Friday, January 20, 2006

More news from the trenches

Fair Vote Canada volunteers continue to dog the candidates across the country.

Did an interview on electoral reform for Trent Radio and have an article in this week's Arthur, the university newspaper. Letters have also appeared in the Peterborough Examiner and Peterborough This Week .We have attended all all-Candidates where we distributed material and raised the issue. I also had a chat with and gave literature to the Conservative candidate, who was totally in the dark about PR.

Mark Finnan,

Hi All,

I'm overdue for an update on my activities during the election so I thought it time to complete this particular "To Do" item. I'm going to focus on the Liberal and Conservative replies in the three debates that I have attended given that it is widely know where the Green Party and NDP stand on the issue.

Last night I attended the Weston Community Coalition debate in my riding of York South-Weston and handed out pamphlets to the large majority of those in attendance. I was glad that Wayne and Mala were also able to attend, and relieved that Wayne asked his PR question. The audience actually got a direct position from the Liberal MP Alan Tonks against PR, unlike the last debate where he only skirted the question by suggesting that it be "studied further".

I was also disappointed by his complete lack of credibility on the subject by suggesting that a change to the voting system was dangerous; a statement he also made last Monday. He does support an elected Senate and fixed election dates though. As an aside my mother was also in attendance and sitting next to Mr. Tonks' executive assistant who intelligently repeated the "dangerous" mantra of her boss. Thankfully my mother responded by informing her that Bill Graham and his wife appear to be very well versed on the subject and support it. This was the end of the discussion as she had no response.

The Conservative candidate also supported the idea just as he did last time but he also turned to the issue of Senate reform and an elected Senate as he did last Monday before I refocused him to get a direct position on PR.

I also attended the Bay Corridor BIA debate last Thursday. Of note was Bill Graham's support of PR and specifically MMP. I also had a great discussion with his wife who appeared to be a strong supporter of Fair Vote, commenting that she has the pamphlet on her fridge at home for her guests to read, and even asked for additional pamphlets to share with her friends. The Conservative candidate Louis Reford didn't answer the question for a lack of knowledge and instead turned to discussing an elected senate.

What impressed me most was Bill Graham's reply to my question, seeing that I made an effort not to mention PR. Although I was a little too cute with the question the fact that Mr. Graham gave a reply in support of PR and specifically mentioned MMP was more than I anticipated. It's remarkable how much influence a good woman can have on her husband.

Sincerest Regards,
David-Paul Sip

REPORT: Ottawa-Vanier
Colonel By Secondary School
Attendance: around 200 - 250

FVCers: Bob Bowes, Hank Walker, Stephen Woolcombe

The audience proved more receptive to the flyers we distributed than at U of O on the eleventh. There was a more varied demographic than at the previous debate, and the Colonel By students were interested and engaged in political issues as well. As before, no candidate mentioned PR during their initial presentation.

The first part of the debate consisted of six questions, many of them quite thoughtful and complex, prepared by some senior students from the school. After providing answers, the candidates were allowed rebuttals and could debate each others' points.

During these questions, some candidates mentioned PR!!! Ric DAGENAIS (NDP) was the first to bring it up in his answer to Q#1 about ethics in government. He said that there were systemic ills that caused poor ethical practices in government, and one of many pieces of the solution that he gave as examples was the adoption of PR. Later on Rafael THIERRIN (GRN) attacked the Liberal whistleblower legislation; Mauril BELANGER (LIB) defended it saying that all parties participated in drafting the legislation. No, said THIERRIN, the Green Party didn't, though if the system were proportional, 12 Green MPs would have been in parliament representing their views. This drew strong applause (and not just from us!)

But that's not all! Q#4: Would you support a free vote on same-sex marriage? Would you support it or not? After Paul BENOIT (CPC) said he supported a free vote in the House, THIERRIN questioned how a vote could possibly be "free" if a party with 35% of the vote could get 60% of the seats. THIERRIN mentioned PR again in his answer to Q#6 on the environment when he mentioned coalition governments and their ability to deliver sound environmental legislation, using windpower in Germany as an example.

These debates went overtime; when the public got to ask questions, the moderator only allowed the first five. Our own Bob Bowes was fifth! He asked Darryl Bandoro's question from an Ottawa-Orleans debate, repeated here for convenience:

"I'm a member of Fair Vote Canada, which is a national movement fighting to improve our voting system so that for once we can get the government we actually vote for. In Monday night's leaders debate all the candidates supported reforming our election system. Mr. Harper said the current system has 'serious problems', and Mr. Martin admitted that it absolutely needs fixing. Yet, last year the government was supposed to begin a report on election reform. It didn't happen. In the next parliament, will your party publicly commit to immediately start the process of consulting Canadians, so that by the next election our votes will really count?"

Some candidates had taken notes the day before and modified their answers:

1. Ric DAGENAIS (NDP)'s answer was similar to the previous day's, noting Ed Broadbent was on the committee trying to move electoral reform forward but that "he guessed" the Liberals slowed it down.

2. Paul BENOIT (CPC)'s answer was identical. I will cut and paste: the Conservatives will look at electoral reform through the lens of four principles: (1) that the MP-consituent link not weaken; (2) that ridings don't become too large; (3) that parties don't get too much control over lists; and (4) that electoral reform be subject to a referendum.

3. Mauril BELANGER (LIB)'s answer was a bit more accessible to the uninformed public, saying that he accepted the substance of the committee and that the Liberals are committed to a Romanow-style dialogue with Canadians, without pre-judging any electoral systems, but they are committed to the process. This drew applause.

4. Raphael THIERRIN (GRN) took notes the previous day and it showed. He said that MMP would satisfy all four of the CPC's criteria outlined by BENOIT, and cited New Zealand as an example. He too supported a broadbased consultative process formulated in a referendum. And MMP would result in better regional representation. Again, some applause, but weak.


Thanks to Darryl again for the question. The NDP and CPC answers were rote and virtually identical to the previous day's. BELANGER (LIB) changed his to be more accessible to the general public (his previous answer was targeted to the question and somewhat technical) and only THIERRIN (GRN) completed his homework assignment, so to speak, putting BENOIT (CPC) in an interesting position. It'll be interesting to see how they answer in the next debate.

Obviously it takes awhile to educate the public on the ins and out of PR and electoral reform. So the statement "We woulda had 12 seats if things were fair," can yield applause fairly easily, but throwing around terms like MMP is less effective from the candidates' point of view. Nonetheless, Bob, Stephen and I were pleased with our efforts.

Thanks again!!

Hank Walker,

Churchill Seniors' Centre (Ottawa Centre)

Not a long report this time. The place was packed--260-300 people, with some turned away--including Marianne! Mike Cassidy, Dave McNicholl, Jan Teevan and I were there.

We ran into some problems at the beginning. The organizers were unhappy that we were there, told us we couldn't hand stuff out, couldn't talk to people, couldn't put stuff on chairs....Anyway, you know me, and we ended up with a table, at the most advantageous location in the hall. It didn't prevent the President coming over to upbraid us, but a soft answer turneth away wrath. We gave away a ton of literature, and Mike Cassidy posed our question (I had secured a seat right by the microphone for him).

This caused one person to return our literature indignantly--I guess because Mahoney identified Mike as "a former MP from the NDP" --smooth move. Paul Dewar gave a much better answer this time than at the Glebe, focusing in on the Parliamentary committee, the Liberals' failure to move in October, and the necessity of citizen consultation. Bravo! Mahoney had dropped his "FPTP in the House and PR in the Senate" approach, which I now think was his personal "let's get rid of the notwithstanding clause" lightheaded moment. His position is now that the provinces should provide the leadership, in other words his original position 18 months ago. Questions were limited to two candidates only, so that's what we got.

Two more in Ottawa-Centre (I gather the Jewish Community Centre one tomorrow night is closed to the public, but if anyone knows differently, please let me know soonest): Carleton Heights Community Association (Friday night) and St Paul's (Saturday night). Details, Paul Dewar tells me, will be up on his website tomorrow morning.

Yours in electoral reform,
John Baglow

Hello All :

The other day I introduced myself in a concise way that seemed to have a good effect, it is a little different then what I've done in the past.

"Hi my name is _____ and I'm a volunteer for the Fair Vote Canada movement."

It is like of like saying, "Hi my name is Joe and I'm Canadian." That is, it identifies who I am, gets the Fair Vote Canada name in the question, and it kind of shows how, even invites others to be a part of this movement. I've heard that we have "MO" on this issue now (momentum), so let's go with it.

Kevin Peck,

Good one, Kevin!

I've also been learning the value of concision. I'm down to "I live in this riding (optional), and I'm one of the growing number of Canadians who are realizing that we can't hold our governments accountable because we don't get the government we vote for."

And congratulations on getting Bill Graham's signature on the Fair Vote Canada petition!


I just attended an all candidates meeting at the University of Guelph, and I asked about PR. All the parties were strongly in favour except the Liberal candidate, who didn’t attend, and the Conservative candidate (Brent Barr), who indicated his lack of support for pure PR but declined to comment on mixed-member plurality, which all the other parties (NDP, Green, CHP, Communist) supported. Subsequently, I was interviewed by a Guelph Mercury reporter, and I did my best to stress the importance of PR to Canada’s future.

Anthony Giordano

I have been handing out info at the All Candidates meetings. I have found that many people now know what we are talking about and are in favour. This is a real change from even 2 years ago.

Our Independant, NDP, Green, and Marijuana candidates all spoke in favour of PR, (and got applause) new Liberal knew little about it, new Conservative saw no need for it.

Thanks for your work..keep it up.

Betty Borg

As a supporter we wanted you to know that we talked to our local paper: Exeter Times Advocate about Fair Vote and today's paper has an article by the editor explaining what PR means. The FVC website is included in the article.

Exeter is a small town North of London , Ontario and has a pop. of 4600...........
Maybe if we all do our bit, the message will take hold?!

Keep the faith,
Ena de Haan

At lunch today, I and dozens of others attended the AGM of Northumberland Community Futures Development Corporation, for the annual update on how they are spending $1.5 million to create jobs, start small businesses, build community capacity and skills, etc. Of course our MP was there.

As I was leaving, I overheard a local businessman buttonholing our MP. He was very concerned about declining voter turnout. "Wouldn't rep. by pop. help? You know, so that every vote would count?" He meant proportional representation, as the conversation quickly confirmed.

Even people who don't know what to call it are for it.

I didn't know the man personally, and as I was planning my approach, he disappeared down the staircase. An opportunity to sign up a new member missed. Damn!

Wilf Day
Port Hope

(Volunteers handed out Electoral Dysfunction flyers at a rally in front of the CBC building in Toronto.)

Not hoards of people but almost everyone took a flier and appeared interested--these social justice types are a natual constituency I think--Some say it is preaching to the converted but I did not find that. One guy had been at an all candidates meeting in Beaches last night and said proportional representation got a good chunk of air time and then he asked for a quick explanation of PR. Was happy--I am sure he will want to know more later.

I talked to some cops (and there were piles of them to control what, I would like to know?)--I always like talking to them--they are virgin territory--they often know so little about democracy stuff--one guy, upon explaining distortions in our system said I didn't know to a teacher's ears!

June Macdonald

We had three of our members out at an All Candidates meeting for the Oakville Riding this evening that was sponsored by the CAW. We gave out brochures to everyone that entered the doors, repeating "Information on voting system reform". Most were very happy to receive the brochure.

I lined up to do a question on voting system reform, but somebody else, not in our membership, beat me to it. He used some of the comments that were in the brochure that had been handed out. The Green Party candidate and NDP candidate both used information from the brochure in their talks/answers in supporting proportional representation. The Liberal candidate was also in favour of proportional representation. The Conservative candidate said it is worth looking into, but it was clear that other democratic reforms would be their priority. He also stated that this would mean no more majority governments. To his surprise, a lot of people clapped when he said that.

When people were leaving, now that they had heard a little about proportional representation through an audience question, I chose to say, "Some more information on proportional representation," and presented them with the Fair Vote Canada tabloid. Very few said no thank you, and most were very pleased to receive more information.

Some other comments I received were:

- I know what it is; I want to know how it works
- It would work provincially, but not federally
- Wait for the successes provincially before you push for a referendum federally
- Do you have anything about Italy in that document? I bet you don't. (I corrected him and said we did).
- How big a region would Nunavut be a part of with proportional representation? It's already big enough.

Anyway, I must say, I was the first to say that I didn't want this election. However, I think PR has gained a lot of momentum, so maybe it was worth it after all.

Bronwen Bruch


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