Saturday, January 21, 2006

Proportional representation in the news

A couple of predictions

From: Wilfred A. Day
To: globe and mail letters
Sent: Friday, January 20, 2006 9:27 AM
Subject: a couple of predictions

I can't predict the result of the election, but I can safely predict two things.

Bloc Quebecois voters, who were 49% of Quebec's voters and got 72% of its seats last time, will be fewer this time but will get more seats. How weird is that?

Alberta Conservative voters, 62% of Alberta voters in 2004 with 93% of its seats, will get 100% of its seats, but be nowhere near 100% of its voters. What kind of democracy is that?

Let's make this the last unfair election. We need a voting system where every vote counts equally.

Wilf Day

Just thought I should report to you that Brian Gibb and John Trent had a terrific opportunity this morning to promote electoral reform during two hours on a pan-Canadian, bilingual, call-in TV show on CPAC for which we were the resident "experts". The question was, "Are you intending to vote and why. If not, why not".

There are many indications the vote will be higher on Monday. The viewers got a chance to hear more about PR etc for a longer time than they (or we!) ever imagined.

John Trent

Can Layton be trusted on vote reform?

from The Tyee's Election Central Blog

by Andrew MacLeod

NDP leader Jack Layton says the New Democrats won’t support a minority government, regardless of the party, without a commitment to electoral reform.

The NDP supports a Mixed Member Proportional system, he says, which combines local representation with an adjustment in the number of seats so that each party is represented in the 308-seat Parliament based on its share of the popular vote.

But if Layton’s promise sounds familiar, it’s because he said the same thing last time around. Despite a year and a half of propping up Paul Martin’s Liberal government, however, the NDP never pushed for a change in voting system.

That leaves Layton open to criticism. In an interview, Andrew Lewis, the Green Party candidate for Saanich—Gulf Islands said, “They didn’t do it. [Layton] can say anything he wants, you can’t trust him.” The Greens, by the way, support striking a B.C.-style citizens’ assembly to consider changes to the voting system.

What’s Layton’s explanation for the NDP’s failure to move electoral reform forward? “We came up two votes short so we weren’t able to impose that sort of condition.”

Read the whole article.

The above article originally appeared in the weekly "Monday". Here is a reply from Fair Vote Canada's Wendy Bergerud, an alumna of the BC Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform.

Thanks Andrew. I was at work today and only just got to read my mail. I'll forward this to Fair Vote Canada - they'll be very pleased to see you use their numbers.

I suppose that I should point out that the federal NDP did put more effort into this than you suggest. Ed Broadbent took the lead on this and there was a federal committee on electoral reform. Ed managed to get that group to recommend a process - it was to have two components - a citizens group and a group of parliamentarians. The citizens group was very weak, only being asked to determine their 'values' and then the parliamentarians would figure out how to 'interpret' this and recommend a system.

I finally found their report online -

Their minutes are at

Ed Broadbent and some FVC types (including Wayne Smith) had a press conference some time ago berating the government for abandoning their deadlines (I can't find a URL for that now) - the government hardly did anything. Although apparently they have put out request for proposals to get someone to find people around the country and interview them for a day about their values (sorry - don't know where I'd find that URL!). But they are way behind the agreed upon deadlines.

This federal committee interviewed Ken Carty (the assembly's political expert on March 10, 2005 and Gordon Gibson who prepared the assembly's constitution. The minutes are at (what horribly long URL's!).

In any case, part of Ed's question to Ken and Gordon:

"Second, the particular concern I have, and it's the opposite to what I thought was a virtue originally, is the exclusion of people with political experience in the citizens' assembly. Not only were active politicians excluded, but anyone, as I recall, going back two elections who had active political experience was also excluded. My point is this seems to me a little like designing a health care system without asking the participation of doctors and nurses, which, in that case, would be a serious mistake. Therefore, I think it's a mistake, and that's what I want you to comment on."

Apparently Ed was quite keen on BC's citizens' assembly until he realized that we were going for the 'wrong solution' - that is, we were choosing STV instead of MMP. So, while I am pleased with Ed's committment to electoral reform (which, apparently he will continue to work on, even after this election), I am unhappy that he doesn't really trust the citizens to design their own system and has preconceived ideas about what would be best.

Ken did have a good come-back: "That it was just like designing a medical system without consulting the doctors . . . well, without commenting on the state of the medical system now, I suppose if you want to reverse the analogy, maybe this was designing a medical system by consulting the patients." (something that maybe the medical system should consider doing!)

Still, I think that it is a fine thing to have the Green Party breathing down the necks of the NDP about electoral reform. The more people who get pushing, the more reasonable change is going to seem.


PS FVC's press releases are at In the last one FVC challenges the press to present electoral information more precisely.

Taking part

from BCNG - The News

Jan 20 2006

The title page of a 2001 study asks boldly a question that political scientists, and many citizens, have been considering for years now.

Is Canadian democracy in crisis?

The report, released after the 37th general election in 2000 by the Centre for Research and Information on Canada, was looking into the issue after the third straight federal election with declining voter participation.

From 75 per cent turnout in 1988 to 64 in 2000 (60.9 in 2001), CRIC looked into four possible reasons why people aren’t heading to the polls — the lack of competitiveness in elections, problems with a new voter registration system, changes in values held by Canadians, and rising levels of political disaffection or cynicism.

In the end, they confirmed the impact of the last two points.

“The challenge is to convince citizens that elections matter, either because their own votes make a difference or because their elected representatives do,” explains the paper in its summary closing.

Other academics who study this problem add other reasons to why the polls are seeing almost 40 per cent less than what should be there.

“The increasing disconnect between voters and their representatives in legislatures, the stream of promises not kept, the lack of ability for voters to hold governments accountable (other than simply defeating them at election time) has led to widespread disenchantment with formal politics, and less confidence in our democratic institutions and the sincerity of politicians to be sensitive to the population’s needs,” says Jackie Steele, a professor of political science at the University of Ottawa.

Read the whole article.

System needs fixing

from This Week
Jan 20, 2006

To the editor:

We face a very costly election because our employee team of hired/elected MPs didn't listen to each other, work and compromise, and work some more to get the job done.

What puzzles me is why we will hire the same people again. Shouldn't we hire a whole new workforce of folks who can work together?

To get better election results we need an election system that gives proportional representation. Not only does this system bring more voices to the table in fair representation but it could also nurture a culture of expectation of co-operative planning and problem solving. It may also lead to higher voter turn-out as those discouraged by the distorted results of the present system see some hope of having their priorities also considered.

A 30 per cent vote for party A would mean that party A would have 30 per cent of the elected members. This very rarely happens now for any party and never for all of them. Forty per cent of those who vote can elect a majority government.

The system we have has led to a lot of strategic voting and voters ignoring the big picture to vote on an isolated private priority. We need to be able to vote for a good plan for our country with which to face the next four years.

Ask the candidates what they will do to work towards a Canadian-built proportional representation election system. You might also ask if they are ready to work together this time for the common good or will we be back to wasting our tax money on another election in a few months?

Your vote gives $1.75 to the party of your choice. Even if that is the only result you can count on, vote and celebrate your freedom to do so.

Betty Borg


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