Fair Voting BC Welcomes Reform of Electoral Boundaries Commission Process

Bill 7 – EBC Amendment Act: Fair Voting BC welcomes the recent introduction of Bill 7 – the Electoral Boundaries Commission Amendment Act by the provincial government which removes a controversial clause introduced by the previous government that, in our view, unnecessarily constrained the non-partisan and independent Electoral Boundaries Commission in setting fair boundaries in accordance with the norms and principles articulated by the Supreme Court in the landmark 1991 Saskatchewan Electoral Boundaries Reference Case (see stories by CBC and the Vancouver Sun). 

Independent Electoral Boundaries Commissions:  In strong contrast to the United States, where electoral boundaries are typically set using partisan committees that engage in significant gerry-mandering, all federal and provincial elections in Canada rely on independent Electoral Boundaries Commissions (EBCs) to set the riding boundaries. 

Principle of Representation by Population: To reflect the core democratic principle that voters should be treated equally, EBCs are instructed by legislation that their highest priority is to achieve comparative parity in the populations of each riding (a.k.a. “representation by population”, or “rep-by-pop”).  In previous legal cases, the courts have recognized that there are challenges in reconciling this primary goal with other considerations – most notably the difficulties in providing constituency service in the least-densely-populated parts of the country – and so have allowed EBCs discretion to permit limited deviations to accommodate such concerns.  Governments across Canada have generally written legislation that defines the maximum permitted deviations to lie within ranges of plus or minus 5% to 25% (BC’s legislation specifies 25%) – see Table 2 in this BC White Paper

BC Goes Well Beyond Bounds:  Deviations beyond these limits are supposed to be permitted only in “extraordinary”, “exceptional” or “very special” circumstances.  But provincially, we have many significant deviations – 47 of the 87 ridings in the province (see map below left) are over 10% away from parity, 10 are beyond 25%, 6 are beyond 40%, and two are close to 60% (North Coast at -58% and Stikine at -61%).  Such massive deviations from parity are very likely unconstitutional. In contrast, the federal riding boundaries in BC have been set such that most lie within +/-10%, with only 6 of 42 lying between 10% and 15%, and only one lying beyond 15% (+16% in North Okanagan-Shuswap) – see map below right. 

Provincial riding boundaries

Federal riding boundaries

Why is BC so Out of Whack?  The BC Liberal Party won re-election in 2013 and that fall introduced a White Paper on Electoral Boundary Reform laying out their plan to change the legislation that would govern the 2015 Electoral Boundaries Commission process.  In a move that was widely criticized at the time because of the partisan advantage it would confer on the BC Liberals, the government passed legislation in 2014 specifying that the EBC could not reduce the number of seats in each of three specified regions (the North, Cariboo-Thompson, and Kootenay-Columbia).  The Liberals won the majority of these 17 seats in recent elections (11 in 2013 and 13 in 2017 and 2020).  Had the number of seats been reduced in proportion to the population in these areas, these regions would have had only about 12 seats, so the Liberals would have stood to have lost two or three seats relative to the NDP in the 2017 election had they not imposed this change. 

Reactions to Bill 7: Perhaps predictably, some Liberal MLAs from the affected areas are criticizing the current bill, arguing that northern ridings will increase in size and therefore make it more difficult for MLAs to cover their ridings (see also story in PG Daily News), though some seem to be exaggerating the possible effects – e.g., Liberal MLA Dan Davies (Peace River North) claims that “three or four MLAs would represent the entire northern two-thirds of our province”, even though Liberal MLA John Rustad (Nechako Lake) estimates that there would likely still be at least six MLAs north of Kamloops (and possibly more, given the EBC’s discretion, as another northern MLA, NDP Nathan Cullen (Stikine), points out).  

More surprisingly, a Times-Colonist editorial casts the bill as politicizing the political process, arguing that the governing NDP stands to benefit if the current “legislative finger” on the scale is removed. But, as political scientists Dennis Pilon and Stephen Phillips point out, this characterization is unfair:  

“What the changes actually seek to do is restore the autonomy of the commission to design and revise constituency boundaries in the province to best represent voters, informed by established principles of population equality and effective geographic representation.” 

We agree.  In our view, removing a biasing and discriminatory clause and restoring the power of the independent Electoral Boundaries Commission to do their work guided solely by the principles articulated and affirmed by the courts should not be equated with imposing a discriminatory clause in the first place, even if the party removing the clause stands to do better on the resulting level playing field than on the one currently tilted against them. 

We therefore encourage you, as this bill makes its way through the legislative process, to let your MLA know that you support Bill 7’s goal of restoring a fair electoral boundaries-setting process.

BC Election Post-Mortem

What a night last night! Now that it’s clear that the final result won’t be known until about May 22-24, we have a moment to reflect on what has happened so far and to speculate about the future. Here are some things we know for sure:

Half the Voters Are Still Unrepresented

BC voters cast just under 1.8 million votes last night. About 910,000 were cast for elected MLAs, while 890,000 were cast for candidates who did not win election. This means that barely half the voters (<51% of us) are represented by an MLA we support. This is par for the course for First-Past-the-Post voting.

Swing Ridings Rule the Day

17 of the province’s 87 ridings had a winning margin of under 10%, and 7 had a margin of under 5%. This means that most ridings (70 of the 87) were pretty safe bets for the winning party. Indeed, of the 75 ridings whose names stayed the same since the last election, only 14 changed hands this election, with an average vote shift of only 7%. As we all know, currently only 9 votes stand between a minority government, possibly led by the NDP, and a majority government led by the Liberals. Indeed, a swing of under 500 votes (e.g., in Coquitlam-Burke Mountain, Richmond-Queensborough and Vancouver-False Creek) could mean the difference between a Liberal majority and an NDP majority, despite neither party having more than 40% of the vote. A proportional voting system would be much less sensitive to small vote shifts – to swing an election from a 50-40 majority to a 40-50 outcome would require a vote swing of more like 85,000 votes here in BC.

A Majority Wants Electoral Reform

Close to 57% of voters cast their votes for parties that explicitly promised to take steps to introduce proportional representation before the next election. Even if the Liberal Party ends up winning this election, this is an important milestone.

“Us vs Them”: Exaggerated Regional Differences

The seat map is striking – the NDP won almost all the seats on Vancouver Island and across the central parts of Greater Vancouver, while the Liberal Party won all the seats in the eastern Fraser Valley and almost all the seats in the Interior. Does this reflect how people voted? Not at all. The NDP took two-thirds of the seats in the Lower Mainland and on Vancouver Island on 40-45% of the vote in these regions, while the Liberal Party took over 85% of the seats in the eastern Fraser Valley and the Interior on just over 50% of the vote. But in all these regions, the second party had close to 30% of the vote (and the Liberals had close to 40% in Greater Vancouver). Why should these voters not have an MLA who shares their political perspective? Such exaggeration is damaging to our ability to make good provincial policy decisions. Whoever forms government needs to hear from voices across the province. First-Past-the-Post silences those voices.

More Women Elected

The number of women in the BC Legislature increased slightly, from 31 of 85 to 33 of 87 (36.5% to 38%), which is a higher percentage than any other legislature in Canada (Ontario is second at 35%). Women represented 41% of the Liberal Party candidates, 51% of the NDP candidates and 38% of the Green Party candidates. This percentage is up by 10% on average over the 2013 numbers for the Liberal Party and NDP. However, women won only 30%, 46% and 33% of those parties’ seats, respectively, suggesting that perhaps the parties tended to place women in less winnable ridings (the Liberal Party’s gap of 10% suggests that they may have done this to a somewhat greater extent than the other two, who had only a 5% gap each). Nonetheless, the increase does confirm the importance of increasing the number of women nominated. But we can do better – some forms of proportional representation (e.g., STV) would ensure that virtually all ridings would be competitive, so we could remove that largely invisible barrier of ‘unwindable’ ridings.

Higher Voter Turnout

Another slightly bright spot was the (estimated) improvement in voter turnout – currently estimated at about 57% (up from 55% in 2013, and from 51% in 2009, but it hasn’t been above 60% since 1991 (64%)).

More Indigenous MLAs

The election of Adam Olsen (GP) and Eliss Ross (LP) brings the total number of indigenous MLAs to 4 (joining Melanie Mark and Carole James of the NDP). [CBC story]

What Now?

While we wait for the final outcome of last night’s election to be decided, we will be hard at work preparing our Charter challenge, in which we will argue that our current voting system violates our charter rights to effective representation and equal treatment. So far, we have pledges of over $135,000 towards our goal of $360,000. Please help us reach this goal!

Reality Check – Does the Conservative Party Really Rely Less on Subsidies Than Other Parties? (Answer: No)

Dear Democratic Reform Supporters:

We apologize in advance for a somewhat longer article than usual.  If you’re short on time, check out the executive summary and the graphs below:

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY – Reality Check Shows PM’s Claims Are Incorrect

The Prime Minister recently argued that the reason he called for a longer campaign was because the other parties are already campaigning on the public dime, implying that the Conservatives weren’t (at least, not to the same extent), stating that he thinks the parties should operate on their own resources and not rely on the taxpayer.  

However, Fair Voting BC’s analysis shows that the Conservatives receive a greater public subsidy than any other party ($55-75M in the past year, vs ~$35M for the Liberals and $25M for the NDP), raise a greater fraction of their total budget from public sources than the other parties (88-91%, vs 86-87% for the Liberals and NDP), and are expected to receive a much greater public subsidy per expected vote than the other parties ($12-17, vs $9 for the Liberals and $5 for the NDP).  

Our verdict:  the Conservative Party is securing more public support in both absolute and relative terms than the other major federal parties.  Read on for the details.

Update: some of the sources we consulted to write this article did not list the numbers for the Green Party.  We have therefore not been able to come up with as reliable an estimate for their subsidies as for the other parties, but have added those figures we have been able to ascertain. 

FAIR VOTING BC REALITY CHECK

PM Says Parties Should Operate Without Subsidies: When Prime Minister Harper called the election this past Sunday, “[h]e was quickly peppered with media questions about why he was subjecting Canadians to a campaign that promises to be the longest in more than a century and the costliest in the country’s political history.  Simple, Harper replied: Conservative rivals are already campaigning, and they’re doing it on the public dime.”

He went on to explain: “If we’re going to begin our campaigns and run our campaigns, that those campaigns need to be conducted under the rules of the law, that the money come from the parties themselves, not from the government resources, parliamentary resources or taxpayer resources.  What we do by calling this campaign is making sure we are all operating within the rules and not using taxpayers’ money directly.”

So, is the Prime Minister right to imply that the Conservative Party is much less reliant on public subsidies than the other parties, given that the Conservative Party has phased out the per-vote subsidy and expanded the spending limits for campaigns lasting longer than 37 days?  Fair Voting BC is pleased to present a reality check [CBC asks a similar question].

Forms of Public Subsidy:  Federal parties have historically received three forms of subsidies:  (1) the per-vote subsidy, (2) tax credits to donors, and (3) reimbursement of 50-60% of campaign expenses (expenses incurred during a writ period).  In addition, the government benefits from control over government advertising resources.

1. Per-Vote Subsidy:  The Conservative Party has benefitted more than the other parties from the per-vote subsidy, receiving close to $100M from this source since 2004 (when it was implemented to compensate parties for losing access to corporate and union donations), while the Liberal Party has received about $75M, the NDP about $55M, and the Green Party about $12M.  While the last per-vote subsidy payment was issued in spring 2015, these payments have certainly contributed significantly to the ‘war-chests’ of the various parties that they will be drawing on in this election campaign.

2. Tax Credits to Donors:  When taxpayers give political parties $1.00, they are reimbursed up to $0.75, which can make the net cost to the taxpayer as little as $0.25.  On average, parties receive $2 from the public purse for every $1 in net contributions from individual donors.  In 2009, this subsidy totalled $30M for all parties [Wikipedia].  In 2014, the top three parties reported raising $20M (CP), $15M (LP) and $9.5M (NDP), so the corresponding public subsidies were on the order of $13M (CP), $10M (LP) and $6M (NDP).

3. Reimbursement of Campaign Expenses:  The third main way in which the public subsidizes parties is by reimbursing over 50% of their campaign expenses.

Treasure ChestEstimating War-Chest Size:  We have not been able to find current estimates of the size of each campaign’s ‘war-chest’, but the federal parties certainly accumulate significant resources between elections.  It was recently reported that the parties ended 2013 with accumulated assets of $16.3M (CP), $9.4M (LP) and $5.9M (NDP) at the national level, with the CP holding another $15.8M at the local level and $4M held on behalf of the local associations.  The LP and NDP had $8.1M and $4M, respectively, at the local level.  In addition, the parties raised considerable sums throughout 2014 ($20M/$15M/$9.5M, respectively, and $3M for the Green Party) and have recently reported the results of their fundraising through the first two quarters of 2015 ($13.7M/$8.1M/$7.8M/$1.5M) [see Elections Canada files].  They therefore have about $70M, $40M and $27M available to the largest three parties (we have insufficient data to estimate the amount available to the GP), less any expenditures they have made over the past 18 months.

Extended Campaign Limit Changes Only Affect Conservative Party:  Under the current regulations, each party running a full slate of candidates is entitled to spend a maximum of about $25 million for a five-week campaign and each candidate about $100,000, or ~$34M in total for the 338 ridings (though parties will generally concentrate their local spending in the much smaller number of swing ridings to save on overall expenses).

Under the recently passed Fair Elections Act, the government allowed the spending limits to increase for longer campaigns.  Had the campaign been the standard five weeks in length, it is likely that only the Conservative Party would have been constrained in its spending.  However, Prime Minister Harper’s decision to call an extended 11-week campaign means that the expenditure limits will roughly double, to about $52M per party and $210k per candidate ($71M total), effectively removing the constraint on spending the CP would otherwise have faced.  Since no other party would likely have been restrained by the regular campaign limits, they will not gain any benefit from the increased limits and will simply have to spend their existing funds over a longer period.

Subsidies:  Since 50-60% of a party’s campaign expenditures are reimbursed, the Conservative Party therefore stands to recoup a larger amount of money than they would have with a shorter campaign period.  We estimate that the three main parties will likely receive approximately $35M, $20M and $13M for the CP, LP and NDP, respectively, in expense reimbursement at the end of this year’s campaign (at $68M, this would be a considerable increase from the $48M these parties received following the 2008 election [Wikipedia]).  The GP received $1.7M in reimbursement in 2008.

4. Use of Government Advertising Budgets:  Although not normally considered to be a part of the election financing system, the governing party has access to a significant advertising budget while in office.  Government advertising costs run to approximately $100M per year, with some of the largest contracts in 2012-13 being the Economic Action Plan campaign at $15M (for a program that had ended two years previously), Responsible Resource Development at $8M, and a campaign promoting tax cuts at $7M.  The government recently spent $7.5M in May touting the success of the Economic Action Plan and an additional $13.5M to advertise its pre-election budget.  At least some significant portion of this funding could reasonably be considered to be subsidized partisan advertising, especially when government representatives are not scrupulous in separating their partisan and official responsibilities, as Minister Poilievre was recently accused of when he wore a Tory golf shirt when announcing the government’s $3B child benefit payment program.  In recognition of the potential for conflict of interest, the Ontario government requires the Auditor-General to approve all government advertising to ensure it is not partisan.

Summary of Subsidies:

1. Subsidy by Party:  The graph below shows the total subsidies by party for the three largest federal parties – it includes an estimate for the 2014 per-vote and donor subsidies, as well as an estimate for the 2015 campaign expense reimbursement subsidy, and assumes that $20M of the government’s annual advertising budget can be considered to be support for the governing party.  From this graph, it is clear that the Conservative Party receives on the order of $75M in public subsidies in an election year ($55M if the government advertising subsidy is excluded), compared with about $35M for the Liberal Party and $25M for the NDP.  We estimate the Green Party would have received under $5M in subsidies.

2015 Party Subsidies

2. Ratio of Private Donations to Public Subsidy:  The next graph shows the ratio of the net donor contributions to the total amount of money spent by a party in an election year – this ranges from a low of 9% for the Conservative Party if the government’s advertising is included (12% without) to a high of 14% for the Liberal Party (and 13% for the NDP).  The Conservative Party therefore relies more on public subsidies as a fraction of their overall expenditures than the two other largest parties.

2015 Subsidy Percentages

3. Public Subsidy Per Vote, By Party:  Finally, we calculate the estimated amount of the public subsidy per expected vote in the upcoming election (using CBC’s PollTracker data from Aug 4 to estimate what fraction of the vote each party will win and assuming 15M voters).  The final graph shows that Conservative Party is expected to receive a public subsidy of approximately $12-17 per expected vote (depending on whether or not government ad expenditures are included), while the Liberals will receive about $9/vote and the NDP about $5/vote.

2015 Subsidy Per Vote

Verdict:  So, to address Prime Minister Harper’s claim that campaign money should “come from the parties themselves [and] not from … taxpayer resources”, it is clear that all federal parties are heavily subsidized by the taxpayers, and the Conservative Party much more so than the others.

Note:  Arguable That Entire System is Publicly Funded:  One significant use of party funds is to generate the donor funds that are so important to a party’s overall budget – $1 of net voter contribution gets multiplied three times due to the donor tax credit program and another two times by the campaign expenditure reimbursement program, for a total of $5 of public subsidy for every $1 of private contribution.  Interestingly, the fundraising costs needed to generate these contributions are, on average, just about equal to the amounts raised [Wikipedia].  For example, in 2009, the Conservatives spent over $6M to raise about $5M in private funding, while the Liberals spent about $2M to raise $2.5M.  Without the public six-fold multiplier, the federal parties would be unable to raise any significant amount of money directly from the public because the cost of their fundraising campaigns would consume the entire amount of the donations.  In effect, since the cost of fundraising effectively cancels out the net amounts received, essentially all the funds that parties use to conduct their campaigns come from the publicly-provided pool.  The only functional purpose of the fundraising system is to provide indirect guidance on how much the public wishes each political party to receive.  Some have argued that it would be more efficient to use more direct approaches such as an annual check-off box on tax returns – this would be a useful thing for a future government to consider [Institute for Research on Public PolicyFlanagan and Coletto – U of Calgary].

As the election campaign unfolds, we will be sending out more frequent updates discussing issues particularly relevant to the campaign.  Stay tuned!

What Was the Turnout in 2013 Anyway?

Update:  Now that final voting results have been reported, we have updated the calculations described below.  Please check the end of this post for the update.

There seems to be some uncertainty as to whether or not the turnout in last night’s election was up or down over 2009.  For example, the Huffington Post reports numbers purportedly from Elections BC that show a turnout of 52% compared with 51% in 2009, and this number was reported in other stories such as this one on Global News.  However, these numbers don’t make sense to us.  The answer likely lies in widespread confusion between the turnout of REGISTERED voters and turnout of ELIGIBLE voters.  The difference can be significant. Remember that out of the total population of BC, only some people are eligible to vote (with minor exceptions, all Canadian citizens over the age of 18 who have been resident in BC for more than six months).  To actually vote, one must register.  Historically, about 5-10% of eligible voters do not register. For example, the PolicyMonitor website has posted a news release from Elections BC with an attached factsheet that reports the following numbers:

  • 2009:
    • 3,238,737 total estimated eligible voters
    • 2,995,465 registered voters
    • 1,651,567 total registered voters who voted
  • 2013:
    • 3,310,218 total estimated eligible voters (BC Stats, Oct 1, 2012)
    • 3,110,267 total registered voters (April 15, 2013)

Elections BC reported the preliminary vote totals for the 2013 election as of May 15th at noon.  From this, we learn that 1,629,422 valid votes were cast in 2013. Adding in data from Stats BC about BC’s population in 2009 and 2013, we can construct the following table:

Year Population Eligible Voters Registered Voters Valid Votes Turnout (Eligible) Turnout (Registered)
2009 4,459,900 3,238,737 2,995,465 1,651,567 51.0% 55.1%
2013 4,663,600 3,310,218 3,110,267 1,629,422 49.2% 52.4%

Leaving aside the fact that the estimate for eligible voters in 2013 is out of date by eight months and that the number of voters who ultimately registered must have increased over the past month, we see that the reporters appear to be comparing the turnout of ELIGIBLE voters in 2009 (51.0%) to the turnout of REGISTERED voters in 2013 (52.4%).  The more accurate comparison is between turnout of eligible voters;  on this basis, there is clearly a drop of at least 1.8% from 2009 to 2013 (ie, to 49.2%).  This makes perfect sense – BC’s population increased by over 200,000 people, the number of eligible voters rose by at least 70,000 (and more likely closer to 100,000, if we account for the additional eight months that have elapsed since the last estimate), and the number of votes cast dropped by over 20,000 (though some more mail-in ballots are yet to be counted – these accounted for about 2% of the ballots in BC in 2009, according to a 2012 article in the Parliamentary Review, which would represent about 33,000 votes this year).  If we account for the increase in the number of eligible voters over the past eight months and the mail-in ballots not yet counted, our final estimate of the turnout of eligible voters is still just under 50% (49.9%, to be more precise). In summary, voter turnout appears to still be dropping, despite news reports to the contrary.  If you are aware of any data to the contrary, please let us know.

Update: as of June 1, 2013

We were a little surprised, but pleased, to learn that the final vote counts were a fair bit higher than we’d originally estimated.  It appears that more voters voted in advance, by mail or at different polling stations than had happened previously.  According to Elections BC, the final count was 1,803,051, up over 9% from 1,651,567 in 2009. Extrapolating the number of eligible voters from last fall until this May, we estimate a number of 3.325 million, which means that turnout rose to approximately 54.5% (we have not yet been able to find a reliable figure for the final number of registered voters).  Also, the final popular vote results were:  Liberals 44.1%, NDP 39.7% and Greens 8.1%.

Christy Clark on the Need for Voting Reform

Why I’m supporting STV

Posted 5/7/2009 12:00:00 AM

In the last election I voted against STV. I even campaigned against it.

The single transferable vote, an idea that was launched by an assembly of non partisan everyday citizens, didn’t appeal to me. At the time, I believed my vote was the right one because I liked the current system of selecting MLA’s.

Looking back, I realize I liked our current system because it served my interests well. I was an elected politician who had been chosen under the first past the post system. I, like many of the entrenched interests who are today fighting against STV, didn’t see a need to change a system that was working – for me.

But since I have left politics my view has changed dramatically. Part of it has been due to the fact that I sit here in this chair at CKNW every day and hear from you. What do I hear?

I hear that people are sick to death of the way our political system operates.

(And I note that that frustration is bearing itself out at the polls as we see fewer and fewer people, especially young ones, showing up to vote. Every year, as we get more frustrated, fewer of us take the time to exercise our franchise – our most important democratic right, and one that thousands of Canadians died to preserve.)

People tell me they’re sick of seeing their vote thrown in the garbage if they live in one of the 2/3 of ridings that are safe and they didn’t happen to vote for the incumbent party.

They’re tired of electing politicians who ignore what their constituents want and do what their leaders want them to instead.

And I hear that people have had it up to here with politicians who attack each other relentlessly in an endless vitriolic war of words that poisons us all against our democratic process.

I have learned through my own experience in radio and in politics that while those are all things that likely bother you, they don’t for one moment bother the hacks, the backroom boys, and the politicians who are served and elected by our current system.

And when I look at so many of the people who are actively campaigning against STV, some of whom you often hear on CKNW, that is what I see: strategists and interest groups who have grown accustomed to the power the current system grants to them. I see people whose interests and in many cases, whose income is dependent on keeping our system the way it is. People who, unlike you, relish the ugly realities that are the consequence of our first past the post system.

They are fighting STV because the change it will bring frightens them.

First, it will force all politicians to compete for all of your votes. Candidates will be looking to be your first choice, but if not, then your second, or your third. In this context, no MLA will be safe forever, and every vote will be counted. We will stop throwing vast numbers of votes in the garbage once one candidate gets their 35%

Second, politicians will be forced to listen to their communities first and their leaders and parties second. When you vote you will have several choices to pick from your favourite party. If, for example, you are a committed BC Liberal wouldn’t it be nice to be able to choose from among them the one who was brave enough to stand up for you and against his or her party and stop the road, prison, or big polluter from going through your back yard?

Wouldn’t it be nice to choose the one who actually listened to you between elections?

Third, because STV will give you choices from among individuals, and you will have the choice to select the one you think is the smartest, most ethical, someone you can respect. How many times has a political party in your riding foisted a candidate on you who is an embarrassment but whom you vote for anyway because they are with the party you like?

Say good-bye to voting for bumblers who are destined for the backbench, because with STV you get to choose the best person not the party back roomers.

Fourth, the level of hateful invective will diminish radically. Under STV all politicians will have a strong incentive to get along better. They will be hoping to be the second or third choices of their opponents and supporters. The toxic insults and nasty rhetoric will be turned to a lower volume as politicians stop trying to win by ruining their opponents and instead start acknowledging them.

To me this is the biggest most important change that STV will bring about: civility in politics. I believe we need a new civility in our society and politics is where it can begin.

On Tuesday you will make two choices. The first is a short term choice of who will run our system for the next four years. You will vote for someone who has been chosen for you by entrenched interests in a big party machine. They will be someone who will be accountable to that machine, not to you. And perhaps some of the people you vote for will get elected not because of who they are but because they have proven to be the best at slinging mud.

The other vote you will cast will be the much more important one. It will be the vote that determines if next time you will be faced with exactly the same ugly choices, or if you get to make the choices yourself.

Einstein once said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

We have a choice, perhaps a once in a lifetime choice, to do things differently. We have a chance to change our political system and remake it into one that we can have some measure of faith in. If the established interests succeed in defeating this on Tuesday, they won’t give you another chance. I hope British Columbians take this chance for real change.

I hope we take this chance and vote for STV on Tuesday May 12.

Campaign Financing Rules in BC and Federally

A Huffington Post article today reported that outside groups spent over $1B in last year’s US presidential election, largely without transparency and oversight.  Closer to home, the Vancouver Park Board recently passed a motion calling on the BC provincial government to implement campaign finance reform;  their motion was endorsed by Integrity BC, which has a petition underway calling for such reforms.

Continue reading

Time-Sensitive Opportunity for Liberal Party Supporters – Signup Deadline This Sunday (March 3)

Note:  This message is particularly intended for people who are open to supporting the federal Liberal Party, but we trust that democratic reformers anywhere on the political spectrum will be interested in hearing about the current Liberal leadership contest and its implications for moving on electoral reform.
Groups Endorsing ‘Electoral Cooperation’:  You have likely seen the headlines recently announcing a wave of endorsements for the idea that the federal Liberals, NDP and Green parties should work out a cooperation agreement in the next federal election in 2015.  In particular, LeadNow and Avaaz are currently running strong campaigns advocating this idea.
FVBC is Non-Partisan:  As you know, Fair Voting BC is a non-partisan organization and does not advocate on a partisan basis for any particular party or candidate.  For this reason we do not take a stand on cooperation as a mechanism for achieving a partisan goal (in this case, for defeating the Conservatives).  Nonetheless, we do believe it is acceptable to assess and discuss any proposals for achieving electoral reform.
Why Cooperation Idea Is Interesting to Reformers:  The current call for cooperation has two main components of interest to democratic reformers:  (1) a tactical approach to attempting to ensure that a particular partisan grouping wins seats more proportional to their combined level of popular support, and (2) a route to implementing voting reform that would potentially eliminate any future need for such tactical maneuvers.
Tactics Not Primary Concern:  The tactical issue, while interesting to discuss, is not our primary concern at the moment, although we certainly affirm the right of political candidates to act within electoral rules and to reach out across party lines to maximize their chances for election.
Joyce Murray Offers Possible Route to Electoral Reform:  The more pressing current issue is how a cooperation agreement might lead to meaningful voting reform.  As most FVBC supporters will no doubt remember, BC MP Nathan Cullen staked his run for the federal NDP leadership on the idea of a cooperation agreement and received considerable support.  Further, he argued that, if successful, a cooperation government would immediately work to implement some form of proportional representation.  Now, BC MP Joyce Murray, alone amongst the field of eight candidates running for leadership of the federal Liberal Party, is issuing a similar call.
Liberal Leadership Vote Open to All:  What makes Murray’s call particularly interesting is that the Liberal Party has opened voting in its leadership contest to non-party members – in effect, they have decided to run what would be considered in the US a kind of open primary.  In order to vote in the upcoming leadership contest, one simply has to sign up (for no charge) as a ‘supporter’ of the Liberal Party.  To be eligible, you have to be over 18, eligible to vote in Canada and not currently be a member of another federal party.  What’s additionally interesting is that each riding in the country has equal weight in the leadership race, regardless of how many supporters there are in each riding.  So, if there aren’t too many Liberal supporters signing up in ridings such as Skeena – Bulkley Valley, Kootenay – Columbia or Okanagan – Shuswap, your vote could carry significant weight.
Signup Deadline Imminent:  The deadline for signing up is this coming Sunday, March 3rd, so if you’re interested, you should sign up immediately.  While Fair Voting BC is not endorsing Murray in this contest, we do point out that she alone amongst the candidates is promising to work towards proportional representation, so if you are comfortable with the idea of supporting a Liberal candidate and are interested in finding one who supports proportional representation and has a plan for achieving it, she certainly merits your detailed consideration.  We therefore recommend that you read her democratic reform proposal and, if you like what you see, sign up to support her candidacy.  You can sign up either on her site or at the main Liberal party site – your choice.  Click here for a CTV newstory from yesterday about the groups endorsing Murray.
We emphasize again that Fair Voting BC is not endorsing the Cooperation campaign, Joyce Murray or the Liberal Party of Canada, but is simply pointing out that democratic reformers who would consider becoming Liberal Party supporters take a careful look at what Ms. Murray is promising to do about voting reform.
Yours for a stronger democracy,
Antony Hodgson
President, Fair Voting BC

BC FIPA Launches Charter Challenge of ‘Gag Law’

Fair Voting BC was an intervenor last fall when the BC government lost yet another bid to have the Court accept their gag law.  However, the Court’s ruling didn’t address our most significant concerns – namely, that the current law imposes unconstitutional restrictions on small entities.  The way the Act reads now, any communication with the public during an election period that is in any way related to an election issue or candidate counts as “election advertising”, so you must register with Elections BC – even if you didn’t spend a penny.  As the Chief Electoral Officer said in his 2010 report, this means that if you so much as put a handwritten sign in your window without registering with Elections BC, you risk a $10,000 fine and/or a year in jail.  This is an obvious and serious affront to free speech in BC.

We are therefore delighted to let you know that our co-intervenor, the BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association, has filed a Charter challenge in BC’s Supreme Court seeking to have the law struck down if the government fails to make amendments that respect citizens’ rights to free speech. Full information on the case can be found through FIPA’s website.

More Details from FIPA:

The B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association has filed a Charter challenge in B.C. Supreme Court in response to the provincial government’s refusal to fix unconstitutional third-party advertising provisions in its Election Act.

As it stands, the Act states that during an election period, any communication with the public that’s in any way related to an election issue or candidate counts as “election advertising”. This means that before you do something as small as putting a handwritten sign in your window, you must first register with Elections BC. If you don’t, you risk a $10,000 fine and/or a year in jail.

While many jurisdictions across the country have their own third-party advertising regulations, designed to stop big corporate and union donations from unfairly influencing elections, British Columbia is alone in its refusal to implement a lower limit for registration. During federal elections, the government doesn’t require registration unless you spend over $500 on your election “advertising”. In Alberta, the cutoff is even higher, set at $1000.

This is a balanced approach that keeps large election spending accountable and transparent while not interfering with the political speech of individuals and small groups. Unfortunately, B.C.’s provincial government has gone out of its way to avoid adopting this standard.

FIPA has been pressing the government on this issue for years, starting even before the last election. In 2010 they co-published a report with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives outlining how this bottomless definition of election advertising chills political speech among civil society organizations. FIPA was also an intervenor (with Fair Vote BC and others) when the government’s 2012 amendments to the Act were referred to the B.C. Court of Appeal (those amendments, for the record, didn’t fix the missing spending floor). Finally, in early January, when FIPA’s legal council asked the government for a justification of their refusal to address this problem, their lawyers claimed that the Act was valid and insisted that if there was a problem FIPA should take them to court -so they did.

And as if the delays and the stubbornness weren’t enough, it’s worth remembering that a few months ago, Attorney General Shirley Bond promised to bring forward legislation to establish provincial elections to fill Senate vacancies. Elections BC even received a million dollars to prepare for them. It would appear that the government is so deeply committed to democracy that they’re willing to drop $1 million into the possibility of Senate elections, yet won’t fix their truly unconstitutional Election Act, even with a provincial election looming.

If the government has the time to deal with a theoretical Senate election, it should have the time to fix an actual Charter breach that compromises the free speech rights of British Columbians. And they should do it before the next election.

Fair Voting BC Urges Electoral Boundaries Commission to Ask Government to Consider Proportional Representation and True ‘Rep by Pop’

Hearings Process:  The Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission recently held hearings around BC.  The primary purpose of these hearings is to receive feedback on the EBC’s proposed riding boundaries, but Fair Voting BC appeared in order to make the case that the primary difficulties with the boundary-setting process arise from the way our voting system works.

Voter Equality Requires Proportional Representation:  The EBC is supposed to be respecting the principle of voter equality, but they focus on a very limited definition of equality – ensuring that each electoral district is roughly equivalent in population.  They do not pay any attention to the fact that fewer than half the voters end up with an MP they have voted for, which means that over half of voters are denied any representation of their choosing in the House of Commons.  Any of a number of forms of proportional representation could easily boost this to well over 90% of voters.

True ‘Rep by Pop’ Would Simplify Boundary-Setting:  We also discussed the idea that the EBC is also constrained by the assumption that ‘One MP = One Vote’ and suggested that if we take seriously the idea that ‘One Voter = One Vote’ in the House of Commons, then we could be much more tolerant of variations in riding populations where it makes sense to allow them to vary.  For example, if population in a region has risen by 10% since the last boundary-setting process, we could keep the boundaries in place and simply give the MP 10% more voting weight in the House of Commons.  We refer to this as true ‘rep by pop’ (representation by population).

Nova Scotia EBC Made Voting System Recommendations:  We were encouraged to see that the Nova Scotia provincial EBC very recently incorporated very similar recommendations in their report to government (click to download PDF).  You can also click here to download our submission to the EBC.

Fair Voting BC Challenges Constitutionality of ‘Gag Law’ in Court of Appeal

Fair Voting BC Director Jude Coates (left) and President Antony Hodgson (right) appear as intervenors in BC Court of Appeal

Fair Voting BC appeared in September as intervenors in the BC Court of Appeal reference case regarding the so-called ‘Gag Law’, in which the provincial government sought a ruling that their extension of third party advertising limits into a ‘pre-campaign’ period was constitutional.

In the original case, which was brought by the BC Teachers’ Federation, the primary concern was whether or not the government had the right to impose restrictions prior to the official campaign period.  A number of organizations, most notably the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, in co-operation with the BC Civil Liberties Association, (see their Election Chill Effect report) argued that the law requiring anyone (even an individual) to register as an election advertising sponsor before communicating with the public about anything political made it impossible for many organizations to engage in public political debate during (and before) an election.  The government lost the BCTF challenge in 2008 and a subsequent appeal in 2011, and then introduced slightly modified legislation in 2012, but referred the updated legislation to the Court of Appeal (Reference Case) for a ruling on its constitutionality prior to enacting it.

Fair Voting BC applied for and received permission to appear as an intervenor in the Reference Case and we sought to represent the concerns of small entities:  individuals, charities, and issue-focused non-profit, non-partisan organizations.  We argued that, though the legislation is ostensibly aimed at curbing the influence of the wealthy, the provisions have not been tailored so as to exempt or exclude ordinary citizens and legitimate small third parties whose Charter rights to freedom of political expression ought not to be infringed according to the aim of the legislation.  In particular, we argued that the definition of election advertising is so overbroad that it captures even individuals wishing to post a handwritten sign in their own window (an example provided by the BC Chief Elections Officer), that it imposes onerous registration and labeling requirements on small entities and that it fails to exempt charities and voluntary contributions of labour, neither of which are targetted by or intended to be captured by this legislation.

We proposed that the legislation could be readily altered to address these unjustifiable infringements on the Charter rights of small entities by redefining election advertising to exempt pure issue advocacy, exempting charities, defining the concept of a non-wealthy (small) entity and exempting them from the registration and labeling requirements, and explicitly exempting volunteer labour.  You can view our entire submission here.

Unfortunately, the Court ruled last week primarily on the constitutionality of the government’s requested extension of the limits into the pre-campaign period (which they did find to be unconstitutional) and did not substantially engage with our (and others’) arguments that the existing provisions are unconstitutional (see story by Vancouver Sun columnist Vaughan Palmer), so the chill provisions will remain in force during the upcoming 2013 election campaign.  We will be considering how to respond to this continuing threat to our free speech rights in the coming year.

August 2012 Newsletter – Engaging Citizens, AGM, Gag Law, Internet Voting & More

Dear Democratic Reform Supporters:
We hope you’ve been having a wonderful summer.  As our thoughts turn towards fall activities, we have several exciting upcoming events to share with you.
Save the Date!  Announcing Our Next E-volving Democracy Dialogue on ‘Engaging Citizens’, Together With Our AGM
We are particularly excited to let you know that we’ve confirmed the date for our second E-volving Democracy Dialogue which will be held on Saturday, October 27th in Vancouver (likely 2-4:30pm).  The topic will be ‘Engaging Citizens’, and we’ll be looking at some fascinating models for giving people more meaningful ways to get involved in political processes.  We expect to have speakers from the Oregon Citizens’ Initiative Review, the California Citizens Assembly Foundation (their website just went live this past week – check it out!), and the Fraser Institute (Dr. Mark Milke will speak about the Swiss referendum model – see his article about this).  We would like to broadcast this meeting via the internet, so if you have appropriate technical expertise and would like to volunteer to set this up for us, please let us know.
AGM Announcement;  Self-Nominations Invited for Board of Directors
Immediately following the Dialogue, we will hold a short Annual General Meeting at which we will elect our Board of Directors.  Fair Voting BC is governed by a group of ten volunteer directors drawn from all around the province and from all partisan backgrounds (including non-partisans) who meet by teleconference one evening per month (1-2 hours).  We are currently soliciting self-nominations for these positions.  If you are enthusiastic about working to bring about important democratic reforms in BC, we’d love to have you consider joining us – to learn more, please send us a note.
Fair Voting BC Submits Argument to BC Court of Appeal in Gag Law Reference Case
Last month, we told you that the Attorney General referred the BC’s government amendments restricting third party election advertising (the so-called ‘Gag Law’) to the Court of Appeal for a ruling on their constitutionality.  Fair Voting BC was granted intervenor status, and we recently submitted our argument to the court (read our submission here).  In it, we argued that since the purpose of the law is to prevent the wealthy from dominating public discourse, it is unconstitutional to interfere with the activities of small entities, specifically non-wealthy individuals, non-profits and charities.  By not providing a workable definition of non-wealthy entities and by failing to distinguish between election advertising and issue advocacy, we claim the government’s law represents an unconstitutional infringement on the activities of small organizations.
We expect to hear responses from the Attorney General and the Amicus this coming week, and the case will be heard in court from September 10th-12th.  The case is open to the public, so we invite anyone who is interested to attend (10am-4pm each day in the Vancouver Courthouse).  If anyone would like to serve as an official observer for Fair Voting BC, please let us know so that we can schedule you in.
BC Initiates Internet Voting Review;  Fair Voting BC Urges Caution
Earlier this month, Attorney General Shirley Bond asked Elections BC to convene an independent panel of experts to consider the potential for use of internet voting in British Columbia.  Bond argued that internet voting could potentially improve accessibility and convenience, though the deputy chief electoral officer, Nola Western, admitted that internet voting had not increased voter turnout in those Canadian cities where it has been tried.
Fair Voting BC believes that internet voting is the wrong answer to the wrong question.  If the central question is how to improve democratic engagement, a much better step for governments to take would be to provide meaningful mechanisms for citizens to participate in initiating and reviewing proposed legislation;  online processes could certainly play a significant role in such initiatives.  And, of course, we should adopt a new voting system that would ensure that our votes are accurately translated into legislative seats.
Internet voting may sound attractive, but voting online is much harder than banking online – with banking, you can always check your balance, but with voting, our ballot is supposed to be secret, which means the link between the ballot and our identity as a voter must be intentionally broken, which makes it practically impossible to verify correct ballot handling.  All professional computer science organizations that have taken a stand on internet voting (as well as some online voting service providers) have opposed the use of internet voting for high-stakes public elections.  As the review gets underway this September, Fair Voting BC will be seeking to appear before the panel to argue that our highest priority should be to safeguard the integrity of BC’s elections.
(Note:  earlier this month, the NDP dropped its investigation into who was responsible for the Denial of Service attack on their online leadership vote last spring;  there are no reliable estimates for how many voters were unable to vote because of that attack).
 
International Democracy Week
In honour of the United Nations International Day of Democracy, Elections Canada and Fair Vote Canada will each be hosting a series of special events during Democracy Week (September 15-22).  We invite you to check out their websites to see what’s happening (FVC, EC).  Last year, Fair Voting BC invited our supporters to host a video night (https://fairvotingbc.com/2011/08/24/host-a-video-night) and provided a long list of movie suggestions.  If you’re interested in hosting such an event this year, please let us know and we’ll help you get the word out to fellow democratic reform supporters in your area.
The Small Donor Revolution Won’t Be Televised – Smart, Creative Ideas About Campaign Financing
The Huffington Post recently published a fascinating article on how New York City has created incentives for political parties and candidates to reach out to a more diverse set of donors.  The idea is quite simple – the city provides a 6-to-1 match on donations up to $175.  A 2010 report from the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law shows what a dramatic difference this multiple match on small donations has made: it has led to more competition, more small donors, more impact from small contributions, more grass roots campaigning, and more citizen participation in campaigns.  All this, while simultaneously reducing the influence of big money in general and corporate money in particular.  Time to consider something similar for Canada?
New Zealand Reviews Mixed Member Proportional Voting System
Following last November’s referendum endorsing the Mixed Member Proportional voting system in New Zealand, the Electoral Commission launched a review process aimed at improving the MMP system.  The EC recently issued their Proposals Paper and is soliciting written comments until September 7th.  For the most part, their proposed changes are modest – the most significant ones are reducing the party threshold from 5% to 4% and eliminating the ‘one electorate’ rule that allows a party below the threshold to win list seats by winning a constituency seat.  If you’re interested in commenting on the proposals, please check out their website.
That’s all for now.  We hope to see many of you at our AGM.  If you enjoy our newsletters, please take a moment to pass them on to someone you know and invite them to sign up themselves at our main website (fairvotingbc.com) – just ask them to click the ‘Get Our Monthly Newsletter’ button at the top of the right column on our home page.  The possibility of reform grows as more people understand the issues – please help us spread the word.
Yours for a stronger democracy,
Antony Hodgson
President, Fair Voting BC

April 2012 Newsletter – Vote-Splitting, Dion on PR, E-volving Democracy, Homeland Security, Campaign Financing and More

Dealing With Vote-Splitting:  Merger, Coalition or Something Else?
 
Fair Voting BC can’t often comment on merger or coalition proposals because we’re a non-partisan organization, but two recent events – the federal NDP leadership contest and the two provincial by-elections last week – allow us to discuss both right- and left-leaning examples.  As electoral reform supporters know, our Single Member Plurality voting system severely punishes any diversity of political expression.  Federally, the Conservatives have benefitted from the split on the left, while provincially the NDP stands to benefit from the emerging split on the right.  Such splits produce calls to “unite the left” or “unite the right”, which only drives us back towards oppositional two-party politics and denies voters real choice;  eveb so, most parties are lukewarm at best towards merger proposals.
NDP MP Nathan Cullen recently proposed a third option – joint nominations by cooperating parties (e.g., running “NDP-Liberal” or “NDP-Liberal-Green” candidates in selected swing ridings), leading to electoral reform so that this tactic becomes no longer necessary.  In BC, the Liberals and Conservatives might consider using the same tactic in order to give their “free enterprise coalition” an increased chance of winning next year’s election.  The big question is whether or not a Liberal-Conservative coalition would commit themselves to electoral reform if they won.  Alternatively, perhaps the Liberals might even consider changing the voting system in time for next year’s election.  We are curious if voting reform supporters would endorse such a proposal – please let us know what you think by visiting our online poll.
Stephane Dion Proposes a New Form of Proportional Representation
Last Sunday, former Liberal Party Leader Stephane Dion presented his ideas for federal electoral reform in a column published in the National Post.  We are delighted to see a sitting MP from a major party explaining why our Single Member Plurality voting system no longer serves Canadians well and proposing that we should adopt a form of proportional representation.  We encourage electoral reform supporters to consider his proposal (a kind of cross between the Single Transferable Vote and List PR) carefully and to encourage any politicians you support to endorse this kind of proposal. [full proposal – PDF]
Save the Date:  E-volving Democracy Dialogue Series Kicks Off in May
If you’re in the Vancouver area, please save May 26th on your calendar as Fair Voting BC, in partnership with Party X, kicks off our ‘E-volving Democracy’ dialogue series on the topic of “Online Voting:  How Will We Know It’s Trustworthy (If It Ever Gets There)?”  Join us and our distinguished set of panelists – Prof. Steve Wolfman (UBC Computer Science), Andrew Macleod (The Tyee) and Fathima Cader (UBC Legal Education Outreach) – in developing a set of guidelines for our elected representatives so that they’ll know what evidence citizens will demand before online voting can be implemented.  This dialogue will take place in downtown Vancouver from 2-5 pm, with follow-on discussions at local pubs and restaurants afterwards.  Admission is free (suggested donation to help with costs:  $10-20), but space will be limited.  Keep an eye out for a registration announcement shortly (once the site booking is confirmed).
US Homeland Security Expert: “Premature” to Use Online Voting for Public Elections
Speaking about online voting:  “Warnings about the dangers of Internet voting have been growing as the 2012 election nears, and an especially noteworthy one came Thursday from a top cybersecurity official at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.  Bruce McConnell told a group of election officials, academics and advocacy groups meeting in Santa Fe, N.M., that he believes “it’s premature to deploy Internet voting in real elections at this time.”  McConnell said voting systems are vulnerable and, “when you connect them to the Internet, that vulnerability increases.” He called security around Internet voting “immature and underresourced.””
New Initiative to Reform Local Government Campaign Financing Rules
Last month, we told you about Minister Ida Chong’s suggestion that civic parties adopt voluntary rules to prevent corporate or union donations and to just “say phooey” on parties that don’t abide by these rules.  A new group from the Next Up program has started a campaign called Big Money Out aimed at making civic elections fair.  They’re just getting going, so please consider signing their petition or, if you’re interested in helping them out, join them.  Recent related stories in the Vancouver Courier:  [Story 1Story 2]
Local Gatherings
We’d also like to remind you about a couple of regular get-togethers of democratic reform supporters on the third Tuesday each month in Burnaby and Victoria.  The April meetings will be on the 17th.  The Burnaby meeting begins at 7:30 PM at the Bread Garden Urban Cafe near Metrotown (SkyTrain accessible): 4575 Central Blvd.  The Victoria meeting is held at Swan’s Pub in downtown Victoria, near the Blue Bridge (Pandora and Store Street), starting at 5 PM (look for us in the alcove near the Store Street entrance).  For more details or to get in touch with the organizers, please send a note to info@fairvotingbc.com.
Book a Speaker from Fair Voting BC
Fair Voting BC president Antony Hodgson recently spoke at the Okanagan Shuswap Green Party AGM in Enderby.  If your organization would be interested in hosting an electoral reform discussion event, FVBC would be happy to provide a speaker – just drop us a note to get things rolling.
Yours for a stronger democracy,
Antony Hodgson
President, Fair Voting BC

March 2012 Newsletter – Mulcair, Robocalls, Senate Elections, Just Say “Phooey”

Dear Democratic Reform Supporters:
NDP Elects Leader Committed to Electoral Reform;  Online Voting Process Vulnerable to Attack
This weekend Thomas Mulcair was elected the new leader of the federal NDP and therefore of the Official Opposition.  We are pleased that Mulcair has said that moving to a mixed-member proportional system will be a fundamental plank of the New Democratic Party’s platform next election: “Canadians are well aware of the pitfalls of our electoral system. They agree with us that change is needed. When we get elected, we will get elected with a strong mandate to address those shortcomings. If needed, we will cooperate with other parties in the House of Commons and the Senate in order to make electoral reform a reality.”  We urge electoral reform supporters to hold the NDP to account moving forward.
On a related note, the NDP’s online voting process was significantly delayed, allegedly by a form of Denial of Service attack;  Fair Voting BC remains deeply concerned about current moves towards increased use of online voting when virtually no reputable computer scientists are willing to endorse the use of such systems for public elections, arguing that all current systems are unacceptably susceptible to both external and internal attacks.
Robocall Scandal Demonstrates Susceptibility of Single Member Plurality Voting System to Manipulation
As Elections Canada digs deeper into the voter suppression tactics employed in the last federal election (largely against Liberal supporters), we are reminded that the main reason such tactics can be effective is because of the pathological sensitivity of our current Single Member Plurality voting system to small manipulations of votes.  With SMP, numerous ridings are typically won by vanishingly small numbers of votes (e.g., Jay Aspin won by only 14 votes in Nipissing and Ted Opitz by just 26 votes in Etobicoke Centre).  Adding these up, we find that barely 6000 votes out of nearly 15 million cast (about 0.04%) meant the difference between a minority and a majority government in last year’s federal election.  Robocall tactics in a few selected ridings can therefore easily have a hugely disproportionate payoff that simply could not happen under a more proportional voting system – for example, 7000 effective robocalls under proportional voting would likely have no effect at all since 50,000 voters would have to change their minds to shift a single seat.  This hypersensitivity of SMP voting would also make internet voting highly susceptible to fraud.  Check out SFU professor Anke Kessler’s assessment of the statistical impact of robocalling.
New Poll Predicts NDP Blowout;  Will BC Liberals Reconsider Voting Reform?
The BC Liberals may be reconsidering their failure to follow through on voting reform in light of a recent Forum Research poll that suggests that if an election were held today, “[t]he NDP would come close to shutting out the opposition . . . capturing 75 out of 85 seats”. The Liberals would take nine of the remaining seats and Independent Delta South MLA Vicki Huntington would keep hers, the poll said.  According to The Tyee, “[t]he poll put support for the NDP at 47 percent with the BC Liberals and BC Conservatives tied at 21 percent each and the BC Green Party at nine percent.”  While NDP supporters may crave the satisfaction of seeing the Liberals ousted (in a reversal of the 2001 election that saw only 2 NDP MLAs elected), democratic reformers know that such lopsided results, so common with our current voting system, don’t actually promote good governance.  Rather, all voters should be able to count on getting the representation they vote for.  Will the current government take heed?
BC Liberal MLA Proposes Senate Election Process Using Online Voting
BC Liberal MLA John Les (Chilliwack) this month introduced a private member’s bill calling for online elections to start this fall to choose future BC Senators.  Les’s proposal calls for BC to be divided into six electoral districts and for the current Single Member Plurality voting system to be used.  In an additional wrinkle, he also calls for use of online voting.  Fair Voting BC does not regard Senate reform as a high priority issue (reform of voting for the House of Commons is far more important), but warns that hasty proposals could lead to significant problems down the road.  For example, using SMP (First Past the Post) voting would only replicate the current inequalities in the House, but proportional representation in the Senate might not be helpful either as that may prevent future changes in how the House is elected.  It may, in fact, be better to make Senate elections entirely non-partisan so as to preserve and enhance the Senate’s function as a chamber of ‘sober second thought’.  FVBC also strongly cautions against the use of online voting for public elections at this point;  as political scientist professor Dennis Pilon of York University warns, online voting is currently “a horror show.” (photo courtesy of thoth188 on Flickr).
Ida Chong Tells Civic Parties to Enforce Donation Rules by Saying ‘Phooey’
In the wake of last week’s filing of financial disclosure statements by Vancouver’s civic parties, showing that donations were up 50% from 2008 (from just under $4M then to just under $6M last year), including a single corporate donation of nearly $1M, Minister Ida Chong has said she won’t implement the request from Vancouver City Council to limit personal donations or ban union, corporate and foreign donations.  According to Vancouver Courier columnist, Allen Garr, “in an act that can only be described as wilful ignorance, Chong has suggested if the parties want spending limits and electoral reform they are free to voluntarily agree among themselves”.  And her proposed enforcement mechanism is even more bizarre:  Chong said, “If they believe strongly that there should not be acceptance of corporate donations or union donations – if they believe strongly in that – then they should not accept them. And they can say phooey on the party that does.”  Fair Voting BC would like to see rules with sharper teeth than that and encourages our supporters to say phooey to Minister Chong’s proposals.
Reminder About Upcoming Democratic Dialogue Series
A reminder that we will be jointly offering a dialogue series later this spring in Vancouver with Party X asking “How can citizens ensure that public policy reflects the public will?”  Thanks to those of you who provided input into our poll of potential topics.  Over 80 of you responded, and it looks as if you’d most like to talk about online voting, citizen initiatives and the Enbridge Pipeline consultation process.  Planning is now underway, so stay tuned for future announcements.
Local Gatherings
We’d also like to remind you about a couple of regular get-togethers of democratic reform supporters on the third Tuesday each month in Burnaby and Victoria.  The April meetings will be on the 17th.  The Burnaby meeting begins at 7:30 PM at the Bread Garden Urban Cafe near Metrotown (SkyTrain accessible): 4575 Central Blvd.  The Victoria meeting is held at Swans Pub in downtown Victoria, near the Blue Bridge (Pandora and Store Street), starting at 5 PM (look for us in the alcove near the Store Street entrance).  For more details or to get in touch with the organizers, please send a note to info@fairvotingbc.com.
Book a Speaker from Fair Voting BC
Fair Voting BC has also been invited to speak about electoral reform to the BC Property Rights Initiative in April in Surrey – look for an announcement shortly.  If your organization would be interested in hosting an electoral reform discussion event, FVBC would be happy to provide a speaker – just drop us a note to get things rolling.
Yours for a stronger democracy,
Antony Hodgson
President, Fair Voting BC

Academy Award Nominees Chosen by STV

As people watched the Academy Awards last Sunday, we wonder how many realized that the nominees were chosen by preferential voting – in particular, a variant of the Single Transferable Vote (STV). The Academy Award organization actually uses slightly different rules for their various awards, so we can’t describe just one system, but most nominees in most categories are chosen using the following method:

  1. Most award categories accept five finalists.
  2. Academy members who are eligible to nominate movies in a particular category receive a ballot on which they can indicate their top five preferences (using numbers from 1 to 5).
  3. Any movies that don’t receive at least one first-place choice from a voter are eliminated.
  4. All ballots with the same first choice are grouped together.
  5. Any nominee with more than 1/6th of the total number of votes will become a finalist.
  6. If there are fewer than five finalists, the remaining nominee with the fewest number of votes will be eliminated and the ballots transferred to the next choice on each ballot.
  7. Step 6 repeats until there are five finalists.

In effect, this is a multi-seat version of Instant Runoff Voting, in which the lowest ranked candidates are sequentially eliminated. It has the effect of choosing a broad set of widely supported nominees.

This year, the Academy introduced a slightly different procedure for selecting the Best Picture nominees. The new process is a little closer in spirit to the Single Transferable Voting method recommended by BC’s Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform in that extra votes (votes beyond the 1/6th of the ballots needed to win a finalist position) are redistributed in part to the second choice on each ballot after an initial round of elimination and transfers from the least popular nominees. This extra step is intended to ensure that ‘passion rules’ – i.e., that movies need both to have a loyal following and some broad support.

Wouldn’t it be nice if that were the way we elected our legislatures?

Related Links:

Fair Vote USA’s explanation of the process

‘Inside Movies’ explains the new nomination process for Best Picture

Fair Vote USA’s blog about the Academy’s voting processes

CityVote Survey Asks Civic Candidates to Take a Stand

As we did in 2008, Fair Voting BC is again asking candidates for civic office to take a stand on the need for democratic reforms at the municipal level.  This year’s questions include the following:

  1. Do you commit yourself, if elected, to renewing in the first year of your term the city’s long-standing request for Victoria to grant local governments the power to choose our own voting system?
  2. If elected, will you endorse expanded use of deliberative dialogue approaches (similar to the Mayor’s Advisory Council in Vancouver) to generate future policy options?
  3. Which of the following best describes your view of the benefits of online (internet) voting?
    1. Online voting is proven to substantially improve democratic engagement
    2. Online voting has good potential to improve democratic engagement
    3. Online voting is unlikely to significantly change democratic engagement
  4. Which of the following best describes your attitude towards the security issues related to online voting?
    1. Online voting is now sufficiently robust and secure to be used in civic elections
    2. Online voting is relatively secure and may be valuable for consulting citizens, but is probably too insecure to be relied on for civic elections
    3. Online voting is currently too vulnerable to undetectable fraud to be used in a civic election
  5. Please comment on what democracy-related issues most concern you (e.g., voting, campaign financing, citizen engagement, etc.).
  6. If you are a current council member, please highlight any democracy-related initiatives you or your party has undertaken in the past term.
  7. If elected, what do you personally commit yourself to doing during the coming council term to promote democratic reform?

We will be collecting responses until the end of the first week in November, at which point we will be distributing candidates’ responses to our supporters and to the media via a press release.  At the moment, we are specifically inviting candidates in Vancouver to respond to this survey, but we encourage our supporters to volunteer to solicit responses from candidates in their own towns and cities around BC.  Please send an email to info@fairvotingbc.com if you would like to help us in this effort – we can easily set up a custom SurveyMonkey survey for you and give you a link to distribute to your local candidates which will allow you to collect their responses automatically.

Provincial Elections Show Need for New Voting Systems

Voters Consistently Ignored With Single Member Plurality

A slew of recent provincial election results under the current Single Member Plurality voting system shows just how common it is for voters’ expressed intentions to be largely ignored in the makeup of the resulting legislature, and therefore how large swaths of the population end up not being represented the way they wish and deserve to be.

SMP Delivers Overwhelming Majority of Seats Even When Half the Voters Don’t Vote for Leading Party

PEI went to the polls in early October.  The Liberals went into this election with a large lead – polls at the end of August were giving them a lead over the Conservatives of 59% to 31% (with the Greens and NDP splitting the last 10%) and, had this support held up, they certainly would have deserved to win a majority government.  But would they have been entitled to win every last seat in the PEI legislature?  That’s what seat projections were showing.  Over the campaign, the race had tightened quite a bit: in the final days of the campaign, the Liberals lead had dropped to 53% and the Conservatives had risen to 34%.  How would this shift in fortunes been rewarded by our voting system?  The day before the election, the well-respected political predictor, Eric Grenier, at threehundredeight.com used polling data to estimate that the Conservatives would win a single measly seat.  When the vote was counted, the race was even closer than the polls were showing – the Liberals had dropped a further 2% to 51% and the Conservatives had gained a remarkable 7% to end at 40%.  However, the Conservatives were not rewarded for their valiant campaigning, ending up with a mere 5 seats to the Liberals’ 22 – i.e., with 51% of the vote, the Liberals took 82% of the seats.  Perhaps more importantly, the Conservatives were essentially shut out of the more urban parts of the province – only their Stratford-Kinlock seat is close to the capital.

Such results are drearily typical of Single Member Plurality voting. Newfoundland had a similar outcome – the Conservatives won 56% of the vote and took a large surplus of seats:  37 of 48 (77% of the total).  The Liberals retained the title of Official Opposition by winning 6 seats on 19% of the vote, while the NDP came in third with 5 seats on only 25% of the vote – well behind the Liberals.  Huh?  Only in the wacky world of SMP voting is 25% less than 19%!

Close Contests Are Really No Contest

In PEI and Newfoundland, SMP delivered an overwhelming landslide to the leading party.  In both Manitoba and Ontario, the two leading parties had virtually the same level of popular support, but in both cases one party ended up with many more seats than their near-rival – on the order of 1.5-2X as many.  Such distortions greatly exaggerate the actual closeness of the race, and, as in PEI and Newfoundland, tend to produce highly regionalized results (see maps below).

In Manitoba, the NDP won 46% of the vote to the Conservative’s 43% – quite a close contest.  However, due to the vagaries of SMP, the NDP won 36 of 57 seats – 63% of the total.  The Conservatives had to settle for 20 of the remaining seats, while the Liberals, who took 8% of the vote, had to settle for a single seat.  As with PEI, there was a strong regional (rural/urban) divide with the Conservatives winning virtually all rural seats in the south of the province and on the southwestern edge of Winnipeg, while the NDP won almost all the other seats in Winnipeg and the northern half of the province.

It is somewhat ironic that the Conservatives had, at some points, been predicted to win a higher share of the popular vote than the NDP, but even if this had happened, the seat results would have remained unchanged.  Conservative leader Hugh McFadyen resigned following the election, saying that the outcome was “far short of we had hoped for.”  Despite virtually matching the NDP in the popular vote, McFadyen said “The reality is this in politics … you have to deliver bottom-line results if you want to carry on as leader of the party.”  The irony is that this is not the reality in most countries around the world – maybe it’s time for the Manitoba Conservative Party to endorse a more proportional voting system so that their supporters can get the representation they deserve.

The Ontario election in October produced a similar result – the day before the election, ThreeHundredEight.com was predicting that the popular vote was a solid three-way contest with the Liberals slightly ahead of the Conservatives (36.6% to 33.3%), but this small difference was expected to deliver twice as many seats to the Liberals than to the Conservatives.  The NDP, with 2/3rds the popular support of the leading Liberals, were expected to win barely one third as many seats. In the end, the Liberals ended up at over 37%, the Conservatives about 2% lower at just over 35%, and the NDP down to under 23%;  the Liberals won one seat shy of a majority at 53 seats and the Conservatives gained ground to win 37 seats (the NDP took 17).  This seat distribution corresponds somewhat more closely to the parties’ vote shares than originally predicted, but the Liberals still gained a significantly disproportional advantage from how the votes were distributed.  As in Manitoba, the results reflected a strong regional divide, with the Conservatives sweeping several rural regions and the Liberals taking a disproportionate number of the seats in the Greater Toronto Area.

Time For Elections To Make Sense?

When I explained these various provincial election results to my children, they were aghast.  “How can they let this happen?” they asked me.  An excellent question.  I’m doing all I can to stop these outrageous outcomes, and I invite all of you to join Fair Voting BC in working for an end to elections that don’t make sense.

Quebec Court Denies Claim That FPTP is Unconstitutional

Our friends at ARDD (L’Association pour la Revendication des Droits Démocratiques, or the Association for Claiming Democratic Rights) have just informed us that the Quebec Court of Appeals has turned down their motion to have Single Member Plurality voting declared unconstitutional.  Although the court did not accept their claim, they also did not explicitly explain the basis for countenancing the self-evident denial of representation to millions of voters and thereby, according to ARDD’s legal team, have left open the way for an appeal to the Supreme Court.  We invite you to join us in fundraising to support this appeal – please visit the link on the right to offer your support.

The information we received from ARDD is copied below;  please visit their website for more details:

Dear Friends,
Not surprisingly, the decision did not support our motion to have the electoral system declared unconstitutional.  However, In rendering his decision, Judge Dufresne did assert that the lower court judge had erred when saying our case wasn’t judicable.

In summary, the Appeal Court accepted what was obvious, the first-past-the-post voting system distorts the popular vote, but declared that this in itself wasn’t sufficient to grant our motion since all voting systems produce distortions.

Well then, what about the scale of the distortions and the manner in which they are produced?  We provided expert testimony that demonstrates that the level of distortion is beyond that of the distortions caused by other electoral practices and were subsequently declared unconstitutional and that the manner in which it is done is unclear violation of the equality guarantees of the Charter.

No matter, this evidence wasn’t given proper consideration.  In the lower court decision not a word was devoted to our most compelling evidence in the analysis and the Appeal Court Judges decided that this slight of hand did not constitute a judicial error.

Again, we would accept the decision if it had been demonstrated that we had erred in claiming that the fact that first-past-the-post denied effective representation to as many as a million voters that voted for the Greens in the 2008 federal election was an infringement of their democratic rights guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

But this was not done.  They simply dodged this inconvenient fact with dismissive silence concerning how such an electoral anomaly could be countenanced.  To date, the contestable prejudice caused to those who have their votes discarded by an electoral system that is unique in that it doesn’t possess a mechanism to aggregate votes or voting preferences has not been addressed and thus gives us grounds for an appeal.

Moreover, Judge Dufresne went on to make two outlandish statements that suggests that he doesn’t believe that fundamental democratic principles apply to the Charter Right to effective representation.

The first was to suggest that the fact that the reversal of the democratic result of the Quebec 1966 and 1998 general elections (the party that won less votes than another went on to form a majority government) and the fact that almost a million voters who voted Green did not gain any representation in the 2008 federal election did not constitute an impairment of effective representation.  At the same time, Judge Dufresne uses a statistical outlier, a once-in-a-hundred year electoral result from the 2007 Quebec General Election (the three major parties gained more or less representation proportional to the popular vote) to demonstrate that the distortions inherent to first-past-the-post are not systemic, yet he ignored that two smaller parties that together garnered 7% of the vote in 2007 were denied any representation at all.

He then suggests that the most recent federal election in which the Conservatives form a majority government with only 39% of the popular vote and in Quebec the Bloc is reduced only 4 out of 75 seats despite amassing 25% of the popular vote while the the NDP gains 70% of the seats with only approximately 40% of the vote is evidence to the contrary.  In making such a claim, Judge Dufresne again asserts that effective representation does not require that each and every vote carries relative equal weight.

One has to wonder what is the frame of reference being used to apply the concept of effective representation for each and every citizen.  Do the egalitarian values inherent to democracy enter the equation?  Apparently not in Quebec at this time.

Consequently, we will be filing an appeal to have our case heard at the Supreme Court of Canada.

Respectfully,
Brian Gibb