Saturday, January 07, 2006

All-candidates' debate, Toronto Centre

I went to my first election debate last evening, in the riding of Toronto Centre. The incumbent is Defence Minister Bill Graham, who got 30,000 votes last time, more than double those of his nearest opponent, NDP Michael Shapcott, who nevertheless is back to try again.

I was nimble enough to get to the mike in time to ask a question. While standing in line, I had lots of time to consider my approach. This is the most downtown riding in the country, and the questions ahead of me were about transgendered and bisexual rights, gay marriage, gun violence, and racism.

My question went like this:

I am not a member of any political party. I am a member of an organization called Fair Vote Canada, which is a national citizens' movement to change our voting system so we can get the government we vote for, for a change. ( This drew applause, as it always does.)

It has already been mentioned tonight that the candidates do not reflect the diversity in the riding, and our Parliament does not reflect the diversity of our nation. We do not have enough visible minorities in Parliament. We do not have enough Aboriginal people. We have 21% women, a national disgrace. There are forty modern democracies that have more women in their legislatures than we do, and every one of them has a proportional voting system. (Well, almost. See my comment below.)

What I need to know from the candidates, and I need especially to hear from Mr. Reford (Conservative) and Mr. Graham (Liberal), is what your parties will do, and in particular what will you do personally to ensure that Canada gets a modern, proportional voting system that affords voters real choices, and will allow us to hold government accountable?

The Conservative danced around the question and talked about how they endeavour to achieve diversity in their nomination process while allowing the local constituency association to pick the candidate. He neglected to mention that they have only 11% women candidates.

Bill Graham allowed as how he was once opposed to proportional representation, but his wife has been on his case about improving representation of diversity. He has discovered the German system and now thinks that there may be ways to "solve the problems" associated with PR, so he is "willing to consider" changing the voting system.

After the meeting, I thanked him for agreeing to consider proportional representation. He passed me off to his wife, so I pointed out to her that our current system is endangering national unity because the balance of power is held by separatists, not because of the votes they receive, but because of the way the voting system works. I also pointed out that with a fair voting system we might be able to elect some Liberals in Alberta, and I told her that Jean Chretien had once said that if he were ever elected Prime Minister, the first thing he would do would be to bring in proportional representation, but it must have slipped his mind.

I also spoke to the Conservative candidate, a nice young fellow who had handled himself well in a tough room. I pointed out that it is conservative voters and conservative parties who are the chief victims of our current voting system, and I reminded him that Preston Manning got a quarter of the votes in Ontario, but couldn't elect anybody because of the way the voting system works.

He expressed concern at the enormity of the task of getting Canadians to endorse fundamental change, and I agreed that we have a huge job of education ahead of us because most Canadians still don't know that there are other ways to vote. I told him our message is that we have choices.

I also pointed out that if we had a proportional voting system, they would not have had to unite the right. The PC Party and the Reform Party could have remained separate and worked together in coalition governments. I explained that countries with proportional voting tend to have stable, effective coalition governments that represent a true majority of the voters and truly have the confidence of Parliament.

When he asked what system we were proposing, I told him that we weren't in the business of designing voting systems, and that what we were asking for was a process of public education and consultation leading to a referendum. He agreed that we should let the people decide.

The Green Party and Communist Party candidates also spoke well and mentioned PR in their opening remarks. Michael Shapcott for the NDP knows his stuff and spoke out for PR when asked.

There were several Fair Vote Canada volunteers in the room distributing our flyers. In all, there were several hundred people at the meeting, and a lot of them went home with Fair Vote Canada literature. I think we had a good evening.


Blogger Idealistic Pragmatist said...

Wow! I hope ours go as well here in Edmonton.

10:25 a.m.  
Blogger Annamarie said...

Good stuff, Wayne!
Thanks for the 'go-ahead' with your post. I've just reposted it on my site, with several links to yours. You'll notice that I put a little note on the bottom: I had just finished watching the candidates in my riding of Brampton-Springdale debate on Rogers Cable 10. The two who mentioned PR were: Anna Mather (NDP) and Ian Chiccio (The Green Party). They mentioned they were for PR , so I mentioned this on my blog. They mentioned this without any questions being asked by the panel. I guess they received my email asking them about PR. I sent it to ALL the candidates, but only these two responded positively.

Hopefully, people are finally starting to pay attention to the importance of PR to make our system truly 'democratic'! To educate the public, we must keep handing out FVC flyers wherever we can!

I've linked to your post on my site:

Take care,
Annamarie Deneen

7:34 p.m.  
Blogger Wayne Smith said...

"every one of them has a proportional voting system"

This was a bit of oratorical hyperbole, which is completely different from a lie.

According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, as of November 30, 2005, Canada is ranked number 42 in terms of percentage of women in national assemblies, at 21.1%.

Because of the way they count ties, there are actually 45 countries ahead of us on the list.

Of these, 27 have fully proportional systems.

Five more, #19 Seychelles, 29.4%, #21 Andorra, 28.6%, #33 Tunisia, 22.8%, #36 Lithuania, 22.0% and #40 Pakistan, 21.3%, all have semi-proportional parallel systems. Close enough.

Only #24 Grenada, 26.7%, #30 Uganda, 23.9%, #34 Saint Vincent & the Grenadines, 22.7%, #39 Tanzania, 21.4%, and #41 Ethiopia, 21.2%, use First-Past-the-Post.

#7 Cuba, 36.0%, #20 Belarus, 29.1%, and #22 Viet Nam, 27.3% use a two-round majoritarian system.

#27 Australia, 24.7%, uses a preferential majoritarian system, but does have a proportionally elected Senate.

#32 Laos, 22.9%, uses block voting, a majoritarian nightmare, but it does require the use of candidate lists.

#22 Afghanistan, 27.3% and #36 Eritrea, 22.0% don't hold direct elections at all.

I don't know how #25, Timor-Leste, 25.3% elected its assembly.

Except for Cuba, every country with at least 30% women has a fully proportional voting system.

8:13 p.m.  

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