Has the electoral reform egg cracked?

Rank any number of options in your order of preference | Joe Smith | 1 John Citizen | 3 Jane Doe | Fred Rubble | 2 Mary Hill

Preferential or Ranked Ballot

Good Morning FairVoting Friends,

Last night was a historic evening on three fronts! London, used a ranked ballot to elect its municipal government. A totally amazing moment. Cambridge and Kingston both returned wins (yes, wins!) on their municipal referendum questions to use ranked ballots for future municipal elections.

Using ranked ballot to elect municipal politicians is a small & important step in the right direction. While ranked ballot by itself isn’t a form of Proportional Representation, voters will understand that electoral reform isn’t a crazy, radical idea. If ranked ballot is applied to voting for four city councillors, it would become a form of Single Transferable Vote which is a form of Proportional Representation.

Congratulations to all the activists for their hard work and voters who believed that better is possible: way to go!

All the best,
for FVC-WR

In two hours, electoral reform was mentioned only briefly

Martin Regg Cohn’s column on February 26 about low voter turnout in Ontario claimed the electorate is more alienated and disengaged than at any time in history.

Cohn then chaired a Ryerson Democracy Forum of the four party leaders and reported the results in a second column on March 2. The exchange was thoughtful, civil and collegial prompting Cohn’s question “Why can’t you be like this all the time?”

Ontario’s voter turnout is the worst in Canada and much lower than in most other democracies in the world. Reasons put forward by participants included the feeling that people’s votes don’t matter, broken promises, negativity and partisanship.

In two hours electoral reform was mentioned only briefly by the NDP and Green leaders with no discussion. What a travesty! Federal and provincial governments have been told that 90% of EU and OECD countries use proportional representation where all votes count, voter turnouts are much higher, more voices are heard, and there is much more collaboration and less negativity.

David Arthur, Kitchener

First Anniversary of the Liberal Broken Election Reform Promise

This letter was sent to roughly 450 newspapers … some from really small communities from some of which I got the message “editor not in today, back next week”…

Dear Editor,

Re: First Anniversary of the Liberal Broken Election Reform Promise

On February 1, we remember sadly the first anniversary of Justin’s broken election promise who pledged so enthusiastically in his campaign that the 2015 election was the last under our antiquated “First-past-the-post” (FPTP) system. FPTP gave Harper a majority in 2011 with only 39.4% of the vote and gave Trudeau his present majority with only 39.6%.

In truth, the PM did not promise Proportional Representation (PR) which is the only fair system that makes every vote count equally by giving each Party the same percentage of seats in Ottawa as their votes won in the election. He did promise to look “fully and fairly” at our electoral system but, as became clear later, he actually preferred ranked ballot which under most models would have given the Liberals, the centrist party of Canada, in excess of 200 seats instead of the 184 they received at election time.

During the election reform process, over 80% of the submissions made by interested and informed individuals across Canada indicated a decisive preference for PR. PR in Canada would almost certainly result in cooperative non-majority government and continuity in policy as opposed to the “policy pendulum” in which each new government cancels or guts the legislation of the previous one at great expense.

We need the stability of good long term planning, cooperation among MPs and sound, robust policy that PR brings.

Let us all insist on this change for the better.

Yours Truly,

Donald A Fraser,
Waterloo, Ontario


Letter to the Editor: Reply to Paul Wells interview with David Johnston

The recent Macleans of Sept 18 had an interview of David Johnston by Paul Wells.

Based on that interview I sent the following letter to Macleans’ editors.

I have heard nothing from them and suspect they will ignore this letter.

I know it’s not easy to get letters accepted, especially if the editors have a bias against the ideas presented.

However, our discussion group emphasized we must keep doing everything possible to keep ER and the government’s broken promise out there in the media and in front of the public and the MPs.

While some strategies may wait until closer to the election, letters to the media can be ongoing and frequent at every opportunity.

If possible, social media connections could be useful as well.

Dave Arthur

In Paul Wells’ conversation with David Johnston in the September 18 issue of Macleans, Johnston states that, if you wanted to name countries around the world that seem to have government that pretty well satisfies the needs of the vast majority of people and has a degree of trust, you’d probably have on that list: Denmark, Sweden, Norway, the United Kingdom, Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, Canada. He asks what’s common to those? They’re all constitutional monarchies with vigorous parliamentary democracies. So, according to Johnston, something has been working well for us.

Johnston also states that in the Edelman Trust survey, for the first time in eight years, Canada is a “distrustor nation.” More than 50 per cent of our population don’t trust their public institutions. So we’re now in the middle of the pack on that. We used to be in the top third.

I point out that all eight countries, with the exception of Canada, have stronger representative democracies than Canada with the use of proportional representation PR. Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Netherlands, and New Zealand have fully proportional democracies. Australia uses a proportional system for their senate and ranked ballot for the house of representatives. Although the United Kingdom uses first-past-the-post for the house of commons, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland use proportional systems for their own parliaments created in 1998. These countries join 90% of all EU and OECD countries that use proportional representation.

Trudeau promised that 2015 would be the last federal election using first-past-the-post. He set up a special committee on electoral reform that received testimony and written submissions from thousands of Canadians and held town hall meetings across Canada. The vast majority of those supported proportional representation. They did not support Trudeau’s preference for a ranked or preferential ballot, another winner-take-all system that would have clearly benefited the Liberal Party. As a result, Trudeau broke his promise and dropped electoral reform saying there was no consensus.

I join the many Canadians whose trust in our flawed and unfair electoral system has been further diminished by our prime minister’s broken promise. His promise to base policy on evidence does not warrant trust. Evidence from other countries shows that PR countries have better representation for all citizens, more cooperation and consensus, better long range planning, less partisan politics, fewer distorted results, and better government in general.

Dave Arthur

Letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

Ron Bowman's sign: PM Trudeau & your Liberal MP promised to replace our 150 yr old unfair voting system - it seems we were lied to... that's #RealBetrayal

Ron Bowman at the 2017 Multicultural Festival

Rt. Hon. Prime Minster Justin Trudeau

Dear Mr. Trudeau,

By walking away from your promise to reform Canada‘s First Past the Post (FPTP) electoral system, you have shown Canadians that you do not represent “Real Change”, but the same old “say anything to get elected” behaviour that we’ve seen so often in the past from politicians.

You campaigned on a promise to replace FPTP before the next federal election in 2019. This promise did not include a prerequisite for a broad consensus or an overwhelming indication from the public that they care about this issue. Upon reflection it seems possible that you may have had no intention of fulfilling this commitment from the outset.

With regard to the reasons you have publicly stated for your decision, I would say to you that leadership is more complex than exclusively peddling one‘s own views like Stephen Harper did with his majority, or what you seem to suggest is your “modus operandi”… only undertaking actions which have broad support and interest from the public. Your father understood that when he repatriated the constitution in Canada in 1982. Had Pierre Trudeau not demonstrated leadership at the time but waited instead for “consensus among Canadians” on how, or even whether, to do so, or did nothing at all, we would still be functioning under the British North America Act of 1867.

You and Minister Gould have stated that we cannot agree on how to, or if we should reform our electoral system, despite clear recommendations from the Law Commission of Canada in 2004 and the all party committee in 2016. Both recommended replacing First Past the Post and both recommended some form of Proportional Representation.

Anyone that accepts your excuses on this broken promise, especially die hard Liberals, would do well to remember that a new government in the future can undo every single good thing they feel you have done. If for example, an ideologue like Kevin O’Leary assumes leadership of the Conservative Party, and becomes Prime Minister with a majority, we’ll likely see another Harper style gutting of most of your accomplishments.

Sadly, with this one major broken promise, you have shown yourself to be just another self serving disingenuous politician, not a catalyst for progressive change. I know a few people that were lured back to the polls in 2015, some at my personal prompting… after years of not voting because you specifically promised to make every vote count for something. Your decision to abandon that promise for tenuous reasons, will very likely discourage them from voting in 2019.

I became a supporter of the Liberal party before the last election, I now completely and unreservedly withdraw that support. Further, because of this most deceitful act, I will actively campaign against your government between now and the next federal election. For me, that will very likely include regular picketing at each local MP’s office copied on this email as well as at public events that they attend.

In 2019, the possibility of lower voter turnout after your “charisma” has faded significantly, together with a split non Conservative vote, may result in a Conservative government. lf it does, all l can say is, “that‘s the way the FPTP cookie crumbles”. You had a chance to make things better and opted for your own short term self interest instead.


This letter was originally published on Twitter on 7 February 2017. You can follow Ron Bowman as @RetiredCdnRJB.

A Poster: It Was Only Ever AV For Trudeau

NewsDear FairVoting Friends,

Last Tuesday, Prime Minister Trudeau answered a question on electoral reform at a press conference in Ottawa. His answer was a long last truthful; the LPC dropped electoral reform because Alternative Vote (ranked ballot/preferential vote) wasn’t the electoral system of choice. The earlier talking points used by Liberal MPs (no national consensus, can’t move forward without the support of Canadians etc.) were proven to be smoke and mirrors.

This is an article by Althia Raj, Ottawa Bureau Chief for the Huffington Post that reports on the Prime Minister’s comments:

Trudeau Blames Opposition For Not Reading His Mind On Electoral Reform

The prime minister could have been honest with MPs and with Canadians and said during the campaign that he wanted a preferential ballot. He could have saved taxpayers millions of dollars — in committee travel costs, ministers’ travel costs and for a $2-million “mydemocracy.ca” survey — for public consultations that he didn’t intend to pay attention to.

Instead, he chose to make a political ploy of letting Canadians — many of them NDP and Green party voters — believe he was open to a proportional voting system that would give their parties a stronger voice in the House of Commons.

Fair Vote Canada has put together a poster which illustrates Trudeau’s comments and about face on electoral reform. If you could share the poster to let folks know that the Prime Minister has been misleading Canadians, it would help hold the government to account.

If you have any questions, please be in touch. My email is sharonsommerville@gmail.com.

All the best,
for FVC-WR

Justin Trudeau on Electoral Reform | Before: Such a study must be undertaken _without any preconceived notions of what the best solution would be._ After: We had a preference to give people a ranked ballot... | Before: I'm really open to listening to Canadians. I have moved in my thinking towards a greater degree of openness to what Canadians actually want.  After: I have been consistent and crystal clear from the beginning of my political career... I think proportional representation would be bad for our country. | Before: It's not up to any one person, even the Prime Minister, to define exactly what the right system is.  After: It was my choice to make.

Comparison of Three Systems

Yes we can !

A suggestion to the federal parties on how to present electoral reform possibilities to the Canadian people

In his Record article on 11 Feb, 2017 Professor Barry Kay wrote that the Greens, Liberals and NDP were not willing to ‘water their wine’ to reach a compromise and as a result the process of electoral reform was deadlocked.

In response to the governments betrayal of its election promise, a petition to the House of Commons, sponsored by Mr. Jonathan Cassels of Kitchener has now attracted more than 130,000 supporters. The main message of Mr. Cassels petition was: “Stop being so inflexible and present to Canadians a few well explained alternatives so an informed debate can begin”.

The Electoral Reform motion passed by the Commons in May, 2016 stipulated five principles that should be met by any electoral system that the committee would recommend. This article will attempt to compare these principles for three different systems that could be used to replace the current FPTP system: (i) A Mixed Member Proportional system (MMP), (ii) a Preferential System (PS) and (iii) a compromise Mixed Member Preferential-Proportional system (MMPP) that was suggested by Professor Kay. An attempt will be made to quantify how each system satisfies the five Principles by using a 1 to 10 ranking system along with a subjective judgement.

Principle One specifies that any system must reduce distortions in the voting to be legitimate. The MMP system would partially do that with the Proportional component but the continued use of FPTP for constituency seats would fail to eliminate bizarre distortions that currently allow a winner with less than 30% of the vote. The PS system would guarantee that all winners would have more than 50% support but in close situations like 51:49 it would still mean a large number of voters would not be represented. Finally the MMPP system would offer the best of both a Preferential and a Proportionate system by eliminating the distortions of FPTP and allowing a rebalancing with the proportional component. On a 1 to 10 ranking system, the results would be: MMP= 4, Preferential = 5.5 and MMPP= 9.

Principle Two specifies the system must be simple enough for voters to understand. The MMP system would use the current FPTP for the actual voting and that is understood. The proportional component of the MMP would be hard for many voters to understand in the first few elections. The PS system would be very difficult if the voters had to rank every candidate on the ballot, which is the case in many countries where it is used. The MMPP system would be easy for the voters to understand if it was designed to operate as an instant run-off system that only asked the voter to indicate their first and second choices. Phase one of the counting would only use the first choice. Any candidate who obtained more than 50% would win. If no candidate obtained 50% in the first count , then the top two candidates would remain on the ballot for round #2 of the counting. The second choice for all voters, who did not support one of the top two candidates, would now be counted and assigned to either one of the top two or discarded. Once again the Proportional component would be hard for voters to comprehend at the beginning. Using the ranking system the results might be: MMP= 8, Preferential = 5 and MMPP = 6.5.

Principle Three states the integrity of the voting must be secure by using secret ballot. The MMP system will be easy to count by hand but the proportional component will require assembling all the results for a riding and then doing proportional calculations. If this is done using electronic transfer of data there will be a risk of hacking and should be avoided. The PS system will be very difficult to count manually. Ideally this system will require a ballot that can be read into a data file and then manipulated by a counting algorithm. This will require sending all data to a central computer and election results could be hacked if this is done using the internet. Finally The MMPP system will have the same advantages and disadvantages as the MMP system. Using the ranking system the results might be: MMP=7, Preferential=5, MMPP = 7.

Principle Four specifies that the historical riding system must be maintained. The MMP system will maintain the riding system but will require larger ridings if the preference is the same as the choice of the 2004 Law Commission Of Canada report which opted for a 60:40 split between Constituency ridings and List seats. (List seats are those seats awarded to MP’s who will be selected from a party List based on a comparison of seats won versus percentage of vote won). The 60:40 split would require a very large increase in the typical Constituency riding of 66%, which could be very difficult for rural ridings that already cover a huge geographic area. The PS system would maintain ridings at the same size as at present. The MMPP system proposed by Professor Kay was for a 75:25 or 80:20 split. The advantage of the 75:25 split is that it would work perfectly in PEI, which is guaranteed 4 Commons seats. It also has the advantage over the MMP proposal that the increase in riding size would only be 33%, but clearly not as ideal as the PS system. The results might score as follows: MMP=6, Preferential = 10 and MMPP = 8.

Principle Five states civility and collaboration in the Commons would encourage greater voter engagement. Clearly this principle is a call for rules changes in the Commons similar to those proposed by former Prime Minister Martin and more recently by MP Michael Chong. Changes of this nature might be possible if instead of majority governments that represented only 39% of the voters we had either minority or coalition governments that required MP’s to work in respectful collaboration with each other. The MMP system would still have many MP’s with a low level of voter support but the balance created by Proportionality would possibly mean more compromise because of Minority government. The PS system would most likely lead to majority governments by a centre party and compromise would be less likely. Finally the MMPP system would mean that the balance created between MP’s elected in constituency ridings and those elected using Proportionality would result in a split between majority and minority governments over time. Scoring results here is difficult because of the variables But it might be: MMP= 6, Preferential =4.5 and MMPP = 7.

Now this author has used a scoring system that gives a final result out of 50 points when the results for each Principle are added. The final scores would be: MMP= 31 , Preferential = 30 and MMPP = 37.5. If a similar scoring method is used for the current FPTP system the result would be FPTP=30. Although no system received a perfect score, the MMPP system has a score 21% above the MMP system and 25% better than the other two systems. This would suggest it would be worth while to introduce the MMPP system for a two election trial and then evaluate its impact and effectiveness in meeting the conditions set forth in the five Principles.

This article has tried to present the types of argument that Mr. Cassels called for in his motion to the Commons. You may not agree with the logic presented, so I hope you agree that the Five Principles must be addressed in any comparison and that you take the time to build your own case for each of the principles and then turn your argument into a score. This is what we must do as informed voters in order to decide what we think would be best for a reformed voting system.

Finally if you think PM Trudeau has made a great mistake by stopping the electoral reform process then write a letter to both the Prime Minister and your MP.

This article was written by Gordon Nicholls on 29 March 2017 and contributed to the Fair Vote Waterloo blog. It does not necessarily reflect the opinions of Fair Vote Waterloo.

In reply to The Vote Has Been Counted

This is a reply to The Vote Has Been Counted And The Question Is What Do Liberals Stand For?


Here is my Old American / New Canadian view on the coverage. I apologize in advance if this seems overly negative or culturally mismatched, but these are my observations as best as I can articulate them.

Coming from the US, this whole thing has been a bit surreal. This is probably the most important structural question in all of Canadian politics in decades and it had support in the end from nearly half the MPs who chose to vote. Usually importance + close votes = controversy and coverage. Yet, this got approximately 0 coverage. Yeah, there were a few articles and op eds. Mr. Cullen did an amazing job trying to rally support across the entire country with his town halls. And, of course, there were the tireless and amazing efforts of all of you on this list – I’m inspired by your work. But, by US standards, this was a near complete blackout. The easiest way to prevent positive change is not to shout it down, but to ignore it. And the politicians allowed the press to ignore this.

If there were an issue in the US that promised/threatened to change the balance of power of the major parties for generations, was tightly contested, and involved the leader of the country breaking a promise made 1600+ times, this would be front page news every day for months. How many non-activist friends, neighbors, and co-workers even knew the vote was happening or had an opinion on it? How many t-shirts, lawn signs, posters, or pins did you see? How many MPs had town halls on the topic? How many press conferences were called by the opposition party leaders to use the bully pulpit and set the terms of the discussion publicly? How many front page news stories were written? How many network and cable news stories presented it?

Let me think of how many things in my casual observance got more attention from the nightly news than this

  • Trump, Trump, and more Trump
  • A new train
  • Minimum wage
  • Provincial party leader elections
  • Handshake styles of world leaders
  • Local crime reports
  • Weather
  • Hockey
  • Curling
  • (And I swear this is true) A woman getting arrested for climbing a construction crane

It was amazing to me that no one even bothered to name the vote. I hunted down the HOC description of the vote and it was “That the Third Report of the Special Committee on Electoral Reform, presented on Thursday, December 1, 2016, be concurred in.” 20 words and 124 characters. In today’s world of tweeting, that leaves 16 characters for adding color. Seriously? In the US, the pro side would have called this the “Make your vote count vote”, the “Saving multi-party democracy vote”, or the “No Trumps for Canada vote”. The anti-side would have called this the “Empowering extremists vote”. But, neither side did any creative marketing on this at all and the result was predictable, a win for the status quo and the will of the leader of the party in power.

I’m not saying that we should have American style hack and slash politics. In fact, of of the great things about PR, if enacted, would be the ratcheting down of rhetoric and the creation of incentives for parties to cooperate and compromise. But, something this big and this disruptive to whoever is currently in power needs to be really wanted and demanded by the people or it just can’t pass. There has to be not just a recognition that this is a good idea, but that it’s something that our collective future depends on. People need an greater awareness and much more emotional connection to what’s at stake.

I love that Canadian media and politics reflects the sober and (personally not politically) conservative nature of the country itself. It’s one of the reasons I’m here and not down in the US. But, we’re talking about passing something that is by its very definition against the short term interests of whoever has the majority of the power. That really does call for a different approach towards visibility and marketing of the issue.

I apologize again for the rant. And, I apologize for coming in late, not doing nearly as much work as anyone else on this list, and then seeming critical of the outcome. I’m still learning Canadian politics and may be wildly off base here. I am only taking the risk in writing this in hopes that maybe my outside perspective contains some nugget of insight that may be helpful for our next run at the issue.

Thanks so much for having me in the group. I’m excited for our prospects in the long term.

Take care,

You can participate in these discussions by e-mail by subscribing to the Fair Vote Waterloo Discussion mailing list.

Letter to the Editor: On the Motion to Concur with the Report of the Electoral Reform Committee

This letter was submitted to Waterloo Region Record, and printed on 27 May 2017. It does not appear to be on The Record’s web site.

Dear Editor,

I am writing to you concerning a coming motion in Parliament to “concur” with the Report of the Electoral Reform (ER) Committee. Traditionally such a vote has always been a free vote.

Voting to concur will allow the subject of ER to regain Parliamentary attention. 88% of the contributors to the ER process recommended Proportional Representation (PR) as Canada’s new means of choosing its MPs.

This report should not be ignored by MPs and allowed to simply collect dust. I hope that all our local MPs will take advantage of the chance to vote their conscience, ensure equitable representation for all Canadians by ending First Past the Post (FPTP) and vote in support of the motion to adopt the ER committee’s recommendations.

Just two short years ago the Liberal Party was in third place demonstrating that our fickle FPTP system is unstable and subject to emotional mood swings of the electorate. This causes many problems such as the Policy Pendulum, strategic voting, discouraged and disenfranchised voters, lack of long term planning etc.

With the growing danger of Trumpism spreading to Canada as evidenced in the platforms of several Conservative leadership candidates, we need to protect our country by introducing a cooperative government structure.

Yours Truly,

Donald A Fraser

There is a responsible path forward — Electoral Reform

In February, I wrote to my MP (Marwan Tabbara, Liberal) about electoral reform. He replied explaining that the Liberals abandoned their promise because:

1. Their preferred option was a ranked ballot. But they never wanted to lead in that directions because they “would have been accused, not without merit, as acting out of self-interest and of trying to rig the system”.

2. Didn’t pursue Proportional Representation because it didn’t receive enough support — despite the fact that the Liberal designed system of consultation received 80% and 90% supportive feedback for this option.

I replied, pointing out to him that:

1. If the Liberals were not going to lead towards a ranked ballot, it was never going to happen from the start.

2. If the Liberals don’t consider 80% and 90% support for PR (through a system they designed) as enough to pursue that option, it was never going to happen from the start.

3. If neither of those things were ever going to happen, the only remaining possibility is that they expected first-past-the-post to remain from the start.

This means that the Prime Minister’s promise that “2015 will be the last Federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post” was meant to mislead Canadians… from the start.

I’m sure, given that his own logic proves that this promise was meant to mislead from the very beginning, that he’ll be among the Liberal MPs who vote in favour of the NDP’s bill to this effect.

I hope everyone will write to their MP and encourage them to do the same.

Here is my complete e-mail correspondence with Mr. Tabbara:

From: Jonathan Cassels
Sent: February 8, 2017 12:49 AM
To: Tabbara, Marwan—M.P.; Trudeau, Justin—Député; Gould, Karina—M.P.
Subject: There is a responsible path forward — Electoral Reform

Dear Mr. Tabbara,

I am addressing this letter to you because you are the MP for my riding, but I am also sending this to other MPs who I believe may have an interest and may like the opportunity to respond (I very much hope they do).

Perhaps I should begin by mentioning that I am a constituent of Kitchener South and Hespeler, and also the initiator of a petition supporting electoral reform which has over 75,000 signatures. I understand it’s the largest petition ever on Parliament’s website, and many of the initial signers and promoters of that petition are people I know personally, who live here in your riding. I’m asking these questions for myself, but am sure the answers will be of interest to others.

I am writing to you to express my dismay with the sudden Liberal reversal on the issue of electoral reform. I supported the Liberal party in 2015 largely because of your promises on this subject, and I am unsatisfied with the explanations your party is putting forward to justify this change. I am hoping you can answer some questions about these explanations.

My first question is about the Prime Minister’s claim that a lack of consensus has stalled this issue. It seems to me that the stalling force isn’t a lack of consensus, it’s a lack of leadership. You and your party were elected to lead on the issues in your platform. Electoral reform was one of those issues. The most obvious way to lead on an issue like this is to make a proposal for how you believe electoral reform should work, which is something your party has never done. Without this effort, the Prime Minister’s comments have all the appearances of an attempt to blame Canadians for failing to follow, on an issue your party chose never to lead on. My question is, did your party truly believe that consensus would form without any attempt from the government to foster it?

My second questions also concerns comments made by the Prime Minister. In Parliament on Monday the Prime Minister said that we can’t proceed with electoral reform because “there were very many strongly held divergent views” on the subject. My question is what, specifically, are those “many divergent views”? Almost 65% of Canadians voted for parties which included electoral reform in their platform, and when the electoral reform committee elicited the input of Canadians, anywhere from 70%-90% of them (it varied with the method of feedback) were in favour of Proportional Representation. There are, of course, different types of Proportional Representation, but I have yet to meet a supporter of Single-Transferable-Vote, for example, which would not support a Mixed-Member-Proportional system if that was what was available. Almost without exception, these groups would happily support one another’s proposals, yet the Prime Minister made it sound like there’s a blood feud between the ” very many divergent” groups he mentioned. So, knowing that all the supporters of proportional representation (which appears to be a majority of Canadians) could be easily reconciled to one another, what exactly were the “very many strongly held divergent views” the Prime Minister mentioned?

Finally, some months ago, someone asked the then Minister for Democratic Institutions, Maryam Monsef, a question equivalent to; Why do we need electoral reform when the current system “has served this country for 150 years and advances a number of democratic values that Canadians hold dear, such as strong local representation, stability and accountability”. Her answer was that “first-past-the-post is an antiquated system” and that “we require an electoral system that provides a strong link between the democratic will of Canadians and election results”. And yet, now, that very quote which Minister Monsef answered so eloquently was spouted verbatim by her replacement, Karina Gould, she said the current system “has served this country for 150 years and advances a number of democratic values that Canadians hold dear, such as strong local representation, stability and accountability”. My question on this is, what changed? What happened in the intervening months which justifies moving from “we require a [new] electoral system”, to using the exact question she was addressing to support the status quo?

In fact, that’s the core of all my questions. What has changed between the time the Prime Minister first promised this change and today? Because it was clear from the start it would be a political fight. That didn’t change. It was clear from the there were numerous opinions on the subject. That didn’t change. It was clear from the start that electoral reform was supported by most Canadians. That didn’t change. The only thing which I can think of which changed is that the Liberal party went from a position where they would benefit from electoral reform, to one in which they may (in the short term) be hurt by it. Is there a less self-serving explanation than that?

My hope is that, while your party claims that there is no responsible path forward on electoral reform; your answers might show a responsible path forward for Canadians to continue to support the Liberal party. Whether or not that is the case will depend upon your answers.

I eagerly await your reply.


Jonathan Cassels
A well informed citizen

PS. I’ll be disappointed if all I receive in response to this is a form letter. I’ve seen the form letters other constituents have got from their MPs and they do not answer these questions. I realize that this letter is longer than most, and will take somewhat more time to reply in kind, but I have spent a great deal of my time getting Canadians engaged over an issue which the Prime Minister seems to believe they can’t be engaged on. Just yesterday, the Minister for Democratic Institutions, Karina Gould, said argued that it is “incumbant upon all political leaders” to foster exactly that type of political engagement. I think a thorough and direct response to the questions in this letter is exactly the type of fostering of engagement she was referring to. That in mind, I have no doubt you will live up to her definition of what a political leader should be. Thx.

On 9 February 2017 at 18:05, Marwan.Tabbara@parl.gc.ca wrote:

Thanks for your email, Jonathan.

I, too, am disappointed by our inability to move forward on the method of voting issue in the Electoral Reform file. I know this will disappoint many residents in the riding and in particular some who may have cast their ballot focused on this issue.

At the University of Guelph I studied different systems of voting around the world and graduated with a degree in political science. When I became a candidate in August 2015, I was excited about the prospect of putting that learning to use in fulfilling the platform commitment to change the way we vote.

One of the first stakeholder groups I met with after I was elected was Fair Vote Canada and the first Petition I presented in the House of Commons was a Fair Vote Canada Petition to undertake public consultations across Canada and amend the Canada Elections Act to ensure that the share of seats held by each political party closely reflect the popular vote.

I am not in Cabinet, and therefore cannot begin to detail everything that went into the decision to reverse our position on changing the way we vote, since I am not privy to those discussions.

It is clear that governments often must and do legislate without necessarily achieving consensus on an issue. While changing the way we vote does not require the kind of overwhelming majority support that constitutional change requires, I do believe it is within one or two steps below that threshold in requiring consensus. We have always been clear that major reforms to the electoral system, changes of this magnitude, should only be made if they have the broad support of Canadians. The support of a large and passionate minority of involved citizens would not be an adequate substitute for that broad consensus.

You suggest that we should have exercised leadership to help form a consensus. If we had led by advocating for our favourite alternative—ranked ballot or AV—we would have been accused, not without merit, as acting out of self-interest and of trying to rig the system in favour of being in government in perpetuity.

We took the only course really open to us, which was ministerial consultations, local town halls, and the creation of an all-party committee. The results, of course, were that those who were interested and involved enough to have an educated position on the issue—the large and passionate minority—came out in significant numbers and advocated for proportional representation. The parliamentary committee was split and the report didn’t provide at any clear position.

We made an attempt to determine the leanings of the people of Canada using modern psychographic segmentation techniques. Tens of millions of personally addressed postcards were sent out asking people to go online and answer a set of questions. Those questions were not intended to bluntly force people to decide among a set of options, but rather to determine how they felt about the features and likely outcomes of various voting systems. MyDemocracy.ca was destructively and effectively portrayed by opposition messaging as a useless and inept effort. Fewer than 400,000 people answered. I don’t know what analysis has been done with those responses.

I also note that parties of all stripes have failed to achieve this kind of reform in other Canadian jurisdictions. Referenda have typically resulted in defeat of reform. More recently local governments have been empowered to change the way citizens vote in municipal elections in Ontario. There has been no movement in that direction, due to lack of interest and/or possibly due to satisfaction with the current voting system.

I think you can imagine how embarrassing it is for our Prime Minister and our party and its MPs to climb down from such a definite election platform commitment. Clearly, it is politically damaging. Anyone can see that the political cost would have made this a difficult decision. Mr. Trudeau must have bad dreams of the next election derisively featuring insanely frequent opposition commercials showing videos of his statements of commitment to 2015 being the last election for first past the post. Disappointing a large, engaged and passionate minority is not something politicians do eagerly.

I accept the Prime Minister’s and the Cabinet’s explanation that they were looking at the broader picture. I believe that they were of the opinion that new challenges in the international trading and political environment and implementation of many other platform commitments would be impeded by further focus on changing how we vote, since there wasn’t a clear, common and well-supported path forward on electoral reform. I believe they saw this file as having the potential to disrupt all the other items on the government’s program.

I still would like to have an electoral system that better reflects the votes of Canadians, and I hope that we can eventually get there. For reformers, I think the lesson is that there should be a strategy shift to helping Canadians achieve a comfort level with alternative voting systems by achieving implementation at the local municipal and then provincial levels, before returning to the Canada-wide effort.


From: Jonathan Cassels
Date: Friday, February 10, 2017
Subject: There is a responsible path forward — Electoral Reform
To: Marwan.Tabbara@parl.gc.ca

Thanks for your response Marwan,

I wasn’t aware of your past work on electoral reform, I thank you for that. But I am still struggling to find coherence in your explanation.

I think it’s laudable that the Liberal party did not want to unilaterally bring its own preferred option into effect. However, a ranked ballot was the least popular electoral reform possibility among Canadians from the start. Perhaps Canadians might have rallied around it, if it had been advocated for strongly. However, if, as you say, the Liberals were never willing to lead in that respect, then it’s clear that no consensus (or even broad support) was ever going to form around it.

Proportional Representation, on the other hand, was the most popular option from the start. In 2015, 65% of Canadians voted for parties with electoral reform in their platform. In the consultations (largely designed by the Liberal Party) 80% and 90% of respondents preferred this option. If you do some basic arithmetic using those numbers, it suggests (at least the possibility) that a majority of Canadians support a proportional system. You claim to know that only a “passionate minority” of Canadians support this option. But there’s no data to support that. No polling. No referendum. No vote. And while the data we do have doesn’t prove majority support, it seems to justify at least putting the question to Canadians in a way which allows that support to be measured (something MyDemocracy.ca never did). The simple fact is that, unless you want to argue that 91% (as opposed to the 90% it received) of feedback needed to be supportive to justify moving forward, proportional representation cleared every reasonable hurdle. If the Liberals were not willing to proceed any further after the responses they received, then they would never have supported this possibility.

The problem is, there’s nothing left. If the Liberals weren’t going to lead on a ranked ballot, then you knew that would not happen from the start. If the Liberals weren’t going to pursue proportional representation any further, even when their own consultative process received as much as 90% feedback in favour of it, then they knew they would not allow that to happen from the start. The only alternative to those is the status quo. And the status quo is first-past-the-post. And if you knew the two possibilities which are not first-past-the-post could not happen from the start;

Then the Prime Minister’s promise that “2015 will be the last Federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post” was meant to mislead Canadians… from the start.

This logic is inescapable Marwan, and it all comes from your own statements on the issue. You’ve proven that the government meant to mislead Canadians. If I’m not mistaken, the opposition has introduced a motion into the house making this exact statement. It was debated this most recent Thursday, and is up for a vote this coming Tuesday. I trust, based on your own statements here which prove the motion to be correct in all respects, that you’ll be voting in favour of that motion, and add your voice to those asking that the government apologize publicly for abandoning this decision.


Jonathan Cassels
An informed citizen