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Democracy Under Fire: 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 . . . → Read More: Democracy Under Fire: Fair Elections Act Updated

Democracy Under Fire: 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 . . . → Read More: Democracy Under Fire: The Good, the Bad and the Narcissist

Democracy Under Fire: An Electoral Framework for the 21st Century

Marc Mayrand, the outgoing chief electoral officer, has apparently put together a number of suggested changes that he would like to see made to our electoral system. I can only say thet the eight highlighted by Kady in the Ottawa Citizen look pretty good to me……..

“While it’s well worth perusing the full . . . → Read More: Democracy Under Fire: An Electoral Framework for the 21st Century

Democracy Under Fire: Electoral Reform Online Survey Available

The Special Committee on Electoral Reform began witness hearings in July and this week, launched an electronic consultation to probe citizen views on electoral systems and other vital aspects of voting. The introduction to that multiple choice sur… . . . → Read More: Democracy Under Fire: Electoral Reform Online Survey Available

Democracy Under Fire: Electoral Reform Online Survey Available

The Special Committee on Electoral Reform began witness hearings in July and this week, launched an electronic consultation to probe citizen views on electoral systems and other vital aspects of voting.

The introduction to that multiple choice survey says in part:-
The House of Commons has created a Special Committee on Electoral Reform to identify viable alternative federal voting systems to replace the first-past-the-post system and to conduct a study of them, as well as to examine mandatory voting and online voting. As part of its mandate, the Committee is using various tools and methods to consult with Canadians. This e-consultation is one such consultation tool intended to solicit Canadians’ views both on voting and on the election of Members of Parliament. The Committee’s report to the House of Commons will take into consideration the results of this consultation.
What to Expect
Before completing the e-consultation, you will have the opportunity to familiarize yourself with background material on electoral systems.
If you consent to participate in this e-consultation, you can expect to complete the questionnaire within approximately 30 minutes. (or less)
You do not need to complete the questionnaire in one sitting. You can interrupt the e-consultation at any question, save your work, and return to it at a later time. If you plan to complete the e-consultation in more than one sitting, it is recommended that you bookmark the webpage.
Find the survey Here

Those with a greater understanding of the issues than the average citizen may find themselves wishing for the ability to further define their answers, there is however a comment section at the very end. As noted in a previous post those with more to say can send their commentsvia this web form or via email to

. . . → Read More: Democracy Under Fire: Electoral Reform Online Survey Available

Democracy Under Fire: Irish PR-STV system

In my last post I promised to take a harder look at the Irish electoral system of Open List PR-STV which is, as I said before a combination of a multi riding STV and Preferred Ballot system. I will start by covering some of the remarks made by Michae… . . . → Read More: Democracy Under Fire: Irish PR-STV system

Democracy Under Fire: Irish PR-STV system

In my last post I promised to take a harder look at the Irish electoral system of Open List PR-STV which is, as I said before a combination of a multi riding STV and Preferred Ballot system. I will start by covering some of the remarks made by Michael Gallagher, Professor of Comparative Politics, Trinity College Dublin and Michael Marsh, Emeritus Professor, Trinity College Dublin in their presentation to the Electoral Reform Committee.

“Nothing comes without problems, and there are two problems in particular that might be identifiable. One is that constituencies as we call them, ridings, would have to be much larger, both in geographical size and in population because proportional representation necessitates multi-member constituencies, so ridings would be much larger, and they already are huge in some cases. In addition, government formation becomes a much more complicated process because single party government would be very unlikely. It’s very hard for any party under a really proportional system to win an overall majority.”
I note that whilst STV systems produce more proportionality than FPTP they are NOT a proportional system in and of itself.

“To expect an electoral system change to transform the whole nature of politics and make it more civil and so on, I think, is probably unrealistic. Generally we shouldn’t try to over-explain things through the electoral system. A lot of people do look at countries, including Ireland, and say that Irish politics works this way, and it’s got that electoral system, so it must be cause and effect. Very often it’s not. “
I have said before in these pages that expecting a change in our voting system to cure all the problems in our system of governance and expect parliament to suddenly become more ‘functional’ is dreaming in technicolour!

“When voters go to vote, they see a ballot paper with all the candidates in the constituency listed. In Ireland they’re listed in alphabetical order. That’s not necessary, but that’s the way it’s done in Ireland. Votes are cast for their favourite candidate, their second favourite, their third favourite, and so on. They don’t have to vote for any more than the favourite. They might vote for the favourite and then quit and not give a second preference. Or they might go from their favourite right down to the bottom of the ballot paper and cast number 17 for their least favourite.
This part is much the same as in Preferred Ballot systems except for the inclusion of candidates from 3 or more ridings.

“As to the counting process, if we went over a detailed, stage-by-stage, blow-by-blow explanation, it would all sound rather more complicated than it really is.”
I disagree with this statement, it not only sounds complicated but is VERY complex. See the fuller explanation of the counting system later in this post.

“The surplus distribution is the most complex part of (this system of) STV. What’s more straightforward is that if a candidate fares very poorly, and gets only a few hundred votes, those votes are not wasted. The candidate is eliminated from the count and the votes are transferred to other candidates in accordance with the second preference marked. If that candidate in turn is later eliminated, the votes are transferred on in accordance to the third preference marked, and so on. The aim is that even if a voter votes for someone who doesn’t do very well, this vote is not wasted as it is under the first past the post system. “
He makes it sound simple but in their particular system it is NOT.

“The counting is a multi-staged process. It takes much longer than a first past the post count. ……… Counting is not an instantaneous process—it can be several days before the full result emerges……….

When it comes to counting, the system that’s used in Scotland, for instance, in local elections, is electronic, so it’s instant. “

If this system were adopted electronic counting of the ballots and calculation of the results would, in my opinion, be essential. Recounts could still be assured by having the ballots both human and machine readable.

“A few thoughts on how PR-STV might work in Canada. At the moment you’ve got 338 MPs, so if Canada had PR-STV there might be around 70 to 90 multi-seat ridings, each returning anything from maybe three to seven MPs, or it could be more. Just looking at a few particular provinces, we see that Newfoundland and Labrador currently has seven single-seat ridings that might become one three-seat riding and one four-seat riding, for example. Prince Edward Island currently has four single-seat ridings that would become one four-seat riding. New Brunswick currently has 10 single-seat ridings that could become two five-seat ridings. It could be that really large geographical areas like Labrador, the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and Yukon would remain as single-seat ridings. I see that Labrador is a single-seat riding. Labrador is about three times as big as the entire island of Ireland, so to us it’s unbelievable that this would be just one— “
Can you imagine a ballot with 4 (ridings) x up to 5 (parties) or up to 20 candidates to rate? Can you imagine the line ups waiting for folks to figure in what order to rate them?

Is there a preference built into the system for causing the more rural, more lightly populated areas to have a smaller number of TDs in order to keep the districts within a reasonable geographic size, and then do the opposite when it comes to the urban districts? That tends to have been the discussion in Canada, when we’ve debated this kind of system, that we would have larger numbers of members per district in the urban areas and fewer in the rural areas. Is it the same thing there, or is there a different logic? “


No, not really. In a word, there isn’t. That would create a potential unfairness. The parties that were stronger in the cities would kind of lose out because they might not get their fair share of seats in the smaller rural constituencies, whereas the big parties would do better in the rural ones and only get their fair share in the urban ones.
This whole question of making our already large (rural) ridings even bigger (even with several Mps representing the area) leaves me shuddering with the thought of the possibility of ALL those chosen living hundreds of miles away from those the purport to represent.


The riding I represent in British Columbia is four times the size of the entire country of Ireland. My people come from Longford (Ireland) and I looked it up and my riding is 330 times the size of Longford. The notion we’re looking at is to create even larger constituencies in the rural communities. You’re designated by the constitution in Ireland. We’re not limited that way here in Canada, I don’t believe. The notion of having even larger rural constituencies, as you can imagine, gives some pause. There’s been a notion to have a hybrid in which we had an STV or some sort of proportionality within the more dense urban populations, yet leave the rural constituencies as they are. Has anyone mused about that in Ireland, or are you simply constrained by your constitutional requirements to keep
 We are constrained by the constitutional requirements. In fact, there was a referendum back in the 1960s on allowing for a higher level of representation in rural areas, thinly populated areas, than in urban ones.”


I’ve always wondered how it is that STV can be proportional, given, as you say, that there’s no proportionality that is privileged by the way the seats are organized; there’s no separate set of seats to represent the imbalance that’s created by voting at the constituency level.
 Within each constituency there’s a reasonable degree of proportionality, especially in the larger ones, such as the five-seat constituencies. In three-seat ones, in particular, you might not get such proportional results, but what nearly always happens is that, simply on the law of averages, if a party loses out in one place they’ll win out on another occasion.
I simply do not believe this would produce such results in Canada in part due to those huge districts and in part due to our greater number of political partys as compared with Ireland. I also note that the professors said that the more combined riding’s in a district the more proportional the results become the less number the less proportional. Thus this system and STV as a whole can be said to be more proportional than FPTP but is NOT fully proportional and should not, in my view, be called such.

Some member of the committee had difficulty understanding the counting system which as I said above is NOT simple. I have tried to assemble the concise explanation below gleaned from an official outlinethat left my head spinning.

In the Irish system of counting the Preferential part of the PR-STV voting system is totally opposite from the normal method where the bottom candidates are eliminated and the second choices are added to the previous count.

In that in this system they are electing several individuals per district they first count the number of ballots and then calculate the minimum number of votes required to be elected (in a 3 riding district a quarter of the votes plus one). Any candidate receiving more votes than this ‘threshold’ is deemed elected. Any excess votes for elected candidates over this threshold are distributed as per the second choice on the ballot, because the number of transferable votes may be more than the remaining ballots the votes are distributed in proportion to the number of selected secondary choices. With the removal of these ballots from any ‘elected’ candidate the ‘excess’ votes are recalculated and further votes removed over the elected threshold from any elected candidates for the next round.
Very, very complicated counting system that few would fully understand and takes several days to complete when done by hand as it is in Ireland……… !!

A complete explanation can be found here

Transcripts and submissions (briefs and witnesses) including my own submission can be found here-

Evidence (which can be found under the individual meetings listing at is the edited transcript of what is said before a Committee and includes both remarks made by Members of the Committee and those made by the witnesses. Please note that the Evidence is only published for public meetings and may take approximately 1-2 weeks to be posted to the Committee web page.

. . . → Read More: Democracy Under Fire: Irish PR-STV system

Democracy Under Fire: Electoral Reform Committee Hearings Continue

The meetings of the Parliamentary committee studying Electoral Reform resumed this week with presentations from a series of “expert” witnesses. In the fist of these meetings the call for a referendum once again came to the fore and was quickly shot… . . . → Read More: Democracy Under Fire: Electoral Reform Committee Hearings Continue

Democracy Under Fire: Electoral Reform Committee Hearings Continue

The meetings of the Parliamentary committee studying Electoral Reform resumed this week with presentations from a series of “expert” witnesses. In the first of these meetings the call for a referendum once again came to the fore and was quickly shot down by all three experts! This after Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef told the committee on July 6 that referenda are divisive and not the best way of seeking clarity on the issue,and Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand earlier having estimated the price tag would be around $300 million.

After having reviewed the synopsis of the weeks proceedings as presented by that long suffering reporter Kady O’Mally in her live blogging (as apparently the only reporter actually viewing and reporting live from the meetings, as opposed to watching on parl-view, she is to be congratulated for her perseverance and deserves our thanks) I was struck by a number of things. Firstly how much time was wasted discussing the need / possibility a referendum, mostly in response to questions from the conservative contingent. The committees mandate, so far as I can tell, was to study and recommend to parliament a system of selecting our parliamentary representatives NOT to decide upon how such a system would be implemented. The choices are complex enough without bringing up this issue which most of the expert witnesses dismissed as “not particularly good at resolving complex issues” or otherwise inadvisable.
I also noted that with a few notable exceptions the presentations and discussions were very general in nature rarely getting into the ‘mechanics’ of any of the options discussed. One presenter even went so far as to say that such details were unimportant. I beg to strongly disagree, the details of the chosen system, particularly should that choice be some form of MMP, is fundamental to both the outcome and the acceptance of such a system.
The discussions of STV systems seemed to get a fair bit of attention perhaps in view of the early presentation by two Irish professors promoting their system of Open List PRSTV which as I understand it combines STV with Ranked Ballot in muti-constituentcy districts. (I must dig deeper into that system!). Despite what has been touted as the liberals preferred system Ranked Ballot seems to have received very little attention from either the presenters or the committee members. Finally before I attempt to summarize Kadys summary I note that the evening video conference with the Australian and New Zealand Electoral Commission commissioners was not covered by Kady which given that their systems are one the most often referred to in discussing MMP systems is a shame. ( no shame to Kady as she had already sat through two sessions that day). I may view the video and comment if / when I get time!

Here then are a few extracts from what reporting there is on the proceedings (my bold and italics), the meeting are all available on parl-view via the committee web site at no transcripts are available so far as I can tell.

Day one (Momday) the committee heard from:-
• R. Kenneth Carty, Professor Emeritus, The University of British Colombia
• Brian Tanguay, Professor, Political Science, Wilfrid Laurier University
• Nelson Wiseman, Director, Canadian Studies Program, Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Toronto

Ipolitics reports that:-
Ken Carty (professor emeritus at the University of British Columbia), who served as the director of research for the B.C. Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform, said the evidence from that referendum suggested a large majority of the people who cast ballots in that referendum knew nothing about the issue on which they were voting. And that evidence from Ontario’s referendum suggests the same.
Nelson Wiseman (professor at the University of Toronto) said “I would not put the issue of an alternative voting system to a referendum. It’s unnecessary; it’s a waste of money; and it will almost certainly fail. You may as well recommend not changing the system and save Canadians the cost.”
When asked about his preferred electoral system for Canada, Wiseman suggested the hybrid system used in Alberta and Manitoba between the 1920s and 1950s — with a single transferable vote system used in the cities (Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg) and an alternative ballot in the rural areas. (As a rural resident I have previously pointed out in these pages how unsuited STV is in rural and remote areas of Canada)
“If you live in a large metropolitan area, it doesn’t matter if the MP represents Davenport or Spadina Fort-York — the issues are similar. However, if you live outside of those cities it’s very vital,”
A heated exchange of Monday’s meeting took place between Brian Tanguay (professor at Wilfred Laurier University) and Conservative MP Jason Kenney, who has remained a federal MP and member of the committee despite having announced his intention to become leader of a united Wildrose and Progressive Conservative party in Alberta. Tanguay arguing for proportional representation and Jason saying that “some of the most dysfunctional democracies in the world are in the consensual category”

Day two (Tuesday) the committee heard from:-
• Michael Marsh, Emeritus Professor, Trinity College Dublin
• Michael Gallagher, Professor of Comparative Politics, Trinity College Dublin
• Patrice Dutil, Professor, Ryerson University
• Peter Russell, Professor Emeritus, Department of Political Science, University of Toronto
• Tom Rogers, Electoral Commissioner, Australian Electoral Commission
• Robert Peden, Chief Electoral Officer New Zealand Electoral Commission

Extracts from Kadys live blogging follow, see

The Irish electoral system uses (a version of) the Single Transferable Vote, which, Gallagher tells MPs, does lead to a closer relationship between share of the vote and the composition of the Parliament itself.
It does, however, require much larger ridings, he notes – –  as multi-member constituencies are needed — and it does indeed make it distinctly less likely that one party can command a majority.
“You mustn’t expect too much from electoral system change,” he warns the committee — it won”t “transform” the basic nature of politics by instantly rendering it more civil and collaborate. Expecting that from a change to the vote count formula would be “unrealistic,” he notes.
Marsh makes a pretty good pitch for the extended, 24-36 hour vote counting process, which, by his account, turns into a marathon political reality show to which the entire country is riveted.
Kenny still banging on about referendum as per Irish changes (as he and his fellow conservatives did throughout the entire week) Marsh warns that it would take a whole lot of resources to ensure there was enough information and awareness out there.
Peter Russel:-
Minorities, he reminds MPs, can often make Parliament more meaningful. (Minority *parliaments*, that is.)
As for “false majority” , his explanation is surprisingly simple: He just gets irked when governments and leaders claim a mandate from “the people,” an assertion he describes — with preemptive apologies to the public — as “BS” .
Russell also predicts that, in a post-FPTP minority, there likely wouldn’t be constant confidence votes, simply because there would be no incentive to do so in order to force an election and win a majority for your own party. 
Kady notes that Dutil is, indeed, very pro-referendum. (One of the few)
NOTE (A third session took place in the evening with the Aussi and NZ presenters which is not covered here)

Day three (Wednesday) the committee heard from:-
• Henry Milner, Senior Researcher, Chair in Electoral Studies, Université de Montréal
• Alex Himelfarb, Clerk of the Privy Council, 2002-2006
• André Blais, Professor, Department of Political Science, Université de Montréal
• Leslie Seidle, Research Director, Institute for Research on Public Policy
• Larry LeDuc, Professor Emeritus, University of Toronto
• Hugo Cyr, Dean, Faculty of Political Science and Law, Université du Québec à Montréal

Kady reports (in part) see
Henry Milner gives a quick(ish) rundown of the arguments included in the much more extensive written brief he provided in advance, (which as with other similar documents does not seem to be available on line)
Kady – In his view, MMP is the only alternate to First Past The Post that ensures every voter has a person in the House to represent them, while still making every vote count.

Using Ottawa as an example. There would be six districts, he estimates, which might be larger than the existing ridings. That would mean six MPs, who would be voted for directly by the electors, and then another four seats that are divvied up according to vote share, from a list. So, everyone has their own MP, and there are four other members hanging around as at-range extras. 

Milner does not seem to be prepared to go into the details of how those lists would be assembled, which is, of course, a fairly critical element of any such system. (Exactly Kady!)
Himelfarb notes that, while he’s not going to endorse any one system, he believes that any option must ensure the voters, not the party, chooses the names on a list, which may or may not involve preferential weighting.  He confesses to a fondness for multi-member and single transferable vote systems, but he very much opposes lists created by parties — this is, he says, supposed to be about voters, not parties, so it should be open list or no list.  He also reminds MPs that “design matters.” (As I said at the top the ‘mechanics’ of the system chosen the details of the resign do indeed matter)
Blaikie then gives Milner the opportunity to outline the different models for putting together a list — should it be the party? Or the voters through second-round voting? Milner is actually fine with a closed-list, which is a courageous stance in this context, as noted earlier. But he’s also not opposed to the idea of having voters go through that list, although he worries that some might it find it difficult to do so.
Himelfarb, however, is very much in favour of an open list, which, he says, also makes it clear to the *candidate* that if they don’t make a special effort to “win the hearts and minds” of the voters, they may pay the price.

Following Kenney’s lead, Theriault, too, tries to get the witnesses to agree to the need for a referendum. (Nothing new here!)
Next up: Larry LeDuc, who says look at New Zealand it took three elections, two referendums and nine years, but they did *eventually* do it. (change their voting system). He seems to be a fan of process and principles over practical recommendation, and cautions the committee against delving too deeply into the details of any one possible option. (Say what!)

In conclusion, he sides with Peter Russell: the main job of an electoral system is to reflect the will of the voters. That, he says, is why he believes in list-based PR, as it both achieves that goal and is, after all, the most widely used in the world, unlike STV which is used only in Ireland and Malta. 

Ruby Sahota askes his thoughts on referendum,s he’s not implicitly opposed to the very idea of such a vote, but sees many, many, many shortcomings, including the ‘disinformation campaign’ that can result during a short, “chaotic” campaign.

Day four (Thursday) the committee heard from:-
• Dennis Pilon, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, York University
• Jonathan Rose, Associate Professor, Department of Policital Studies, Queen’s University
• Maryantonett Flumian, President, Institute on Governance,

And Kady had this to report (in part) see

First up: Dennis Pilon, who like the vast majority of witnesses to appear before the committee this week, he seems to be pretty keen on proportional representation; he also finds the arguments that insist the constitution requires a referendum to be ridiculous, and laments the increasing proliferation of such “internally inconsistent” logic appearing in the media, courtesy of the “right wing think tanks”  behind the funding.

Rose doesn’t believe it’s up to Canadians to design a new electoral system: That, he thinks, is the job of this committee. What Canadians must do is let the committee — and presumably the House and the government — what principles they believe are critical.  If the desired output is proportional representation, we must then go back to the principles to determine how to make that happen, which means asking questions about local representation and the potential tradeoffs that might have to be made.
(Kady says – Over the course of these hearings, it’s becoming clear that no one really wants to discuss tradeoffs that may occur under their preferred voting system, but that probably shouldn’t come as a surprise.)  (And yet each and every system will involve such ‘trade offs’ and it will be important for the committee to understand such shortcomings)
Flumian thinks that turnout could be boosted by making it less of a hassle to register — and to cast a ballot — particularly, although not exclusively, for youth.  She brings up the Conservative-initiated limits on vouching – –  allowing an elector to vouch for just one other voter — and suggests that might have had a dampening effect. On online voting, Flumian enthusiastically clicks yes
“Selling a voting system is like selling a car,” Pilon observes — voters want to know the basics, not the mechanics underlying it.and most voters don’t need to have the counting system explained to the point that they could serve as an  emergency deputy returning officer in a pinch, (but you do if you wish to actually understand the system and comment upon it with any authority!)
Apparently,it’s also we-the-media who are responsible for convincing everyone that if you can’t explain the voting system in 15 seconds or fewer, it’s a write-off. (In point of fact it take many hours of study to fully understand many of the systems being proposed as I have personalty found out!)

On referendum, (more wasted time) Flumian agrees that it tends to be “a very blunt instrument,” and one that has, at least for those in the generation that currently dominates this table, been divisive and not particularly good at resolving complex issues. 
Pilon — that in the Irish system, voters get very good local representation, and can even choose between *different* representatives from the same party.  (Still have to do more research on that one)
Reid, – Given the sheer size of this country, will it not be very hard to ensure that ridings don’t become even more vast, or sacrifice true proportionality by putting a cap on the number of members?  Rose doesn’t disagree that this is one of those tradeoffs.

Thats it, I am sure it hardly touches the approximately 20 hours of presentations and discussions, for that you will have to go to watch the video of each session. I do note that one “expert” has summarized his initial presentation on his blog at which may be worth viewing. Also see Kadys brief overview of the week.

. . . → Read More: Democracy Under Fire: Electoral Reform Committee Hearings Continue

Democracy Under Fire: Electoral Reform – The Ballots

Having recently reviewed a few of the more commonly used voting systems that may be considered by the proposed committee to examine electoral reform in Canada I thought it might be useful to collect some examples of the type of ballot that such systems would require. These examples are from various existing or proposed systems across the world, it was surprisingly difficult to find good examples of some types of ballots. Click on the examples to get a clearer view.

First up Mixed Member Proportional – Closed List where you have one vote for your local representative and one vote for the partys extra candidate of your choice. The Party chooses the individuals needed to make up the number of MPs needed to satisfy the proportionality of the vote.

Next up MMP – Open List where you have one vote for your local represntitive and one vote for the partys extra listed candidate of your choice. The individuals needed to make up the number of MPs needed to satisfy the proportionality of the vote are decided by who gets the most votes. I was unable to find an example of this type of ballot but it would look something like this which is a combination of the above and an open list proportional ballot.

The third example is that of a, Single Transferable Vote ballot based upon a sample from the BC STV proposal, the instructions were added from a Scottish STV ballot as no such information was included in the original. It is the same as AV shown below in that you rank the candidates except that the list contains the names of candidates from 2 or more ridings and the one per riding are elected. Those who win (using the ranked method of selection) represent the combined district..

A far better example of an STV ballot is this one from the U.S., it has the additional quality of being machine readable, something that I believe ALL ballots should encompass but particularly any that have ranked voting.

Finaly we have this simple machine readable Alternative Vote, Ranked Ballot (or whatever you wish to call it, I wish we could settle on a common name for this voting method). Here you rank you local candidates and your choices are taken into account when non of the candidates get more than 50% of the #1 votes.

One final note here. In MMP all votes (for both the local candidate and the Party or their choice list) are counted using First Past The Post, there is nothing stopping one or both of these choices being a ranked choice (except to make an already complex system more complex) thus eliminating those with less than 50% of the vote from automatically winning a seat. Such a ballot for Ranked MMP – Closed list might look something like this…….

As with each voting method there are many different varietys of ballots and what constitutes a valid or spoiled ballot as well as how said votes are counted. Any proposal must include a sample ballot which includes clear instructions on its use printed ON the ballot as well as, where appropriate, exactly how that vote is distributed. (i.e. The number of ridings represented in and STV ballot)
. . . → Read More: Democracy Under Fire: Electoral Reform – The Ballots

Democracy Under Fire: Electoral Reform – The Ballots

Having recently reviewed a few of the more commonly used voting systems that may be considered by the proposed committee to examine electoral reform in Canada I thought it might be useful to collect some examples of the type of ballot that such syste… . . . → Read More: Democracy Under Fire: Electoral Reform – The Ballots

Democracy Under Fire: Single Transferable Vote & Instant Run Off Voting

This week I will once again discuss some of the voting systems that may be considered for our future electoral reform. Single transferable vote (STV) is often touted as a “proportional” system, it is not, it is merely Instant Run Off (otherwise known as Alternative Vote or AV) with a wider choice of candidates by combining several ridings and having voters indicate their choice of candidates in order of preference. The representatives for the 2 or 3 or 4 ridings are then selected using the instant run off method from the combined list of candidates.

That is:-
An STV election starts with every voter’s first choice, according to the following steps:

  1. A candidate who has reached or exceeded the quota (usualy 50%) is declared elected.
  2. If a candidate has more votes than the quota, surplus votes are transferred to other candidates. Votes that would have gone to the winner go to the next preference.
  3. If no-one new meets the quota, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and those votes are transferred.
  4. This process repeats until either a winner is found for every seat or there are as many seats as remaining candidates.

As with all voting methods there are variations, such as how to transfer surplus votes from winning candidates and whether to transfer votes to already-elected candidates. As usual the devil is in the details.

The advantage of this system compared with MMP (proportional) alternatives is that the number of elected MPs remains the same as the number of existing ridings (even after they have been combined for voting purposes) however for those who are determined to have a fully proportional system this will not produce such results despite it being described as ‘somewhat proportional’ in many write-ups. There are no ‘extra’ MPs and thus no artificial limits upon national votes that eliminate a smaller party from equal opportunities or any method to make the results ‘proportional’ with the popular vote.

The problem with STV in a country a large and diverse as ours with some riding’s covering hundreds of square miles is that whilst combining ridings and electing multiple representatives to cover that area may work in urban areas, in other parts of the country it could result in the election of MPs totally unconnected with distant parts of the combined riding and the wishes of larger centres within the combined district overriding those of the more distant areas. The combination of just 3 ridings in my rural area (in SW Ont) would result in a riding of more than 14, 000 sq km twice the size of the GTA with its 58 seats, this would be a ‘small’ riding compared with some other areas of the country. This system is only partly proportional anyway.
As mentioned above STV is merely Instant Run Off (AV) but with combined ridings.

AV (instant runoff) where your second and third choices are taken into account in electing a single LOCAL MP work exactly the same but just one MP is selected from the resulting voter preferences, otherwise all remains the same, I now (having previously voted for MMP in the Ontario referendum) personally flavor this way (AV / Instant Runoff) of electing our local representative (even within a proportional system should that happen, i.e. AV+), it is after all a known and well used system used by political party’s and others to elect leaders. It is the ‘first past the post’ thing that has everybody complaining about it so why would we still elect out local MP this way as most MMP systems do? It does not (except in its ‘plus’ format) add to the number of MPs in the HoC. It is not proportional in the true sense but may reflect the wishes of more electors in perhaps electing their second choice and does to some extent let folks spread their votes between a choice of person and party. It is also simplifies the ballot compared with most other systems and may be better understood by the general public..

For clarity AV+ is basically MMP but with the local candidates selected by an Instant Run Off method. Any system which calls upon voters to select or rate multiple candidates and / or party representatives will by default require a much more complex ballot and a more robust method of counting (and selecting the winners from preferential lists) than currently employed. If you thought the line ups were too long during the recent election wait till you have to rate candidates in order or select multiple candidates or select ‘party candidates’ as well as local ones.

As I have said before, I am all for voting reform but fear that it is not as simple as some would believe and some of the choices may well come with voter confusion, more spoiled ballots, longer line ups, more results challenged due to not understanding counting methods etc etc. I do not envy the “committee’ in their work to ‘recommend’ a replacement system to FPTP!
One final note, there has be some commentary that this system or that give advantage to this party or that, I do not believe this is the case. Taking past results and applying them to a new method of voting tells us nothing. With each method and voter choices the voter selections made may have very little to do with past preferences and no one can predict the outcome, which is perhaps the single best thing about the change.

. . . → Read More: Democracy Under Fire: Single Transferable Vote & Instant Run Off Voting

Democracy Under Fire: Single Transferable Vote & Instant Run Off Voting

This week I will once again discuss some of the voting systems that may be considered for our future electoral reform. Single transferable vote (STV) is often touted as a “proportional” system, it is not, it is merely Instant Run Off (otherwise k… . . . → Read More: Democracy Under Fire: Single Transferable Vote & Instant Run Off Voting

Democracy Under Fire: The Problem with Proportional.

Fair Vote Canada in an open letter sent to the Prime Minister has come out strongly for
the Democratic Voting Task Force to involve citizens from the beginning on Trudeau’s pledge to have reform studied by an all-party committee, that is as it should be. However as with the NDPs platform pledge (and now even the Greens) they then say, while calling on the Task Force to conduct wide-reaching consultations, that Fair Vote Canada is clear – the government must come down in favour of some system of proportional representation (PR).
Having been looking at electoral reform options for a number of years now, and having previously come out in flavor of MMP (Mixed Member Proportional, the only truly proportional system) I now, after further study, am not at all totally convinced that a fully ‘proportional’ system is practical or even desirable in Canada. Something that more closely reflects the voters wishes is most certainly desirable, as is some modernization to our voter identification and balloting systems. Given the way our system works it would certainly be nice to be able to separate somewhat our wishes as to the local representative and our wish for the party to hold power but what of the problems that such a system may bring. Is the solution worse than the problem?

Several countries use a form of Mixed Member Proportional voting however few if any the size and diversity of Canada. There is a great deal of difference between adjusting for proportionality in a country the size of say New Zeland at 268,000 sq km, a population of 4.5m and 71 electorate seats, and Canada with almost 10 MILLION sq km and a population of 36 million and 338 ridings!
In the debate about proportional representation you will see a lot of arguments that go something like this…..

Winner-take-all gave Canada a House of Commons in 2011 of 166 Conservatives, 103 New Democrats, 34 Liberals, 4 Bloc Québécois, and one Green. TOTAL 308
Instead, the proportional results would have been roughly 127 ( 41% ) Conservatives, 97 (31%) New Democrats, 56 (18%) Liberals, 17 (5.5%) Bloc Québécois, and 11 (3.5%) Greens.

That is NOT however how it works, irregardless of what ‘proportional’ system we use based upon the national vote (or a separate vote for party) the local MPs will be still elected for each riding (using a first past the post method) and thus cannot / will not loose their seats in order to make the results proportional thus the final make up of the HoC would look more like this….

166 ( 41% ) Conservatives (the number actually elected), 125 (31%) New Democrats, 72 (18%) Liberals, 22 (5.5%) Bloc Québécois, and 14 (3.5%) Greens. TOTAL around 400 MPs(rough figures / rounding errors / no partial MPs!) Note that the Greens and the Bloc would ‘appoint’ more MPs than were elected! (I also note we now have more than 308 ridings to start with!)

Having established that with this system we will have to have more MPs, let us examine the way they would be selected. Two basic methods exist, Open List where your ‘extra’ vote goes to an individual proposed by the Party of your choice and Closed List where your additional vote goes to the Party of your choice. Within these two options there are multiple ways in how such lists and choices are made, I will not try to fully explain each of these (check out the following links for more on that) but will try and outline some of the possible problems and potential solutions.

All Open List proportional voting systems chose from preordained list of ‘extra’ candidates provided by the party however there are several methods by which voters may chose said candidates and how such choices translate into who on the list actually is chosen.

The ballots can become quite complex with some such systems with the necessity to list not only the local candidates but the party lists (chosen by the party hierarchy) of each of the partys vying for power. A national list for our system could have to contain as many as 25 names
per party but even if chosen on a regional basis the ballot could contain 20 or more names in total, with some folks complaining about the delays at the voting booth to just select one candidate this could become an issue. Even if reduced by having party lists for each province it is still will take longer to vote and remember there is no guarantee that any or all of these folks will ever see the floor of the HoC and how does one choose which province (or district) has the extra MP(s) if and when needed for top up? Presumably by the ones that get the highest number of vote (first past the post!) and would that mean that those in more populous Provinces / districts would get their choice over and above less populous areas.
In closed list systems, each political party has pre-decided who will receive the seats allocated to that party in the elections, so that the candidates positioned highest on this list tend to always get a seat in the parliament while the candidates positioned very low on the closed list will not. The party executive or party leaders generally control the list; consequently closed-list systems transfer political power to the un-elected persons who author the party’s list of candidates. The choices at the ballot box would be simpler with just selecting a local candidate and a preferred party but I seriously doubt that many folks will not select the party that the candidate belongs to, unless perhaps an independent is running. It should be noted that in this, and most other, ‘proportional’ systems there is normally a limit set as to the minimum popular vote below which the ‘party’ will not be considered for ‘top up’ MPs. Where should this be set, 5%, 10%, higher , lower?

The problem with both open and closed list MMP systems is that a candidate who perhaps has received considerable support from his ridings voters but not quite enough to be elected would in some situations be replaced by an individual, put on a short list by the party hierarchy, who many of those voters do not know from Adam. Who does this individual represent and is accountable to, the party, the district, the province in which he resides or who? It is obvious that it will be the party thus increasing the already overly amount of power the party bosses hold over our MPs.

One possible partial solution to some of these problems is to use Local Lists, that is to NOT have any pre ordained lists but to choose the extra MPs from those in the party who were not elected but received the highest proportion of the votes in their riding as compared with all other ridings. This would reduce the party control over the choices, at least use individuals that stood for election in the usual fashion and received an endorsement from many of his or her local citizens. Of course this still brings into question as to who they represent and are accountable to, and adds the perception that said riding has two MPs, a situation that would probably also occur to some extent with party list choices. It would however somewhat balance the desires of an area that was strongly in favour of party ‘A’ when the national popular vote favoured part ‘B’ by giving that area a greater chance of getting some of those ‘extra’ MPs! As noted previously in all of the above variations a lower limit is set below which a given Party would receive NO extra MPs, the setting of this threshold could have an enormous impact upon the outcome. For instance in the example above if set at 5% the Block would retain their 22 MPs but the Greens would be reduced to just one, all of a sudden its NOT proportional! I also note that in some MMP systems there is also an upper limit on the percentage of ‘list members’ that can be appointed in relation to the directly elected members 20% , 39% etc.. These little ‘details are important.

With the number of MPs varying depending upon results and possibly as many as 20-25% extra MPs having to be ‘nominated’ (and accountable to an unspecified authority) this is not an acceptable situation IMHO, the cost to the taxpayer alone, never mind the high percentage of ‘appointed’ MPs and where to put them, should make these systems (MMP, AV-PLUS) subject to a great deal of detailed study to see if the “cure” is worse than the problem. Any of those who openly promote “proportional voting” must in the same breath specify exactly which method of PR and which variation of said method they favour, anything less is meaningless. This is no less true of any of the alternative somewhat less proportional systems!
Non of the above will solve the real problem which is the apparent inability of our leaders and our MPs to drop the partisan rhetoric and work together for the good of the country (something which, given the probability of minority governments under PR they must learn to do) and the lack of any consequences (other than getting turfed from power when the electorate finally wakes up) when they fail to do so. We need parliamentary reform as much, if not more than electoral reform, let us hope that the new government will also work on that in the coming months and years..

Given the strong feeling about the various options, many of which unfortunately have been formed more upon the wish to change the results rather than any real knowledge on how such changes work in a practical sense, I expect my comment count to increase dramatically on this one. Please remember I am all for electoral reform (which encompasses far more than just the voting system) and more equitable results but see more problems than solutions in this option. Please dont shoot the messenger but do discuss the options.
The systems are many and varied and I hope to cover them in more detail in the future but for now check out the basics in my previous post on electoral reform here.
For much more information and opinion check out these post

. . . → Read More: Democracy Under Fire: The Problem with Proportional.

Democracy Under Fire: The Problem with Proportional.

Fair Vote Canada in an open letter sent to the Prime Minister has come out strongly for the Democratic Voting Task Force to involve citizens from the beginning on Trudeau’s pledge to have reform studied by an all-party committee, that is as it shou… . . . → Read More: Democracy Under Fire: The Problem with Proportional.

Democracy Under Fire: Election Revisited

The election has now taken place and for many of us the results may override any concerns that we had with the process however make no mistake this election process was far from flawless. If we are to believe the folks who reported problems at Pollwatchthere were polls that failed to open on time . . . → Read More: Democracy Under Fire: Election Revisited

Democracy Under Fire: Democracy’s Future

After 5 years of writing about democracy’s decline and the impact of one particular individual had in that regard I am now faced with the question of ‘what do I write about now’. The choice is not hard for there is much to be done not only to return from where we came, but . . . → Read More: Democracy Under Fire: Democracy’s Future

Democracy Under Fire: Vote, Vote, Vote – Vote ABC

Are you Registered to Vote?

By this time you should have received your Voter Information Card telling you where your polling station is located, if you have not received one then either you are not on the list or you information on that list is incorrect and you should call or visit your local . . . → Read More: Democracy Under Fire: Vote, Vote, Vote – Vote ABC

Democracy Under Fire: Electoral Reform in our Future?

With all parties except the Cons promising electoral reform and with what appears to be a lot of support for such a change we must look at exactly what is being promised to help us chose our next government in what looks like will be a minority government. Both the system and the manner . . . → Read More: Democracy Under Fire: Electoral Reform in our Future?

Democracy Under Fire: Be Prepared, Voter Identification

Much has been made of late of the removal of the voter card as a piece of identification, there was even a court case in Ontario to challenge the provision which was rejected. Frankly I believe the rhetoric that this change will disenfranchise some voters is a little overdone, it is the assumption that if . . . → Read More: Democracy Under Fire: Be Prepared, Voter Identification

Democracy Under Fire: Gob-smacking!

“It was possibly the most gob-smacking election launch in modern Canadian history.” So says much respected parliamentary reporter Susanna Kelley 

“The shockers began almost immediately after Stephen Harper announced he’d asked the Governor General to dissolve parliament and call an election for October 19 — at 78 days, it will be among the . . . → Read More: Democracy Under Fire: Gob-smacking!

Democracy Under Fire: Will the Writ be Dropped Early?

Most elections have been fought over the now-typical five-week period, but the 36 day writ period is merely a convention and we all know how much respect Harper has for parliamentary convention. Rumours are surfacing that “The Conservatives are said to have a cunning plan to extend the campaign this time around for their . . . → Read More: Democracy Under Fire: Will the Writ be Dropped Early?

Democracy Under Fire: Harper History, Part 6A – Con Majority – Election Fraud

Spring 2011 & Subsequent Fallout

This article in my series that attempt to detail the contempt that Harper and his cohorts have for Canadian Democracy will not only cover the 2011 election period but will also detail the many “allegations” of election wrongdoing arising from it. It also details the efforts to date to establish . . . → Read More: Democracy Under Fire: Harper History, Part 6A – Con Majority – Election Fraud

Democracy Under Fire: An Open Letter to Tom Mulcair.

Dear Sir I am in receipt of you self congratulatory email boasting of how you have just signed the Fair Vote Canada’s Politicians’ Pledge,I congratulate you on doing so and would hope that many other MPs from all parties join you in doing so but have a number of concerns with the other issues . . . → Read More: Democracy Under Fire: An Open Letter to Tom Mulcair.

Democracy Under Fire: Successful Coverup, Fall Guy Convicted

The Conservative party has consistently said it ran a clean and ethical campaign and had nothing to do with what happened in Guelph and has also said that they ‘fully cooperated ‘ with the investigation by Elections Canada. This being the case then how is it that only one person was charged, and now . . . → Read More: Democracy Under Fire: Successful Coverup, Fall Guy Convicted