Press Release: ‘Does Premier Clark Have the Courage of Her Convictions?’

According to Fair Voting BC, regardless of which party won the most seats last night, it was certain that half the voters would remain unrepresented for the next four years.

“We honour all those who care enough about our public life to run for office and to come out and vote”, said Fair Voting BC president Antony Hodgson, “but we also sympathize deeply with those who feel that there’s less and less point voting.”

“The fact is that nearly half the voters will now have to suffer being ‘represented’ by an MLA they don’t support.  There is no excuse for disenfranchising so many people when almost all other advanced democracies vote in ways that guarantee that nearly all voters help elect a candidate they support.”

Voter turnout in last night’s election also dropped significantly and ended up below 50% for the first time (~49% vs 51% in 2009).  Initial estimates suggest that 10,000 fewer people voted this year, despite BC’s population growing by over 200,000 people during the past four years.

“This drop shows there’s an increasing disconnect between the people of BC and the politicians who claim to represent them,” said Hodgson.  “Premier Clark recognized this problem four years ago when she said, “Every year, as we get more frustrated [with the way our political system operates], fewer of us take the time to exercise our franchise – our most important democratic right.”  This frustration and disengagement poses an increasing challenge to the government’s legitimacy.  The new government must treat this growing threat seriously and take meaningful, significant and conscious steps to re-engage the public in our core political processes.”

“Voting reform is the first and most important change we must make,” said Hodgson.  “Premier Clark understands this and knows that it won’t be easy.  As she said in 2009, “many of the people who are actively campaigning against [voting reform], … relish the ugly realities that are the consequence of our first past the post system.””

But she added, “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 [in 2009], they won’t give you another chance.”

Now that Ms. Clark has been re-appointed Premier, she has the power, the responsibility and a rare opportunity to revitalize our democracy.  Fair Voting BC asks the Premier, does she have the courage to take on the established interests and follow through on her convictions about the deep and abiding need for voting reform?

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Press Release: Deepening Democracy

Deepening Democracy Survey – What BC Parties & Candidates Promise

Fair Voting BC and Fair Vote Canada recently asked BC’s political parties and candidates 22 questions about how they would “Deepen Democracy” in Engagement, Representation and Accountability.

NDP:  The NDP’s two major commitments are to pre-register 16 and 17 year olds to encourage young people to vote, and to eliminate union and corporate donations.  They also plan to put government advertising under the control of the Auditor General, to empower legislative committees and to enhance the powers of local governments, among several other proposals related to accountability and shifting decision-making closer to the communities involved.

Greens:  The Green Party promises to exempt small entities from the so-called ‘Gag Law’, review the Initiative Act to make it more usable, pursue voting reform, empower legislative committees, eliminate union and corporate donations and establish a Legislative Budget Officer.

Liberals:  The Liberal Party promises to implement the majority of the recommendations from its 2010 Local Government Elections Task Force, but had no comment on the remaining issues we asked about.

Conservatives:  The Conservative Party submitted no response to our survey.

Aside from the responses of the larger parties, many independents, smaller parties and individual Green Party candidates provided detailed and thoughtful responses to most or all of our full set of questions (see detailed responses at fairvotingbc.com).

“Our democracy is far from perfect”, said Fair Voting BC president Antony Hodgson.  “It is our collective responsibility to elect MLAs who sincerely believe and truly understand that their top priority is to serve the people of BC and be accountable to us.  In deciding whom we vote for, each of us must consciously seek out candidates who are committed to seriously engaging the public in creating policy, working to reform our voting system to make it more representative, and adopting initiatives such as a Legislative Budget Officer to make our legislature more transparent and accountable to the people.”

“We need to elect candidates who are committed to taking these steps if we are to restore the public’s faith in our core democratic processes,” Hodgson added.  “With trust in politicians dropping through the floor, status quo politics are no longer good enough.”

Full details on the “Deepening Democracy” survey are posted at fairvotingbc.com/deepening-democracy/2013-deepening-democracy-survey-responses.

Press Release: Our City, Our Choices

Our City, Our Choices – City Hall is Unanimous;  Why Won’t the Province Agree?

Collectively, current and former mayors and councilors Gregor Robertson, Sam Sullivan, Larry Campbell, Peter Ladner, Andrea Reimer and Ellen Woodsworth, amongst others, have asked the province four times over the past nine years to adopt the recommendation of former Supreme Court Justice Tom Berger that Vancouver be given “greater flexibility in designing [an electoral] system that best meets the needs and expectations of its citizens.”

Each of these times, Vancouver City Council has unanimously agreed that the city needs the power to set voting rules and/or campaign financing regulations to deal with our unique challenges as the largest metropolitan centre in the province, and each time the city’s request has been ignored or declined.

In the Our City, Our Choices survey, Fair Voting BC asked Vancouver MLA candidates “Will you, if elected, support Vancouver’s petition to amend the city charter to grant it the power to improve its electoral processes?

We received responses from the Liberals, NDP and Greens:

NDP:  The NDP said they will recognize local governments as an independent, responsible and accountable order of government, and empower them to enact municipal electoral finance reform.  They also promised to implement the Local Government Election Task Force Recommendations for the 2014 municipal elections (these are mainly related to campaign expenditure limits) and “will consider any request made by the City of Vancouver with regards to improving the electoral process.”

Liberals:  The Liberal Party promised to implement the majority of the recommendations from its 2010 Local Government Elections Task Force, and anticipate that the resulting Act will cover issues such as campaign contributions and expense limits.  They also commit themselves “to have this new Act in place prior to the 2014 local government elections” and will “continue to work with UBCM, Elections BC and other stakeholders to ensure that the changes are implemented.”

Greens:  The Green Party will fully support Vancouver’s petition and stated that “Voting rates are moving in the wrong direction and electoral financing for municipal elections currently has a bit of a wild west feel. Municipal electoral financing laws are too broad and invite voter skepticism when regional and even international groups or persons are donate to local candidates.”

Conservatives:  The Conservative Party submitted no response to our survey.

“Justice Berger said that “increasing empowerment of municipalities appears to be the emerging trend in other English-speaking common law jurisdictions”,” said Fair Voting BC president Antony Hodgson.  “All local governments in New Zealand have freedom to choose a more equitable way to vote than our current at-large block voting system.  This is not a partisan issue – each time Vancouver has asked the province, the council vote has been unanimous.  As Senator and former mayor Larry Campbell said recently, “Canada’s cities face increasing challenges and need more freedom to shape their election practices to better engage citizens and inspire trust.  It’s well past time for Vancouver to be granted this power”.  We agree, and call for the next government to at last honour Vancouver’s decade-old request.”

Full details on the “Our City, Our Choices” survey are posted at fairvotingbc.com/our-city-our-choices.

Most Vancouver Candidates Endorse Democratic Reforms, Says Fair Voting BC

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Based on the results of Fair Voting BC’s democratic reform survey, Vancouver voters can be reasonably confident that the next city council will petition Victoria a third time to change the city’s charter to allow Vancouverites to choose their own voting system.  They can also expect more deliberative dialogue processes similar to the West End Mayor’s Advisory Committee and continued interest in online voting, coupled with some scepticism about whether online voting can be acceptably secure.  Depending on who gets elected, there will also be more or less openness to considering new ways to vote that might more accurately reflect voters’ true preferences.

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Disproportionate, Centralized Power and Failure to Engage Public Explain HST Fiasco, Says Fair Voting BC

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

In 2009, then-radio-host Christy Clark said “people are sick to death of the way our political system operates. … People tell me … they’re tired of electing politicians who ignore what their constituents want and do what their leaders want them to instead.”

Clark could have chosen no better example of this behaviour than the recent HST fiasco.  Regardless of the technical merits of a Value-Added Tax, even the government has acknowledged that opposition to the tax was “in large measure due to our own handling of the introduction of that major policy change”, as Finance Minister Kevin Falcon said.  Premier Clark likewise noted that “government understood the way this was brought in well over a year ago wasn’t good enough.”

It is worth considering why the government at the time felt that they could introduce the HST so soon after an election campaign in which they had explicitly denied that they were considering it.  According to Fair Voting BC President Antony Hodgson, a significant contributing factor was the disproportionate number of seats our voting system gives to the major parties.

“In 2009, the Liberals won 46% of the popular vote, but our First-Past-the-Post voting system gave them 58% of the seats,” Hodgson said.  “Since half the seats effectively gives a party all the power, the government was able to cut off debate on the HST in the legislature and ignore calls to engage in public consultation.  Dissent inside the party was squelched.  When high-profile Liberal MLA Blair Lekstrom felt heat from his constituents and called for slowing down and engaging the public in conversation, he was forced to resign.”

“The HST referendum results clearly show that BC voters want our government to listen to us,” Hodgson added.  “Tools such as citizen initiative rights (imperfect as BC’s current Act is) and reformed ways of voting such as the Single Transferable Vote (STV) recommended by the Citizens’ Assembly can play an important role in shifting the balance of power away from the Premier’s office towards more involvement of voters and empowerment of individual MLAs.”

Christy Clark echoed this idea in her impassioned plea in 2009 that voters support STV: “the change it will bring frightens [the backroom boys] – politicians will be forced to listen to their communities first and their leaders and parties second.“

In light of the clear public thirst for meaningful influence over public policy, Fair Voting BC calls on the provincial government to re-open a public dialogue on updating our voting system and initiative rights to better enable us to hold our politicians accountable.

Fair Voting BC Cautions Vancouver on E-Voting Proposal

Fair Voting BC Gives City Yellow Light on E-Voting Proposal Due to Security and Transparency Concerns

In response to Tuesday’s announcement that Vancouver will ask the province for permission to conduct an internet voting trial in the fall municipal elections, Fair Voting BC is giving the city a yellow light.

“We applaud the city for seeking to increase voter participation and believe that online voting will come,” said Antony Hodgson, President of Fair Voting BC.  “However, for elections to be recognized by the public as legitimate, we have to know that the voting process is transparent.  Voters should not be asked to trust a system they cannot monitor.  That’s why we have scrutineers in our current system.”

“With today’s online voting systems, you send your vote into the ether”, said Jim DeLaHunt, a director with Fair Voting BC and a computer scientist with 25 years experience. “With no paper ballot, there’s no way to check that the system recorded your vote properly.  Since all votes go through a central software system, they are vulnerable to bugs and tampering.  Is it really so unimaginable that, with control over the city’s $1B annual budget at stake, election software employees won’t be vulnerable to bribes?”

“The principle of a secret ballot is also at risk.  Voting is not like online banking,” said DeLaHunt. “With online banking, your transactions are secure but not secret. You can see that your bank processed them properly. But with voting, neither the government nor the software providers should know how you voted.”

DeLaHunt added that Fair Voting BC’s concerns echo those of professional computer scientists:  “The internet has the potential to transform democracy in many ways, but permitting it to be used for public elections without assurance that the results are verifiably accurate is an extraordinary and unnecessary risk to democracy,” declared the Verified Voting organization.

DeLaHunt plans to pursue discussions with the city’s Chief Electoral Officer, city councilors and Minister Chong to ensure that the requirements will address Fair Voting BC’s concerns.  Fair Voting BC also plans to approach other cities, such as Surrey, which are considering online voting.

Contact Information:

Background:

  • Fair Voting BC is a non-profit society which works to promote fair, accountable and transparent democratic processes at all levels of government in BC.  We served as the official proponents in the 2009 BC-STV referendum campaign.
  • Jim DeLaHunt is a Vancouver software consultant with 25 years experience, including 16 with Adobe Systems in Silicon Valley. He holds an MSc degree in computer science from Stanford University and has been studying the e-voting issue for nearly 10 years.  Antony Hodgson is a mechanical engineering professor at UBC and has served as a director with Fair Voting BC since the 2005 BC-STV referendum.  He became president in 2009.