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.
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Sunday, January 19, 2014

Response to Minister of Democratic Reform

Just two days before Christmas the GPC received a letter requesting a response on their ideas for electoral reform to be received before Jan 4th. The timing of the letter and the requested response makes the genuineness of the request suspect. We wonder who else was or will be invited to respond and what their response was or will be. Despite the almost impossible time line Elizabeth May of the Greens did reply with several much needed suggestions. Here is her response in full:-
Dear Mr. Minister,

The President of the Green Party of Canada, Paul Estrin, received a scanned letter from you just before Christmas, on December 23, 2013.  The letter itself was undated, but requested Green Party proposals for changes to the Elections Act to be received by January 4, 2014.  

As you can imagine, due to the holidays, this was challenging.  A copy of this letter on stationery will reach you by Monday.  I certainly look forward to meeting with you to discuss options. 

For now, I am submitting our proposals by email.

The crisis in declining voter turn-out and citizen engagement should concern all political leaders.  Over the course of this fall’s prorogation, I held a series of town hall sessions in locations across Canada on the theme of “Saving Democracy from Politics.”  The encouraging news is that in nearly every location, from Dawson City to Halifax to Vancouver to Winnipeg, the meetings were packed.  Hundreds of people showed up in most cities. In Toronto, the Hart House event, sadly, had as many people leaving disappointed as were able to fit in the room.
I share this experience as I see it as confirmation that there is an appetite for public discussion on how we can rescue democracy.  As I mentioned to you when we attended an event in your riding during Ramadan in July 2013, I urge you to take your process “on the road” to meet with as many Canadians as possible.
While the reasons for declining voter turn-out are complex and multi-faceted, nevertheless some common themes emerge. I would like to set out a few of the policy changes that the Green Party believes would improve the health of our democracy.  
1.     Move away from First Past the Post so that every vote counts.  New Zealand made the transition most recently and their process would be worthy of study for possible application to Canada, as both share Westminster  Parliamentary system within a constitutional monarchy.
2.     Repeal the changes to the Elections Act requiring government issued photo ID in order to be allowed to vote.  These changes have resulted in voters within certain groups (students, seniors, First Nations, the homeless) being denied their franchise. Our problem in Canada is not voter fraud (people voting more than once); it is people voting less than once.
3.     Eliminate television advertising by political parties – both outside and within writ periods. This is done in many countries around the world (the UK, Brazil , Belgium, Switzerland, to name a few).  The attack ad is used as a form of voter suppression. It is not possible to ban certain types of messages; ad hominem attack ads are hard to control through censorship. What other countries have done prevents the most invasive form of ad-  the television message that hits voters between the eyes when home and watching the Stanley Cup, for example.  Other countries mandate all broadcasters to provide equal access to free public service messages, explaining the party’s platforms.
4.     Remove the requirement for the Leader’s signature on the nomination forms for candidates, to eliminate a tool of coercion on Members of Parliament and candidates, as proposed in Michael Chong’s private members bill, as well as in my own.  Allowing MPs to better speak for their constituents will increase citizen engagement and voter turn-out.
5.     Restore the per vote subsidy, at any level.  For many voters, knowing that any amount of financial support went to the party of their choice was an incentive to vote.
6.     Pursue proposals from Queens University Centre for the Study of Democracy to improve the campaign debates by holding more debates and reducing the focus only on leaders by holding debates involving ministers and Shadow Cabinet Critics put forward by Opposition Parties. More exposure to issues should increase public awareness of issues in elections and increase engagement.  
I appreciate your willingness to consider some of these reforms as you embark on a critical exercise. I wish you the best of luck and the height of wisdom. 


Elizabeth May, O.C.
Member of Parliament for Saanich-Gulf Islands

A copy of the Ministers undated letter and the above reply may be viewed here.

It should come as no surprise that the Cons are less than enthusiastic about citizens or opposition views on this and that they have come out against Ms Mays first suggestion before even reading it:-
A Conservative pamphlet declares "Conservatives say NO to proportional representation" and suggests that it is to be rejected equally with Tom Mulcair and Elizabeth May. The pamphlet claims that "Our country was founded on the principle of Equality of Ridings first and foremost."
Equality of Ridings?

Her other suggestions are all good and I am sure that given a more appropriate time and open method of getting the Ministers attention there will be much more to be said on this by both the GPC, the opposition (we would hope) and the general public. However I do wonder about her suggestion to ban TV advertising by political party in that it is a given that the Harper Regime will (and has) simply put out partisan propaganda in the name of the government 'informing Canadians', we all know how much respect some political partys have for following the rules.

We wonder did the Libs or NDP get a similar letter? Did they respond in time? What was their response? Will others be invited to have input? Will the public have a chance to make suggestions? Is the Minister even interested in the responses or just playing politics with this? Let us know your thoughts.
Support Democracy - Recommend this Post at Progressive Bloggers


Owen Gray said...

Ms. May is one of the brightest lights in the House. Unfortunately, the Harper government prefers to live in the Dark Ages.

In fact, it is actively advocating a return to that age.

Rural said...

Indeed the GPC and their leaders long standing support for protecting and enhancing our democracy is one of the few positive things coming from any political party. Would that the rest of them stand up and be counted on this issue!

Bill Longstaff said...

Best set of recommendations for improving our democracy I have seen from any political party ... or anybody else for that matter.

Rural said...

Trouble is that it is improbable that the Minister will do anything with these or any other recommendations given past performance on such issues.