Wednesday, January 18, 2006


In an open letter to CBC, CTV, Canwest, the Globe and Mail and Maclean’s, Fair Vote Canada today challenged the national media to follow five guidelines for their coverage of next week’s election results.

“We urge the media to take these steps to eliminate erroneous and misleading coverage of this critically important national event,” said Wayne Smith, President of Fair Vote Canada.

“When covering past elections, the Canadian media have focused almost exclusively on what the voting system produced rather than what voters said with their ballots,” said Smith. “Unfortunately, their core assumption – that the results reflect what voters said – is simply wrong. “

“Media professionals are expected to look behind the curtain for the real story,” said Larry Gordon, Executive Director of Fair Vote Canada. ‘We call on Canada’s leading national media to do that on election night by applying the following five guidelines to their election coverage.”

1) Anchor your commentary and analysis on what voters have actually said with their ballots, rather than blindly reporting the number of seats won by each party.

For example, in the last election, the NDP won far more votes than the Bloc. If the voting system treated all voters equally, the NDP would have had more MPs than the Bloc, but the voting system gave the Bloc nearly three times as many seats. When reporting on the seats won by each party, the media should provide a parallel report on how many seats each party would have won if every voter had an equal vote.

2) Do the same for provincial and regional results.

In the last election, the media reported the Conservatives “swept” 26 of 28 seats in Alberta. In reality, nearly two out of five Albertans voted other than Conservative, but the voting system gave those voters only two out of 28 seats. Journalists should not make sweeping statements about Albertans, Ontarians and others, as though seat results reflected the way they actually voted.

3) Provide fair, balanced and accurate commentary on the treatment of voters supporting each party.

In 2004, election commentary noted the “failure” of the Green Party, which won more than a half-million votes. But election analysts provided no comparative commentary on how other groups of partisan voters were treated by the voting system. For example, fewer than half-million Liberal voters in Atlantic Canada elected 22 Liberal MPs. Election analysis should include a comparative scorecard on how the voting system treats the voters of each party and to what extent it diverges from voter equality.

For example, in the 2004 federal election:

The Bloc Quebecois elected one MP for every 31,113 votes.
The Liberals elected one MP for every 36,905 votes.
The Conservatives elected one MP for every 40,601 votes.
The NDP elected one MP for every 111,969 votes.
The Green Party elected zero MPs for 582,247 votes.

4) Provide an efficiency rating for the voting system.

Citizens cast votes to elect their Parliamentary representatives. But how efficient is the system? Give viewers and readers the answer by providing an election night and post-election analysis of the number of effective votes (votes that elected MPs) and wasted votes (those that elected no one) for voters in each province and the nation. Provide comparative electoral efficiency figures for other democracies. Offer commentary on the implications for democracies whose voting systems waste an average of 50% of all votes, compared to those with 5% or fewer wasted votes.

5) Do not make inappropriate and erroneous statements about winners and losers.

Based on the issues noted above, it follows that traditional descriptors of the winners and losers must be scrapped. Do not state that a party receiving far less than a majority of votes has received a “mandate from the people”. Do not state that the “voters have spoken” when referring to seat results. Do not make exaggerated and erroneous statements about regional political preferences based on seat allocations.


Blogger Wayne Smith said...

Hi Larry and Wayne:

Congratulations on this message to the media. If, hopefully, it is picked, up we will have meaningful information on the meaning of the vote in Canada under the present archaic and anti-democratic system!



[Meyer Brownstone is a prof emeritus at U of T, former chair of OXFAM Canada, and one of the most active guy in his mid 80s you can imagine.


6:09 a.m.  
Blogger Wayne Smith said...

Larry and Wayne;

This piece is EXCELLENT!

I’m glad that I joined – please keep up the good work!


"The biggest problem with email communication today.... the assumption that it has actually happened!"

6:10 a.m.  

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