Saturday, December 1, 2007

Electoral refrom redux - Toronto Star, Nov 29

To the editors of the Toronto Star;

"Electoral reform has had a full airing, and Ontarians rejected it," says the Star (Electoral refrom redux - Star, Nov 29). That is precisely what has not happened. According to a polling study done during the referendum campaign by Fred Cutler and Patrick Fournier, political scientists at UBC and the Université de Montréal respectively, "Many Ontarians were in the dark about the proposal. . . . Useful knowledge about the proposal was rare. Less than one-third knew MMP makes multiparty governments more likely. Less than half were aware that MMP makes votes and seats proportional, that it would give seats to more parties, and that it involves two votes." Voters did not know that the members of the Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform "were ordinary Ontarians," "had an equal chance of being chosen," "represented all parts of Ontario," "became experts on electoral systems," and that "most members wanted what's best for all Ontarians" (rather than themselves). Furthermore, the study concluded that, had voters known these things, "The result would have been 63 per cent for MMP and 37 per cent for the existing system - exactly the mirror image of the actual outcome."

"Some people just won't take no for an answer," says the Star. When democracy is the question, we must never take no for an answer.

Electoral reform redux

Toronto Star editorial
Nov 29, 2007 04:30 AM

Some people just won't take no for an answer.

In a province-wide referendum last month, Ontario voters soundly rejected a proposal to replace the current electoral system with a new method of voting called "mixed-member proportional." The results were not even close. Only 37 per cent of voters endorsed the alternative on offer, far short of the 60 per cent threshold required.

Undeterred by the results, though, electoral reform advocates are already back at it. Fair Vote Ontario this week issued a press statement demanding all parties at Queen's Park "address the unfinished business of electoral reform," and calling on Premier Dalton McGuinty to put it "back at the top of the agenda where it belongs."

An option turned down by 63 per cent of Ontario voters hardly constitutes "unfinished business," and it certainly doesn't merit being at the top of anyone's agenda just seven weeks after voters rejected it.

Electoral reform proponents had a fair opportunity to make their case. Now, Fair Vote Ontario and other like-minded groups should respect the democratic process, accept the wishes of voters and resist the urge to harangue Queen's Park until they get the result they want.

Unfortunately, Fair Vote Ontario is already cranking up its rhetoric ahead of today's Speech from the Throne. It is accusing the government of not living up to "a pledge for an open and informed public debate on electoral reform" and for "poor management of the process." It says the government should start the electoral reform process all over again, only with more money and fairer rules this time.

These criticisms sound like sour grapes. Indeed, it's hard to imagine a more thorough process than the one that saw a "citizens' assembly" of 103 randomly selected voters study electoral systems for seven months before issuing its recommendation last spring. The "unfair" 60 per cent threshold set by Queen's Park was an appropriately high bar for such a radical change to our democratic process.

And while the scrupulously neutral public education campaign mounted by Elections Ontario could have done a better job of engaging voters, all the money and flashy ads in the world likely would not have made some Ontarians pay attention.

Electoral reform has had a full airing, and Ontarians rejected it. Its champions should graciously accept that.

Tories deny Ontario democracy – National Post, Nov. 30

To the editors of the National Post;

Lawrence Solomon confuses two definitions of "proportional representation" (Tories deny Ontario democracy – Post, Nov. 30). The term is usually used to mean that a political party elects members of parliament in proportion to the votes they receive—a party that gets 42% of the votes wins 42% of the seats, and not 60%. This would seem an obvious and common sense condition for a fair voting system, but it is far, far from the way our current voting system operates, much to the delight of Dalton McGuinty.

But Solomon uses the term to mean the equal weighting of votes from riding to riding, more properly referred to as "representation by population". As he points out, Fair Vote Canada, of which I am a national director, has no position on rep by pop, for a couple of good reasons.

First of all, although not without significance, the problem is relatively trivial compared to the need for a fair voting system. Is the PEI tail wagging the Canadian dog? Under the current system, most of us (and by "most" I mean more than half) vote for losing candidates, so our votes have absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election. If the effective weight of your vote is zero and you are not meaningfully represented at all, what does it matter how large your riding is?

But in any case, the rep by pop problem is itself caused by our current voting system, and the simple and immediate solution is to adopt a proportional voting system. If every vote counts equally, then the size of your riding doesn't matter much. In fact, a proportional voting system would give us much greater flexibility in varying the size of ridings to ensure effective and practical representation for rural and remote voters and smaller provinces. We could have smaller northern ridings, and more of them, without compromising the value of urban votes.

Oh, and the notion that Fair Vote Canada wants to give more power to political parties is just silly. Political parties already hold all the power, and have held it for a hundred years. The point of a proportional voting system is to give voters the power to hold political parties accountable.

Tories deny Ontario democracy

Lawrence Solomon, Financial Post
Published: Friday, November 30, 2007

Canada needs electoral reform to bring in proportional representation. It is unconscionable that in a modern democracy such as ours, vast swathes of the electorate should be effectively disenfranchised by a voting system that is essentially corrupt, disproportionately weighted to favour some segments of the electorate to the misfortune of others.

A principled national movement for electoral reform is especially needed now, given moves afoot in the federal Parliament that would deny almost 40% of the Canadian electorate a fair vote. Yet the very organizations at the federal, provincial and local levels that ostensibly exist to bring us a fair voting system -- they have names like Fair Vote Canada, Fair Vote BC, and Fair Vote Ontario--are eerily silent. None have anything to say on the largest electoral decision facing parliamentarians today.

The federal legislation -- Bill C-22 --is designed to address current injustice, whereby citizens in some provinces are woefully underrepresented in the federal House of Commons. Using Quebec's ratio of one MP for every 100,000 residents or so as a standard, the federal government plan would top up the number of MPs in fast-growing provinces. Alberta would likely get five additional MPs, for example, and British Columbia seven. After the 2011 census, the vote of an Albertan or a British Columbian would have equal weight with that of a Quebecer, eliminating an inequity that has justifiably rankled Westerners.

But another fast-growing province -- Ontario -- would be denied the same proportional representation as the others. Instead of getting an additional 21 MPs, the number needed to obtain the same ratio of about 100,000 residents per MP, Ontario would get but 10, less than half the number required.

Ontario Premier McGuinty, in standing up for fair-minded Canadians everywhere, clearly explained what is at stake:

"When important national decisions are made, Ontarians will not have the same right to have their voices heard, or their views count compared to Canadians living in B.C., Alberta or Quebec. In fact, Ontarians will have weaker representation in the federal Parliament than Canadians living anywhere else in Canada.

"Given Ontario's growing population, the proposed legislation makes little sense. Under these changes, both Alberta and B.C. will get a new seat in the readjustment following the 2011 Census for every increase of approximately 100,000 people. However, Ontario will get only one new seat for roughly every 200,000 people. As time goes by, Ontarians would become increasingly under-represented with each new readjustment following a census."

The unfairness, affecting almost 12.7 million Ontarians, could not be plainer. Yet rather than take on this dismissal of the principle of one person-one vote -- surely a prerequisite for any voting system that pretends to democratic fair play -- Fair Vote Canada has other priorities. It wants a system that gives political parties with insignificant public support the ability to veto legislation supported by the majority; that gives one-issue parties the clout to force their will on the majority; that gives political parties the right to instal insiders as parliamentarians, even if the insiders are unpopular with the electorate -- in short, Fair Vote Canada wants a system that gives more say to political parties and less to voters.

Had parties instead of people ruled, its Web site contends, the number of seats that the Saskatchewan Party won in its resounding victory earlier this month would have been fairer. It likewise faults the Manitoba election earlier this year. And the rejection of Fair Vote's electoral approach by the Ontario electorate in a referendum last month.

"When the legislature does not reflect the electorate, both accountability to the electorate and the quality of legislation are compromised," Fair Vote states. Yet it issues nary a peep at the prospect that the federal legislature will not reflect the Ontario electorate.

The Fair Vote lobbies, it's fair to say, are not about fair voting at all. They are not even about proportional representation, the term they have appropriated to describe their electoral preferences. The Fair Vote lobbies are about delivering power to the parties, rather than power to the people. - Lawrence Solomon is executive director of Urban Renaissance Institute, a division of Energy Probe Research Foundation.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Why Ontarians said no to MMP

Globe and Mail

Why Ontarians said no to MMP

Teach political science at UBC and the Université de Montréal respectively

October 25, 2007

On election day, Ontarians threw cold water on a proposed new electoral system called mixed-member proportional (MMP). During the campaign, our team at UBC and the Université de Montréal conducted a detailed survey that tells us why one-third of voters said yes, while two-thirds said no.

First, few Ontarians were consumed by an urgent need for change. Less than one-quarter were dissatisfied with the current first-past-the-post (FPTP) system. So the onus was on the pro-MMP side to convince voters there was something wrong with FPTP or desirable about MMP.

There was latent potential support for MMP. A majority of Ontarians said "artificial" seat majorities (like the one handed to the provincial Liberals with only 42 per cent of the popular vote) are unacceptable. Most prefer governments "made up of two or three parties because they are forced to compromise" over "one-party governments so they can get things done." They favour proportionality, even for small parties: About 60 per cent think "a party that gets 10 per cent of the vote should get 10 per cent of the seats." Close to two-thirds like the idea of casting two votes. Not surprisingly, the more people knew about MMP, the more likely they were to support it.

Yet these values only helped the MMP cause so much, because many Ontarians were in the dark about the proposal. Just before voting day, two-thirds were aware that a referendum was taking place and the same proportion said they knew something about MMP. But useful knowledge about the proposal was rare. Less than one-third knew MMP makes multiparty governments more likely. Less than half were aware that MMP makes votes and seats proportional, that it would give seats to more parties, and that it involves two votes.

Two specific elements of MMP proved to be liabilities.

First, increasing the number of members in the legislature by 22 was not well received. Ontarians who believed this was a good idea were clearly outnumbered. More important, there were the infamous party lists - the biggest weapon in the anti-MMP arsenal. A majority thought giving control over the composition of those lists to parties was a bad thing. Only 16 per cent liked the idea.

The possibility of a new electoral system was not the only surprise for Ontarians. Its source - a Citizens' Assembly - was probably even more unfamiliar to the public. Voters tend to be skeptical of referendum proposals from politicians, so the assembly might have provided much-needed grassroots legitimacy. But only if voters knew that its members were ordinary people.

Few discovered that. The media paid little attention to the assembly and often described it as "set up by the government" - a half-truth that did nothing to dispel voters' assumption that the proposal was coming from the usual political suspects. At the start of the campaign, half said they knew nothing about the assembly and, amazingly, there was no gain in awareness over the campaign.

So, knowledge about MMP and the Citizens' Assembly pushed voters toward the new system. Could referendum support have reached the 60 per cent threshold if voters had been fully informed about both? We can simulate the outcome if all citizens had known: (1) that MMP would give voters two votes, elect some members whose names never appear on a ballot, produce proportional outcomes with more parties and infrequent majorities; and (2) that assembly members "were ordinary Ontarians," "had an equal chance of being chosen," "represented all parts of Ontario," "became experts on electoral systems," and that "most members wanted what's best for all Ontarians" (rather than themselves).

Under these conditions, our data indicate the result would have been 63 per cent for MMP and 37 per cent for the existing system - exactly the mirror image of the actual outcome.

This is probably heartening, and yet disappointing, for electoral reformers. And perhaps opponents should show more relief than smugness.

The survey was conducted by the Institute for Social Research at York University from Sept. 10 to Oct. 9. Sampling margins of error are between 4 and 8 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Fair representation for all communities

Posted to:

The only way to have fair representation for all communities is to use a proportional voting system.

By “communities”, I mean both geographic and non-geographic communities.
When New Zealand switched to a proportional voting system over a decade, ago, they immediately started electing twice as many Maori people as before, even though they have always had reserved seats for Maoris. Now the Maori are represented in Parliament in the same proportion as they are in the population.

New Zealanders now also elect more women, and Pacific Islanders, and Asian New Zealanders, and Muslims, and all sorts of people who were never elected before in New Zealand.

They’ve had five elections now under proportional representation, and not many would even think of going back to a winner-take-all voting system.

Fair voting generates a more consensual type of government, and a more civilized style of politics.

Fair voting gives voters more real choices, fairer results, and stronger representation for every voter and every community.

Fair voting gives voters the power to hold politicians and political parties truly accountable.

For more info:

P.S. The Single Transferable Vote, also known as Choice Voting, would be suitable for electing representatives statewide in Alabama in such a way that as many as possible can be fairly represented.

P.P.S. You also need independent boundary commissions. It’s not a good idea to let partisan elected officials run the elections. Duh.