FVBC Invites Point Grey Hopefuls to All-Candidates Meeting

Fair Voting BC to Host All-Candidates Meeting Tuesday, May 3rd

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On April 13th, Premier Christy Clark called a by-election to be held in Vancouver-Point Grey on May 11th.  By the close of nominations on April 23rd, six candidates had registered to run:  Christy Clark (Lib), David Eby (NDP), Francoise Raunet (Green), Danielle Alie (BC First), William Gibbens (Ind) and Eddie Petrossian (Ind).

All but one of the candidates have agreed to join us at St. Helen’s Anglican Church (4405 W 8th Ave, Vancouver) on Tuesday, May 3rd from 7-9 pm (Premier Clark’s office has told us to expect to hear back from them shortly).  We encourage all participants to come early (~6:30 pm) for informal discussion and the opportunity to vote online for which issues and questions you’d like to hear the candidates address (or click on the forum image below right to provide your input right now).

Priorities and Proposals:  Public Input on Topics and Questions Invited

Click above to suggest and vote on issues and questions for the candidates.

The meeting will have two main components:

  1. In the first hour, we will ask the candidates to lay out their priorities – that is, what they perceive as the issues Point Grey voters feel are most significant in this by-election, what their analyses of these issues are, and how these issues would fit into their own personal priorities if they are elected.  We are inviting the general public to use our website (see instructions below) to raise issues of concern to them and to vote issues up or down so that the candidates can focus on the ones of greatest public concern.
  2. In the second hour, we will ask the candidates to outline their proposals for dealing with the problems identified during the first hour and to field questions posed by the general public online (again, see instructions below).

We trust that some or most of the candidates will stay behind afterwards to respond to personal questions.  Fair Voting BC members will be present to discuss informally democratic reform-related issues.

Make Your Voice Heard Online

To ensure that candidates are addressing the issues of greatest public interest, we warmly invite the public to visit our Issues and Questions Forums to suggest topics for the candidates to discuss and specific questions you would like to hear posed.  We have seeded these forums with a few ideas, but please feel free to add your own suggestions and to vote on ideas already submitted.  We will put the ones which rise to the top of the list to the candidates.

Why Are We Having Another Election?

Frequent Elections Are Due to Parliamentary ‘Blackmail’

Many people have asked why we’re having another federal election barely two years after the last one.  The Prime Minister has blamed this on the opposition parties, saying that they have forced an election, while the opposition leaders say that the government has been found in contempt and has lost the confidence of Parliament.  In a sense, both are right, but the real problem lies in some features of our current voting system and our use of the confidence requirement.  Until we deal with this problem, we cannot expect to see the kinds of stable government common in many other industrialized countries.  Instead, we will continue to see a form of parliamentary blackmail in which the government repeatedly (and often maliciously) forces the opposition to choose between unpalatable choices until the opposition gets frustrated enough to bring down the government, which normally triggers an election.

What are the Unpalatable Choices the Opposition Faces?

In Canada, the government requires the assent of a majority of MPs to pass any legislation.  If the government loses a vote on a throne speech, budget or other critical legislation, it is said to have lost the confidence of Parliament and is expected to resign.  The normal consequence of a government losing confidence is that a new election is held, although the Governor-General is within his or her right to ask another party if they believe they can form government and win the confidence of the House of Commons.

Under a majority government (i.e., one in which the governing party holds over 50% of the seats in Parliament), the government is rarely in danger of losing confidence as their party typically votes en masse to support the government.  The role of the opposition is likewise clear – the opposition is expected to oppose the government by pointing out all the flaws in the government’s plans and to stand on principle in opposing most government proposals, knowing that they can freely vote their conscience because their votes will have no impact whatsoever on whether legislation passes.  The government need not consult nor accommodate, and the opposition need not approve or compromise their principles – they can maintain a stance of righteous indignation which often wins the approval of their supporters, who see their MPs ‘sticking up for them’.

However, the political choices are far more challenging in a minority situation.  Despite the fact that the opposition in a time of minority government can quite properly seek to replace the government by defeating it, in practice there are some strong disincentives to doing so.  First, the leading opposition party usually has fewer seats than the governing party, and they risk being seen by the public as presumptuous if they seek to form government without sufficient public support.  Second, since only the Governor-General has the right to invite a leader to form government, an opposition party cannot guarantee that defeating the government won’t lead to an election.  If a party is not prepared to fight another election, it will tend not to want to bring down the government, especially early in the new government’s term in office.

This can place the opposition in a very awkward position. If the government plays hardball and refuses to negotiate any terms of the proposed legislation (in effect, treating the legislation as an ultimatum issued to the opposition – “support this or trigger an election”), then the opposition faces the following options, all unpalatable:

  1. Vote in support of the government’s legislation, even if they oppose it on principle, and open themselves to the charge of not being willing to stand up for their principles
  2. Abstain from the vote, and be charged as spineless
  3. Oppose the government, and risk triggering an election

All of these can cause the opposition to lose support over time.  The government also has a slightly risky choice to make – do they consult the opposition and alter their legislation, thereby potentially alienating their core supporters, or do they risk being defeated?  However, the upside of being defeated is that they can frequently fight the subsequent election campaign claiming that to get things done, the voters must give them a majority.  Since our voting system is hypersensitive to small shifts in voting sentiment in a handful of swing ridings, a government will frequently believe that a majority is attainable, so they have a disincentive to consult or accommodate the opposition, which keeps us in a cycle of non-cooperative partisan bickering.

How Can We Avoid Brinksmanship and Parliamentary Blackmail?

Ideally, a minority government would have an incentive to avoid being defeated and the opposition would be free to vote on principle.  If this were true, both (or all) parties would tend to seek collaborative opportunities rather than engaging in the bitter partisanship that characterizes Canadian politics.  How could we achieve this?  Two simple steps would go a long way:

  1. Severely limit confidence motions – if, under normal circumstances, only the opposition parties could trigger a confidence vote, then a defeat on legislation for the government would not trigger an election.  They would simply have to try again to bring a majority of MPs on-side with their proposal.
  2. Decrease the instability of the voting system – if the outcome of an election were more stably linked to the voting preferences of the voters, then the government would have little incentive to play these games of brinksmanship.  Many versions of proportional representation voting could produce such stable and predictable outcomes.

“Trying to shape the world using FPTP is like trying to change a tire using a curling iron”

We strongly suggest you read Ottawa Citizen columnist Kate Heartfield’s wonderful article entitled “Our voting system makes no sense” in which she says it all.  Among her numerous memorable comments are the following:

  • “The system twists our intentions, sending MPs to Parliament even if most of their constituents voted against them.”
  • “I will vote for purely symbolic reasons.”
  • “in every riding, there are voters who trudge quixotically to the polls knowing their votes will not make a difference.”
  • “All the self-righteous public service messaging urging us to “have our say” or “make our voices heard” refuses to acknowledge this crazy incentive structure”
  • “”Shape your world.” Sure. Trying to shape the world using a first-past-the-post ballot is a little like trying to change a tire using a curling iron.”
  • Criticizing UK Prime Minister Cameron’s claim that the Alternative Vote under consideration there “means not all votes count equally. Well, if he can tell me how a vote for the NDP counts for as much in Nepean-Carleton as in Ottawa Centre, I’ll shut up about electoral reform.”
  • “Our system reflects the diversity of Canadians geographically, but not ideologically. And that’s just stupid, because what I want from my government has a lot more to do with my ideology than my postal code.”
  • “I keep doing it [arguing for electoral reform], because voting feels a lot like banging my head against a wall too, and it shouldn’t.”

“Did He Really Use The C-Word?”

House of Commons
House of Commons

The current federal election campaign has been notable for a sustained dispute not only over the legitimacy of a coalition (C-word #1), but, at a deeper level, over the foundational principle of parliamentary confidence itself (C-word #2).  Fair Voting BC believes that it is crucial both for the future of our current democratic system and for future voting reforms for Canadians to properly understand these two notions.

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It’s My Party: Parliamentary Dysfunction Reconsidered

Samara Canada today released a report in which they present parliamentary dysfunction as viewed by MPs themselves – it’s a fascinating read!

From Samara’s introduction to the report:

“[W]hen we asked those on the front lines of Canadian democracy—Members of Parliament— they pointed their fingers in a different direction. To them, it is often the way political parties manage themselves, their members and their work that really drives the contemporary dysfunction facing Canadian politics.”

Check it out – click here to download PDF

See also a story in the Toronto Star on this report.

Irish Labour Party Releases ‘New Government, Better Government’ Proposal

The Irish Labour Party recently released a new report entitled ‘New Government, Better Government’ outlining 140 democratic reform proposals.  Fair Voting BC has not yet had time to review these, but they touch on many aspects of democracy ranging from accountability mechanisms such as independent oversight commissions and whistleblower legislation to finance reform, the Electoral Commission, workload issues and more.  You can find some informed commentary at PoliticalReform.ie.  We’d love to have your comments.

Worst of Both Worlds: Why First-Past-the-Post No Longer Works

Click to Download IPPR Report

The British Institute for Public Policy Research today released a report entitled “Worst of Both Worlds: Why First-Past-the-Post No Longer Works“.  The abstract for the report is as follows:

“In a time of greater political pluralism, British politics is no longer well served by a voting system that was designed for a two-party era. Nor are the interests of British democracy. 

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Help Take First-Past-the-Post to Court! FVBC Fundraiser Now Underway – Internet & Live Townhall Meetings on Feb 5th

The Quebec Court Challenge

Canadian Supreme Court, where this case may be heading.
  • Click here or button to right to register for the online presentation (webinar) (not necessary now, but appreciated as it helps us estimate how many people to expect, particularly for in-person events)
  • Click here for instructions on joining webinar (we suggest you check in 10-15 minutes in advance)

A court challenge aimed at invalidating the First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) electoral system is now before the Quebec Appeals Court. It was launched in 2004 in response to the repeated failures of civic actions through political means. The case focuses on the two main components of the right to vote as defined by the Supreme Court: meaningful participation and significant representation. Both are systematically violated by the current FPTP voting system. The case will be heard in the Quebec appeals court on February 8, 2011 and could be before the Canadian Supreme Court before 2012. The plaintiffs are seeking financial support for legal fees.

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2007 Federal Public Consultations on Democratic Reform

In 2007, the Canadian federal government undertook a public consultation on democratic reform.  This consultation addressed five main areas:  the role of the citizen in democracy, the House of Commons, the Senate, political parties and the electoral system.

The consultation process the government used was critiqued from across the political spectrum.  For example, see critiques by Democracy Watch, NDP Democratic Reform Critic Catherine Bell, and the Globe and Mail’s columnist John Ibbitson (cited by blogger IdealisticPragmatist)  The consultation was also described without significant comment in the 2009 text, Canadian Politics, by James Bickerton.

The consultation summary, along with the full report, appendices and participant guide, is available on the Government of Canada’s Democratic Reform website.  One brief excerpt from the summary follows:

“Most forum participants believed that governments do not consult people regularly and felt that consultation was often not genuine. As remedies for encouraging public engagement in the democratic process, forum participants tended to recommend better, more respectful consultation and stronger civics education to give young people a greater appreciation of our system. A desire for stronger civics education emerged spontaneously in discussions of all topics.  The survey data revealed exceptionally high levels of interest in more government consultation.”

Click on the links below for selected documents:

2003 Book – Fixing Canadian Democracy

This book was written by Gordon Gibson (who later played an important role in BC’s Citizens’ Assembly) and put out by the Fraser Institute.  It argues that “multiple significant reforms are available to restore voter confidence in our public institutions.”

Excerpt from summary:

Fixing Canadian Democracy points to a variety of ways to improve our governance system. The book is the result of a major Fraser Institute conference on democratic reform during which some of the finest practitioners and thinkers from British Columbia and Ottawa were brought together for presentations on selecting and empowering representatives, the place and limits of direct democracy, constitutional constraints, and how to make any of the above a reality.

Some versions of democracy work better than others. Gordon Gibson, the book’s editor and a contributing author, points out that Canada’s democratic system is one of the most primitive in the western world and that Canadians are — for all practical purposes — governed by four-year elected dictators as things stand now.

“We ought to be the most prosperous and harmonious country on the face of the earth, yet clearly we are not,” says Gibson, senior fellow in Canadian Studies at the Institute. “Our living standard is much lower than in the US or many other smaller countries and the public is broadly cynical and apathetic with respect to our political process – and rightly so.“”

Roy Romanow and the Canadian Index of Wellbeing Report on Democratic Engagement 2010

Democratic Engagement measures the participation of citizens in public life and in governance; the functioning of Canadian governments with respect to openness, transparency, effectiveness, fairness, equity and accessibility; and the role Canadians and their institutions play as global citizens.

Key findings are:

  • Many Canadians are not satisfied with the state of their democracy.
  • An overwhelming majority of Canadians feel that the policies of the federal government have not made their lives better.
  • Canada’s global engagement record is poor.

The Democratic Engagement Research Report was released on January 27, 2010: