A blog to give a voice to our concern about the continued erosion of our democratic processes not only within the House of Commons and within our electoral system but also throughout our society. Here you will find articles about the current problems within our parliamentary democracy, about actions both good and bad by our elected representatives, about possible solutions, opinions and debate about the state of democracy in Canada, and about our roles/responsibilities as democratic citizens. We invite your thoughtful and polite comments upon our posts and ask those who wish to post longer articles or share ideas on this subject to submit them for inclusion as a guest post.
Contact us at democracyunderfire@gmail.com

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Electoral Reform Report Solves Nothing.

A special all-party committee is recommending that the Trudeau government design a new proportional voting system and hold a national referendum to gauge how much Canadians would support it. .........
The report does not recommend precisely how a referendum should be conducted or how many electoral options Canadians should be asked to choose among, other than to say that the existing system should also be on the ballot, along with the government's proposed new model. ............
The majority report acknowledges that the "overwhelming majority" of testimony the committee heard from almost 200 electoral experts and thousands of interested Canadians was in favour of proportional representation.
In the end, though, the report does not recommend a specific proportional voting model. .........
The report also says that whatever proportional model the government designs, it should not involve MPs being chosen from closed lists supplied by the parties, which the committee says would sever the connection between voters and their MP.

And that pretty much sums up the entire report.............!!

The first 150 pages or so summarize the testimony of some of the experts, some of the other submissions and the history of electoral systems as well as the consideration of Mandatory Voting and Electronic Voting (neither of which was recommended) in Canada and has little that those of us who have been following along did not already know. All that information is available in full on the ERRE site. At page 141 to 165 it examines to process to accomplish reform and what constitutes broad consensus, the referendum question and continues to summarize the various opinions on the subject placed before the committee. Finally at page 165 we come to the 13 “recommendations” included in the Majority Report. The remainder is taken up with lists of reports and the name of those contributing to the discussions in one way or another. The final few pages outline the Minority reports of the NDP, Greens & Liberals.

I have cherry picked a few extracts that caught my attention, for a fuller coverage of the report you will have to wade through the entire 333 page report (4835K PDF)

Majority Report
Recommendation 1
The Committee recommends that the Government should, as it develops
a new electoral system, use the Gallagher index in order to minimize the
level of distortion between the popular will of the electorate and the
resultant seat allocations in Parliament. The government should seek to
design a system that achieves a Gallagher score of 5 or less.

Recommendation 2
The Committee recommends that, although systems of pure party lists
can achieve a Gallagher score of 5 or less, they should not be
considered by the Government as such systems sever the connection
between voters and their MP.

Recommendation 11
The Committee recommends that electoral system reform be
accompanied by a comprehensive study of the effects on other aspects
of Canada’s “governance ecosystem”, namely:
 the relationship between, and operations of, the legislative and
executive branches of government;
 the relationship between, and operations of, the House of
Commons and the Senate;
 parliamentary procedure and conventions related to government
formation and dismissal;
 the impact on the operations of political parties.

Recommendation 12
Observation: The Committee acknowledges that, of those who wanted
change, the overwhelming majority of testimony was in favour of proportional
representation. The Committee recognizes the utility of the Gallagher Index, a
tool that has been developed to measure an electoral system’s relative
disproportionality between votes received and seats allotted in a legislature, as
a means of assessing the proportionality of different electoral system options.
The Committee recommends that:
 The Government hold a referendum, in which the current system
is on the ballot;
 That the referendum propose a proportional electoral system that
achieves a Gallagher Index score of 5 or less; and
 That the Government complete the design of the alternate
electoral system that is proposed on the referendum ballot prior to
the start of the referendum campaign period.

Recommendation 13
The Committee recommends that Elections Canada should produce and
make available to the public materials describing any option, including
maps depicting potential electoral district boundaries applicable under
that option and sample ballot design, prior to the start of the referendum
campaign period.

Supplementary Opinion of the NDP and the Green Party on Electoral Reform: (extracts)
While the committee did not adopt specific electoral systems within its report, we
believe the government would benefit from some specifics. We believe the government
should consider adopting one of the following models.......
Mixed-member proportional representation (MMP), with 2/3 of the House of
Commons elected to represent direct constituencies, and 1/3 elected as regional
compensatory members. Regional compensatory MPs may be elected from an
open list, flexible list, as recommended by the Law Reform Commission, or they
may be elected as “best runners-up”, as per the Baden-Württemberg system.
Open and flexible lists have the benefit of letting voters choose. The BadenWürttemberg option has the benefit of forcing all candidates to be scrutinized and
supported by voters every election in order to win their seat. Compensatory seats
would be drawn from territories, provinces, or sub-regions within provinces. As
such, since it would not affect current riding boundaries, a full riding redistribution
would be unnecessary.

NOTE In order to implement an MMP system in Canada, one of the following would have
to occur:
 Maintain the current number of MPs: the number of constituency MPs would
be reduced to allow for the addition of compensatory MPs. Consequently,
electoral districts would become larger in terms of population and geography.
 Increase the number of MPs: electoral districts would remain the same
and a set number of compensatory seats would be added to the existing
338 members.

Rural-urban proportional representation (RUP), as first elaborated by former
Chief Electoral Officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley, in which current riding boundaries
are maintained, but current urban ridings are clustered into multi-member ridings
of three to five MPs. To minimize the level of distortion between the popular will
of the electorate and the resultant seat allocations in Parliament, in 2019, the
government should add an additional 50 seats for regional compensatory MPs.
NOTE Fair Vote Canada describes the system as follows:
1) Multi-member ridings in the urban areas (which could be elected with a
ranked ballot - STV - or an open list)
2) Single member ridings in the rural and small urban areas (which could also
be elected with a ranked ballot – or by first-past-the-post)
3) A small layer of regional top up seats to make the overall results in the
region proportional (an idea borrowed from Sweden, where these are called
“adjustment seats).

Supplemental Report of the Liberal Members (extracts)
Darrel Bricker of Ipsos Research testified that a
neutral question about a national referendum indicated that 49% of Canadians were in
favour, while 51% were opposed to the idea. When the question was engineered to
reflect positively on a referendum, 55% of people indicated a supportive stance. This
reinforced a commonly-accepted conclusion: that polling results can be influenced by
how the question is framed.
This leads to a concern with material presented in the MR regarding the Conservative
Party of Canada’s claim to have had 73,740 out of 81,389 Canadians indicate their
support for a referendum in a privately conducted poll. While our Supplemental Report
in no way seeks to delegitimize the consultative work of any Party, the narrow
demographic range (the poll having been conducted in 59 Conservative-held federal
ridings out of a national total of 338, with a self -selecting pool of participants) raises
concerns about the validity of this particular metric.

Other items that caught my attention
While the Committee collected a significant amount of data on electoral systems in
different jurisdictions, it must be emphasized that impacts of various systems on the
broader Canadian governance ecosystem highlighted in Recommendation 11 are not

Given the uncertainties surrounding referendum proposal, it is our view that alternative
consultation methods should be examined as feasible options. Alternatively, the idea
that further parliamentary review would be sufficient and ben eficial was proposed by
several witnesses, and remains an option. Ultimately, it is our position that the level of
engagement with the electoral reform process amongst the Canadian public was
insufficient to generate a clear mandate. We further recommend t hat greater
consultative measures be pursued in order to present an electoral reform proposal that
is consistent with the will of Canadians.
Therefore we recommend:
That the Government further undertake a period of comprehensive and effective
citizen engagement before proposing specific changes to the current federal voting
system. We believe that this engagement process cannot be effectively completed
before 2019.

The Committee received 172 reports from individual MPs, who held various types of
consultations with their constituents, as well a report from the Conservative Caucus and
one from the NDP Caucus, for a total of 174 reports in all.
the Committee received and considered 574 written submissions. (One of which was my own)
NOTE This seems like a remarkably small number of submissions given the population of Canada and the importance of this committee in recommending changes.

Respondents to the Committee’s online consultation, who overall preferred
some element of proportionality, were open to the idea of collaborative governments.
Indeed, 53.5% of respondents either strongly agreed (31.8%) or agreed (21.7%) with the
following statement: “Canada’s electoral system should favour the following outcome: no
single political party holds the majority of seats in Parliament, thereby increasing the
likelihood that political parties will work together to pass legislation.”

An additional topic that the Committee heard about throughout its consultations was
the per-vote subsidy, a source of public funding that was available to political parties until it
was phased out in 2015.
The Committee heard from a number of witnesses who stated their preference for
reinstating the per-vote subsidy, in accordance with the principles of fairness and equity.
The Committee noted that a number of witnesses advocated for a restoration of
public financing as part of electoral reform. As Jean-Pierre Kingsley, former Chief Electoral
Officer (1990–2007), emphasized, the annual allowance for political parties is within the
scope of electoral reform:
NOTE This was NOT specifically recommended by the committee

All in all a very disappointing report which basically calls for more study and for the “government” to design a system that meets the desire for “proportionality” rather than be more specific as to the details of a recommended system. The only bit that I really liked was the NDP & Greens minority report which at least brings up a viable method of selecting those extra MPs required should an MMP system eventually be chosen. “Regional compensatory MPs may be elected from as “best runners-up”, as per the Baden-Württemberg system.”
Seems to me after all that study and listening to 'experts' there is almost nothing here that we did not know before the process started!

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Sunday, November 27, 2016

Fair Elections Act Updated

This week the Liberals introduced a bill to reverse many of the more egregious changes brought in with the Conservative “fair” elections act, the summary of this legislation says......
This enactment amends the Canada Elections Act to
(a) remove limitations on public education and information activities conducted by the Chief Electoral Officer;
(b) establish a Register of Future Electors in which Canadian citizens 14 to 17 years of age may consent to be included;
(c) authorize the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration to provide the Chief Electoral Officer with information about permanent residents and foreign nationals for the purpose of updating the Register of Electors;
(d) remove the prohibition on the Chief Electoral Officer authorizing the notice of confirmation of registration (commonly known as a “voter information card”) as identification;
(e) replace, in the context of voter identification, the option of attestation for residence with an option of vouching for identity and residence;
(f) remove two limitations on voting by non-resident electors: the requirement that they have been residing outside Canada for less than five consecutive years, and the requirement that they intend to return to Canada to resume residence in the future; and
(g) relocate the Commissioner of Canada Elections to within the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer, and provide that the Commissioner is to be appointed by the Chief Electoral Officer, after consultation with the Director of Public Prosecutions, for a non-renewable term of 10 years.

In addition, the enactment contains transitional provisions and makes consequential amendments to other Acts.

All in all a positive move that removes some of the voter suppression tactics introduced by the Harper Regime in their “fair” elections act, there should be little objection to this bill but it will be interesting to see how the 'old school' conservative MPs react to it! I will say that whilst I do agree with a citizen being a citizen for life no matter where he or she lives. I do have a few reservations about clause (f).
if a citizen has left Canada and not returned in 5 years and says he or she has no intention of returning then I find it difficult to say that they should be able to influence to future of those that actually live here. I am still a British citizen (AND a Canadian one) after some 45 years in Canada, should I then be able to vote in the Brexit debacle or for a representative for British Parliament.....I dont think so.
The pre-registration of younger voters is a big step forward and the reinstatement of Elections Canada’s mandate to educate and encourage voters is so obviously right that no further comment should be required. The updating of the voters list (and hopefully the resources to do so) is long overdue, an inordinately large portion of the problems at the polls was the discrepancy between the voter list and the reality on the ground, particularly in rural ridings where addressing norms are often far different from urban norms (which the database appears to be set up to accommodate).

These small but important changes will no doubt get totally lost in the discussions that are about to explode about the Electoral Reform Committees report about to be released and which I fear will simply create further division particularly with the call for a referendum which it is rumoured to contain in order to achieve some kind of consensus with the conservative contingent on the committee.

Its going to be interesting to see where this all goes and is, I suspect, a no win situation for the Liberals, but never forget that had they not come to power there would be no debate and we would be heading in the other direction, as it would seem are our neighbours to the south.

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Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Good, the Bad and the Narcissist

Regular readers will be aware of a lack of posts of late and no commentary on the situation south of us and perhaps are asking how a blog about democracy can be silent about the upcoming change in the U.S. Administration. Apart from being driven almost speechless by the American people electing a lying hatemonger as their president there is little more that can be said that has not already appeared in various media across the world. All I am going to say on the subject is that we know it is going to be bad but with Drumph appointing like minded arseholes, racists, misogynists, climate sceptics, brain dead, right wing extremists to positions of power it is looking worse each day......
That his accession to power seems to have emboldened such sick individuals across the world, including in Canada, to spread their hate and intolerance shows just how dangerous it is to give such narcissist access to almost unlimited coverage in the press, on TV and on the internet. It took a certain dictator several years to “seize power” over a democracy in the 1930s, with modern communications it has taken Drumph just 6 months to gather a cult like following.

Here in Canada I am VERY thankful that we no longer have a right wing government here for who knows what the rise of such an extremist across the border would have encouraged the Harper Regime to do. We cannot however ignore the effect that events to the south will have upon us here both in the practical sense of trade and environmental concerns but also in the thinking of those who agree with his stated policies. Whilst there is no doubt room for some criticism of the Liberals now in power I for one am a LOT more comfortable with the general direction and tone of our current government. This brings me to the latest road block that appears to being erected to their promise of a new electoral system being in place before we next vote again. It appears that in 'seeking consensus' the Electoral Committee may include the conservative members demand for a referendum in their report, remember the report is just a 'recommendation' to the government and it has been fairly firmly established that such cannot be accomplished in time to have a new system in place before October 2019. As with several other issues that are awaiting decisions the Libs are damned if they do and damned if they don’t on this one and have some very hard and possibly controversial decisions to make in the next year, all the consultations in the world do not make such decisions any easier.

When the new U.S. President makes our previous Prime Minister look good then its easy to feel really good about our current Prime Minister!

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