Jason Kenney on Proportional Representation

“Does he have any regard at all for the fact that Canada is now the only multiparty advanced democracy in the world that has a system of voting designed in and for 16th century England when candidates really were non-partisan candidates elected for the purpose of representation?”
Jason Kenney, Alliance MP for Calgary Southeast, AB
February 20th, 2001 / 4:15 p.m.

The other night at the annual Fair Vote Waterloo Holiday Get-Together, there was some speculation about the upcoming Alberta election in which Jason Kenney seeks to reclaim the Alberta Government for his new incarnation of that province’s provincial Conservatives. I was surprised to discover not everyone was aware of Mr Kenney’s strong support of Proportional Representation back in 2001.  [Read Jason Kenney’s whole statement here.]

Proportional Representation is not and has never been a partisan issue.  It only becomes so when a party championing PR gets elected to disproportional power in a winner-take-all political system.  When that happens, the party starts to rethink the wisdom of adopting electoral reform to a voting system that will limit their future power to what they can earn in votes.

At the time Mr Kenney demonstrated his considerable understanding of Canada’s need for Proportional Representation in the Parliamentary debate referenced above, he was an elected Member of Parliament from a regional Alberta party that didn’t (and wasn’t likely to) achieve winner-take-all false majority power any time soon with First Past The Post.

Mr Kenney was initially elected as a federal Reform Party of Canada candidate. Until the Reform Party morphed into a the Canadian Reform Conservative Alliance. That’s where he was when he spoke in that 2001 debate. But although the Alliance was able to gain regional traction and win disproportional power in Alberta in a First Past The Post System (much as the Bloc Québécois could in Québéc) he understood that before his party could hope to form government, Canada would need Proportional Representation.

Naturally, the Liberals who held phony majority power under PM Chrétien at the time did not like the idea of Proportional Representation, which would prevent future false majority power by limiting their power in government to what they could actually earn in votes.  Jason Kenney was not alone, in this, there was a lot of support for PR within the Canadian Alliance, up to and including Stephen Harper.  But the parties enjoying disproportional power are never very likely to make voting fair.

The Canadian Alliance had the power of regional concentration without much hope of forming government, while the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada could barely win any seats yet owned the name of one of Canada’s alternating governing parties, so the two merged into the Conservative Party of Canada.  Naturally with its own false majority, suddenly electoral reform was no longer something this new/old party wanted any party of.

During the Harper Government’s decade in power, Canada’s federal Liberals slipped to third place for the first time in history.  So Justin Trudeau ran on a platform of Electoral Reform, but Mr Trudeau’s appetite for electoral reform evaporated with his own false majority.  The BC Referendum was lost by the BC NDP who are convinced they’ll be re-elected, this time with a false majority of their own.

This may sound like bad news, and indeed it is in the short term, but the reality is that more and more Canadians are learning what Proportional Representation is, and just as important, why we need it. And because of this, Proportional Representation just isn’t going away.

Defenders of the Status Quo have been able to stave off Proportional Representation for so very long is because most of us have little experience or understanding of anything but winner-take-all politics.   The fact that 90+ countries use some form of PR is a blessing because there is so much information about how Proportional Representation works.  But it’s also a curse, because detractors can cherry pick the elements or examples of the application  of PR that will make it look the worst.  Because Canadians have so little or no understanding or experience of PR, when they spread misinformation most of us don’t even know they’re talking nonsense.  The moment any province adopts PR, we will see for ourselves that the sky doesn’t fall, and suddenly it will become much harder to sell us misinformation.

The issue is very much alive in Quebec and PEI, (soon to hold another Proportional Representation Referendum)  and Ontario’s Premier Ford is reminding Ontarians why a fair voting system is so important.

Not long ago the UK’s electoral reform referendum failed to even offer Proportional Representation as a choice. When it failed, the powers that be claimed this meant citizens were happy with the way things worked.  And the next referendum gave them BRexit.  Except the people didn’t think so.  Which is why Proportional Representation is back on the table there, too.   And why there is a new John Cleese Proportional Representation video.  Enjoy.

Laurel L. Russwurm

Holiday Greetings from @FairvoteWRC

Star sculptures suspended from the ceiling in the Kitchener City Hall Rotunda

Stars at Kitchener City Hall

Hello FairVoting Friends,

On behalf of the board of directors of the Fair Vote Canada Waterloo Region Chapter, I would like to take this time to wish you and the ones you love all the very best for the holiday season and a very Happy New Year.

Best wishes,
Sharon Sommerville
for FVC-WR

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,

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