Wednesday, January 11, 2006

I'm going to join up with Fair Vote Canada right now.

From: Trevor Smith
To: Wayne@FairVote.Ca
Subject: electoral reform


I came across your blog the other day and subsequently the fair vote website, and am I ever happy to see people advocating this. I'm going to join up with fair vote right now.

I took an interest in this after the last election while talking to a friend in Ireland who made a comment about how sad it was Canada still used first past the post, which got everything rolling for me.

So I did a bunch of research and started writing, and came up with a sizeable and I hope fairly comprehensive essay on the subject. I notice you said on your blog you don't advocate any specific alternative but I really think that if you're going to critique something, people want concrete plans for an alternative and why it's
better, and that's what I lay out.

I'm going to attach it, I just finished it a few weeks ago and it hasn't been edited. Any feedback you're willing to provide would be great.

I also have an extremely condensed version of it on my blog with my comments on the support of electoral reform by the major parties as well if you want to read that too, it's at

Thanks a lot,
Trevor Smith


Thanks for showing me your essay, and thanks for your support for Fair Vote Canada and for fair voting reform!

You can sign up online at www.FairVote.Ca, sign our petition, and make a donation.

I've had a brief look at your essay, and find it well thought out and presented. It certainly is "sizable and comprehensive", which unfortunately will make it hard to get people to read it. The version on your blog is more manageable.

I hope the following comments will be helpful.

"Let's face it; the Canadian electoral system is unfair, unrepresentative, and extremely antiquated. This is painfully clear to anyone who isn't a supporter of the Liberals or the Conservatives."

True enough, but the fact is that supporters of all parties are badly served by our current voting system because of the regional distortions. In fact, most wasted votes are cast for Liberals and Conservatives. Fair Vote Canada puts a great deal of care into avoiding casting voting reform as a 'small party' issue, or an issue that is all about what is good for any particular party.

"While it is important to provide a voice for people living in sparsely populated and rural areas, it doesn't seem fair that a riding with less than 20,000 eligible voters (Labrador) will have one MP, the same as a densely populated riding like West Vancouver/Sunshine Coast which has nearly five times the population. This essentially means each vote in Labrador counts as five votes in the overall electing of a government. In fact the second place finisher for West Vancouver in 2004 got more votes than there were eligible voters in all of Labrador, yet he doesn't get a seat."

This is, strictly speaking, a separate issue, although related. There are good reasons why we give extra representation to rural voters, and to the smaller provinces, and we will no doubt continue to do so under whatever system we finally adopt for Canada. There is no evidence that the PEI tail is wagging the Canadian dog.

However, PR will tend to equalize power between voters. Moreover, that fact that parties are represented in proportion to the votes they receive reduces the significance of the fact that some MPs represent more voters than others, and conversely that some voters are harder to represent for geographic reasons. This means, and it is a subtle point, that we will have much more flexibility in designing ridings, and can do a better job of making them comprise real geographic communities. This is especially true if the system we choose has multi-member ridings.

"Since FPTP is winner take all, coming second, even if by 1 vote, is the same as coming last, even if you only get one vote. Because of this, it's better for a party to concentrate their campaigning to their support base and make sure they win in the ridings they are strongest in, rather than spreading out and trying to get everyone in the country to vote for them."

Actually, it's worse than that. Parties pay no attention to the areas they are sure to lose, and not much more to the areas they are sure to win. All the money and attention goes to swing voters in swing ridings. I think somebody did a comedy sketch about that, where it turned out that the entire election hinged on the decision of one couple who couldn't make up their minds.

"An even more extreme example of punishing parties with broad national appeal is the 2000 election. The Liberals received 40.8% of the popular vote but ended up with a huge majority of 57.1% of the seats in parliament. The NDP managed 8.5% of the popular vote and ended up with 13 seats, or 4.3% of parliament. Now what's really interesting in this election was the Progressive Conservative Party. They got 12.2% of the popular vote, a fair bit more than the NDP, but only ended up with 12 seats in parliament, 1 less than the NDP. The reason for this was primarily the strength of the Canadian Alliance in Western Canada. The Canadian Alliance completely eroded PC support by focusing on more western issues, while the PC party maintained a national focus. The Progressive Conservatives ended up with a 205% penalty in translating popular vote to seats."

The worst example of all is the 1993 election, where the PC Party got almost the same number of votes as the Reform Party, but won only two seats, compared to the Reform Party's 52. But the Bloc Qu├ębecois got 54 seats and formed Her Majesty's 'Loyal' Opposition, although they finished in fourth place in terms of votes!

That's about all I've got time for right now, but I notice you don't seem to have touched on another major problem, which is that FPTP discourages diversity in candidate nomination and thus discriminates against women and minorities.

Much of your paper seems devoted to your own reform proposal. Fair Vote Canada doesn't get into designing or endorsing voting systems, which we feel is the job of the Citizens' Assembly or other citizen-driven process we end up with. When we get such a process, no doubt you'll want to make a submission. When you do, I encourage you to strive for brevity and clarity.

You've obviously put a lot of time and thought into this, and I encourage you to continue your reading. You'll find lots of good info, and links to much more, on our website.

Meanwhile, let's spread the word! We won't get a fair voting system until the people demand it.

Wayne Smith, President
Fair Vote Canada


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