Friday, January 20, 2006

Fair voting in the news

Fair voting reform is being discussed at all-candidates' meetings across the country, and being reported on in the local press and major media. There are too many articles to report, but here are some samples.

from the eye-opener, Ryerson University

Indicative of his transformation into a more serious politician, Tindal says the health of Canada's democracy is more important to him than partisan ideology.

"Women aren't as represented in parliament as they should be, minorities aren't as represented in parliament as they should be, and those are all symptoms of our system that rewards the first person past the post, instead of actually looking at what the electorate says."

Near the end of his campaigning, Tindal spoke of proportional representation to a packed room at an all-candidates debate at Ryerson. As his party continues to rack in the popular vote, it struggles to have concentrated support and representation in the legislature. But Tindal says he would be in favour of proportional representation whether or not it helped his party.

"I'm cautiously optimistic against odds that we're going to figure this thing out and that's more important than anything else.

from the Whitecourt Star, Whitecourt, Alberta

Other issues, such as affordable housing and proportional representation in parliament were also addressed, as the NDP were on record for throwing their support behind for changing the electoral system.

Lapierre says the NDP would be changing the system, if elected. Love says there is a need for proportional representation because it doesn’t always reflect the popular vote with the current system. However, Merrifield highlights that this system has been used in other areas, such as New Zealand, which has caused problems. Wierenga and Schaefer were also in support of a new system, which would give smaller parties representation.

from the Shoreline Beacon, Port Elgin, Ontario

Robertson said an NDP government would be sure to take political power out of the hands of lobbyists. The NDP, Robertson said, would keep Senate appointments based on merit and not acquaintances. He added that MPs who wanted to switch parties would have to hold an election in order to change political suits.

Most significantly, Robertson said, the voting system would be changed by an NDP government to include proportional representation.

an editorial in the Brooks bulletin, Brooks, Alberta

Democratic reform: representative vote

Any mention of democratic reform during this federal election campaign and electors seem to take note. After all, use the term democratic and immediately people think the results of a subsequent reform movement will mean fairness, as can be best described by one person, one vote.

But when we consider any policy initiative on this subject that has been advocated by party leaders so far, we find there is little in the way of substance and even less when it comes to fairness. All Canadians really expect when it comes to elections is fairness which means that the resulting government should be representative of the vote. But what we get instead is just the opposite.

Fair Vote Canada president Wayne Smith points out that the current first-past-the-post system has been the single most important factor for keeping the Conservative party from breaking through in Ontario and Quebec.

For instance in 2004 the Conservative Party received more votes in Ontario than they did in B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan combined, Smith says, but they won only 24 seats in Ontario compared to 61 in the three western provinces.

“In fact, their 301,000 in Quebec elected no one at all in the last election while 178,000 votes in Saskatchewan elected 13 Conservative MPs.”

We can add to this that approximately 40 per cent of voters in Alberta’s last provincial election did not vote for Ralph Klein’s Tories and yet look at the majority they won.

Approximately six million Canadians will cast a vote this coming Monday and yet they will not elect someone to represent them in parliament. In the end, some parties will get far more seats than the number of votes warrant and others will win fewer seats than their votes say they should get. Some will not elect a single candidate even though they might receive close to a million votes across the country.

If we are to have true democratic reform there must be changes that result in a parliament or legislature that is representative of the vote. Ordinary Canadians, not politicians, should start this ball rolling.

from the Jasper Booster, Jasper, Alberta

Noel Lapierre -- NDP
What do you hope to accomplish, if elected?

The legacy of the years of Conservative/Liberal governments in Canada is alienation. That’s what really upsets me when I talk to people -- there is a serious disconnect with politicians. I am proud to support Ed Broadbent’s ethics and accountability package for that reason.

Ed wants to reform Canadian politics so that it works for people -- not against them, and not just for the politicians. To make your vote count I will push for a proportional representation system, to lead to a fairer distribution of seats in government.

from the Fort Frances Times, Fort Frances, Ontario

[Green candidate] Aegard said the best way to encourage people of all ages to vote would be to have proportional representation rather than the current first-past-the-post system.

“If we had proportional representation, the Green party would have about 15 seats,” he noted. “Then people would feel empowered to vote for who they want to vote for.

“You can have 21 percent of the vote and win every riding in this system. That is not right,” he stressed.

The Liberal party is the only one opposed to proportional representation.

Editorial in the Edmonton Journal:

Cutting a different deficit
The Edmonton Journal
Thu 19 Jan 2006
Page: A18
Section: Opinion

The last time Canada stood on the brink of political change, the deficit on everybody's lips was fiscal, not democratic.

If the Conservatives win power on Monday, will they have as much success eliminating the latter as Paul Martin had with the former?

And, just maybe, parlay that success into a long run in power the way the Liberals were rewarded for budgetary accomplishments that seemed impossible when they came to office in 1993?

Unfortunately for Stephen Harper's party, it may turn out he's stuck with the far tougher project.

A shortage of dollars you can count.

A shortage of democracy is a more nebulous, eye-of-the-beholder concept.

Depending on where you live, or what side of a particular issue you stand on, there may be sharp disagreement about what widens or narrows the deficit.


Finally, what about the House of Commons, a body that has its own unpopular distortions favouring Maritime and rural constituencies at the expense of urban ridings like Edmonton's?

What about a House of Commons in which it is perfectly possible for the votes of two-thirds of Albertans to fill 100 per cent of the seats, leaving fully one-third with nothing but the consolation they have contributed $1.75 to the party of their choice.

Traditionally in our first-past-the-post system, parties that win power and even majority governments, despite the fact that 60 per cent of people vote against them, have no interest in some form of proportional representation that would elect Parliaments more reflective of the public's preferences.

If he wins, therefore, nothing would reinforce Harper's credentials as a democratic reformer more than a willingness to break that pattern.

Op-ed in the Victoria Times-Colonist

Victoria Times-Colonist
Page A11
First past the post ignores voters' wishes
By Shoni Field

Our problem with federal elections in B.C. has always been attributed to seat distribution. The election is not usually close enough that we have enough seats to affect the outcome, and therefore the result is known before the polls close in B.C.

But we are, in all likelihood, heading into our second election night in a row where voters across the country will be watching what happens in B.C. to determine at the very least whether the next government is minority or majority.

Are we anticipating waking up happy on Jan. 24? Nope, don't think so.

Why not? Well, it turns out that having the outcome undecided until our votes are counted is not the same as having our vote count. The same issues that led a majority of British Columbians to vote for the single transferable vote last May hold true federally.

The "first past the post" system distorts our preferences, wastes votes, arbitrarily marginalizes small parties and new ideas and unfairly turns minorities of votes into majorities of seats and monopolies of power. Under our current system, voting is a minimal form of democratic participation.

As an example of how little it matters what any single one of us does at the polling booth, only about 66 of the 308 federal seats are considered too close to predict in the last week. Granted, a disproportionate amount of them are in B.C., but there is still not enough to get excited about.

So around 15 of B.C.'s 36 seats are still considered to be "in play" -- that represents roughly 42 per cent of eligible voters, of which only about 63 per cent will turn out on election day. These figures mean that only about 26 per cent of eligible British Columbians have the potential to actually affect the outcome with their vote. Far fewer will vote for somebody who is elected.

Not surprisingly, first past the post -- a system that evolved from a series of power holders begrudgingly giving up just enough power to prevent a revolution -- does not serve the needs of the voters.

Like those that have gone before, the 39th Parliament will have been elected under a system in which the voters are largely irrelevant. The job of an electoral system is supposed to be to allow voters to choose who represents them. If the result does not reflect the intentions of the voters, then the electoral system has failed. First past the post fails us at this most basic level.

The B.C. Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform was historically unique in giving the decision of how we elect our representatives to voters. BC-STV was crafted by ordinary people after they listened to thousands of other ordinary people, and then endorsed by a majority of B.C. voters in referendum.

The rest of Canada, and jurisdictions around the world, watched what we did and are learning from our process. We were leaders, and we can be leaders again. The rest of Canada shares our antipathy to the current election. In the coming months there is an opportunity for British Columbians to lead the call for a system that will allow us to escape this cycle of voter-irrelevant elections.

We might not anticipate waking up happy on Jan. 24, but we can plan to wake up with a mission. Let us plan to make you and me, the voters, relevant when we elect our 40th Parliament.

Shoni Field is a director of Fair Voting B.C. and was a member of the B.C. Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform.

editorial in the York Region Era Banner, Newmarket, Ontario

Proportional voting provides better voice

Jan 19, 2006

Name a local priority on which you would concentrate if you are sent to Ottawa Jan. 23, a voter asked hopefuls in Thornhill during an all-candidates meeting last week.

It wasn't as much a question as a plea that came after 90 minutes of candidates regurgitating party lines, interspersed with shots at opponents and their leaders.

Let's face it, with few exceptions, most voters cast their ballots for a party or its leader. Local candidates are most often viewed as the embodiment of national party policy.

There's nothing wrong with casting your ballot for the party, rather than the candidate.

The problem is with our electoral system.

And despite a grassroots campaign that appears to be gaining momentum, no one is rushing to fix it.

The solution is proportional representation.

Politicians always seem to support the concept in principle but, like Senate reform, no one ever seems to act on it.

In a nutshell, parties win seats in the legislature in proportion to their share of the votes cast. A party that receives 25 per cent of the national vote should occupy 25 per cent of the seats in Parliament.

It's a proven system that has been in use in European nations and others around the globe since the beginning of the last century. New Zealand switched to mixed member proportional representation in 1993.

The idea is being promoted by groups across Canada, including Fair Vote Canada, a multi-partisan citizens' campaign for voting system reform.

The organization makes a good case, referring to the June 2004 federal election in which more than 500,000 votes were cast for Green Party candidates across the country, yet not one was elected. Meanwhile, fewer Liberal voters in Atlantic Canada alone elected 22 MPs.

Also during the last election:

· The Liberals garnered just 7 per cent more of the popular vote than the Conservatives -- 36.7 per cent versus 29.6 per cent -- but ended up with 35 per cent more seats in the House.

· Even though the NDP recorded more of the popular vote than the Bloc Québécois, they won just 19 seats versus the Bloc's 54.

It's similar to what prompted the move toward change in New Zealand: back-to-back elections in which the National Party retained power by winning more seats in Parliament despite the opposition Labour Party earning more votes across the nation.

Backed by a committee of prominent Canadians, including former Ontario Lieutenant Governor Lincoln Alexander and York Region Newspaper Group columnist David Suzuki, Fair Vote Canada last week called on our next government to initiate a public consultation process on government reform and hold a referendum, allowing Canadians to decide on the best voting system.

"It's time to stop dodging the issue," said Wayne Smith, president of Fair Vote Canada. "The 60 per cent of the electorate who still vote are about to go to the polls again. We will try to elect a representative Parliament and we will fail because the voting system will distort what we say."

If we're voting along party lines anyway, let's adopt a purer system that better reflects what voters really want.

Proportional representation would lead to a House of Commons that's more in line with the way Canadians vote than does our current first-past-the-post system.

It would also drive up voter turnout, experts say, as it means a vote for a party other than the big three would no longer be considered a protest vote. It would count as much as one cast for the Conservative, Liberal or NDP would.

We choose the way we are governed. It's time we chose a better way to elect those who represent us.


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