Bob Jonkman, co-chair of the Waterloo Region chapter of Fair Vote Canada, says there is barely time to put a new system in place, let alone ask people what they think of it
Ms. D’Amato and I had a 20 minute conversation and that’s only a brief and under-representative quote of what we spoke about. Among other things, I expressed my opinion that a referendum on Electoral Reform isn’t necessary because:
Parliament (and provincial legislatures) may change the electoral system with a vote in parliament, as they have done for every other electoral reform issue such as giving the vote to women (1917-1918) or First Nations people (1960!). The Conservatives changed the rules for elections in the Fair Elections Act (2014), and nobody uttered a peep about a referendum.
A referendum on electoral reform is not a constitutional requirement. The only issue that affects consitutionality is seat allocation to the provinces, and that requirement is easily met by not extending electoral boundaries across provincial lines. (We didn’t discuss it, but there have been many electoral boundary changes, notably before the 2015 election, which didn’t go to a referendum and were perfectly constitutional)
That an effective and equal vote is a right, and that the First-Past-The-Post system violates that right, and rights issues are never decided by referenda.
I spoke of the rarity of referenda in Canada, that the only national referenda have been on issues like prohibition (I thought that was in the 1930’s, but it was in 1898), and the separation of Quebec (1992). Ms. D’Amato pointed out that we had a municipal referendum on fluoridation, and pointed out the many provincial referenda on electoral reform.
We talked about the 2007 referendum in Ontario — that example is a great reason to avoid referenda on these topics. Although the McGuinty Liberals made it an election promise in 2003, the Citizens’ Assembly wasn’t formed until 2006, leaving them only six months to become experts in voting systems and make a recommendation. Elections Ontario did not have enough information documents available; Fair Vote Waterloo members went door-to-door, and we ran out. Elections Ontario themselves were prohibited from giving out information on the proposed voting system (because informing voters was considered “biased”), and when voters went to the polls in October most didn’t even know there was a referendum on.
I expressed dismay that it took the Federal Liberal government eight months to form the current All-party Parliamentary Committee, that the Committee’s proposal is due on 1 December (and consultations need to wrapped up by 1 October), that the time it would take to move a bill through parliament could be as much as year, what with debate, multiple reading, and senate approval, and that Elections Canada will need a year to re-tool for a new electoral system.
And that whole conversation was distilled down to the one sentence.
Someone subsequently wrote:
Philosophically the public should be consulted on this issue, but not without widespread public education about Proportional Representation (PR). First educate the public, then hold a vote.
Send a postcard to the All-party Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reform
And they are being consulted. This is what our postcards are for: to send our opinions to the All-party Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reform. While it may help to send another postcard to your local MP, I’m told they just forward them to the Committee. If anyone reading hasn’t sent a postcard yet, pick one up at one of the festivals this summer, or let the FairvoteWRC Executive know at email@example.com and we’ll get you one. Or several, if you have friends. You all have friends, right?
Although the public should be consulted, it’s not in anyone’s best interest for the public to make the decision. We saw the results of the four provincial referenda on electoral reform (BC held two), the outcome of the fluoridation referendum that completely ignored best public health care practices to the detriment of all Waterloo residents, and the Brexit referendum that was decided by people with no knowledge of global economics or foreign policy (I’ve read that some people thought the “Leave” option was to make the Muslims leave the UK).
The only way a referendum might work is in three parts:
Do we want to change the current system (and that’s already been decided in the 2015 election by the 63% of voters casting a ballot for a party supporting electoral reform);
after extensive study and education, asking which one of these voting systems (maybe STV, MMP, P3) should be used;
after two or three election cycles asking if that system should be changed (and if “yes”, then start the whole process over again).
Jean-Pierre Kingsley: You can only hold a federal referendum in Canada on a constitutional matter. And changing the electoral system is not a constitutional matter.
But Canada’s electoral system does not allow a referendum on this question. There would have to be a new bill passed in parliament to modify existing referendum legislation, and that will take months to pass, never mind the time taken for the referendum itself.
Besides, Canada has a representative democracy, where we elect representatives (our MPs) to study these matters and make the best decision for their constituents. But that doesn’t stop me from letting my MP know what would be best for this constituent!
We’ll be having elections for the Fair Vote Waterloo Executive Board; this is your chance to depose me as Co-Chair! All positions on the Executive are open for re-election: Two Co-chairs, Treasurer, Secretary, and up to three Members-at-Large.
If you’re unable to attend the AGM in person you can designate someone as a proxy to make nominations and vote for you. If you’d like to run for a position on the Executive you can nominate yourself, by proxy if need be.
You must be a paid-up member of Fair Vote Canada to vote or be on the Executive, but we’ll accept membership fees at the meeting ($25 for returning members, $10 for a first-time member)
Here is the agenda for the AGM portion of the meeting:
Review minutes from 2015 AGM
Statement from the Chair (year’s review)
Receive a current financial statement from the Treasurer
Elect the Executive
Sean Haberlin: Proportional Representation (PR) in the backyard
Also, I would like to remind you about Fair Vote Guelph’s event on Tuesday:
Australia uses “ranked ballot” systems at every level of government pretty much universally,.in much the same way we in Canada use the Single Member Plurality “First Past the Post” system.
The big difference between us is that Australia employs a mix of “ranked ballot” systems.
Distinguishing between Preferential Voting Systems
It is important to distinguish between Proportional and Winner-Take-All voting systems because their outcomes are so very different. The Australian Senate’s Single Transferable Vote system can best be described as “quota-preferential,” since candidates need only reach the required quota to win a seat in the Legislature. Likewise, Australia’s lower house uses the Alternative Vote, a system better described as “majority-preferential,” as candidates need to win a majority of votes to win the seat.
The Australian Senate bears little resemblance to our own. Their Senators are not appointed, but instead elected using the quota-preferential Single Transferable Vote form of Proportional Representation. Each territory elects 12 Senators with the STV (Single Transferable Vote) form of Proportional Representation. In this way, the voters in each territory actually choose the representation they want, and elect them in a manner which reflects the voters’ preference.
Until recently voters were obliged to rank every candidate, a fairly rigorous task with 12 seats to fill. Failure to do so resulted in a spoiled ballot. To make it easier for voters, the ballot was divided into 2 parts, and voters could instead choose to vote “above the line” a much less onerous task where they simply choose a party instead. The disparity in difficulty resulted in only about 5% of voters ranking (and voting for) specific candidates, a problem which has been challenged and finally remedied in time for the 2016 election.
But even with such party games since its adoption in 1949, Proportional Representation has resulted in an Australian Senate that actually represents the constituents in their regions, unlike Canada’s Senate, where time and again we’ve seen Prime Ministers stack our Senate and/or appoint party hacks from Toronto to “represent” the citizens in PEI. Canada’s Senate was created to guarantee proper regional representation, but fails to actually provide it in its current incarnation.
On the other hand, Australia’s House of Representatives does bear a fair bit of resemblance to our own House of Commons because it uses the majority-preferential Alternative Vote winner-take-all system introduced in 1918. This winner-take-all system was introduced in an attempt to prevent the two right wing parties from splitting the vote and allowing the upstart Labor Party to win. Although replacing one winner-take-all system (First Past The Post) with another (Alternative Vote) didn’t actually stop the third party from gaining power, Australia has kept this winner-take-all system longer than any other country.
The most important lesson we’ve learned from Australia is winner-take-all systems produce very similar results whether or not ballots are ranked. For real change you need Proportional Representation.
Election explainer: how are lower house votes counted? And what is ‘the swing’?
Australia’s House of Representatives. It was first used at a federal election in 1919 to allow for the anti-Labor votes in rural areas to be split between the Nationalists and the newly emerged Country Party. The first-past-the-post vote system was in use prior to this.
Preferential voting requires electors in single-member electoral districts (”seats”) to numerically order candidates starting with the most preferred (who would get a “1”, or primary vote) through to the least preferred.
At federal elections, voters must cast a preference for all candidates. Failure to do so, or failure to give an ordinal list of preferences, renders the ballot informal. This means it is not counted towards any candidate and is set aside.
How are the votes counted?
When the count for the seat is undertaken, electoral officials begin by counting the primary vote won by each candidate. The successful candidate needs to win 50% plus one vote of the total formal votes cast in the seat. For example, in a seat where 90,000 votes are cast, the winner needs 45,001 votes.
If no candidate has achieved the threshold, the candidate with the lowest primary vote comes out of the count. The eliminated candidate’s ballots are inspected and allocated to the next preferred candidate at full value.
A tally is taken again. If no-one has reached the benchmark, the elimination process continues. The candidate with the smallest total of votes is eliminated; the ballots are inspected and allocated to the next preferred candidate who is still in the count. At all times, the preferences that are allocated retain a full value.
This process continues until a candidate achieves an absolute majority after the allocation of preferences.
The Australian Electoral Commission has done a full allocation of preferences for all seats since 1984. This means election results are expressed in two ways:
how many primary votes the candidates and their political parties won; and
the result of the election as a contest between the party that wins a majority of lower house seats and the next best.
This outcome, in turn, will be determined by the result in each seat after the distribution of the preferences cast by those voting for candidates other than those representing the two major parties. This is the so-called “two-party vote”, and is usually expressed as a result comparing the Liberal-National Coalition and Labor.
What is ‘the swing’?
There are 150 lower house seats. The Liberal or National parties comfortably win about one-third of these. Similarly, Labor wins another one-third of these with margins that range from five to 20 or more percentage points.
The final third of the seats, however, have very close margins. These are the seats that the parties fight over, meaning whichever party wins these seats will probably have the lower house majority required to form government.
In each election some voters will change the choice they made in the previous election. They may vote either for the other major party or for a minor party or an independent. The shift in voter alignments between elections is known as “the swing”.
Analysts keep an eye on two types of swing. The first is the primary vote swing. This swing indicates how the voters have responded to the major party in government, and whether the other major party is the beneficiary of shifting alignments. If the other major party is not picking up “swinging” voters, then the shift in support will be going to the minor parties and/or independents.
The “two-party” swing is arguably the more important swing to be observed. This will determine which party wins the close seats. This swing shows the shift of support from the party holding the seat to the candidate who is challenging for the seat after the preferences from voters for all the other unsuccessful candidates in the contest have been allocated.
The ‘how-to-vote’ card
The alternative vote system is quite complicated compared with first-past-the-post voting, for example.
To assist voters in identifying their candidates, political parties publish how-to-vote cards. These leaflets are offered to voters as they arrive at the polling booth and advise those wishing to vote for that particular party on how they should rank their preferences for all the other candidates.
This practice is known in Australian politics as “directing preferences”. However, these leaflets are simply advisory; voters can choose to accept or reject them.
Not everyone requires them, but to a voter who does not know which electorate they are in, does not know the candidates and does not understand how the electoral system works – but wants to cast a valid vote nonetheless – the how-to-vote card is indispensable.
Given these leaflets also advise on the Senate, their usefulness to the uncertain voter is even greater. Scope exists for the parties to try to influence results through the advice they give on preferences.
For major parties, the main purpose of the how-to-vote card is to ensure voters fulfil the requirement of casting a preference for all candidates so that their vote is formal. The preference rankings made by electors voting for minor party candidates, however, may decide which major party candidate will win the seat.
Scope exists for the parties to horse-trade on preferences, provided they are not bound by ideology (it is inconceivable, say, that Family First would direct preferences to the Greens) or rules (the Democrats had a rule never to direct preferences to the major parties).
If wheeling and dealing can be done, it will be undertaken by party secretaries and presidents. This gives the process an opaque, backroom feel to it. It can also seem politically irrational when apparently sworn enemies are shown to have entered into what the party executives will hope is a mutually beneficial arrangement.
Such deals can be the difference between winning and losing seats – and winning and losing executive power.
This Sunday, June 19th at 2 pm, Barry Kay, Philip Olsson and Dennis Pilon will be part of a panel discussion on electoral reform in Caledon. FVC will have a representative on the panel and there will be a panelist defending FPTP. It should be an interesting event!
On Thursday, 7 April 2016 Fair Vote Waterloo hosted a panel discussion with professors Dennis Pilon and Barry Kay, debating the merits of Proportional Representation and Alternative Vote. The evening was moderated by Diane Freeman.
Always check your local book store first, but if needed you can get Wrestling with Democracy: Voting Systems as Politics in the 20th Century West (Studies in Comparative Political Economy and Public Policy) (2013)
Hi everybody! Summer Festival season starts on Sunday, and the start of June means it’s time for the Fair Vote Canada Waterloo Region Chapter Annual General Meeting.
But first, some news: You may have heard that the All-party Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reform will now be composed of five Liberal members, three Conservatives, two NDP, and one each for the Green Party and Bloc Quebecois, with all seats having voting status and an equal voice. This follows (roughly) the votes received by each party, and not the seats they hold in the House. Finally, some Proportional Representation!
Some news agencies have reported this as Liberals give up or Liberals back down — but that’s not the case at all. It was achieved through the cooperation of ALL parties, who created legislation for the benefit of all Canadians. This is something we can expect to see more of with a proportionally represented parliament.
Every year in the spring we hold an Annual General Meeting of the Fair Vote Waterloo Region Chapter to elect our Executive Board, receive our Financial Report, and discuss happenings in the Fair Vote community.
To help find the best date for the most people please fill out the online poll, or contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or +1–519–635–9413 and let me know your preference. Proposed dates are from Wednesday 22 June 2016 to Tuesday 28 June, with the meeting to be held from 7:00pm to 9:00pm.
Note that Monday, 27 June 2016 would normally be our Discussion Night, but we can double up and hold our AGM at the same time. And there are only evening dates (8:00pm to 10:00pm) for the weekend of 25-26 June 2016, because several of the Executive will be staffing the information booth at the Multicultural Festival. Speaking of festivals…
Summer Festival Season
Every summer there are a number of open air celebrations where Fair Vote Waterloo has an information booth to give curious passers-by information on electoral reform and proportional representation. There is usually a LOT of interest, and sometimes some lively discussion. People can see some sample ballots for different voting systems, vote in a simulated election, and pick up the Fair Vote Canada tabloid and a “Your Vote Should Count” button. Come join us!
No, really, I mean it. Come join us and help staff the booth for a couple of hours. Even if you’ve never staffed a booth before, come listen to what the public has to say about Electoral Reform. You’ll be paired up with an experienced booth volunteer, and have a table full of information at your fingertips. Bring your sun hat and a water bottle!
And if your church, service club or neighbourhood is holding an event where people might like some information, we’ll be happy to set up a table, talk to people, and eat your potato salad.
On Monday February 29th, FVC Waterloo members Matt Foster, Sharon Sommerville, Shannon Adshade and Bob Jonkman met with with Cambridge MP Bryan May
Fair Vote Waterloo lends our voices to the Open Letter Fair Vote Canada sent to All Parties and House Leaders:
Canadians have given you a mandate. Sixty-three percent (63%) of us voted in favour to change the electoral system to one that is more fair, equal and democratic – a system that will make every vote count so that the will of the electorate is reflected in the House of Commons.
You have the task of improving democracy in a very undemocratic system. Seventeen million (17,000,000) Canadians cast ballots on October 19th and 4.6 million voters elected MPs who now hold a false majority. Millions of Canadians – more than two million each for the Liberals, Conservatives and New Democrats – have no representation in Ottawa. It is incumbent upon you to show us that you understand the problem, you are willing to fix it, and you are prepared to provide the leadership required to get the job done.
As a multi-partisan organization, we know that true Democracy – where all citizens enjoy equal rights and the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly through their chosen representatives – is not easy. It’s difficult to set aside partisan stripes, listen carefully to the people, cooperate, compromise and build consensus. It’s even more difficult in an unfair system where some parties have been awarded more than their fair share and some have been denied their due support. Equal representation in the legislature should be the right of every citizen in a free and democratic society. Democracy is not easy but it delivers better results and respects all voices.
That is why it is so important, during what appears to be a growing impasse that can damage the integrity of the electoral reform process, to embrace the spirit of democracy. Canadians are watching. The world is watching.
We are very concerned that the reforms are already in trouble before you have even started. You are all very aware of the fact that if you are honestly considering all options, you need to stick to a tight timeline. Since Canada’s new House of Commons first met December 3, almost six months have passed. This has raised concerns by the media and civil society groups as well as MPs in the House about the credibility of the process.
We ask you to remove your partisan hats and govern on behalf of all Canadians. Embrace the true spirit of democracy and realize that Canada cannot be truly ‘back’ until all voices are at the table.
House Leaders, we are calling on you to sit down and negotiate a date to get the Electoral Reform Special Committee motion on the floor in time to have a robust debate and move the motion forward before the House leaves for summer break.
Failure to get the Committee off the ground in order to address our democratic deficit will reflect poorly on all Parliamentarians. Failing to do the hard work will be considered by the electorate as an attack on our collective desire to create an electoral system that treats all voters, and their representatives, equally.
This is no time for finger pointing and pot shots.
In a speech in Halifax, our Prime Minister stated “We need to show, once again, that the Liberal party is not afraid to challenge the status quo, even if it means breaking with our own traditions.”
We are asking all of you to do just that. Please put your partisan differences aside, get down to the work the voters have asked you to do and show the world that Canada is serious about evolving into a modern democracy that respects and provides voice to all voters. We know you can do it. We look forward to cheering you on.
On Wednesday, January 20th, 2016, Fair Vote WRC co-chairs Sharon Sommerville and Bob Jonkman met with Waterloo MP, the Honourable Bardish Chagger, (Minister for Small Business and Tourism) to discuss Proportional Representation
Fair Vote WRC co-chairs Sharon Sommerville and Bob Jonkman met with Kitchener-Centre MP Raj Saini to discuss Proportional Representation on Wednesday, 13 January 2016
On Tuesday, January 19th, 2016, Fair Vote WRC co-chairs Sharon Sommerville and Bob Jonkman met with Kitchener-Conestoga MP Harold Albrecht to discuss Proportional Representation
On Friday, 15 January 2016, Fair Vote WRC co-chair Sharon Sommerville visited Marwan Tabbara, MP for Kitchener-South Hespeler to discuss Proportional Representation
The Fair Vote Canada (National Office) Annual General Meeting is in Ottawa on 3-4 June 2016. Who’s going?
The Summer Festival Season is upon us! Do you know of any events where Fair Vote Waterloo can set up an information booth or table? We have several events planned already; come help out! If you have no experience staffing an information booth we’ll pair you up with an experienced volunteer.
Let’s discuss when and where we should have the Fair Vote Waterloo Annual General Meeting. Do we want to combine it with Discussion Night on 27 June 2016, or hold it earlier in the month on another weekday?
And where should we hold our next Discussion Night? Bauer Kitchen is nice, but it’s not for everyone. Does anyone have a second-favourite place for our group to meet?
Fair Vote Waterloo will have an information booth at the Neruda Arts Kultrun World Music Festival. Cast your vote in a simulated election, using STV or MMP and get a Your Vote Should Count button.[...]
Fair Vote Waterloo will have an information booth at the Neruda Arts Kultrun World Music Festival. Cast your vote in a simulated election, using STV or MMP and get a Your Vote Should Count button.[...]
Join Fair Vote Canada for a Webinar! Proportional Representation and Good Governance Learn: PR 101 PR and Good Governance Special Guest: Salomon Orellana, PhD, author of Electoral Systems and Governance: How Diversity Can Improve Policy[...]
Fair Vote Waterloo will again have an information table at Open Streets UpTown Waterloo in 2016! Got questions on Electoral Reform and Proportional Representation? We’ll have the answers! Pick up Fair Vote Canada’s own tabloid[...]