Report Card on Party Promises

Fair Voting BC has assessed the promises and commitments related to voting reform made by the four parties contesting ridings in BC who have been polling above 5%, as well as independent candidate Jody Wilson-Raybould who has been polling strongly in her riding. We have scored these promises and commitments against a number of criteria presented below, and have assigned an overall grade that we hope will guide you in making your voting decisions over the coming weeks. For details behind our scoring, please see the “Basis for Evaluation” section below the Report Card and Justification of Grades section. Note that, at this stage, we are not able to evaluate the personal commitments of specific candidates.

Report Card

Commitment to Voting Reform as Civil Rights Issue B+ B B F F
Support for Citizens’ Assembly A B+ B F F
Policy on Use of Referendum A+ B C F F
Strategy in Minority Situation B B C F F
Overall Grade: A- B+ B- F F
Recommended? Yes Yes Yes No No

Overall, we feel that the policy of the Green Party is the strongest, followed closely by that of the NDP.  Jody Wilson-Raybould’s position is also solid.  We recommend voters seriously consider supporting candidates from the Green Party and the NDP, as well as Ms. Wilson-Raybould.  Neither the Liberal Party nor the Conservative Party have any proposals related to voting reform that are worthy of attention and we do not recommend voting for candidates from these parties.

Justification of Grades

Please see the following section (Basis for Evaluation) for a more detailed description of the criteria we have used to evaluate the party positions.

Green Party

What the Green Party platform says: “Integrity in the elections process is foundational to the relationship of trust and respect on which democracy is built. A Green government will ensure that the electoral system produces a parliament that represents the will of the electorate and that the electoral process is beyond reproach. Ensure that the 2019 election is the last “first past the post” election. By March 2020, we will launch a Citizens Assembly on Electoral Reform with the mandate to make recommendations to parliament on an electoral system that would “make every vote count.” Legislative changes to implement the recommendations of the Citizens Assembly would be made in time for the 2023 federal election.”

Comments by Green Party Leader Elizabeth May:

“The next one in line (after climate action) would be to make sure we bring in electoral reform…. I don’t know exactly how we’ll negotiate, I don’t know what the cards are that we will be dealt, but the top priorities for the Green Party: electoral reform, climate action, reconciliation.

We have to get rid of unfair voting, and my main reason is now we see people like Trump, so-called populism… In our system of government, with just 39% of the vote that delivers 100% of the power, we have to fix our electoral system now, to guard against – like getting an inoculation, a shot – to guard against a future potential political leader in Canada that doesn’t conform to Canadian norms and values. We have to make sure someone with 39% of the vote can’t get 100% of the power, and that’s why we have to bring in electoral reform before 2023, for sure.”

Commitment to Voting Reform as Civil Rights Issue: The Green Party has long advocated for voting reform and their platform articulates the principle that parliament should reflect the will of the electorate. They stop short of stating that they see this as a civil right. B+
Support for Citizens’ Assembly: Would run a CA to consider voting systems that would “make every vote count” A
Policy on Use of Referendum: Would implement reform through an act of Parliament. A+
Strategy in Minority Situation: No mention of this in platform, but May states that this will be a top priority for negotiation (similar to the NDP position). As with the NDP, we would prefer that the Green Party be explicit about their ‘ask’ of a potential coalition partner. B
Overall Assessment: Voting reform is a high priority for the Green Party and they envision a central dependence on a non-partisan citizens’ assembly to formulate the proposed reform. While we would like them to be more explicit about how they would handle post-election negotiations, we strongly recommend that voting reform supporters consider voting for candidates from the Green Party. A-

New Democratic Party

What the NDP platform says: “It’s time to make our voting system fairer, and actually deliver democratic reform to make sure that everyone’s vote counts. New Democrats are committed to cutting through the cynicism about politics and getting the job done.

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.”

Comments by NDP Party Leader Jagmeet Singh:

“I will bring in Mixed Member Proportional without a referendum. And I’ll bring it in because of this: I believe in giving power to people.

I believe the first-past-the-post system which creates false majorities is wrong.

I believe that when less than 40% of the people vote for a certain party, and that party gets 100% of the power, it’s unjust and it’s wrong.

And I believe when people are worried about who they vote for and they have to make decisions around voting strategically, it’s wrong. I want people to vote their values – I’m pretty sure they’d end up voting for us if they did – but I think it’s really important to give power back to people and make sure that every vote counts.

I would make sure it would be a requirement as Prime Minister in a minority setting that if a government or a party wanted to work with me it would be one of my important values that we put in place – PR. And I ‘d work for that, I’d say that would be a part of a negotiation.

So the similar question, I’m just flipping it around, if I was Prime Minister in a minority setting I would seek parties to support me on bringing in PR because it’s so important to give people power, a voice and ensure that their vote counts.”

Commitment to Voting Reform as Civil Rights Issue: Acknowledges need to make voting system fairer, but does not explicitly describe it as a civil right. B
Support for Citizens’ Assembly: Proposes to use one to work out details of a mixed member proportional voting system. We would prefer it if they allowed the CA to choose the form of voting system from a wider range of options. B+
Policy on Use of Referendum: Are prepared to implement voting reform without a referendum, but are proposing that a referendum be held after Canadians have gained experience with the new system. We would welcome a formal review process, but see no need to hold a confirmatory referendum. B
Strategy in Minority Situation: NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh promised to make negotiation about voting reform a priority. While supportive, we would like the NDP to be more explicit about what ‘ask’ they would make of a potential coalition partner. B
Overall Assessment: The NDP has explicitly expressed an intention to bring in voting reform if they win a majority. While we think their position on voting reform could be elaborated and improved, and while we would prefer that they left the choice of a new voting system to a Citizens’ Assembly, their overall commitment to reform appears to be solid and we recommend that voting reform supporters seriously consider voting for the NDP. B+

Jody Wilson-Raybould:

Ms. Wilson-Raybould is a former member of the Liberal Party who is running as an independent in Vancouver-Granville. She has posted an extensive discussion of electoral reform on her website. In it, she makes the following statements and commitments:

“[E]lectoral reform is vitally important to make our system of government more accountable and reflective of Canada’s diversity.”

“We cannot afford to continue to fail in strengthening our democracy. We need leaders and leadership who are prepared to follow through and advance electoral reform through democratic means, and not just talk the talk but fail to act.”

“[Our current system] is not consistent with the best principles and practices of democracy. Why would we not strive for the best system possible?”

“[W]hy, then, has electoral reform been so challenging and difficult to accomplish? In my view, there is a huge relationship between excessive partisan politics and power, and challenges with electoral reform. Most parties, once they are in power, believe the best way to hold on to power is to maintain the status quo, through a FPTP system. As a result, they are less likely to invest in informing their citizens about all of the available options, and to pursue electoral reform in a meaningful way. As your Independent Member of Parliament, part of my role would be to push the government of the day on these important issues.”

“Ultimately, we need a system where each of our votes matter, where we can begin to create balance in our political system, and control the exercise of power. We need all voices to be represented. I believe we not only need to look more closely at democratic reform – we need to take action.”

“I think it is worth having a national vote where all are invited to participate.”

Commitment to Voting Reform as Civil Rights Issue: Ms. Wilson-Raybould clearly articulates the principle that parliament should reflect Canada’s diversity, but does not state that she sees the issue as relating to a civil right. B
Support for Citizens’ Assembly: States that action is needed, but does not specify the approach she recommends. B
Policy on Use of Referendum: Suggests that a referendum (“national vote”) should be used. C
Strategy in Minority Situation: States that she will push the government on this issue, but is not explicit about what she would ask for. C
Overall Assessment: Voting reform is clearly important to Ms. Wilson-Raybould and she promises to push for action on this. While we would like her to be more explicit about how she thinks we could move forward on reform and less supportive of a referendum, we recommend that voting reform supporters consider voting for Ms. Wilson-Raybould. B-

Liberal Party

What their platform says: “Parliament works best when its members are free to do what they have been elected to do: be the voice for their communities, and hold the government to account. We will take steps to strengthen Parliament and build a stronger public service.”

Commitment to Voting Reform as Civil Rights Issue: Abandoned promise to make 2015 the last election under our current voting system. No mention of voting reform in current platform. F
Support for Citizens’ Assembly: No mention of this. F
Policy on Use of Referendum: No mention of this. F
Strategy in Minority Situation: No mention of this. F
Overall Assessment: Voting reform seems to not be on the radar for the Liberal Party. We do not recommend any candidate from the Liberal Party. F

Conservative Party

What their platform says: No platform posted (as of Sep 30, 2019).

Commitment to Voting Reform as Civil Rights Issue: Opposed voting reform throughout the 2015 ERRE process. No mention of voting reform in recent policy statements. F
Support for Citizens’ Assembly: No mention of this. F
Policy on Use of Referendum: The Conservative Party believes any change to the voting system must be approved in a referendum, but they have no intention to work towards making a referendum possible. F
Strategy in Minority Situation: No mention of this. F
Overall Assessment: The Conservative Party has a long history of opposing voting reform. We do not recommend any candidate from the Conservative Party. F

Basis for Evaluation

Right to Representation: Fair Voting BC believes that every voter is entitled to representation of their own choosing and that all voters should have equal influence on the makeup of Parliament. We believe that these are fundamental democratic rights and not mere preferences.  As such, we are looking to endorse candidates and parties who explicitly state that they believe that equal representation is a fundamental civil right.

Two important and related process questions are (1) how should we decide what voting system should replace our current one, and (2) how should a new voting system be implemented?

Citizens’ Assembly: With regard to what system to choose, we believe that politicians themselves should not make this decision – they are simply in too much of a conflict of interest. In our view, a ‘gold standard’ process would invest this decision in a neutral, non-partisan ‘Citizens’ Assembly’ such as was first run in BC in 2004, though perhaps augmented with additional mechanisms to increase public awareness, involvement and buy-in to the CA’s deliberative process (eg, through use of structured polls), as well to allow politicians to make submissions to the CA.

Legislation vs Referendum: Historically, changes to electoral laws in Canada have been made directly by legislation (eg, the adoption and repeal of the Single Transferable Vote across western Canada, of the Alternative Vote in BC, and the changes between multi- and single-member districts in many parts of the country). While we acknowledge that the question of voting reform has been put directly to voters in a number of referenda in recent years, politicians’ self-interest often conspires to prevent change – there have been at least four referenda in Canada that have resulted in majority support for change (PEI 2016 – 55%, BC 2005 – 58%, Vancouver 1978 and 1988 – 52% and 58%), but following which no change was made. If we regard equal representation as a civil right, and if a well-run non-partisan process produces a recommendation for change, then we feel that such an arms-length process would justify direct implementation by Parliament. Of course, if Parliament wishes to hold a referendum to allow voters to choose between different voting systems that respect our right to equal and effective representation, then we would support that.

Strategy in Minority Situation: It is apparent that neither of the two highest-polling parties are intending to do anything about voting reform.  Given that, we would like to see parties or candidates who advocate reform explicitly describe what they would push for if we end up in a minority situation and voting reform is on the table for negotiation as part of a power-sharing arrangement.