Fair Voting BC Issues Report Card on Vancouver Candidates

As we head into the last week of this year’s municipal campaign, we wanted to share with you our report card on the Vancouver candidates’ positions on voting reform.  In partnership with our friends at the Fair Vote Canada Vancouver chapter, we invited all candidates for mayor and council to respond to a survey asking whether they (1) support the City of Vancouver switching to a more proportional voting system, (2) support expanding the voting systems that Vancouver and other BC cities are allowed to choose from (which we refer to as “Local Choice”, and (3) oppose a single-member ward system for Vancouver.

Mayoral Candidates

We received responses from the mayoral candidates shown in the table below (no responses from Ken Sim (ABC) or Fred Harding (NPA)). We have colour-coded the responses related to support for Proportional Representation or Local Choice, as these are key issues for municipal reform.

Note on the Wards Issue: We asked candidates for their position on switching to the ward system since mayor Kennedy Stewart has promised to do this if re-elected. “Wards” typically refers to single member districts elected using a standard first-past-the-post ballot, so they have all the same representational problems as First Past the Post used for provincial and federal elections. There is debate as to whether or not wards would be an improvement over the current At Large Block Voting system that Vancouver uses (there are pros and cons either way), but they would certainly not be proportional in and of themselves, so most electoral reform advocates consider them at best a “lateral move”, as OneCity puts it. We are concerned that introducing wards could stall future progress towards voting reform, so we are generally opposed to making this change now, and have therefore included candidates’ positions for your consideration.

Mayoral candidates’ positions on electoral reform issues.

Overall, only some of the independent candidates earn A-level grades here (A+ to Raunet and Popat, who have actively advocated for voting reform in the past and A- to Shottha), with Kennedy Stewart (Forward Together) and Mark Marissen (Progress Vancouver) having some positive elements (both indicate an openness to change in the future, but this should be balanced against the consideration that Stewart, in particular, has been mayor for four years and did relatively little on this file; he certainly did not invest any political capital in moving the discussion forward). Colleen Hardwick and her TEAM are solidly opposed to more inclusive voting systems, advocating instead for creating a network of neighbourhood councils.

Council Candidates

Responses from candidates for city council are shown below. If a party responded on behalf of all its members, we show the party name (plus the party’s mayoral candidate’s last name, if applicable). If a candidate responded on their own behalf and they were the only representative of their party, we show their name along with their party affiliation (including independents).

Council candidates’ positions on electoral reform issues. We also received individual responses from Tanya Webking, Jean Swanson and Breen Ouellette (COPE), Alvin Singh (Forward Together) and David Chin (Progress). See additional commentary below.

Our Top Choices

Overall, OneCity, the Green Party, and COPE emerge as our top choices in terms of party commitment. These parties have a history of advocacy for electoral reform, along with clear commitments to a range of positive democratic reforms in their party platforms. As mentioned above, some individuals from COPE offered additional personal comments in favour of reform. Some specific candidates from other parties, including Lesli Boldt (Vision), and Alvin Singh and Tessica Truong (Forward Together) have previously advocated for voting and other democratic reforms. Other parties and candidates, as indicated above, have indicated support for our key requests, but have not had a similar history of advocacy.

Worthy of Consideration

The Affordable Housing Coalition, Forward Together (as a party), and Progress Vancouver are worthy of consideration. AHC generally expresses support for wards with proportional voting, though it’s a bit unclear how they imagine this working. Forward Together wishes to move towards wards now, but expresses openness to considering proportional representation in future, though they didn’t lay out a plan for when or how they would do this. Progress Vancouver is likewise open to considering such a system, but did not lay out a plan or timetable for achieving it.

Not Recommended

Based on TEAM‘s opposition to reform, as well as the presence of No campaign activist Bill Tieleman on their slate of candidates, we recommend against supporting any of the TEAM candidates. We have had no response from Ken Sim (A Better City) or Fred Harding (NPA), so cannot recommend them either.

We hope you find this analysis helpful as you consider how to cast your vote in the coming days.

Yours for a stronger democracy,

Antony Hodgson
President, Fair Voting BC


Fair Voting BC Issues Report Card on Federal Parties

As we head into tonight’s English language debate, we wanted to share with you our report card on the federal parties’ platforms regarding electoral reform.  As you can see in the table below, three of the parties (the Liberals, Conservatives and People’s Party) are essentially missing in action on this file.  In our opinion, only the NDP and the Green Party have positions that could be considered acceptable to democratic reform supporters.  Though there are some differences between the positions of these two parties that we discuss below, we can endorse both of them based on their overall positions.

In the table above, “Y” means “yes”, “N” means “no”, parentheses means that we have some reservations about the party’s position, “n/a” or “?” means that we have insufficient information to determine a party’s position.  Green boxes indicate positive positions, yellow boxes indicate positions which concern us to some extent, and red boxes indicate positions of significant concern.

Our Top Choice:  The Green Party of Canada

Overall, we consider the Green Party to have the strongest position on voting reform of all the parties.  On their website‘s page entitled “Demand Democratic Reform”, they say that “Canada’s first-past-the-post electoral system must go” and they “demand proportional representation because Canadians want a fair electoral system.”  On pages 90-92 of their platform, they call for a National Citizens’ Assembly to consider how to modernize our voting system, as well as several other proposed reforms such as lowering the voting age and mandatory and online voting.  In addition, they propose related reforms such as restoring the per-vote subsidy and implementing “truth in advertising” rules for political advertising, as well as various initiatives related to integrity, ethics and transparency.  Our only small concern is that they do not explicitly state a commitment to implement any recommendation from the Citizens’ Assembly directly and without a referendum (we would consider a referendum to be not only unnecessary, but ill-advised, as we believe that voters have a right to be represented in Parliament by an MP of their own choosing and that this right should not be denied to them based on a referendum).  Unfortunately, the Green Party is not running candidates in all ridings, so not all voters may have an opportunity to vote for a Green Party candidate. 

Second Place: The New Democratic Party

The NDP also has a strong position on voting reform.  On pages 103-106 of their platform, they say that “A New Democrat government will bring in mixed-member proportional representation that works for Canada – and we will do it in our first mandate in government. We’ll establish an independent citizen’s assembly to recommend the best way to put it in place for the next election to ensure both local representation and a federal government that reflects the voters’ choice of parties. Once Canadians have the opportunity to experience the new voting system and compare it to the old one, we will hold a referendum to confirm the choice.”  In addition, they propose several other reforms, including lowering the voting age, addressing conflict of interest, and banning cash for access events, amongst others.  Our main concern with the NDP’s platform is that they have already decided that they wish to implement a mixed-member model and that they wish a National Citizens’ Assembly to focus more on how to put it in place rather than considering whether this model is the best choice for Canada in the first place (though MP Daniel Blaikie did take the lead in introducing and passing a motion in the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs calling for a study on establishing a National Citizens’ Assembly to investigate electoral reforms without specifying any limitations on what reforms would be considered).  We are also concerned that the NDP is willing to endorse a referendum following introduction of a reformed voting system, as we do not believe that voters’ right to representation should be able to be removed by a referendum. 

Not Endorsed:  The LiberalConservative, and People’s Parties 

None of the other three parties that are polling above a couple of percentage points have anything meaningful to say about voting reform – essentially ignoring the issue in their platforms.  The Liberals, of course, famously promised that 2015 would be the last election run under the First Past the Post voting system, only to renege on that promise. The only small positive for the Liberals is that their members on the Procedure and House Affairs committee did endorse Daniel Blaikie’s motion to study establishing a National Citizens’ Assembly, which we believe is critical to re-establishing public dialogue about voting reform.  The Conservative members of the PHA committee voted against supporting the proposed study of a National Citizens’ Assembly.  

We hope you find this analysis helpful as you consider how to cast your vote in the next couple of weeks.

Yours for a stronger democracy,

Antony Hodgson
President, Fair Voting BC

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. 


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!

Campaign 2015 Kickoff – Where do the Federal Parties Stand?

As the federal election campaign seems about to kick off, we thought it would be helpful to review the stances of the various federal parties on voting reform.  For those of us who will be voting in BC, here are our current recommendations of who to consider voting for:

Both the NDP and the Green Party have clearly committed themselves to ending our current unfair Single Member Plurality (SMP) voting system, so Fair Voting BC gives them a green light:


greenlightThe NDP announced earlier this year that “an NDP government would introduce proportional representation by the next election.”  The NDP also introduced a bill in Parliament last December that read:  “(a) the next federal election should be the last conducted under the current first-past-the-post electoral system which has repeatedly delivered a majority of seats to parties supported by a minority of voters, or under any other winner-take-all electoral system; and (b) a form of mixed-member proportional representation would be the best electoral system for Canada.”  Although this bill did not pass, MPs from 5 of the 6 parties (all except the Conservatives) voted in support of it.

Green Party: 

greenlightThe Green Party’s platform states that they intend to: “Legislate the end of first-past-the-post voting; establish immediately an all-party Democratic Voting Commission to review past research and conduct a public consultation on the style of proportional representation best suited to Canada. We will instruct it to make recommendations to Parliament for the necessary democratic voting reform, including draft legislation, within 12 months”. [full policy resolution here]


Liberal Party:

yellowlightThe Liberal Party is not committed to implementing proportional representation, but has promised to review a variety of electoral reforms including PR.  Their policy states that  “immediately after the next election, an all-Party process [will] be instituted, involving expert assistance and citizen participation, to report to Parliament within 12 months with recommendations for electoral reforms including, without limitation, a preferential ballot and/or a form of proportional representation, to represent Canadians more fairly and serve Canada better.” [full policy resolution here]

Although Justin Trudeau has explicitly stated both his opposition to PR and his preference for the non-proportional Alternative Voting system (i.e., using a preferential ballot to elect MPs in single-member districts), a number of individual Liberal MPs and candidates do support proportional representation.  Most notably, BC MP Joyce Murray made PR a central plank in her bid for the Liberal Party leadership a couple of years ago, and both she and BC’s other Liberal MP, Hedy Fry (along with a bare majority of Liberal MPs across the country), supported last December’s motion by the NDP to implement MMP.  Fair Voting BC has been working with Fair Vote Canada to collect commitments from individual Liberal Party candidates regarding electoral reform (Trudeau is allowing them to make up their own minds on this issue) and will publish this list shortly;  we recommend that you only vote for Liberal party candidates who explicitly support PR, not just the process of review that is their party policy.

Conservative Party:

redlightThe Conservative Party announced last week that they would “commit to legislation that would ban any government from changing our voting system without holding a referendum to secure the approval of Canadians first”, and that they would make no changes to first-past-the-post, saying “Changing the way Canadians elect their government is not a priority.”  Given this clear signal that the party leadership thinks no change is necessary, and that no BC candidate has spoken out against this policy, Fair Voting BC cannot at this time recommend voting for anyone from the Conservative Party.

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

Join Us! 10th Anniversary Celebration of BC Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform!

Dear Democratic Reform Supporters:
BC Citizens' Assembly
We are delighted to invite you to join us in celebrating the 10th anniversary of BC’s remarkable Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform at a dinner in Vancouver on Wednesday, December 10th [get your tickets here – only $40 in advance (includes a 3-course meal, plus a great group of speakers)].
The Assembly:  A Brief History:  
Ten years ago, the BC government broke new ground in consulting citizens by establishing the Assembly.  This was an independent non-partisan group of citizens drawn from across the province – one man and one woman from each of BC’s then-79 electoral districts, plus two Aboriginal representatives.  The members were selected by lot from a list of citizens that reflected the gender, age and geographical make-up of British Columbians.
The Assembly spent nearly a year meeting and examining in detail how the province’s current electoral system (Single Member Plurality, more commonly known as First Past the Post) worked and how it failed to support our citizens’ core democratic values.  In the end, they recommended that BC adopt a new, more proportional way of voting known as the Single Transferable Vote that they felt would better support these values.  As most of you know, STV was endorsed by nearly 58% of voters in 2005, but the government of the day had established a bar of 60% for adoption, so STV was not implemented.
Despite the fact that their recommendation has not yet been adopted, the Assembly itself has proven to be very influential.  Its design inspired the Ontario Citizens’ Assembly, and it has been cited as a model for a number of related citizen-focused consultation processes that have happened since, including Oregon’s Citizen Initiative Review, the move in California for a standing Citizens’ Assembly, the Dutch Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform, Iceland’s Constitutional Assembly, and last year’s Irish Convention on the Constitution.
The Celebration on Wednesday, December 10th:
Please join us for dinner and discussion on December 10th as we reflect on the BC Citizens’ Assembly and its influence on deliberative dialogue and citizen engagement around the world.
We have a wonderful lineup of speakers for you, including:
  • Former Attorney General Geoff Plant
  • Assembly Designer Gordon Gibson
  • Assembly Chair Jack Blaney
  • Assembly Academic Director Prof. Ken Carty
  • Assembly Members Wendy Bergerud, Craig Henschel and Shoni Field

Joining us with video messages will be:

  • Former Premier Gordon Campbell
  • Political Science Professor Fred Cutler
We will also have some ‘participatory activities’ including an STV vote to determine what dinner is served (at the Pink Pearl Chinese restaurant in Vancouver) – this vote really matters!
This will be a wonderful evening of good food and interesting conversation – don’t miss it, and invite your friends!  Tickets available by clicking the image above or here.  Invite others to buy tickets at tinyurl.com/BCCA10thAnniversaryTix.
Hope to see you in a few weeks!
Yours for a stronger democracy,
Antony Hodgson
President, Fair Voting BC
Photo credits: CA: Participedia, Buy Tickets: Leo Reynolds

Our City – Our Charter Election Update

Dear Democratic Reform Supporters:
In our last couple of newsletters, we told you about our exciting Our City – Our Charter (OCOC) campaign to change Vancouver’s city charter so that we can seriously consider changing our voting system.  Step 1 was to ask the candidates for their commitment to this goal.
What We Asked the Candidates:
We asked the mayoral and council candidates if they would, if elected, re-issue the previous calls by Council on the provincial government to:
  1. Change the Charter to give the City greater flexibility in designing an electoral system that best meets the needs and expectations of its citizens,
  2. Work with Vancouver to design a system of restrictions on campaign contributions and spending for municipal elections, and institute a program of tax credits (Berger’s recommendations 18-20), and
  3. Change the Charter to allow the City to publish detailed, anonymized ballot data (as unanimously requested by Council in 2012).
What They Said (No-One Turned Us Down!):
Vision, the NPA and the Green Party all responded on behalf of all their candidates that they agreed to reissue this call.  Meena Wong (COPE mayoral candidate), as well as COPE Council candidates Wilson Munoz, Lisa Barrett, Tim Louis and Jennifer O’Keeffe, also agreed (no response was received from the other COPE Council candidates).
Independent candidates Lena Ling, Mike Hansen, Grant Fraser and Rick Orser also agreed.  No response was received by any other candidates.
Fair Voting BC recommends that you take the commitments above into account as you vote this week – we are delighted to have received near-unanimous support for Charter change!
Two Simple Ways to Build the Pressure (<1 min each):
Getting the candidates’ commitments was Step 1 in our campaign.  To build the pressure for change, we need to show that all of Vancouver is behind this, so here are two simple things you can do (<1 min each) to give our campaign a big boost:
  1. Visit the Our City – Our Charter website and put yourself on our map of supporters (there’s also an email signup link there if you want to volunteer to help us reach out)

  2. Help us find non-profit organizations in Vancouver who might consider endorsing OCOC – just visit our Google Form and give us contact info for an organization you’re involved with (or invite them yourself).  These could be political, cultural, social, charitable, faith-based or almost anything else – as long as you’re involved with them and think they might support a push for better, fairer elections.
We’ll keep you updated as the election gets closer if any other candidates join the ones listed above in supporting Our City – Our Charter.
Yours for a stronger democracy,
Antony Hodgson
President, Fair Voting BC

Two Easy Ways to Help the “Our City – Our Charter” Campaign

In our last newsletter, we told you about our exciting Our City – Our Charter (OCOC) campaign to change Vancouver’s city charter so that we can seriously consider changing our voting system.  We’re delighted to tell you that the OCOC website has just launched and we’re busy looking for endorsements.
Two Simple Ways to Help:
There are two simple things you can do (<1 min each) to give our campaign a big boost:
  1. Visit the Our City – Our Charter website and put yourself on our map of supporters (there’s also an email signup link there if you want to volunteer to help us reach out)

  2. Help us find non-profit organizations in Vancouver who might consider endorsing OCOC – just visit our Google Form and give us contact info for an organization you’re involved with (or invite them yourself).  These could be political, cultural, social, faith-based or almost anything else – as long as you’re involved with them and think they might support better, fairer elections.
We’ll keep you updated as the election gets closer about who is supporting Our City – Our Charter.
Yours for a stronger democracy,
Antony Hodgson
President, Fair Voting BC

Sep 2014 Newsletter – Fall Volunteer Opportunities

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

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

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

Sneak Preview: Our City – Our Charter

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

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

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

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

Summer Recap:

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

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

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

Conservative Staffer Michael Sona Convicted for Robocalls

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

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

BC-FIPA Case Against ‘Gag Law’ Suffers Setback

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

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

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

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

Jan 2014 Newsletter – Democratic Reform News Roundup

We hope you’ve been enjoying a wonderful holiday season.  As the New Year starts, we want to take this opportunity to review some of the significant democracy-related events of 2013.  While the Senate finances scandal has been in the news all year, there have been many other stories worth paying attention to.  Here’s our rundown:
With various court rulings coming out this spring, the municipal elections in the fall and planning for making voting reform a major issue in the 2015 federal election all underway, we expect 2014 to be an exciting year for democratic reformers and we look forward to playing a significant role in driving reform efforts forward in the coming year.
Yours for a stronger democracy,
Antony Hodgson
President, Fair Voting BC

Aug 2013 Newsletter – Voting Reform as a Civil Rights Issue

We hope you’re all having a wonderful summer.  I started writing this newsletter in Ashland, Oregon, where we’ve been staying at a lovely B&B and having many interesting conversations with people from all across the US about politics and democracy in our two countries.
Voting Rights Challenges in the USA
One of the things that has most struck me is the level of despair and cynicism many Americans feel towards their voting system.  Currently, the big news in the US about voting is linked to the recent US Supreme Court decision striking down an important provision in the 1965 Voting Rights Act that was widely credited with dramatically increasing African-Americans’ access to voting by providing federal oversight of new voting laws in states with a history of disenfranchising minority voters.  Since 2006 alone, the US Department of Justice has struck down 31 attempts to change voting laws, almost all in the US south, but with the recent 5-4 decision, these states are now free to implement discriminatory laws aimed at suppressing minority voters without fear of being overruled at the federal level.
Indeed, North Carolina has very recently passed the first of the post-decision laws that will soon require voters to produce acceptable state-issued photo ID in order to vote.  While seemingly benign (who doesn’t have photo ID these days?), there is considerable evidence that this kind of law will have disproportionate effects on the poor, people of colour and women.  Among the reasons are that poorer people are much less likely to have a valid driver’s license and women are more likely to change their names through marriage or divorce, thereby rendering their previous ID invalid.  In fact, the prestigious Brennan Center at the New York University School of Law has reported that fully a third of US women of voting age do not currently have acceptable ID that would allow them to vote.  The Brennan Centre study also found that over 11% of Americans don’t have acceptable photo ID, 18% of seniors, 25% of African Americans, 18% of young people (18-24) and 15% of low-income people, and a North Carolina study shows a strong partisan bias (nearly 70:30 against registered Democratic Party supporters).
These kinds of voter ID laws are part of an overall voter suppression effort in the US that includes other administrative measures (typically executed by party-affiliated elections officials) such as purging the electoral rolls of voters of colour (done without notification, which leaves voters without recourse on voting day), redrawing electoral boundaries to eliminate office-holders of colour, and moving polling places to make it harder for targeted groups to vote.  While proponents claim that the purpose of the law is to prevent “rampant and undetected” voter fraud, a study by Arizona State University found that there have been only ten cases of in-person voter fraud in the USA since 2000 (for an entertaining account of voter suppression activities in the USA, we recommend “Billionaires and Ballot Bandits” by BBC investigative journalist Greg Palast).  The North Carolina law also contained measures eliminating pre-registration of high school students and voting day registration (which means that if an irregularity is found on voting day, the voter is out of luck as they will have no mechanism to correct the problem).
Fortunately, there has been some pushback.  Former Republican-appointed Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens has issued a harsh rebuke to the Court.  The American Civil Liberties Union (and possibly the NAACP) plan to launch lawsuits.  And the US Department of Justice has just filed suit against Texas [also see this article in The Atlantic], so we have some hope that some sanity may eventually prevail down south.
Voting Reform as a Civil Rights Issue Here in Canada
All of this news about the assault on voting rights in the US have got us here at Fair Voting BC increasingly thinking about dealing with voting reform as a civil rights issue.  We all believe deeply in democracy – that is, that legitimate power must flow from citizens to our representatives and that citizens should be treated equally in this process.
But perhaps we’ve been too timid.  We keep trying to persuade the public and the political powers that our democracy would be better if we had a fairer, more democratic voting system.  But women would never have received the vote if they had simply tried to persuade men that society would be better if men would allow them to vote.  Rather, the suffrage movement won enfranchisement for women precisely because they wouldn’t take ‘No’ for an answer.  Not that change came quickly – the Canadian Women’s Suffrage Association was formed in 1883 and it took 33 years, until 1916, for women to win the right to vote in provincial elections in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta (followed by BC in 1917 and Canada in 1918), and (embarrassingly) not until 1940 for women to finally be able to vote in Quebec.
So, is our demand for a new way of voting in any way similar to women’s suffrage?  We believe there are strong parallels.  With our current Single Member Plurality voting system, only half the voters are represented.  Women’s enfranchisement doubled representation from 25% to 50% – adopting proportional representation will double it again, taking us to close to 100%.
We also have a potent new legal weapon at our disposal.  When women won the vote, Canada was still governed by the British North America Act, but since 1982, as last year’s 30th anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms reminded us, we now have a charter that grants us fundamental democratic rights – specifically, Section 3, which asserts our right to vote.
We don’t have space here to go into a legal argument in any great detail, but it’s very encouraging to consider that the Supreme Court of Canada stated in 1991 that “the purpose of the right to vote enshrined in s. 3 of the Charter is … the right to ‘effective representation’.”
While the focus in the 1991 case was whether or not it was permissible to have ridings with wildly varying populations, the crucial point for voting reformers is that the highest court in the land both determined that the highest goal of our voting system is that of “effective representation” and recognized that our right to vote has been evolving to enhance the meaning of that phrase.  More specifically, Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin explicitly stated that “inequities in our voting system are [not] to be accepted merely because they have historical precedent. … Departures from the Canadian ideal of effective representation may exist. Where they do, they will be found to violate s. 3 of the Charter.”
The idea that our current voting system systematically violates the “Canadian ideal of effective representation” has not yet been tested in court, so we plan to explore (with the help of legal scholars and advisors) whether we could possibly successfully make this case.  Stay tuned as we learn more.
Election News From Around the World
In other news, the Irish Constitutional Convention (very similar in some ways to our own BC Citizens’ Assembly – made up of 66 randomly selected citizens, 33 parliamentarians and a chair) overwhelmingly reaffirmed their commitment to STV and recommended a new citizen initiative process.
A UK study on election spending [PDF] put out by the Electoral Reform Society showed that there were huge disparities in how much political parties spent in different ridings – varying by over 20 times from the least to the most contested ridings.  This is a graphic illustration of how irrelevant voting is in the many safe ridings in elections under our current Single Member Plurality voting system and why we need to change to a system where all votes (and voters!) are equally valued.
Finally, we strongly recommend that you read political scientist Adam Kingsmith’s eloquent defense of the proposition that we aren’t apathetic, just sick of the political status quo, and his call to action.
Sorry about the longer-than-usual long newsletter, but we’ve gotten well-rested over the summer and have lots to share with you.  We hope you find it interesting as you turn your thoughts to the beginning of the new working and school year.
Yours for a stronger democracy,
Antony Hodgson
President, Fair Voting BC

May 2013 Newsletter – Election Aftermath: Building the Case for Voting Reform

Dear Democratic Reform Supporters:

Election Aftermath – Building the Case for Voting Reform

bc election 2013The results in the recent election took most of us by surprise – at least, those of us who were relying on publicly-released media polls. While there will be ongoing discussion and debate about this polling failure (we particularly recommend the honest, in-depth analysis of Eric Grenier), this election again confirmed some of the worst aspects of our current Single Member Plurality voting system:

  • Half Of Us Are Orphaned Voters: As is typical, 49% of voters are now ‘represented’ by someone they did not vote for. 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. If we were using the Single Transferable Vote recommended by the BC Citizens’ Assembly, we estimate that close to 90% of all voters would now have a representative they’d voted for.
  • No Majority From Voters: As always, seat results bear scant relation to the popular vote results. In this election, the BC Liberals won 59% of the seats on 44% of the vote – a seat bonus of over 33%. Despite the voters not giving the Liberals majority support, the party will now control a solid majority of the seats and will have the power to do as they wish for the next four years instead of being in the position they actually earned – i.e., the senior partner in a government that would have to consult beyond its own party boundaries to win sufficient support to pass legislation.
  • Over-Influence From Swing Ridings: Somewhat lost in the post-election discussion is that the outcomes in three quarters of the ridings in the province were never really in doubt. In Rafe Mair’s memorable phrase, a “fencepost with hair” could win in certain ridings if the right party label were attached. The election was really decided in about a dozen ridings, largely in the Lower Mainland and central BC. If 3000 voters in the 10 closest ridings in the province had voted for the NDP instead of the Liberals, we would now have an NDP majority government. In other words, a shift of under 0.2% in the popular vote in the ‘swing ridings’ could have moved 10% of the seats to the NDP. This pathological hypersensitivity of our voting system makes a mockery of most of our votes – regardless of which party or candidate we support, if we live in the safest 70 of the province’s 85 ridings, there was relatively little point in voting.
  • Regionalization: BC_Election_2013 riding mapJust like on the national stage, where the Bloc Quebecois dominated Quebec for years, the Reform, Alliance and Conservative Parties dominated the Prairies and the Liberals once dominated Ontario, here in BC our voting system means that Liberal party supporters have no representation throughout most of Vancouver Island and the North Coast, NDP supporters have no representation in central BC and the Fraser Valley, and Conservative and Green supporters have no representation anywhere outside of Oak Bay. A more proportional voting system would have given supporters of the two major parties representation in every region of the province and increased the chances that Conservative and Green voters would be represented at least in their areas of greatest strength.
  • Poor Representation: The key idea behind proportional representation (PR) is that each voter is equally entitled to a representative of their own choosing. While party affiliation is the most common way to assess this, sociocultural aspects of representation are equally important. Our current voting system tends to encourage the election of middle-aged or older white men – roughly 30 of the 50 Liberals and half of the NDP are (arguably) in this category, even though middle-aged+ white men only make up about a quarter of BC’s population. South and East Asians make up nearly a quarter of the population, but only 12% of the MLAs, and no aboriginal MLAs were elected, despite aboriginals comprising 5% of the population (see census data). There was a bit of good news in terms of gender balance, though – the BC legislature broke 33% representation by women for the first time, but there’s still a ways to go to achieve parity. More proportional voting systems that encourage parties to put forward more diverse slates (in terms of gender, age, ethnicity and other factors) are needed to make more progress here.
  • Voter Turnout: Although news reports seem to be saying that turnout went up slightly over 2009, we calculate that it possibly dropped to under 50% for the first time ever. The reason for the discrepancy is that the reported figure for 2013 (52%) appears to be the percentage of registered voters, while the figure for 2009 (51%) is the percentage of eligible voters (i.e., registered + unregistered). About 5-10% of eligible voters usually don’t get registered, so the turnout figure for eligible voters is typically 2.5-5% lower than for registered voters. While not as large a drop as from 2005 to 2009 (58% to 51%), it still indicates that, even in a close election, a decreasing number of us find it worthwhile to vote.

All of these results are absolutely typical of our current voting system. Interestingly, Premier Clark understands this perfectly. Just before the 2009 election, she argued strongly that voters should support STV. We recently issued a press release asking: Now that the Premier has the power to make the necessary changes, does she have the courage of her convictions?

What Now? Attend the Fair Vote Canada AGM in Vancouver, June 7-8

2013 fvc agmIf last week’s election has you fired up to change our voting system, come on down to Fair Vote Canada’s AGM being held this year in Vancouver starting Friday evening, June 7, and running through until Saturday afternoon. There’s an exciting multi-partisan program planned featuring recent Liberal leadership candidate Joyce Murray talking about cross-party cooperation for federal reform, NDP MP Kennedy Stewart describing his online petition initiative and John Carpay (former head of the Alberta office of the Canadian Taxpayer’s Federation, and now with the Canada Constitution Foundation) discussing conservative efforts to promote proportional representation. There will also be workshops by Idle No More on improving aboriginal representation and by FVBC director Stuart Parker on civic voting reform. Come on out, hear inspiring speakers, meet fellow reform supporters, realize you’re not alone in thinking things are crazy the way they are, and learn how you can contribute to change. [Register]

Help Build the Reform Movement – Share This Newsletter!

2013 i votedWhile you’re waiting for the FVC AGM, one of the simplest things you can do to help us build public support for changing how we vote is to introduce someone you know to Fair Voting BC. If you’ve spoken to someone in the last few days about how unfair our recent election was, please send them this newsletter as a follow up and invite/encourage/beg/plead with them to sign up for our newsletter by visiting our website and clicking on the ‘Subscribe to our Monthly Newsletter‘ button. Then you can feel as virtuous as you did when you slapped on an “I Voted” sticker last week!

In Other News

While the BC election certainly captured our attention in recent weeks, there’s lots happening around the country. A few quick highlights: Vancouver last week announced the 16 top recommendations of its Engaged City Task Force [download report – PDF], the Federal Court hearing the Council of Canadians’ case against the Conservative Party’s robocall shenanigans found that serious fraud had occurred (though the judge shied away from annulling the election results) [see stories in Rabble, National Post and Globe & Mail], the BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association’s challenge of the government’s gag law has been delayed, and the BC Internet Voting Panel is about to hold the first of its final set of three meetings over the summer, with an interim report scheduled for release in August – we’ll update you on all of these stories as we learn more.

Yours for a stronger democracy,

Antony Hodgson
President, Fair Voting BC

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%.

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?

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.

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.

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