Help staff our info table, talk to passers-by about Proportional Representation, enjoy the food and music of Open Streets. First time helping? No problem! There will be experienced volunteers to show you the ropes. It’ll be hot — don’t forget to bring a hat, sunscreen, and a water bottle.
Bring a dish to share, preferably something that doesn’t require any preparation on-site. Fair Vote Waterloo will be supplying a few flats of pop; perhaps someone can bring some fruit juice. Cathe will provide the dishes, glasses, and cutlery.
See you Sunday at Open Streets, and Monday at the Potluck Dinner Discussion Night!
The electoral reform committee is meeting with expert witnesses this week and push toward a fair electoral system is heating up!
If you have an hour or two this weekend and would like to help at our information table at Kultrun or the Nonviolence Festival, we would appreciate your support. You don’t need to be an expert on the mechanics, just enthusiastic.
If you can help for an hour or two, please be in touch!
You might have heard a lot of discussion in the news about electoral reform, but what is it, what are we reforming, and what are we reforming it into? All good questions that also have the virtue of not being easy ones to answer as well. This is the podcast that, at least initially, aimed to answer those questions, but if you’re not sure where to begin on electoral reform, then this is as good a place as any to start.
The following Q and A session is between myself and Steve Dyck and Ken McKay, two of the organizers of Fair Vote Guelph. Electoral reform’s been on my radar for a while, and it’s a topic that has a lot of traction in Guelph, which has had many people working hard on the issue since the robocall incident in 2011. The general feeling being that a less partisan Parliament – less dependent on winning a few bell-weather seats to achieve majority government status by tapping out at 39 per cent national support – would mean less illegal shenanigans to encourage people not to vote. Oh yes, and it will also help to create a more democratic country that better reflects its citizens and bring Canada in line with other western democracies that already use some form or proportional representation.
Hi everyone: At our Annual General meeting on Monday, 27 June 2016 I did not bring printouts of the minutes for the previous Annual General Meeting in 2015. I made a motion that we defer the approval of the 2015 AGM minutes, that they be published online and to the Discussion List, and that the Fair Vote Waterloo membership approve them online.
Please read through the minutes and let us know of any typos, other errors, missing items of discussion, and any other necessary additions, corrections, or deletions. Please send your corrections by Friday, 8 July 2016 to firstname.lastname@example.org (but feel free to use the Discussion list if you want to discuss the minutes). Kevin Smith (Secretary for FairvoteWRC) will compile the corrections and the corrected minutes will then be posted to http://www.fairvotewrc.ca/meetings/2015-agm/
Also, on behalf of Co-Chair Sharon Sommerville and myself, I’d like to welcome two new Executive Members: Donald A. Fraser and Mo Markham as Members-At-Large, and congratulate the returning Executive Members: Aden Seaman, Treasurer; Kevin Smith, Secretary; and Shannon Adshade, Member-At-Large. Shannon has served tirelessly on the Fair Vote Waterloo Executive Board every year since it was founded in 2006. Thank you, everyone!
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!
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