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, June 29, 2014

Electoral Reform – Proportional Representation

Proportional Representation or PR for short has become the buzz word for those who are advocating for Electoral Reform (and that group includes myself) but what exactly do we mean when we say we want PR? The broad definition is “a method of voting by which political parties are given legislative representation in proportion to their popular vote.” , in Canada we have to add “within the limits set by our constitution” as some provinces have a minimum representative threshold. We must also add “as close as possible within practical limits” after all we cannot put fractions of MPs in the house to exactly follow the popular vote!

The next thing to be considered is ' legislative representation in proportion to their popular vote', your local representative will still be just one individual from one party but theoretically representing a variety of voters, we cannot send parts of people to Ottawa. There are some voting methods that attempt to make our local choice more representative of the general consensus which I will cover in later posts, this first article is more of a general look at PR.

In trying to clarify the various choices that may possibly be put before the citizens to choose at some point in the distant future I have been accused of making a simple choice complicated, that it is a simple matter of ticking off FPTP, PR and/or some other choice. That may well be so but to make such choices without fully understanding how such a system would work and what ramifications it may have upon our governance is pure folly IMHO. The details of such choices to be made by our citizens must be fully understood by as many voters as possible, simply saying I support PR is, in my view, not sufficient. We must say I believe THIS specific type of PR is what I support, what actual choices we will eventually be given is, at this point, anybody’s guess and thus we should examine a variety of systems most of which are in use in some country across the world in some form or another. This is what I will try and do (again) in the coming months.

One final note upon the details that the PR option must consider, and one that had a large part in sinking previous attempts to bring in change. That is the need to somehow select 'extra' MPs to sit in the House in order that the number of MPs from that party is closely proportional to the popular vote and how to select them. Will they be selected by the party leader, by the number of votes they received, by the percentage of the local vote they got or some other system? Again I will cover this in more detail in a future post but my readers can see that as always 'the devil is in the details' and it would be impossible to put all the various options before the citizens, this does not mean we should not know of the choices and advocate for one or more of them. We can only do so if we are aware of such details.

I do not deny that having the various factions who support Electoral Reform not being able to agree amongst themselves makes it more difficult to move forward, but that is democracy, as is having the debate based upon as accurate a picture as possible of the various systems. The first step will be to have a majority of our politicians commit to considering change and committing to putting some kind of proposal before the citizens. Those that are elected due to the vulgarities of our current system are unlikely to support such initiatives, particularly the current federal lot who seem more focused on 'gaming' the system to remain in power.

Finally the other scary factor for many folk, and particularly most political parties, is the fact that election by popular vote will almost certainly result in a greater chance of minority governments and require our representatives to work together, be more cooperative and seek consensus in order to move forward. Moreover they may even have to form 'coalitions' (gasp!) with others in order to govern. In Canada that concept seems to be totally alien despite it being a common practice across the world. That those whom we elect work for US and not the Political Party with whom they are associated seems to have almost totally skipped their mind. And that my friends is as much of a problem as the manner in which we select them! Support Democracy - Recommend this Post at Progressive Bloggers

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Electoral Reform Needed!

In the recent Ontario Election out of every 100 (eligible) citizens approximately 52 voted and one or two of those either declined or (deliberately?) spoiled their ballots We have no means of knowing how many tried to vote but were turned away due to being at the wrong poll or not having proper ID but judging from the feedback I have received it is probably in the thousands rather than the hundreds.

Unofficial results released by Elections Ontario on Wednesday showed 31,399 voters chose to decline their ballots, the highest since 1975, there were 22,687 rejected ballots and 12,059 unmarked ballots from last week’s election.”

This tells us two things, that the actual voting system needs a lot of work yet to make it easier to vote (or express our dissatisfaction with the choices) and that we need to impress upon our citizens the need to take the opportunity to make our wishes known even if that preference is 'non of the above'. We do need, I believe, to have that choice on the ballot but I suspect that our political will never give us that choice for fear of the answer they will get! I note that in the Federal election even the choice of declining the ballot is not available so the only choices for those that wish to express such feelings is to not vote or spoil the ballot (which is not generally considered as a protest vote).

With the summer recess coming up and with the almost impossible task of keeping up with all the threats to democracy from the Harper Regime and others (including his idea of electorate reform!) I will be revisiting the whole subject of “Electoral Reform” over the next few months. From how we vote to the way the votes are counted to how that translates into who get a seat in the legislature and what party forms government it is a very complex subject and one that will not see any substantial change in the foreseeable future. Despite this we should all be trying to find common ground in the system we want, right now even those who are vocal in their call for change cannot agree on what precisely they want..... an therein lays the problem!

I am going to try and document the most obvious problems and spell out some of the proposed solutions and alternatives, including that overdone call for 'proportional representation' which is largely meaningless unless the exact system of voter input and representational adjustment is spelt out. This is equally true of all alternative voting systems, each has numerous slightly different details that make a difference in the outcome and representation that emerges both at the local and the governmental level that must be considered. As I say above its complex, I don’t know how successful I am going to be in producing a concise overview of it all but I am going to try, I will be interested to see how much I can add since I tackled this subject in 2012. Posts may be a bit thin over the next few months whilst I attempt this challenge, stay tuned.

Meanwhile here are a few posts on the same subject from 5 years ago ........ how little things have changed for the better!

Support Democracy - Recommend this Post at Progressive Bloggers

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Election Stories

With the Ontario election now history and a slight uptick in the voter turn out I will relate a few of the problems various voters have encountered whilst trying to vote in an effort to make both the voters and those that run the system aware of impediments to voting during said election. Most of these stories are specific to rural areas and related to poll location and rural addressing issues, it may be that in urban areas such things are not such a problem and it would seem that Elections Ontario either is unaware of such problems or considers rural voters as less important than their urban counterparts. Non of the stories are new to the 2014 election but have been ongoing throughout the last several Ontario elections, some are relevant to the federal electoral system also.

Let us first look at a couple of lads who were first time voters and who lived across the road from each other one of whom had found out where to vote and took his buddy along to also vote. Trouble was that his buddy was to vote at a different poll, not one across the room or even a couple of blocks away but 8 or 10 miles away. These lads had already travelled 10 or 12 miles from their home to get to the poll and unfortunately it being 8.45pm had no chance of getting to the other poll location before closing. Not a good first time voting experience!

At the same poll a number of seniors some using walkers came to the poll location situated just a few houses away only to be told that they could not vote as their poll was in a village some 10 to 12 miles away. To add insult to injury the entire village where they lived was directed to the distant location despite there being more than enough room to accommodate more polls at their local hall. This issue is common to many rural polls and has been well documented in my personal blog during the previous election.

At an advanced poll a fellow came in to vote and pulled out his recently renewed drivers licence for identification only to find that the address did not match, his drivers licence still showed lot and concession instead of the now required road and fire number (rural equivalent of street number). Seems that the word has not reached licence renewal folk that lot and con is no longer a valid address!

At the same advanced poll a fellow came in to register and vote as no voter card was received, not a problem except that he had not moved in the last 10 years and had corrected his information before the last two elections and his information on the voters list was STILL not corrected on the list. Third time lucky perhaps?

A number of voters either declined their votes or deliberately spoiled their ballots. How do we know this? To decline a ballot the voter must hand the ballot back to the clerk and tell them they wish to decline, anyone nearby can hear and see this transaction. By the same token at locations where a tabulating machine is used (as in most advanced ballots) the machine will reject an incorrectly filled out ballot, the voter must then tell the clerk that they want the vote processed as filled out. There is no 'Declined / None of the above' box on the ballots!

These are just a few of the 'difficulties' that I have been made aware of most of which in my view are not that hard to fix or at least make less of a problem. The addressing problems can only be corrected by keeping an up to date database which requires those moving to somehow get that data input into the system, how is that we must update our drivers licence immediately after moving but this does not filter down to voting lists and that rural addressing conventions are still not being observed despite Canada Post recently declaring that they will soon stop delivering rural mail unless it has the road and fire number on it.

Finally how is it that at advanced polls anyone from within that riding can vote at any poll but on voting day you MUST vote at a specific poll location? The major impediment here is that the voter lists are still being distributed to the polls in printed form and to wade through some 80,000 names on hundreds of loose leaf pages is a major chore, just ask an advanced poll clerk about that. At the very least the riding list should be on computer as a read only file with a search utility (the feds have done this at advanced polls) but should not updates and the fact that the citizen has voted not be instantly updated via computer? As it stands it takes 24 hours or more for the written changes to go to the district office, be entered and new printed lists to be produced and sent out to the advanced polls. If someone wanted to vote multiple times it would be relativity easy and whilst it would probably be picked up eventually and (presumably) the perpetrator taken to task, the votes themselves could not be cancelled as no vote is coupled with any particular voter.

Whilst so many of us are calling for election reform in the way in which our votes determine the composition of the legislatures, the way in which we actually cast our vote is at least as important if we wish more citizens to make their wishes known. Its a difficult thing to ensure that any system is not subject to manipulation by those who would 'cheat' but we must try and make it less of a chore and eliminate as many problems as possible so that ALL citizens can and will vote. In my opinion whilst paper ballots must still be an option the use of technology can only help with this despite the perhaps increased possibility of voter fraud and the difficulty of conducting a 'recount' in such situations.

I note that information as to where to vote and identification required was available on line or by telephone but for many folks who do not use the internet or were unaware that they had a problem until they went to vote it was too little too late. I wonder how many folks actually read the bulk mailing that went out right after the election was called and how many thought to take action when they did not receive a voter card. The above difficulties are not ALL the systems fault!

Support Democracy - Recommend this Post at Progressive Bloggers

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Elections Ontario Struggling......

Elections Ontario is struggling to find enough staff to fill the positions required to process your vote, this is not a particular surprise to those who have worked the polls before, it always tough to find responsible folks available for a one day 12 to 14hr shift with no breaks! I am not sure how Elections Canada gets away with it but poll clerks and others who work the polls are expected to be at their station the entire time that the polls are open and then some must remain to count ballots or forfill other duties related to closing the polls and clean up. Still its a chance for retired folks, out of work youth (over 18) and others to make a little pocket money so if you are looking for a little boost to your pocket book give your local election office a call. At last check they are still looking for people for several positions at a variety of locations.

I do feel a little sorry for the head honchos at EO in that they can only do so much ahead of time to prepare for an election, particularly one that was not 'scheduled'! That said in chatting with one worker who has been involved with both EC and EO in recent years it is apparent that the top dogs have no idea of what the problems are on the front lines and it seems are not even interested in improving the system, the training, or the much vaunted 'making voting easy'. Once again (at least here in rural areas many voters must travel to locations that are considerably further than to the closest poll location to vote, last time it was put down to a lack of 'suitable' poll locations in rural communities, the greatest roadblock being that according to Ontario law all such places must be “handicap accessible”! I mean no disrespect to those with mobility problems but when the possibility of one or two such persons having difficulty accessing the poll location dis-accommodates hundreds of residents that must then drive out of their local area to vote I wonder how such 'accommodations' help with our already dismal turnout! I do note that those with or without disabilities can vote by 'special ballot' by calling EO and getting a mail in form sent to them.

The other thing that I have become aware of is the training is somewhat hit and miss, the trainers can hardy be faulted for not having a the answers as after all many of them have never been 'trainers' for EO and even those that trained them may well be temporary not previously experienced folks given that EO (and for that matter EC) do not have a vast reserve of staff just waiting for the next election to take place. The manuals that each Poll clerk, Advanced Poll clerk, poll supervisor etc get are quite extensive and specific as to how to check for identification, deal with special situations etc etc but less so on the actual minutiae of what the job entails. I many cases its learn by default and if the poll supervisor happens to be a 'newby' then it can be problematic. Bottom line remember that all these front line folks are 'temporary' employees and many of the have a couple of hours of (somewhat limited) training and are then dumped in the deep end. When things don’t go smoothy PLEASE have patience, its not their fault that you address doesn’t match or that you are not on the list and your problems will be resolved much quicker if you do not beat up on them.

As can be seen from the above the system is not perfect, nor will it ever be but much of the problems (both provincially and federally) seem to arise from determining identify and ensuring that you only vote once. Why then are we still running in the dark ages with poll clerks wading through hundreds of printed ( and out of date as soon as they are printed) pages with up to 80,000 voters names and addresses (in the case of advanced polls) to see if you are 'on the list'. Sorry we have been using computers for such things since the 70s and have had reliable internet and dedicated communication between computers for decades now, lets use it! For those who would say it can be hacked or gamed I would say that the lack of timely updating of updated vote registration leaves no less a risk of abuse and the ONLY folks who are going to do either are the rabid partisan party flacks who will always find a way to cheat, for the average voter it never enters his or her mind.
With some folks within walking distance of a poll location once again being forced to get in their car and drive some distance to another village to vote is it any wonder that voter turnout is expected to be low, its reached the point where as little as 15% of the citizens could have actually supported those who get in (40% of 40% who vote). If we can do our banking by internet, machine or phone the surely we can devise a national system to vote the same way for federal, provincial and municipal elections and even referendums on voting systems or tossing them all out!!

Support Democracy - Recommend this Post at Progressive Bloggers

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Its Silly Season in Ontario

With advanced polls opening for the Ontario Election today its definitely silly season in Ontario, we are inundated with totally meaningless TV ads from 3 of the Partys telling us how bad the other guys are and failing to give us any real idea of what their plan is. There is Andrea of the NDP who forced the election by turning down the most NDP friendly budget proposed in years, there is Kathleen of the Liberals who continues to wear the cynical decision of the previous premier to move a power pant to gain votes, then there is little Timmy of the Conservatives who’s kinder-garden math says that minus100,000 plus 0 equals 1,000,000, and finally there is Mike of the Greens who according to the MSM does not exist!

With the pundits saying that the interest in this unneeded and unwanted election is such that the turn out is expected to fall from the already record low from the last election its anybody’s guess as to how it will turn out except to say that it almost certainly another minority government (not necessarily a bad thing). Whist we know the Greens will not form government I wonder if all the negative BS seen on TV will make more folks than normal vote Green either in protest or due to the ever increasing realization that environmental issues are increasingly important. Could they get 2 or 3 seats and hold the balance of power I wonder. With all the hype from the leaders ably helped out by the MSM we tend to forget that we are electing our LOCAL representative and NOT the Party he or she supports, and in Ontario a few of them may actually put their constituents ahead of their party as its not quite so lemming like in that legislature as in the federal follow the leader brainless legislative voting.

Its been a depressing time watching the decline of democracy under our federal oligarchy but its not looking that much better with our provincial governments, from what I have read several of our provinces are seeing much the same pressures brought on by a lack of pubic confidence in the politicians who serve us (or more precisely serve themselves and their party most of the time). This election here in Ontario does little to increase my optimism in seeing democracy revived, true we get a chance to vote but how many will bother given the acrimonious behaviour of those who will be expected to (but probably will not) work together to govern our Province. When Elections become a choice of the least objectionable instead of a positive choice of the best its hard to say that democracy is alive and well in Canada. I will be voting, but more as a matter of principal than as a means of actually effecting a positive outcome, the crap that I see daily on TV issued from these 'leaders' and their party apparatus does nothing to encourage me to vote for them.

Support Democracy - Recommend this Post at Progressive Bloggers