her in Central Nova.

Not surprisingly, Mike Nagy answered the question about what the important local issues will be by discussing environmental issues. He noted, for example, that Guelph has one of the highest concentrations of ground-level ozone in the country, and that Asthma has risen to a rate of 1 in 4 children locally. Indeed.

May also stirred a little post-interview controversy by commenting that she was ready to slit her wrists by the end of the last leaders' debate, something that others clearly found more offensive than I did. Politicians and hyperbole are virtually synonymous, and it did get her point across about how bland and pre-packaged leaders' debates have become.

I'm hoping the video, audio, or transcript of the whole meeting is posted soon. In the meantime, coverage of this meeting is here:
- Guelph 'vibrant green' (Guelph Mercury article)
- Green leader ready for prime time (Guelph Mercury editorial)
- . . . then again, maybe not (Guelph Mercury editorial)
- Greens hope for by-election success (Guelph Mercury video)
- Demanding fairness (Guelph Mercury video)
- Too colourful for prime time? (Guelph Mercury blog)
- Interview with Green Party Leader - Elizabeth May! (Cam Guthrie - Green Guelph)
- Elizabeth May "out of bounds" (Christian Conservative, based on second-hand accounts)

environment guelph leadership reform 1031 words - permanent link - comments: 0. Posted at 10:28 on May 28, 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 - permanent link - comments: 5. Posted at 16:20 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 - permanent link - comments: 4. Posted at 16:27 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 - permanent link - comments: 5. Posted at 16:02 on October 20, 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 - permanent link - comments: 5. Posted at 10:01 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 - permanent link - comments: 3. Posted at 10:23 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 - permanent link - comments: 10. Posted at 13:21 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 - permanent link - comments: 23. Posted at 16:32 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 - permanent link - comments: 32. Posted at 09:02 on September 13, 2007

Dalton McGuinty responsible for 7200 deaths, says tory candidate

Last night I attended the Guelph provincial all-candidates debate at the University of Guelph. A few things stuck out in mind that warrant discussion.

First, the Green, NDP, and Communist candidates came out in favour of MMP in the referendum. The Conservative candidate came out opposed. The Liberal candidate said she was genuinely torn and had no idea yet how she would vote on the matter. The Green party candidate, Ben Polley, made the interesting and absurdely false claim that under MMP, Guelph would have had two MPPs last election because he was the highest scoring Green candidate in the province. This shows his clear lack of understanding of how the MMP proposal he supports actually works. The lists would be pre-submitted, with their structure having nothing to do with the results of the election, and him being elected from the list would not necessarily give us a second Guelph MPP regardless, as he would be a province-wide MPP whose only constituency is the party itself.

Second, the Green, Communist, Liberal, and Conservative parties all supported, with varying degrees of urgency, GO train service to Guelph and Kitchener-Waterloo, one of my big issues. The NDP candidate chose her words carefully never once mentioning GO service but talking in platitudes about the need for increased public transit without really specifying. It's not surprising that the auto-union backed NDP would not want to support GO service. The Green party candidate here had it right with his assertion that we need to stop building highways, plain and simple, and the Communist party candidate noted that GO service can have the equivalent capacity of a 10-lane highway, another interesting point.

The most interesting bit though was Bob Senechal, the tory candidate, in a discussion about the Nanticoke coal plant still being open. He indicated that Dalton McGuinty once said that the Nanticoke plant is responsible for approximately 1800 deaths a year in Ontario. Therefore, Senechal said, "Dalton McGuinty is responsible for 7200 deaths."


Shana Tova, by the way!

guelph politics reform 344 words - permanent link - comments: 6. Posted at 17:56 on September 12, 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 - permanent link - comments: 46. Posted at 14:18 on August 15, 2007

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