Sep 2014 Newsletter – Fall Volunteer Opportunities

We hope you’ve all had a wonderful summer. Despite most people being on vacation, there’s actually been a lot to pay attention to, and two particularly exciting things coming up this fall that we invite you to join in on.

Fall Preview – 2 Great Events, 2 Great Volunteer Opportunities!

Fair Voting BC is planning two big events this fall – (1) the Our City – Our Charter campaign in conjunction with the fall municipal elections in November and (2) a celebration of the 10th anniversary of the BC Citizens’ Assembly in December.

Sneak Preview: Our City – Our Charter

The biggest impediment to voting reform at the municipal level in BC is the current Local Government Elections Act (City Charter in Vancouver) that mandates use of First Past the Post or At-Large Bloc Voting. Ten years ago, Justice Tom Berger recommended that Vancouver ask Victoria to change the city charter. Vancouver has asked for this change several times, but Victoria hasn’t yet responded, so this fall we want to turn up the heat by building public support for the city’s request. Check out our draft OC-OC website, and sign up using the email signup button there to volunteer to help us reach out to the public and NGOs (please note that the map signup is in test mode at the moment – you can add a marker if you want, but it will be reset when the site goes live in a few weeks).

Celebration of 10th Anniversary of BC Citizens’ Assembly (Dec 10th)

Ten years ago, BC broke new ground in citizen consultation by running the BC Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform. This group of 160 citizens (one man and one woman from each riding around the province) spent the better part of a year listening to British Columbians about how we wanted our government to work and learning how voting systems can make government more responsive to voters. They came to a nearly unanimous recommendation for STV (the Single Transferable Vote), and voters endorsed it with 58% support in the 2005 referendum. Though the government of the day chose not to implement BC-STV, the Citizens’ Assembly was a remarkable and widely-respected consultative process that deserves to be celebrated and reflected upon, so Fair Voting BC will be hosting a celebration event on December 10th to remind the public about the Assembly. We’ve got a great lineup of speakers arranged, including former Attorney General Geoff Plant, the Citizens’ Assembly designer Gordon Gibson, Academic Director Ken Carty, political scientist Fred Cutler, assembly members Wendy Bergerud and Craig Henschel, and several others.

We also have some extra surprises in store. To give this event the public impact we are hoping for, we need your help to put it all together. If you like networking, event organizing and publicity, please volunteer to help us make this an evening to remember by dropping us a note.

Summer Recap:

While it’s a lot of fun to look forward, there were a few notable events in the summer that are also worth reflecting on. Here’s our lineup:

Bill C23 – (Un)Fair Elections Act Revised Under Pressure

The summer started (if you consider April summer!) with public protests about the so-called ‘Fair Elections Act’ passed by the federal Conservatives. Widely opposed by academics, most major newspapers, several former Elections Officers, many NGOs (including some in the US), and the opposition parties, as well as ostensible friends of the government such as Preston Manning and many of the government’s own Senators, the Conservatives finally amended the act to remove the most criticized provisions, but the act that was ultimately passed in May still complicates administrative processes in a way that is expected to deter voting and fails to give Elections Canada the powers the Chief Electoral Officer had requested to investigate electoral fraud.

Conservative Staffer Michael Sona Convicted for Robocalls

Two weeks ago, Conservative Party staffer Michael Sona was convicted of organizing fraudulent robocalls in Guelph aimed at voter suppression by misdirecting non-Conservative supporters to incorrect polling stations. While top-level party officials deny any involvement, the judge found that Sona was probably not acting alone. Ironically, there will likely be no further investigation because Elections Canada does not have sufficiently strong investigative powers, as they have been requesting since 2011. Sona will be sentenced in the fall.

In a related case heard last year that was brought by the Council of Canadians, the judge found that widespread fraud had occurred in the 2011 election (there were reports of such calls in about 200 ridings) and that the most likely source of the information used to make the calls was the Conservative Party’s Constituent Information Management System.

BC-FIPA Case Against ‘Gag Law’ Suffers Setback

We were deeply disappointed to learn in April that the FIPA (Freedom of Information and Privacy Association) case challenging the BC Liberal Party’s election law as unconstitutional for requiring individuals and other small entities to register before publishing a political opinion during an election was rejected by the BC Supreme Court [PDF]. The court did find that the law violates our Section 3 Right to Vote, but also ruled that the infringement was justified by the government’s objective of seeking to “increase transparency, openness and public accountability”. In our view, the government failed to make its case that small expenditures (say, below the $500 limit that exists at the federal level) can allow individuals to exert disproportionate influence over public political discourse. We were therefore heartened to learn that FIPA has filed an appeal in this case, and look forward to supporting FIPA if their appeal moves ahead. [read full judgement here]

Ontario Election Yields False Majority, But May Lead to Better Civic Voting

Ontario’s June election resulted in yet another example of a party winning undeserved majority powers – with only 39% of the popular vote, the Liberals took 54% of the seats, while the second place Conservatives, with 31% of the vote, took only 26% of the seats. On the positive side, Premier Wynne made a clear commitment to “give municipalities the option of using ranked ballots as an alternative to first-past-the-post in their own elections.” If they follow through, this could open the doors to similar changes here in BC – in particular, it could really help our Our City – Our Charter campaign.

So, some mixed news, but also two great opportunities to make a difference this fall. Please consider volunteering either for the Our City – Our Charter campaign or for the Citizens’ Assembly Celebration – we really need your help to pull these off!