A blog to give a voice to our concern about the continued erosion of our democratic processes not only within the House of Commons and within our electoral system but also throughout our society. Here you will find articles about the current problems within our parliamentary democracy, about actions both good and bad by our elected representatives, about possible solutions, opinions and debate about the state of democracy in Canada, and about our roles/responsibilities as democratic citizens. We invite your thoughtful and polite comments upon our posts and ask those who wish to post longer articles or share ideas on this subject to submit them for inclusion as a guest post.
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Sunday, February 7, 2016

First Week Back.

With parliament resuming its been an interesting week both in the House and elsewhere, our new Prime Minister continued with his almost unrelenting schedule of travelling around actually talking to people (something the previous PM avoided at all costs) and with everybody from Mayors to Provincial leaders asking him to do the impossible and reverse the decade of reduced federal support overnight. (Where is that instigator of democratic destruction anyway, I thought a sitting MP was supposed to actual show up when the House was sitting?)

The Auditor General revealed what many of us long suspected in that that magical disappearing surplus was found at least partially on the backs of the needy by withholding funds already committed for various programs and initiatives.

Auditor General Michael Ferguson's latest report lays bare massive delays processing Canada Pension Plan disability payments that have left some of the most vulnerable Canadians waiting years for benefits. 

In his annual fall report released Tuesday, the auditor general uncovered an average processing delay of 884 days that has left Canadians with severe and prolonged disabilities — such as nervous and circulatory diseases, cancers and mental illness, among others — waiting for a crucial source of income.

The membership of various committees and when they will be formed is being discussed, the most important of these perhaps being the ones to recommend persons for the Senate and the one to recommend changes to our electoral system. In regards to the latter the NDP has suggested that the governing Liberals surrender majority control over the committee and that it be formed to more closely reflect the popular vote during the election. That would mean five Liberal MPs, three Conservatives, two New Democrats, one Bloc Quebecois and one Green party member. This would reduce the implications of self interest if certain systems which some say would flavor the Liberals were to be recommended. Although I do not subscribe to the view that any particular system flavors any particular Party I find the idea of a more balanced committee membership a very good idea, all appearance of partisan interference with this decision must be eliminated if it is to be accepted by the general public.

And finally we have the bizarre sight of a Conservative standing up in question period and accusing the Liberals of being unethical for trying get some of the many persons unethically pre-appointed or reappointed to various tribunals (by their former leader) to voluntary step down and submit to a parliamentary process.

"Talking about ethical guidelines, when we are talking about a previous government's decision, at five minutes to midnight, to appoint a series of individuals to jobs to take effect after it lost the election, with no ability for this House to scrutinize those appointments, from our perspective, that was the abuse of process," said. Dominic LeBlanc, the government's House leader,

As always Mr Mercer put it all in perspective in a few short sentences:-

If you're like me, since New Year’s, you were waiting desperately for Monday, January the 25th to roll around. Last week it finally happened, marking the return of the 42nd Parliament. I was going to go up there in person and line up at midnight so I could actually watch it live but instead I caught it on TV.

Now, since then, there have been seven Question Periods. I’m guessing you don't watch every day because, well, you have a life. It's far more likely you’ve set the PVR so you can binge a whole bunch of them on the weekend. You know, invite over a special friend, Question Period and chill.

Now I don't want to give away too much away but spoiler alert—this season is awful.

Remember Rona Ambrose? Last season she was Minster of Health, this season she's Leader of the Opposition. And remember when she got the job she said on her watch the Tories wouldn’t heckle and act like spoiled children. Turns out she meant the opposite. They’re worse now than they ever were.

And the plot lines this season—totally unbelievable. Like the Conservatives are now mad that the Liberals haven't legalized marijuana yet. That is the most ridiculous plot twist I have ever heard. Do they think we’re stupid? Rona, we remember last season, heck, we remember the past ten seasons. Your party has always said legalizing pot would mean the end of the world. Now you're upset because you can’t get your weed at Costco?

And what's with Tony Clement? Every time he opens his mouth he’s saying that governments have to be transparent. Who are these people fooling? A couple of seasons ago Tony took fifty million dollars earmarked for border security and secretly spent it on gazebos in Ontario cottage country. I'm sorry, his character talking about transparency just doesn't ring true.

And then other main characters from last season have been totally written out. According to the credits, Stephen Harper’s still in the cast. He has yet to utter a single line. Why are they still paying this guy?

Look, it's early in the season, granted I will still keep watching Question Period. And Rona, it’s okay to oppose. You are the Leader of the Opposition. But stop pretending like the past ten years didn't happen. Despite appearances, it's a democratic institution, not a soap opera; you just can't pretend the past decade, poof, was all a dream.

Thanks Rick, I am sure there will be lots more ammunition for you next rant coming shortly!

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Electoral Reform – The Ballots

Having recently reviewed a few of the more commonly used voting systems that may be considered by the proposed committee to examine electoral reform in Canada I thought it might be useful to collect some examples of the type of ballot that such systems would require. These examples are from various existing or proposed systems across the world, it was surprisingly difficult to find good examples of some types of ballots. Click on the examples to get a clearer view.

First up Mixed Member Proportional – Closed List where you have one vote for your local representative and one vote for the partys extra candidate of your choice. The Party chooses the individuals needed to make up the number of MPs needed to satisfy the proportionality of the vote.

Next up MMP – Open List where you have one vote for your local represntitive and one vote for the partys extra listed candidate of your choice. The individuals needed to make up the number of MPs needed to satisfy the proportionality of the vote are decided by who gets the most votes. I was unable to find an example of this type of ballot but it would look something like this which is a combination of the above and an open list proportional ballot.

The third example is that of a, Single Transferable Vote ballot based upon a sample from the BC STV proposal, the instructions were added from a Scottish STV ballot as no such information was included in the original. It is the same as AV shown below in that you rank the candidates except that the list contains the names of candidates from 2 or more ridings and the one per riding are elected. Those who win (using the ranked method of selection) represent the combined district..

A far better example of an STV ballot is this one from the U.S., it has the additional quality of being machine readable, something that I believe ALL ballots should encompass but particularly any that have ranked voting.

Finaly we have this simple machine readable Alternative Vote, Ranked Ballot (or whatever you wish to call it, I wish we could settle on a common name for this voting method). Here you rank you local candidates and your choices are taken into account when non of the candidates get more than 50% of the #1 votes.

One final note here. In MMP all votes (for both the local candidate and the Party or their choice list) are counted using First Past The Post, there is nothing stopping one or both of these choices being a ranked choice (except to make an already complex system more complex) thus eliminating those with less than 50% of the vote from automatically winning a seat. Such a ballot for Ranked MMP – Closed list might look something like this.......

As with each voting method there are many different varietys of ballots and what constitutes a valid or spoiled ballot as well as how said votes are counted. Any proposal must include a sample ballot which includes clear instructions on its use printed ON the ballot as well as, where appropriate, exactly how that vote is distributed. (i.e. The number of ridings represented in and STV ballot)

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Single Transferable Vote & Instant Run Off Voting

This week I will once again discuss some of the voting systems that may be considered for our future electoral reform. Single transferable vote (STV) is often touted as a “proportional” system, it is not, it is merely Instant Run Off (otherwise known as Alternative Vote or AV) with a wider choice of candidates by combining several ridings and having voters indicate their choice of candidates in order of preference. The representatives for the 2 or 3 or 4 ridings are then selected using the instant run off method from the combined list of candidates.

That is:-
An STV election starts with every voter's first choice, according to the following steps:
  1. A candidate who has reached or exceeded the quota (usualy 50%) is declared elected.
  2. If a candidate has more votes than the quota, surplus votes are transferred to other candidates. Votes that would have gone to the winner go to the next preference.
  3. If no-one new meets the quota, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and those votes are transferred.
  4. This process repeats until either a winner is found for every seat or there are as many seats as remaining candidates.
As with all voting methods there are variations, such as how to transfer surplus votes from winning candidates and whether to transfer votes to already-elected candidates. As usual the devil is in the details.

The advantage of this system compared with MMP (proportional) alternatives is that the number of elected MPs remains the same as the number of existing ridings (even after they have been combined for voting purposes) however for those who are determined to have a fully proportional system this will not produce such results despite it being described as 'somewhat proportional' in many write-ups. There are no 'extra' MPs and thus no artificial limits upon national votes that eliminate a smaller party from equal opportunities or any method to make the results 'proportional' with the popular vote.

The problem with STV in a country a large and diverse as ours with some riding’s covering hundreds of square miles is that whilst combining ridings and electing multiple representatives to cover that area may work in urban areas, in other parts of the country it could result in the election of MPs totally unconnected with distant parts of the combined riding and the wishes of larger centres within the combined district overriding those of the more distant areas. The combination of just 3 ridings in my rural area (in SW Ont) would result in a riding of more than 14, 000 sq km twice the size of the GTA with its 58 seats, this would be a 'small' riding compared with some other areas of the country. This system is only partly proportional anyway.
As mentioned above STV is merely Instant Run Off (AV) but with combined ridings.

AV (instant runoff) where your second and third choices are taken into account in electing a single LOCAL MP work exactly the same but just one MP is selected from the resulting voter preferences, otherwise all remains the same, I now (having previously voted for MMP in the Ontario referendum) personally flavor this way (AV / Instant Runoff) of electing our local representative (even within a proportional system should that happen, i.e. AV+), it is after all a known and well used system used by political party’s and others to elect leaders. It is the 'first past the post' thing that has everybody complaining about it so why would we still elect out local MP this way as most MMP systems do? It does not (except in its 'plus' format) add to the number of MPs in the HoC. It is not proportional in the true sense but may reflect the wishes of more electors in perhaps electing their second choice and does to some extent let folks spread their votes between a choice of person and party. It is also simplifies the ballot compared with most other systems and may be better understood by the general public..

For clarity AV+ is basically MMP but with the local candidates selected by an Instant Run Off method. Any system which calls upon voters to select or rate multiple candidates and / or party representatives will by default require a much more complex ballot and a more robust method of counting (and selecting the winners from preferential lists) than currently employed. If you thought the line ups were too long during the recent election wait till you have to rate candidates in order or select multiple candidates or select 'party candidates' as well as local ones.

As I have said before, I am all for voting reform but fear that it is not as simple as some would believe and some of the choices may well come with voter confusion, more spoiled ballots, longer line ups, more results challenged due to not understanding counting methods etc etc. I do not envy the “committee' in their work to 'recommend' a replacement system to FPTP!
One final note, there has be some commentary that this system or that give advantage to this party or that, I do not believe this is the case. Taking past results and applying them to a new method of voting tells us nothing. With each method and voter choices the voter selections made may have very little to do with past preferences and no one can predict the outcome, which is perhaps the single best thing about the change.