Thursday, December 22, 2005

The blog so far

December 21, 2005

Ed is the new Ed

by Wayne Smith

Ed Schreyer, former Premier of Manitoba, former High Commissioner to Australia, and most notably former Governor-General of Canada, has announced that he will be running for the NDP in this election because it's "now or never" for him to speak out on democratic reform.

This means he will be filling the 'old warhorse' slot, recently vacated by Ed Broadbent, which has apparently become a regular feature in the NDP caucus. Perhaps the NDP would prefer to call it the 'elder statesman' slot. Or maybe we should just call it 'the Ed slot'.

Schreyer is concerned that power is too concentrated in the hands of a "presidential" Prime Minister.

"Whoever is working in the Prime Minister's Office, they surround him so he gets isolated," Schreyer said. "And then they start spooning him royal jelly until he becomes almost gorged on it."

This is why Canadian Prime Ministers and Premiers (and not just Liberals) are routinely described as "arrogant". Power corrupts every party, a sure sign of a systemic problem.

Like so much else, the roots of this problem lie in our winner-take-all voting system. Once a single party has a majority government and a monopoly on power (usually with the support of a minority of the voters), then as long as they enforce rigid party discipline, nothing bad can happen.

Parliament becomes irrelevant. Power recedes, not just into the Cabinet, but into the Prime Minister's Office, where unelected political advisors make the real decisions.

The Opposition is completely impotent, reduced to shrieking and bleating in the daily bad theatre known as Question Period, and desperately trying to dig up or fabricate some scandal to pin on the government, who generally don't pay much attention. Government backbenchers doze off, or weep quietly to themselves.

Proportional voting systems promote a more consensual style of government, coalition governments that represent a true majority of the voters and really do require the confidence of Parliament to stay in power.

A fair voting system unlocks the power, making the government accountable to Parliament and the legislators accountable to the voters.

December 19, 2005

Shoeless Steve Harper

by John Deverell

Stephen Harper has been in Québec, campaigning for people to vote Conservative to caste out the corrupt and arrogant Liberals and build a better, more unified Canada. But is this a serious effort?

Harper's Conservatives won only 8 per cent of the Québec vote last time. Most Canadians who read polls think the Bloc Québecois is on track to win 60+ of Québec's 75 seats. By calling for more Conservative votes in an first-past-the-post election is Harper really:
(a) trying to elect more corrupt and arrogant Liberals in Québec? or
(b) bullshitting, abandoning Québec, and preparing to dismantle the federal government in collaboration with the Bloc Québecois.

The clues are visible. Harper has consistently refused to consider a PR voting reform which would give Québec and other voters more nuanced choices. Instead he spoke today of how Québec should be separately represented at international conferences - a signal to Québec voters that he and the Conservative party will pander to the Bloc to get Harper into the Prime Minister's office.

Harper has not yet said whether he and Duceppe will let Ralph Klein's Alberta and Gordon Campbell's BC send separate representatives to international conferences.

John Deverell is Treasurer of Fair Vote Canada.

December 17, 2005

The NDP wants in

by Wayne Smith

Jack Layton managed to mention proportional representation twice in the French debate, and once in the English debate. Still, he missed a great opportunity when he was asked about western alienation.

One of the main problems with our current voting system is the way it exaggerates, and therefore exacerbates, our regional differences, and thus threatens our national unity.

Looking at the seat distribution in the House of Commons, you'd think that everybody in Alberta votes Conservative, everybody in Ontario votes Liberal, and most Québeckers are separatists. But this is an illusion created by the voting system.

Because of the winner-take-all nature of our current system, the strongest party in the region grabs all the seats with half the votes. Parties with regional concentration are rewarded, while parties with widespread support are marginalized. Whole provinces are shut out of government for generations. No wonder the west wants in.

Under a proportional voting system, almost every vote counts, no matter what party you support or where you live.

That's why Jean Chrétien said in a Calgary interview in 1984 that if he ever got to be Prime Minister, the first thing he would do would be to introduce proportional representation!

Somehow it must have slipped his mind after he got a majority government with 38% of the votes.

December 16, 2005

There's no business like . . .

by Wayne Smith

It's official. Politics is theatre.

With the content entirely predictable, the commentary on RDI after the French language debate was all about how the candidates presented themselves. And the next day on CBC Radio One, the analysis was done, not by political commentators, but by the theatre critic!

Stephen Harper's command of the French language left a lot to be desired. When one of the citizen questioners asked him whether he would swear on a Bible to keep his promises, he replied that he didn't understand the question, which was not the right answer.

The RDI commentators described his performance as "pénible", which is French for "robotlike and creepy". Actually, guys, he sounds like that in English too.

They were rather more impressed with Jack Layton, who managed to personalize his answers more than the others. However, they had already dismissed both Layton and Harper as "tourists" in the eyes of Québec voters.

As for the CBC drama critic, she said it was a bad play that we've seen before. When it was suggested to her that this was just a warmup for the exciting debate to come in January, she asked, "Is one of those people going to have sex?"

December 15, 2005

Harper misses the point

by Wayne Smith

The Conservatives have completely missed the point on democratic reform and are dodging the real issue. Stephen Harper's democratic reform package, announced yesterday, included no commitment to changing the way we vote to elect our MPs.

Surely the first thing we need is a fair voting system for Canada.

Ironically, the current first-past-the-post voting system has been the single most important factor keeping Mr. Harper's party from breaking through in Ontario and Québec.

In 2004, the Conservative Party got more votes in Ontario than they did in B.C., Alberta, and Saskatchewan combined, but they won only 24 seats in Ontario, compared to 61 in those three western provinces. In fact, their 300,000 votes in Québec elected no one at all in the last election, while 175,000 votes in Saskatchewan elected 13 Conservative MPs. Our voting system systematically marginalizes the Conservative Party while shutting the west out of power.

But Stephen Harper is hanging on for a phony majority government. He thinks this time it will be the Conservative Party that gets 40% of the votes, 60% of the seats, and 100% of the power. Mr. Harper had better wake up and smell the coffee.

Before a single ballot is cast in the upcoming election, we already know the outcome. Approximately six million voters will cast wasted votes that elect no one to represent them in Parliament. Some parties will get far more seats than their votes warrant, and others will win too few, or none at all. The resulting Parliament will not represent the electorate accurately, which means the resulting Government will not be accountable to Canadian voters.

Fair Vote Canada is calling on all parties to follow the lead of the B.C. and Ontario governments on electoral reform and establish a citizen-driven process that will allow Canadians to learn about modern, proportional voting systems and choose a fair voting system for Canada in a binding referendum.

We need a fair voting system now, and we need Canadians themselves - not politicians - to identify and choose the best system for Canada.

December 14, 2005

Beer & popcorn

by Wayne Smith

Ya gotta love it!

American elections are about bombs and blood. Canadian elections are about beer and popcorn.

Still, it's disconcerting when the mask slips away and the attitude of the Natural Governing Party towards its constituents stands revealed.

This is what happens when you have a winner-take-all voting system. Government becomes entrenched, and the irrelevant opposition slips into decrepitude.

It becomes virtually impossible to get rid of the government, even when they are wracked by scandal, because there is no viable alternative.

Believing themselves invulnerable, the government becomes increasingly arrogant and aloof, and ultimately corrupt.

We need a voting system that does not give absolute power to any party, but allows every party to have a place at the table and a voice that is heard. With a realistic chance to make a difference in the day-to-day operation of the nation, every party will have an incentive to be more responsible about what they promise and what they demand, and more civilized about how they deal with each other.

How can we hold government accountable unless every vote counts?

December 12, 2005

The perils of strategic voting

by Wayne Smith

Buzz Hargrove created a sensation at the very beginning of this soon-to-be-endless election campaign with a surprising call to his Canadian Auto Workers to vote for the Liberal candidate in ridings where the NDP has no chance of being elected.

This is not what Jack Layton wanted to hear.

But many voters feel compelled to consider the option of "strategic" voting because we are saddled with an antique voting system under which most votes are wasted on candidates who do not get elected, and voters are offered few real choices. However, there are some downsides that must also be considered.

1. Strategic voting is an abomination. If we had a fair and well designed voting system, voters would simply vote for the candidate, party, or leader they prefer and know that their vote would probably make a difference. No one would have to vote for the "lesser evil", and Parliament would truly reflect the political thinking of the electorate. The diversity of our communities would likely also be more accurately reflected.

2. Strategic voting is not even available to most of us. Most of us live in ridings that are "safe" for one party or another. Most of us know who will be elected in our riding before the votes are even cast. If you are not in a "swing" riding where there is a close race, then forget about strategic voting and vote with your heart.

3. Strategic voting is widely misunderstood and frequently botched. To some people, strategic voting just means "vote Liberal". In fact, the correct strategy is to decide which of the candidates in your riding actually has a reasonable chance of getting elected, and choose to vote for one of them. For some people, this will mean voting NDP. For some, it will mean voting Conservative or Bloc. For most, it will mean few choices, or none at all.

4. You could get it wrong. Although Canadian elections are lamentably predictable, you never know. Strange things happen in elections, and public opinion does change during the campaign. A prediction of defeat for your favourite party could be self-fulfilling.

5. Last, but certainly not least, votes trigger campaign financing for your party. The new campaign financing rules mean that every vote really does count, at least for $1.75. That's how much the party you voted for will get each year because you voted for them.

This makes a difference. For example, the Green Party now has a significant war chest, although their half a million votes last time didn't even come close to electing anyone.

But what's your vote really worth? This is the first election under the new rules, so frankly, we're not sure what's going to happen.

Here's the strategic voting dilemma. Should you cave in, hold your nose and vote for someone you can't stand, in a desperate attempt to make your vote count for something? Or should you vote sincerely, even when your vote probably won't affect the outcome of the election? You're damned if you do and damned if you don't-that is, until Canada joins the modern world and scraps our antiquated first-past-the-post voting system.

The solution is for Canadians to choose a modern, fair voting system that accurately translates the will of the voters, as expressed by the votes we cast, into seats in Parliament, and which will therefore allow us to hold government accountable. Most industrial democracies have been using proportional voting systems for most of the last century. Canadian voters too deserve a system designed to ensure that every voice is heard.

When will this happen? Not until it can't be prevented. People elected under the current system think that the current system is working just fine, thank you. One thing is certain-we won't have a fair voting system until voters demand it.

That would be you. Democracy is still, after all, a do-it-yourself project.

December 10, 2005

Canada Needs a Fair Voting System

By Wayne Smith

Canada has a voting system which exaggerates regionalism and threatens national unity.

Parties with regional concentration of support do well under the antique, winner-take-all system of voting we still use, while parties with national constituencies are marginalized by the voting system. If you're a Liberal voter in Calgary or a Conservative voter in Québec, well too bad for you. You'll never elect a representative to Parliament under this system. The Bloc Québecois hold the balance of power and the NDP do not, although the NDP have more than twice the votes. Half a million Green Party voters elected nobody in the last election.

Half the votes cast on January 23, 2006 will be wasted, simply because they favour losing candidates. A truly representative democracy would not scorn half the electorate every time out.

Most of us vote for people who don't get elected, so we end up with a government that most of us didn't vote for.

The next election results won't come any closer to accurately reflecting voter intentions.

We don't know the outcome of this or any election, but we do know this much-there will be a fresh crop of horror stories. Millions of votes will be wasted. We won't get the government we voted for.

During this election campaign, individual citizens can make a difference. Meet the candidates, from all parties. Ask them to stand up for democracy and let Canadians choose a fair voting system for Canada.

You can learn about fair voting reform at www.FairVote.Ca, join Fair Vote Canada, and take action for democracy.

Let's make this the last unfair election!

Wayne Smith is president of Fair Vote Canada, the national, multi-partisan citizens' movement for fair voting reform in Canada.



Blogger Wayne Smith said...


I am a FVC member here in Quebec. I feel handcuffed with the present system with
the polarization of the vote between federalist and separatist camps.

I truly believe a new voting system can best address the inequities in our

Until that time, I am further exasperated by the way people are not being smart
about how they vote...although they think they are.

In 2004, people in Saskatchwan were made afraid of Stephen Harper by the
Liberals. They were told to vote "strategically" by voting Liberal to avoid
electing more Conservatives...Saskatchwan was a two-way race between the NDP
and the Conservatives. The Liberals only had a real chance in one riding. NDP
voters, scared off, voted Liberal, which allowed the Conservatives to win all
but Ralph Goodale's seat....good strategy!

In Toronto, it was a two way race between the NDP and the Liberals. NDP voters
were told to keep the Conservatives away by voting Liberal. What they got was
more Liberals than they wanted.

I have set up a web discussion board in the hopes of getting more people aware
of this situation.

It is at

I have no advertizing and it is a non-partisan site devoted to informing people
of the unintended consequences of so called 'Strategic Voting'.

Please help me get the word out.

Jon Simon

2:18 p.m.  

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