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, July 20, 2014

Electoral Reform – Personal Perspective

After more than 5 years of writing about our declining democracy and having several times reviewed the options open to us should we ever get a government in power willing to put the issue of voting reform before the people I am now going to try and spell out my own wishes in this regard. Such wishes must be tempered by some practical considerations, wishing for things that simply are never going to happen is an exercise in futility – perhaps this whole series on Electoral Reform should be filed under that heading!

I will start by reiterating that I do not support Proportional Representation without reservation, I do support SOME PR systems and prefer even FPTP over others. Nor do I pretend that my personal preferences are the only option or better than any other point of view, such thinking is more divisive than helpful in this 'debate'. First some general concerns and considerations that form the basis of my thoughts on this.

Any system adopted should make the elected representative more accountable to the electorate and less under the control of any particular party apparatus, it should not disproportionally flavor larger partys over smaller ones or individual independent candidates. The use of the popular vote to elect Mps or who holds power should not leave minority populations such as rural areas or smaller provinces unrepresented in other ways. In our large and diverse Country we must be aware that just because an area of the country is particularly sparsely populated and other areas are densely populated should not mean that the latter should have total sway over the former as to selecting our government. This is at present ensured to some extent by both the constitutional requirements of minimal representation for the smaller provinces and our system of representation by area ridings.

Given the above I immediately reject STV (as previously proposed in BC) which created much larger 'ridings' with multiple representatives, this may be acceptable in large urban areas where riding are physically small and those elected would still be 'close to' their constituents but in less populated areas such 'ridings' would comprise 100s of square miles with no guarantee that those elected would even be within reasonable travelling distance of some communities. Nor is it really proportional so I see little advantage in going from bad to worse with this one.

My Choices.....
I previously supported MMP in that it enables the voter to select the best local representative and their choice of party to govern separately. We have all wished for that and it would reduce the 'strategic voting' dilemma. I still would prefer this over FPTP but have some real concerns about how the 'extra' Mps (needed to give the new government the numbers of seats reflected in the popular vote) would be selected and to whom they would be answerable to and represent.

I do like the AV system for selecting our local representative, the instant runoff system whereby our second and subsequent choices ensure that no single candidate is elected with less than 50% of the vote seems to me much more equitable. As I said before more voters would be 'somewhat satisfied' with the results and voters could (if they so desired) vote for the best candidate and preferred party candidate with their first and second choices. The strategic voting dilemma would be all but eliminated with this system. It is not truly 'proportional' but would I believe be a very good first step towards Electoral Reform and perhaps more acceptable to PR proponents AND FPTP supporters, a compromise perhaps, not something that political types are well known for!

Finally I recently found out about the system proposed by the Commission charged with suggesting a new system for elections to the Parliament of the United Kingdom called AV Plus which is a combination of Alternative Vote and MMP. The Alternative Vote Plus (AV+) uses the Alternative Vote (in which voters rank candidates in order of preference) to elect a candidate in each constituency, and then uses a small top-up list to make the overall result more proportional. Voters can then either select their favourite party or choose their favourite candidate from the top-up list and the votes are then allocated to represent each party’s share of the votes proportionally.

The only problem with this system is once again as with MMP how the 'list of top up candidates is preselected and to who they are accountable. As far as I can see this is the problem with ANY PR system where the electorate does not directly elect ALL of the Mps. In every case it creates two classes of Mps which in my view is problematic, I am not against PR but it is not in my view the ultimate fix that some proponents seem to think it is. I do note that with some of the above the counting of ballots and selection of candidates becomes more complex and that the use of tabulating machines would probably be desirable in all but the smallest polls if speedy results are desired.

Getting there......
One of my readers has been aggressively pushing his view of how we should select a new voting system in the comment section of this series calling for a “3 option referendum” between FPTP, AV/RBV and PR and “If PR is on the final round, the two main PR options can be put on the ballot: MMP or STV.” In other comments he says that “If a citizens' assembly chooses some arbitrary form of PR for Canadians, Canadians will reject it as they did in ON, BC & PEI. Then PR is toast. “ He seems to think that the Liberal and Green Party stated position of having a committee (of either citizens or Mps ) come up with recommendations is somehow 'undemocratic' and “ will destroy all hope of bringing real democracy to Canada” It is IMHO impossible in a practicable sense to give the voters a choice without pre-selecting at least SOME of the options and an all party/ citizens assembly mix would seem to be the best option to do this no matter what eventually emerges on the ballot.

Even though I have previously raised the possibility of a multiple choice referendum I have several problems with the above, will the voters be 'confused' by having more than the choice of yes or no for one preselected system and if PR is chosen what will be then put before the electorate as a possible system – MMP & STV are not the only systems of PR and there are many variation within these two systems – and how many citizens would show up for a second vote withing a few weeks?
Another reader suggests that 'run off 'elections would be the answer “if no candidate in a given riding gets 50% plus one, then a second round of voting is held a week later in that riding.” Given our already low and declining turnout at election time the same concern would be an issue for that suggestion also.

I would suggest that if a party that comes to power proposes to 'study' this issue with a view to putting some kind of choice before the citizens in a referendum then we had best encourage them and not be too picky as to the process, any choice is better than no choice. I am concerned that there is adequate public input and education prior to any such referendum which is unlikely to take place before 2019 with even the most optimistic view of things. I am increasingly more concerned with getting some Parliamentary reform given the way in which the Harper Regime is running roughshod over so many parliamentary 'traditions' and arbitrarily changing the rules to suit themselves. The power of the PMO must be curbed no matter who is in power, Electoral Reform without Parliamentary Reform is all but futile if we wish to save our democracy.

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