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.
Contact us at democracyunderfire@gmail.com

Sunday, December 25, 2016

A not so Merry Christmas?

As many of us gather with family and share conversation, memories, good food and presents I hope that I, my handful of readers, and any others that have been taking notice can, however briefly, ignore the ever increasing turmoil across the world. More than 6 years ago I started this blog to speak out against what I saw as an increasingly authoritative and power hungry government lead by one Stephen Harper and was therefore greatly relieved when he was tossed from power last year. Whilst our new government is far from perfect let us not forget how close we came to loosing so many of the things that I for one believe makes our country great. Free speech and the right to (peacefully) protest those things we disagree with, protection of our national parks, our rivers and streams, our lakes and shorelines. The ability of our 'arms length' watch dogs to actually do their job, make public their reports and receive sufficient funding to do so, the ability of our MPs and Senators to vote their conscience without penalty, etc etc.

I will admit to giving the current government a bit of a free ride over the last year and there are things that I could be quite critical of, however after all those years of seeing our democracy being attacked and stealthily little by little reduced to a shadow of its former self I find it hard to critique a government who I believe is trying to reverse some of those cuts. It took 10 years to almost destroy it, it will not be resurrected in just one year so whilst I support those who are keeping this governments feet to the fire I will be giving them a little more time before doing a whole lot of writing about their actions. When I look at the place we were the beginning of last year, and the place where our neighbour to the south appears to be going, and the events in the middle east and elsewhere I can only thank god that we here in Canada have a more benign administration than most, one that is largely devoid of right wing bigots and extremists.

So as the new year approaches my thought is how lucky we are, most of us will have a roof over our heads and food on the table, we have thus far managed to resolve our differences with out armed conflict and we are free to express our opinions (including about our government) without arrest. There are many problems to be resolved, poverty, homelessness, Jobs, education and heathcare funding, the list is endless but I do not know of any other place I would rather live.

Thats not a very 'merry' summation, its hard to be optimistic given world events but I do wish us all a brighter and more uplifting 2017!

See you next year (as and when I feel like writing which is increasingly becoming less frequent! ).

The traditional wish of Peace on Earth seems to be particularly appropriate this year and that is what I wish for for 2017.

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Sunday, December 18, 2016

Mixed Scientific Message's

After nearly a decade our federal scientists are now free to speak about their research and findings to the public without censure.
Scientists working for the Canadian government have successfully negotiated a clause in their new contract that guarantees their right to speak to the public and the media about science and their research, without needing approval from their managers.
Employees shall have the right to express themselves on science and their research, while respecting the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector … without being designated as an official media spokesperson,” the new clause states. The ethics code says that while federal employees may talk about their own work, they should not publicly criticize government policy.

Thats the good news but is the government listening? The approval of the pipeline and LNG projects out west has some questioning the 'science' provided by the companies involved and the lack of 'independent' data considered.

Proposed for the Flora Bank estuary, a unique eelgrass bed that
provides resting grounds for hundreds of thousands of juvenile salmon from the Skeena watershed, the LNG terminal’s proposed site clashed hard with biologists and members of the conservation community who say, when it comes to salmon, a worse location simply couldn’t have been selected.
The federal environmental assessment of the LNG terminal — which concluded destroyed salmon habitat could simply be rebuilt elsewhere — was so fraught with problems members of the scientific community penned an open letter to Trudeau and his cabinet, pleading with them to reject the project’s review.
In that letter, scientists detailed a fundamentally flawed assessment process in which peer-reviewed science was ignored, basic principles of scientific investigation were violated and research paid for by the project’s proponent, Malaysian-owned Petronas, was given primacy.
The federal government ignored those pleas from the scientific community and on a September evening environment and climate minister Catherine McKenna announced the project’s approval.
This project was subject to a rigorous environmental assessment and today’s announcement reflects this commitment,” she said.
Hearing those words, many scientists in B.C. were simply perplexed.

Meanwhile south of the border in a move that should seem strangely familiar to our Canadian scientists environmental scientists are scrambling to save years of carefully collected data to independent private servers fir fear of a Trump purge of facts (and possibly scientists) he does not like.

The Washington Post reports that
Alarmed that decades of crucial climate measurements could vanish under a hostile Trump administration, scientists have begun a feverish attempt to copy reams of government data onto independent servers in hopes of safeguarding it from any political interference.

The Department of Energy said Tuesday it will reject the request by President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team to name staffers who worked on climate change programs.
Energy spokesman Eben Burnhan-Snyder said the agency received “significant feedback” from workers regarding a questionnaire from the transition team that leaked last week.
Some of the questions asked left many in our workforce unsettled,” Snyder said.

Somehow I doubt that their letter to Trump will have much impact upon him and his team of right wing ideologues

More than 2,300 scientists, including 22 Nobel Prize winners, have issued an open letter to President-elect Donald Trump and the 115th Congress, urging them to “adhere to high standards of scientific integrity and independence in responding to current and emerging public health and environmental health threats.”
The letter underscores the extent to which many scientists, who have worked with the Obama administration to address climate change, pandemics and other major policy issues, are worried about whether Trump and his deputies will slash science funding and overhaul the way several federal agencies operate.

Is anyone listening must be the question the scientific community must ask themselves daily.

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Sunday, December 4, 2016

Electoral Reform Report Solves Nothing.

A special all-party committee is recommending that the Trudeau government design a new proportional voting system and hold a national referendum to gauge how much Canadians would support it. .........
The report does not recommend precisely how a referendum should be conducted or how many electoral options Canadians should be asked to choose among, other than to say that the existing system should also be on the ballot, along with the government's proposed new model. ............
The majority report acknowledges that the "overwhelming majority" of testimony the committee heard from almost 200 electoral experts and thousands of interested Canadians was in favour of proportional representation.
In the end, though, the report does not recommend a specific proportional voting model. .........
The report also says that whatever proportional model the government designs, it should not involve MPs being chosen from closed lists supplied by the parties, which the committee says would sever the connection between voters and their MP.

And that pretty much sums up the entire report.............!!

The first 150 pages or so summarize the testimony of some of the experts, some of the other submissions and the history of electoral systems as well as the consideration of Mandatory Voting and Electronic Voting (neither of which was recommended) in Canada and has little that those of us who have been following along did not already know. All that information is available in full on the ERRE site. At page 141 to 165 it examines to process to accomplish reform and what constitutes broad consensus, the referendum question and continues to summarize the various opinions on the subject placed before the committee. Finally at page 165 we come to the 13 “recommendations” included in the Majority Report. The remainder is taken up with lists of reports and the name of those contributing to the discussions in one way or another. The final few pages outline the Minority reports of the NDP, Greens & Liberals.

I have cherry picked a few extracts that caught my attention, for a fuller coverage of the report you will have to wade through the entire 333 page report (4835K PDF)

Majority Report
Recommendation 1
The Committee recommends that the Government should, as it develops
a new electoral system, use the Gallagher index in order to minimize the
level of distortion between the popular will of the electorate and the
resultant seat allocations in Parliament. The government should seek to
design a system that achieves a Gallagher score of 5 or less.

Recommendation 2
The Committee recommends that, although systems of pure party lists
can achieve a Gallagher score of 5 or less, they should not be
considered by the Government as such systems sever the connection
between voters and their MP.

Recommendation 11
The Committee recommends that electoral system reform be
accompanied by a comprehensive study of the effects on other aspects
of Canada’s “governance ecosystem”, namely:
 the relationship between, and operations of, the legislative and
executive branches of government;
 the relationship between, and operations of, the House of
Commons and the Senate;
 parliamentary procedure and conventions related to government
formation and dismissal;
 the impact on the operations of political parties.

Recommendation 12
Observation: The Committee acknowledges that, of those who wanted
change, the overwhelming majority of testimony was in favour of proportional
representation. The Committee recognizes the utility of the Gallagher Index, a
tool that has been developed to measure an electoral system’s relative
disproportionality between votes received and seats allotted in a legislature, as
a means of assessing the proportionality of different electoral system options.
The Committee recommends that:
 The Government hold a referendum, in which the current system
is on the ballot;
 That the referendum propose a proportional electoral system that
achieves a Gallagher Index score of 5 or less; and
 That the Government complete the design of the alternate
electoral system that is proposed on the referendum ballot prior to
the start of the referendum campaign period.

Recommendation 13
The Committee recommends that Elections Canada should produce and
make available to the public materials describing any option, including
maps depicting potential electoral district boundaries applicable under
that option and sample ballot design, prior to the start of the referendum
campaign period.

Supplementary Opinion of the NDP and the Green Party on Electoral Reform: (extracts)
While the committee did not adopt specific electoral systems within its report, we
believe the government would benefit from some specifics. We believe the government
should consider adopting one of the following models.......
Mixed-member proportional representation (MMP), with 2/3 of the House of
Commons elected to represent direct constituencies, and 1/3 elected as regional
compensatory members. Regional compensatory MPs may be elected from an
open list, flexible list, as recommended by the Law Reform Commission, or they
may be elected as “best runners-up”, as per the Baden-Württemberg system.
Open and flexible lists have the benefit of letting voters choose. The BadenWürttemberg option has the benefit of forcing all candidates to be scrutinized and
supported by voters every election in order to win their seat. Compensatory seats
would be drawn from territories, provinces, or sub-regions within provinces. As
such, since it would not affect current riding boundaries, a full riding redistribution
would be unnecessary.

NOTE In order to implement an MMP system in Canada, one of the following would have
to occur:
 Maintain the current number of MPs: the number of constituency MPs would
be reduced to allow for the addition of compensatory MPs. Consequently,
electoral districts would become larger in terms of population and geography.
 Increase the number of MPs: electoral districts would remain the same
and a set number of compensatory seats would be added to the existing
338 members.

Rural-urban proportional representation (RUP), as first elaborated by former
Chief Electoral Officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley, in which current riding boundaries
are maintained, but current urban ridings are clustered into multi-member ridings
of three to five MPs. To minimize the level of distortion between the popular will
of the electorate and the resultant seat allocations in Parliament, in 2019, the
government should add an additional 50 seats for regional compensatory MPs.
NOTE Fair Vote Canada describes the system as follows:
1) Multi-member ridings in the urban areas (which could be elected with a
ranked ballot - STV - or an open list)
2) Single member ridings in the rural and small urban areas (which could also
be elected with a ranked ballot – or by first-past-the-post)
3) A small layer of regional top up seats to make the overall results in the
region proportional (an idea borrowed from Sweden, where these are called
“adjustment seats).

Supplemental Report of the Liberal Members (extracts)
Darrel Bricker of Ipsos Research testified that a
neutral question about a national referendum indicated that 49% of Canadians were in
favour, while 51% were opposed to the idea. When the question was engineered to
reflect positively on a referendum, 55% of people indicated a supportive stance. This
reinforced a commonly-accepted conclusion: that polling results can be influenced by
how the question is framed.
This leads to a concern with material presented in the MR regarding the Conservative
Party of Canada’s claim to have had 73,740 out of 81,389 Canadians indicate their
support for a referendum in a privately conducted poll. While our Supplemental Report
in no way seeks to delegitimize the consultative work of any Party, the narrow
demographic range (the poll having been conducted in 59 Conservative-held federal
ridings out of a national total of 338, with a self -selecting pool of participants) raises
concerns about the validity of this particular metric.

Other items that caught my attention
While the Committee collected a significant amount of data on electoral systems in
different jurisdictions, it must be emphasized that impacts of various systems on the
broader Canadian governance ecosystem highlighted in Recommendation 11 are not

Given the uncertainties surrounding referendum proposal, it is our view that alternative
consultation methods should be examined as feasible options. Alternatively, the idea
that further parliamentary review would be sufficient and ben eficial was proposed by
several witnesses, and remains an option. Ultimately, it is our position that the level of
engagement with the electoral reform process amongst the Canadian public was
insufficient to generate a clear mandate. We further recommend t hat greater
consultative measures be pursued in order to present an electoral reform proposal that
is consistent with the will of Canadians.
Therefore we recommend:
That the Government further undertake a period of comprehensive and effective
citizen engagement before proposing specific changes to the current federal voting
system. We believe that this engagement process cannot be effectively completed
before 2019.

The Committee received 172 reports from individual MPs, who held various types of
consultations with their constituents, as well a report from the Conservative Caucus and
one from the NDP Caucus, for a total of 174 reports in all.
the Committee received and considered 574 written submissions. (One of which was my own)
NOTE This seems like a remarkably small number of submissions given the population of Canada and the importance of this committee in recommending changes.

Respondents to the Committee’s online consultation, who overall preferred
some element of proportionality, were open to the idea of collaborative governments.
Indeed, 53.5% of respondents either strongly agreed (31.8%) or agreed (21.7%) with the
following statement: “Canada’s electoral system should favour the following outcome: no
single political party holds the majority of seats in Parliament, thereby increasing the
likelihood that political parties will work together to pass legislation.”

An additional topic that the Committee heard about throughout its consultations was
the per-vote subsidy, a source of public funding that was available to political parties until it
was phased out in 2015.
The Committee heard from a number of witnesses who stated their preference for
reinstating the per-vote subsidy, in accordance with the principles of fairness and equity.
The Committee noted that a number of witnesses advocated for a restoration of
public financing as part of electoral reform. As Jean-Pierre Kingsley, former Chief Electoral
Officer (1990–2007), emphasized, the annual allowance for political parties is within the
scope of electoral reform:
NOTE This was NOT specifically recommended by the committee

All in all a very disappointing report which basically calls for more study and for the “government” to design a system that meets the desire for “proportionality” rather than be more specific as to the details of a recommended system. The only bit that I really liked was the NDP & Greens minority report which at least brings up a viable method of selecting those extra MPs required should an MMP system eventually be chosen. “Regional compensatory MPs may be elected from as “best runners-up”, as per the Baden-Württemberg system.”
Seems to me after all that study and listening to 'experts' there is almost nothing here that we did not know before the process started!

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Sunday, November 27, 2016

Fair Elections Act Updated

This week the Liberals introduced a bill to reverse many of the more egregious changes brought in with the Conservative “fair” elections act, the summary of this legislation says......
This enactment amends the Canada Elections Act to
(a) remove limitations on public education and information activities conducted by the Chief Electoral Officer;
(b) establish a Register of Future Electors in which Canadian citizens 14 to 17 years of age may consent to be included;
(c) authorize the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration to provide the Chief Electoral Officer with information about permanent residents and foreign nationals for the purpose of updating the Register of Electors;
(d) remove the prohibition on the Chief Electoral Officer authorizing the notice of confirmation of registration (commonly known as a “voter information card”) as identification;
(e) replace, in the context of voter identification, the option of attestation for residence with an option of vouching for identity and residence;
(f) remove two limitations on voting by non-resident electors: the requirement that they have been residing outside Canada for less than five consecutive years, and the requirement that they intend to return to Canada to resume residence in the future; and
(g) relocate the Commissioner of Canada Elections to within the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer, and provide that the Commissioner is to be appointed by the Chief Electoral Officer, after consultation with the Director of Public Prosecutions, for a non-renewable term of 10 years.

In addition, the enactment contains transitional provisions and makes consequential amendments to other Acts.

All in all a positive move that removes some of the voter suppression tactics introduced by the Harper Regime in their “fair” elections act, there should be little objection to this bill but it will be interesting to see how the 'old school' conservative MPs react to it! I will say that whilst I do agree with a citizen being a citizen for life no matter where he or she lives. I do have a few reservations about clause (f).
if a citizen has left Canada and not returned in 5 years and says he or she has no intention of returning then I find it difficult to say that they should be able to influence to future of those that actually live here. I am still a British citizen (AND a Canadian one) after some 45 years in Canada, should I then be able to vote in the Brexit debacle or for a representative for British Parliament.....I dont think so.
The pre-registration of younger voters is a big step forward and the reinstatement of Elections Canada’s mandate to educate and encourage voters is so obviously right that no further comment should be required. The updating of the voters list (and hopefully the resources to do so) is long overdue, an inordinately large portion of the problems at the polls was the discrepancy between the voter list and the reality on the ground, particularly in rural ridings where addressing norms are often far different from urban norms (which the database appears to be set up to accommodate).

These small but important changes will no doubt get totally lost in the discussions that are about to explode about the Electoral Reform Committees report about to be released and which I fear will simply create further division particularly with the call for a referendum which it is rumoured to contain in order to achieve some kind of consensus with the conservative contingent on the committee.

Its going to be interesting to see where this all goes and is, I suspect, a no win situation for the Liberals, but never forget that had they not come to power there would be no debate and we would be heading in the other direction, as it would seem are our neighbours to the south.

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Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Good, the Bad and the Narcissist

Regular readers will be aware of a lack of posts of late and no commentary on the situation south of us and perhaps are asking how a blog about democracy can be silent about the upcoming change in the U.S. Administration. Apart from being driven almost speechless by the American people electing a lying hatemonger as their president there is little more that can be said that has not already appeared in various media across the world. All I am going to say on the subject is that we know it is going to be bad but with Drumph appointing like minded arseholes, racists, misogynists, climate sceptics, brain dead, right wing extremists to positions of power it is looking worse each day......
That his accession to power seems to have emboldened such sick individuals across the world, including in Canada, to spread their hate and intolerance shows just how dangerous it is to give such narcissist access to almost unlimited coverage in the press, on TV and on the internet. It took a certain dictator several years to “seize power” over a democracy in the 1930s, with modern communications it has taken Drumph just 6 months to gather a cult like following.

Here in Canada I am VERY thankful that we no longer have a right wing government here for who knows what the rise of such an extremist across the border would have encouraged the Harper Regime to do. We cannot however ignore the effect that events to the south will have upon us here both in the practical sense of trade and environmental concerns but also in the thinking of those who agree with his stated policies. Whilst there is no doubt room for some criticism of the Liberals now in power I for one am a LOT more comfortable with the general direction and tone of our current government. This brings me to the latest road block that appears to being erected to their promise of a new electoral system being in place before we next vote again. It appears that in 'seeking consensus' the Electoral Committee may include the conservative members demand for a referendum in their report, remember the report is just a 'recommendation' to the government and it has been fairly firmly established that such cannot be accomplished in time to have a new system in place before October 2019. As with several other issues that are awaiting decisions the Libs are damned if they do and damned if they don’t on this one and have some very hard and possibly controversial decisions to make in the next year, all the consultations in the world do not make such decisions any easier.

When the new U.S. President makes our previous Prime Minister look good then its easy to feel really good about our current Prime Minister!

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Sunday, October 30, 2016

Electoral News

For the last few months I have been focusing on Electoral Reform here at Democracy Under Fire and in order to 'keep up' have a Google Alert set to give me the headlines on this subject each day. Generally they are just 'more of the same' with one side whining about having a referendum and the other saying there can be no choice but a 'proportional' system. Yesterday there were a couple of items with a little different spin that got my attention, I am not going to attempt to summarize them here or comment (much) on them but simply provide a brief clip and a link to the original articles for your interest.

First up this one from the Owen Sound Sun Times perhaps highlights the partisan nature of some MPs 'reports' to the committee..
OWEN SOUND - A clear majority of people favoured federal electoral reform at an information meeting held Wednesday in Owen Sound.
That's a different message than Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound Conservative MP Larry Miller heard in his recent phone-in discussion, in emails and calls on the issue. He said he found there's no appetite among most people for electoral reform.
But at the meeting held at the Harmony Centre, organized by the Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound Liberals, 79 people attended, and 71 filled out survey forms with the following results: 63 supported the need for electoral reform, four liked the current first-past-the-post system and four were undecided.

This one I found rather inspirational in its non partisan approach about a meeting on a small west coast island.
When I opened the door of my Saturna Island home earlier this fall, I found a petite young woman wearing black stretch jeans, boots and a jacket standing in my leaf-littered carport. Startled, I recognized Maryam Monsef, the 31-year-old Afghan refugee who is now Canada’s Minister for Democratic Institutions, responsible for changing how Canadians choose their MP’s before the next federal election.

Finally Elizabeth Mays description of the efforts of the Electoral Committee to get at least some direct public input (whilst some MPs did not even bother to consult with their constituents at all) gives me some hope that they will find some middle ground in their final report.
.......And our road trip was intense. Every day for three weeks, we flew (or bused) to a new province or town. We were ready for witnesses by 1:30 p.m. and heard the last witnesses at 9:30 p.m. The next morning, we were on an early flight to do the whole thing again. We held hearings in 19 locations, in every province and territory. We have heard from hundreds of expert witnesses in political science, constitutional law and electoral systems as well as those with expertise in the challenges of voting for persons with disabilities, the poor and groups underrepresented in Parliament: women, minorities, indigenous persons.
Of course, none of this got us any media notice. For reasons beyond my comprehension, journalists seem to think this issue is boring.  Fortunately, Canadians don’t agree. We began to feel like rock stars arriving at airports where hard-core “democro-geeks,” as Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef has dubbed those of us for whom this is a passion, were waiting to cheer us on arrival.

As we approach the best before date of this report I suspect the rhetoric from all sides will increase, but that will be just a whisper of the opinionating that will happen AFTER its release. Let the games begin!

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Sunday, October 16, 2016

No Consensus without Referendum say Conservatives.

There will be no consensus that includes the Conservative party that does not include a referendum” “there is simply no flexibility of any form.”
Conservative MP Scott Reid the party’s senior member on the electoral reform committee.

Well Mr Reid how one can achieve consensus by setting preconditions, particularly ones that are all but impossible to achieve in the time frame available is beyond me. Then you have the gall to say:- “The Conservative party does not have a position,” “Our goal is to achieve a consensus, and by a consensus, I want to be clear, it would be all five parties onside, that would be the ideal,”
Mr. Reid issued the ultimatum after revealing the results of a vote Conservative MPs conducted through mailings to every household in their respective electoral districts over the summer that found 90-per-cent support for a referendum among the 81,000 voting-age constituents who participated.

Perhaps that should read 81,000 CONSERVATIVE constituents (of 5,600,000 + who voted for them last year).......
The mail-outs that went to each riding allowed for up to four votes per household.
The Conservative caucus organized the surveying of households after most of its MPs declined to take part in a town hall-style survey of citizen opinion on electoral reform.
As with the telephone town hall held by my local Conservative MP (does this count as one of the 60% of Conservative MPs who condescended to actually 'survey' their riding’s.) those surveyed seem to been carefully selected to get the results wanted.

Given the current legislation regarding referendums one can only assume that their aim is to totally destroy the process and any chance of change happening and thus remain with the status quo, which despite their assertions to the contrary is what they seem to want.

Appearing before the standing committee on procedure and house affairs
, Chief Electoral Officer Mayrand was asked by Conservative democratic reform critic Scott Reid to elaborate on a risk highlighted in the agency’s 2016-17 report on plan and priorities (RPP).
In the RPP, the agency states that it isn’t currently prepared to hold a referendum.“In order to conduct a referendum, the agency would require a minimum of six months following legislative changes,”
Note - Following legislative changes”!

The Referendum Act is outdated — it has not been changed since 1992, which is the last time we had a national referendum. In that regard, it’s very much out of sync with the Elections Act — particularly around political financing,”
There’s no limit on contribution by any entities, so this might come as a shock.”
No kidding, a shock hardly covers it, can you just imagine the advertising promoting one system or another by the various Partys, their supporters and the various 'citizen' groups that have sprung up if there were NO limits on spending. May as well turn off your TV for six months!

I would put before the committee that legislation enacting reform should be there at least 24 months before the election…There’s all sort of hypotheses — I don’t know exactly what the reform will be — but if it involves a (boundary) redistribution exercise, which PR (proportional representation) does by definition — this is a significant undertaking,”
Whilst I note that not all PR systems require riding boundary changes certainly Elections Canada would need considerable time to set up the practical aspects of any new system, including educating the public as to how it works. If legislative changes have to be made to the Referendum Act, which in and of itself would open a whole new can of worms, then it would seem that electoral reform would be all but imposable before the next election. Perhaps this is exactly what the CPC wants?

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Sunday, October 9, 2016

An Electoral Framework for the 21st Century

Marc Mayrand, the outgoing chief electoral officer, has apparently put together a number of suggested changes that he would like to see made to our electoral system. I can only say thet the eight highlighted by Kady in the Ottawa Citizen look pretty good to me........

“While it’s well worth perusing the full document when/if you have time, here’s a quick overview of the chief electoral officer’s most (seemingly) commonsensical recommendations, several of which, it’s worth noting, can also be found in Team Trudeau’s 2015 campaign platform, but have thus far failed to materialize in the House in legislative form:
  • Reverse the ban on using the Voter Information Card as as identification at the polls and loosen the new restrictions on attesting for electors without sufficient ID that were brought in under the Fair Elections Act.
  • Re-empower the chief electoral officer to launch public outreach and education programs, including those that specifically target “persons and groups most likely to experience difficulties in exercising their democratic rights,” as well as groups with a lower rate of voter registration than the general population.
  • Give the Commissioner of Elections the power to compel testimony – a recommendation that, the report notes, was first made in 2013 – as well as the authority to lay charges without the go-ahead from the director of public prosecutions.
  • Set a maximum length for an election period – the CEO suggests “45 or 50 days, for example,” and “consider” adding a new provision specifying that the writ be issued on September 1.
  • Look at switching from a weekday to a weekend polling day, which would allow the vote to take place on Saturday or Sunday
  • Give the agency the power to impose fines – or “administrative monetary penalties” – for certain violations of the rules – specifically, those relating to financing and communications – rather than rely on criminal sanctions
  • Give Elections Canada the authority to initiate “pre-registration” campaigns targeting 16 and 17 year olds “with a view to eventually including them” in the permanent electors list, as well as verify citizenship status of potential electors with the citizenship and immigration department.
  • Allow in-home and “curbside” voting for those who are unable to vote at their assigned polling station, whether due to mobility challenges or any other mental or physical disability that restricts their ability to enter a polling station (like, for instance, extreme scent sensitivity).
These suggestions have nothing to do with the way we vote but more to do with how elections are conducted and the role of Elections Canada in conducting said elections, something which after Harpers “Fair” Elections act we all know need updating desperately.

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Sunday, October 2, 2016

A Farce of a Electoral “Consultation”?

Last week I posted the details of out local Mp's (Larry Miller) upcoming Telephone Town Hall re Electoral Reform not to promote him but to promote discussion about this important initiative. Well said teleconference is now history and the reports are in and they are not good. I had said in my previous post that I had little faith in Mr Miller accurately forwarding the broad range of opinion that could well ensue and that the number of folks actually getting to express their view would be limited.
Apparently that will not be a problem in that allegedly those that wished to express a view that did not coincide with Mr Millers FPTP and referendum views did not get a chance to speak and thus 100% of the callers did in fact, as Mr Miller previously alleged did the callers to his office, “support the current first-past-the-post voting system.”

This from our local news blog “The Hub”
Anyone who listened in on Larry Miller's tele-forum Tuesday evening, Sept. 27, was treated to a Miller kiss fest and a merry orgy of misinformation. Larry got what he wanted. Sure enough, one hundred percent of his constituents were opposed to proportional representation. No doubt we'll hear him trumpeting this "fact" soon enough.
Perhaps all the supporters of PR were smarter than I was and just stayed away knowing it would be a farce. Or they were, like me evidently, screened out by Larry's operators, with only clapping seals who wouldn't challenge him being let through.
I was waiting in the queue for 40 minutes. At one point toward the end, we heard him say, "I see another call has come in," and he took the other person. What about the queue? My call was already in. Why wasn't I next? Was it because his operator had earlier asked me what I intend to say and I foolishly blurted out the truth that I wanted to provide some information about proportional representation?
Fortunately the results are so lopsided that they shoot him in his own foot. That not one person was heard to support PR advertises the lack of credibility of the whole vain exercise. Like those third world despots hated by their people who are elected with 99 per cent of the vote every time.............
Read more

Interestingly, it not being a 'live' meeting there is no direct report from any other local media for comparison, we wonder if this was a deliberate move by Mr Miller to avoid such reporting? Mr Miller however continues to defend his 'no change' position and says the 30 or so people who did get to express their views were not 'filtered'!

As previously posted at The Rural Canadian

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Saturday, September 24, 2016

Local MP to hold Teleconference.

September 27th, 2016 - MP Larry Miller will be hosting a community TeleForum for residents in the riding of Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound. 7pm-8pm. Residents will receive a phone call at approximately 7pm and will be given instructions on how to participate.

Larry Miller, Member of Parliament for Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound, will be hosting a telephone town hall meeting (teleforum) with residents of the riding of Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound on the topic of electoral reform. The teleforum will take place on Tuesday, September 27th from 7:00p.m. – 8:00p.m.
Residents will have the opportunity to listen to and join in a discussion with Mr. Miller on the topic of electoral reform including: whether a national referendum is required to change the voting system, alternative voting systems, mandatory voting and online voting. The discussion from the teleforum will inform a submission from Mr. Miller to the Special Committee on Electoral Reform (ERRE).
Residents will receive an automated phone call shortly before 7:00p.m. on the 27th and will be prompted to remain on the line. Those wishing to participate must simply remain on the line. Those who miss the call but receive a message on their answering machine will be given instructions on how to participate.
"I am looking forward to hearing a number of different concerns, questions, and opinions on electoral reform," said Miller. "It is my hope that a community teleforum will allow for the greatest number of participants possible. I hope that all will take the time to participate in this important discussion."
Those with questions or concerns about how to participate are encouraged to contact Mr. Miller's office.
The Sun Times reports that....
Miller said there should be a full national referendum before changes are made to the electoral system.
He said about 80 per cent of the people he has heard from share that view.
Miller said about two-thirds of the constituents who have contacted him or responded to a question that was sent in a recent mail-out from his office have said they support the current first-past-the-post voting system.”
Personalty I am not going to bother, I have made my views known directly to the committee and I have little faith that Mr Millers report to them will accurately represent the wide variety of opinions that will no doubt been pressed by those that manage to get a minute or two to speak in the hour allowed at his teleconference.
As for the majority contacting him “supporting the current first-past-the-post voting system.” that may well be true in that the Conservative mantra is just that however this does not reflect the general feeling a cording to a number of national polls. The only reason for supporting a referendum on any changes is to further support this position in that those that do not understand a new system will undoubtedly vote for the status quo, and make no mistake some of the options currently on the table are fully understood by very few citizens.

Cross posted at The Rural Canadian
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Sunday, September 11, 2016

Special Committee on Electoral Reform to travel across Canada

With a mandate to broadly consult Canadians from all walks of life, the Special Committee on Electoral Reform will criss-cross Canada this coming September and October. The Committee will use this opportunity to hold formal hearings and public sessions where members of the public may share their views on electoral reform, online voting and mandatory voting. For the open-mic sessions, it will be first come, first served. The format for these public sessions and the specific locations for the sessions remain to be determined. A press release providing further details will be issued at a later date.

The Committee’s mandate was set out in the motion adopted by the House of Commons on Tuesday, June 7, 2016. The Committee must present its report to the House of Commons no later than December 1, 2016.

Committee’s Travel Schedule (Tentative)
Monday, September 19
Regina, Saskatchewan
Tuesday, September 20
St-Pierre-Jolys, Manitoba
Winnipeg, Manitoba
Wednesday, September 21
Toronto, Ontario
Thursday, September 22
Québec, Québec
Friday, September 23
Joliette, Québec
Monday, September 26
Whitehorse, Yukon
Tuesday, September 27
Site visit (to be determined)
Victoria, British Columbia
Wednesday, September 28
Vancouver, British Columbia
Thursday, September 29
Leduc, Alberta
Friday, September 30
Yellowknife, Northwest Territories
Monday, October 3
Montréal, Québec
Tuesday, October 4
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Wednesday, October 5
St. John’s, Newfoundland
Thursday, October 6
Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island
Friday, October 7
Fredericton, New Brunswick
To be determined
Iqaluit, Nunavut

Those wishing to contribute to the Committee’s discussions may find out how do so by reading the full news release on the Parliament of Canada website..

We wonder exactly how useful these few meetings where the committee members will hear a few opinions from a limited number of people on a first come first heard basis, I would suggest a written submission would be to the committal to be much easier and more effective for most folks. I also wonder about the above proposed schedule which details one meeting per province or territory EXCEPT Quebec where 3 are scheduled and BC where 2 are on the list, I wonder what criteria such inequality was based upon?

We know that each MP is expected to hold a 'Town Hall' to permit some of their constituents to express their views on electoral reform and many have done so already and been reported upon in various local news media. It will be interesting to see how closely the subsequent reports from those MP’s match the actual general tone of said meetings and how much of the various 'party lines' colour these synopsis of the meetings!

Finally for those not following such thing closely one of the Conservative members of the committee has withdrawn, it is unclear if a replacement has been named or if he or she will be equally wasting the committee’s time bellyaching about having a referendum!

According to the Hill Times’s report, Mr. Kenney “quietly gave up his spot on the key federal reform committee in the middle of August.” How quietly? According to the publication, his resignation was “unbeknownst to journalists who at the time were covering testimony” to the committee on Aug. 22, and also “even unknown to at least two MPs on the busy panel” until last week.
No loss I would say given his confrontational style both in this instance and elsewhere.

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Sunday, August 28, 2016

Electoral Reform Online Survey Available

The Special Committee on Electoral Reform began witness hearings in July and this week, launched an electronic consultation to probe citizen views on electoral systems and other vital aspects of voting.

The introduction to that multiple choice survey says in part:-
The House of Commons has created a Special Committee on Electoral Reform to identify viable alternative federal voting systems to replace the first-past-the-post system and to conduct a study of them, as well as to examine mandatory voting and online voting. As part of its mandate, the Committee is using various tools and methods to consult with Canadians. This e-consultation is one such consultation tool intended to solicit Canadians’ views both on voting and on the election of Members of Parliament. The Committee’s report to the House of Commons will take into consideration the results of this consultation.
What to Expect
Before completing the e-consultation, you will have the opportunity to familiarize yourself with background material on electoral systems.
If you consent to participate in this e-consultation, you can expect to complete the questionnaire within approximately 30 minutes. (or less)
You do not need to complete the questionnaire in one sitting. You can interrupt the e-consultation at any question, save your work, and return to it at a later time. If you plan to complete the e-consultation in more than one sitting, it is recommended that you bookmark the webpage.
Find the survey Here

Those with a greater understanding of the issues than the average citizen may find themselves wishing for the ability to further define their answers, there is however a comment section at the very end. As noted in a previous post those with more to say can send their comments via this web form or via email to ERRE@parl.gc.ca

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Sunday, August 21, 2016

Irish PR-STV system

In my last post I promised to take a harder look at the Irish electoral system of Open List PR-STV which is, as I said before a combination of a multi riding STV and Preferred Ballot system. I will start by covering some of the remarks made by Michael Gallagher, Professor of Comparative Politics, Trinity College Dublin and Michael Marsh, Emeritus Professor, Trinity College Dublin in their presentation to the Electoral Reform Committee.

“Nothing comes without problems, and there are two problems in particular that might be identifiable. One is that constituencies as we call them, ridings, would have to be much larger, both in geographical size and in population because proportional representation necessitates multi-member constituencies, so ridings would be much larger, and they already are huge in some cases. In addition, government formation becomes a much more complicated process because single party government would be very unlikely. It's very hard for any party under a really proportional system to win an overall majority.”
I note that whilst STV systems produce more proportionality than FPTP they are NOT a proportional system in and of itself.

“To expect an electoral system change to transform the whole nature of politics and make it more civil and so on, I think, is probably unrealistic. Generally we shouldn't try to over-explain things through the electoral system. A lot of people do look at countries, including Ireland, and say that Irish politics works this way, and it's got that electoral system, so it must be cause and effect. Very often it's not. “
I have said before in these pages that expecting a change in our voting system to cure all the problems in our system of governance and expect parliament to suddenly become more 'functional' is dreaming in technicolour!

“When voters go to vote, they see a ballot paper with all the candidates in the constituency listed. In Ireland they're listed in alphabetical order. That's not necessary, but that's the way it's done in Ireland. Votes are cast for their favourite candidate, their second favourite, their third favourite, and so on. They don't have to vote for any more than the favourite. They might vote for the favourite and then quit and not give a second preference. Or they might go from their favourite right down to the bottom of the ballot paper and cast number 17 for their least favourite.
This part is much the same as in Preferred Ballot systems except for the inclusion of candidates from 3 or more ridings.

“As to the counting process, if we went over a detailed, stage-by-stage, blow-by-blow explanation, it would all sound rather more complicated than it really is.”
I disagree with this statement, it not only sounds complicated but is VERY complex. See the fuller explanation of the counting system later in this post.

“The surplus distribution is the most complex part of (this system of) STV. What's more straightforward is that if a candidate fares very poorly, and gets only a few hundred votes, those votes are not wasted. The candidate is eliminated from the count and the votes are transferred to other candidates in accordance with the second preference marked. If that candidate in turn is later eliminated, the votes are transferred on in accordance to the third preference marked, and so on. The aim is that even if a voter votes for someone who doesn't do very well, this vote is not wasted as it is under the first past the post system. “
He makes it sound simple but in their particular system it is NOT.

“The counting is a multi-staged process. It takes much longer than a first past the post count. ......... Counting is not an instantaneous process—it can be several days before the full result emerges..........
When it comes to counting, the system that's used in Scotland, for instance, in local elections, is electronic, so it's instant. “
If this system were adopted electronic counting of the ballots and calculation of the results would, in my opinion, be essential. Recounts could still be assured by having the ballots both human and machine readable.

“A few thoughts on how PR-STV might work in Canada. At the moment you've got 338 MPs, so if Canada had PR-STV there might be around 70 to 90 multi-seat ridings, each returning anything from maybe three to seven MPs, or it could be more. Just looking at a few particular provinces, we see that Newfoundland and Labrador currently has seven single-seat ridings that might become one three-seat riding and one four-seat riding, for example. Prince Edward Island currently has four single-seat ridings that would become one four-seat riding. New Brunswick currently has 10 single-seat ridings that could become two five-seat ridings. It could be that really large geographical areas like Labrador, the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and Yukon would remain as single-seat ridings. I see that Labrador is a single-seat riding. Labrador is about three times as big as the entire island of Ireland, so to us it's unbelievable that this would be just one— “
Can you imagine a ballot with 4 (ridings) x up to 5 (parties) or up to 20 candidates to rate? Can you imagine the line ups waiting for folks to figure in what order to rate them?

Is there a preference built into the system for causing the more rural, more lightly populated areas to have a smaller number of TDs in order to keep the districts within a reasonable geographic size, and then do the opposite when it comes to the urban districts? That tends to have been the discussion in Canada, when we've debated this kind of system, that we would have larger numbers of members per district in the urban areas and fewer in the rural areas. Is it the same thing there, or is there a different logic? “
No, not really. In a word, there isn't. That would create a potential unfairness. The parties that were stronger in the cities would kind of lose out because they might not get their fair share of seats in the smaller rural constituencies, whereas the big parties would do better in the rural ones and only get their fair share in the urban ones.
This whole question of making our already large (rural) ridings even bigger (even with several Mps representing the area) leaves me shuddering with the thought of the possibility of ALL those chosen living hundreds of miles away from those the purport to represent.

The riding I represent in British Columbia is four times the size of the entire country of Ireland. My people come from Longford (Ireland) and I looked it up and my riding is 330 times the size of Longford. The notion we're looking at is to create even larger constituencies in the rural communities. You're designated by the constitution in Ireland. We're not limited that way here in Canada, I don't believe. The notion of having even larger rural constituencies, as you can imagine, gives some pause. There's been a notion to have a hybrid in which we had an STV or some sort of proportionality within the more dense urban populations, yet leave the rural constituencies as they are. Has anyone mused about that in Ireland, or are you simply constrained by your constitutional requirements to keep
 We are constrained by the constitutional requirements. In fact, there was a referendum back in the 1960s on allowing for a higher level of representation in rural areas, thinly populated areas, than in urban ones.”

I've always wondered how it is that STV can be proportional, given, as you say, that there's no proportionality that is privileged by the way the seats are organized; there's no separate set of seats to represent the imbalance that's created by voting at the constituency level.
 Within each constituency there's a reasonable degree of proportionality, especially in the larger ones, such as the five-seat constituencies. In three-seat ones, in particular, you might not get such proportional results, but what nearly always happens is that, simply on the law of averages, if a party loses out in one place they'll win out on another occasion.
I simply do not believe this would produce such results in Canada in part due to those huge districts and in part due to our greater number of political partys as compared with Ireland. I also note that the professors said that the more combined riding’s in a district the more proportional the results become the less number the less proportional. Thus this system and STV as a whole can be said to be more proportional than FPTP but is NOT fully proportional and should not, in my view, be called such.

Some member of the committee had difficulty understanding the counting system which as I said above is NOT simple. I have tried to assemble the concise explanation below gleaned from an official outline that left my head spinning.

In the Irish system of counting the Preferential part of the PR-STV voting system is totally opposite from the normal method where the bottom candidates are eliminated and the second choices are added to the previous count.

In that in this system they are electing several individuals per district they first count the number of ballots and then calculate the minimum number of votes required to be elected (in a 3 riding district a quarter of the votes plus one). Any candidate receiving more votes than this 'threshold' is deemed elected. Any excess votes for elected candidates over this threshold are distributed as per the second choice on the ballot, because the number of transferable votes may be more than the remaining ballots the votes are distributed in proportion to the number of selected secondary choices. With the removal of these ballots from any 'elected' candidate the 'excess' votes are recalculated and further votes removed over the elected threshold from any elected candidates for the next round.

Very, very complicated counting system that few would fully understand and takes several days to complete when done by hand as it is in Ireland......... !!

A complete explanation can be found here http://www.housing.gov.ie/sites/default/files/migrated-files/en/Publications/LocalGovernment/Voting/FileDownLoad%2C1895%2Cen.pdf

Transcripts and submissions (briefs and witnesses) including my own submission can be found here-

Evidence (which can be found under the individual meetings listing at http://www.parl.gc.ca/Committees/en/ERRE/Meetings ) is the edited transcript of what is said before a Committee and includes both remarks made by Members of the Committee and those made by the witnesses. Please note that the Evidence is only published for public meetings and may take approximately 1-2 weeks to be posted to the Committee web page.

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Sunday, July 31, 2016

Electoral Reform Committee Hearings Continue

The meetings of the Parliamentary committee studying Electoral Reform resumed this week with presentations from a series of “expert” witnesses. In the first of these meetings the call for a referendum once again came to the fore and was quickly shot down by all three experts! This after Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef told the committee on July 6 that referenda are divisive and not the best way of seeking clarity on the issue, and Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand earlier having estimated the price tag would be around $300 million.

After having reviewed the synopsis of the weeks proceedings as presented by that long suffering reporter Kady O'Mally in her live blogging (as apparently the only reporter actually viewing and reporting live from the meetings, as opposed to watching on parl-view, she is to be congratulated for her perseverance and deserves our thanks) I was struck by a number of things. Firstly how much time was wasted discussing the need / possibility a referendum, mostly in response to questions from the conservative contingent. The committees mandate, so far as I can tell, was to study and recommend to parliament a system of selecting our parliamentary representatives NOT to decide upon how such a system would be implemented. The choices are complex enough without bringing up this issue which most of the expert witnesses dismissed as “not particularly good at resolving complex issues” or otherwise inadvisable.
I also noted that with a few notable exceptions the presentations and discussions were very general in nature rarely getting into the 'mechanics' of any of the options discussed. One presenter even went so far as to say that such details were unimportant. I beg to strongly disagree, the details of the chosen system, particularly should that choice be some form of MMP, is fundamental to both the outcome and the acceptance of such a system.
The discussions of STV systems seemed to get a fair bit of attention perhaps in view of the early presentation by two Irish professors promoting their system of Open List PRSTV which as I understand it combines STV with Ranked Ballot in muti-constituentcy districts. (I must dig deeper into that system!). Despite what has been touted as the liberals preferred system Ranked Ballot seems to have received very little attention from either the presenters or the committee members. Finally before I attempt to summarize Kadys summary I note that the evening video conference with the Australian and New Zealand Electoral Commission commissioners was not covered by Kady which given that their systems are one the most often referred to in discussing MMP systems is a shame. ( no shame to Kady as she had already sat through two sessions that day). I may view the video and comment if / when I get time!

Here then are a few extracts from what reporting there is on the proceedings (my bold and italics), the meeting are all available on parl-view via the committee web site at http://www.parl.gc.ca/Committees/en/ERRE/Meetings no transcripts are available so far as I can tell.

Day one (Momday) the committee heard from:-
• R. Kenneth Carty, Professor Emeritus, The University of British Colombia
• Brian Tanguay, Professor, Political Science, Wilfrid Laurier University
• Nelson Wiseman, Director, Canadian Studies Program, Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Toronto

Ipolitics reports that:-
Ken Carty (professor emeritus at the University of British Columbia), who served as the director of research for the B.C. Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform, said the evidence from that referendum suggested a large majority of the people who cast ballots in that referendum knew nothing about the issue on which they were voting. And that evidence from Ontario’s referendum suggests the same.
Nelson Wiseman (professor at the University of Toronto) said “I would not put the issue of an alternative voting system to a referendum. It’s unnecessary; it’s a waste of money; and it will almost certainly fail. You may as well recommend not changing the system and save Canadians the cost.”
When asked about his preferred electoral system for Canada, Wiseman suggested the hybrid system used in Alberta and Manitoba between the 1920s and 1950s — with a single transferable vote system used in the cities (Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg) and an alternative ballot in the rural areas. (As a rural resident I have previously pointed out in these pages how unsuited STV is in rural and remote areas of Canada)
“If you live in a large metropolitan area, it doesn’t matter if the MP represents Davenport or Spadina Fort-York — the issues are similar. However, if you live outside of those cities it’s very vital,”
A heated exchange of Monday’s meeting took place between Brian Tanguay (professor at Wilfred Laurier University) and Conservative MP Jason Kenney, who has remained a federal MP and member of the committee despite having announced his intention to become leader of a united Wildrose and Progressive Conservative party in Alberta. Tanguay arguing for proportional representation and Jason saying that “some of the most dysfunctional democracies in the world are in the consensual category”

Day two (Tuesday) the committee heard from:-
• Michael Marsh, Emeritus Professor, Trinity College Dublin
• Michael Gallagher, Professor of Comparative Politics, Trinity College Dublin
• Patrice Dutil, Professor, Ryerson University
• Peter Russell, Professor Emeritus, Department of Political Science, University of Toronto
• Tom Rogers, Electoral Commissioner, Australian Electoral Commission
• Robert Peden, Chief Electoral Officer New Zealand Electoral Commission

Extracts from Kadys live blogging follow, see http://ottawacitizen.com/news/politics/kady-liveblog-mps-talk-irish-electoral-reform-experience-with-dublin-professors

The Irish electoral system uses (a version of) the Single Transferable Vote, which, Gallagher tells MPs, does lead to a closer relationship between share of the vote and the composition of the Parliament itself.
It does, however, require much larger ridings, he notes – –  as multi-member constituencies are needed — and it does indeed make it distinctly less likely that one party can command a majority.
“You mustn’t expect too much from electoral system change,” he warns the committee — it won”t “transform” the basic nature of politics by instantly rendering it more civil and collaborate. Expecting that from a change to the vote count formula would be “unrealistic,” he notes.
Marsh makes a pretty good pitch for the extended, 24-36 hour vote counting process, which, by his account, turns into a marathon political reality show to which the entire country is riveted.
Kenny still banging on about referendum as per Irish changes (as he and his fellow conservatives did throughout the entire week) Marsh warns that it would take a whole lot of resources to ensure there was enough information and awareness out there.
Peter Russel:-
Minorities, he reminds MPs, can often make Parliament more meaningful. (Minority *parliaments*, that is.)
As for “false majority” , his explanation is surprisingly simple: He just gets irked when governments and leaders claim a mandate from “the people,” an assertion he describes — with preemptive apologies to the public — as “BS” .
Russell also predicts that, in a post-FPTP minority, there likely wouldn’t be constant confidence votes, simply because there would be no incentive to do so in order to force an election and win a majority for your own party. 
Kady notes that Dutil is, indeed, very pro-referendum. (One of the few)
NOTE (A third session took place in the evening with the Aussi and NZ presenters which is not covered here)

Day three (Wednesday) the committee heard from:-
• Henry Milner, Senior Researcher, Chair in Electoral Studies, Université de Montréal
• Alex Himelfarb, Clerk of the Privy Council, 2002-2006
• André Blais, Professor, Department of Political Science, Université de Montréal
• Leslie Seidle, Research Director, Institute for Research on Public Policy
• Larry LeDuc, Professor Emeritus, University of Toronto
• Hugo Cyr, Dean, Faculty of Political Science and Law, Université du Québec à Montréal

Kady reports (in part) see http://ottawacitizen.com/news/politics/kady-liveblog-mps-talk-electoral-reform-with-former-pco-clerk-alex-himelfarb
Henry Milner gives a quick(ish) rundown of the arguments included in the much more extensive written brief he provided in advance, (which as with other similar documents does not seem to be available on line)
Kady - In his view, MMP is the only alternate to First Past The Post that ensures every voter has a person in the House to represent them, while still making every vote count.
Using Ottawa as an example. There would be six districts, he estimates, which might be larger than the existing ridings. That would mean six MPs, who would be voted for directly by the electors, and then another four seats that are divvied up according to vote share, from a list. So, everyone has their own MP, and there are four other members hanging around as at-range extras. 
Milner does not seem to be prepared to go into the details of how those lists would be assembled, which is, of course, a fairly critical element of any such system. (Exactly Kady!)
Himelfarb notes that, while he’s not going to endorse any one system, he believes that any option must ensure the voters, not the party, chooses the names on a list, which may or may not involve preferential weighting.  He confesses to a fondness for multi-member and single transferable vote systems, but he very much opposes lists created by parties — this is, he says, supposed to be about voters, not parties, so it should be open list or no list.  He also reminds MPs that “design matters.” (As I said at the top the 'mechanics' of the system chosen the details of the resign do indeed matter)
Blaikie then gives Milner the opportunity to outline the different models for putting together a list — should it be the party? Or the voters through second-round voting? Milner is actually fine with a closed-list, which is a courageous stance in this context, as noted earlier. But he’s also not opposed to the idea of having voters go through that list, although he worries that some might it find it difficult to do so.
Himelfarb, however, is very much in favour of an open list, which, he says, also makes it clear to the *candidate* that if they don’t make a special effort to “win the hearts and minds” of the voters, they may pay the price.

Following Kenney’s lead, Theriault, too, tries to get the witnesses to agree to the need for a referendum. (Nothing new here!)
Next up: Larry LeDuc, who says look at New Zealand it took three elections, two referendums and nine years, but they did *eventually* do it. (change their voting system). He seems to be a fan of process and principles over practical recommendation, and cautions the committee against delving too deeply into the details of any one possible option. (Say what!)
In conclusion, he sides with Peter Russell: the main job of an electoral system is to reflect the will of the voters. That, he says, is why he believes in list-based PR, as it both achieves that goal and is, after all, the most widely used in the world, unlike STV which is used only in Ireland and Malta. 
Ruby Sahota askes his thoughts on referendum,s he’s not implicitly opposed to the very idea of such a vote, but sees many, many, many shortcomings, including the ‘disinformation campaign’ that can result during a short, “chaotic” campaign.

Day four (Thursday) the committee heard from:-
• Dennis Pilon, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, York University
• Jonathan Rose, Associate Professor, Department of Policital Studies, Queen's University
• Maryantonett Flumian, President, Institute on Governance,

And Kady had this to report (in part) see http://ottawacitizen.com/news/politics/kady-liveblog-mps-talk-electoral-reform-with-political-science-professors-former-deputy-minister

First up: Dennis Pilon, who like the vast majority of witnesses to appear before the committee this week, he seems to be pretty keen on proportional representation; he also finds the arguments that insist the constitution requires a referendum to be ridiculous, and laments the increasing proliferation of such “internally inconsistent” logic appearing in the media, courtesy of the “right wing think tanks”  behind the funding.

Rose doesn’t believe it’s up to Canadians to design a new electoral system: That, he thinks, is the job of this committee. What Canadians must do is let the committee — and presumably the House and the government — what principles they believe are critical.  If the desired output is proportional representation, we must then go back to the principles to determine how to make that happen, which means asking questions about local representation and the potential tradeoffs that might have to be made.
(Kady says - Over the course of these hearings, it’s becoming clear that no one really wants to discuss tradeoffs that may occur under their preferred voting system, but that probably shouldn’t come as a surprise.)  (And yet each and every system will involve such 'trade offs' and it will be important for the committee to understand such shortcomings)
Flumian thinks that turnout could be boosted by making it less of a hassle to register — and to cast a ballot — particularly, although not exclusively, for youth.  She brings up the Conservative-initiated limits on vouching – –  allowing an elector to vouch for just one other voter — and suggests that might have had a dampening effect. On online voting, Flumian enthusiastically clicks yes
“Selling a voting system is like selling a car,” Pilon observes — voters want to know the basics, not the mechanics underlying it.and most voters don’t need to have the counting system explained to the point that they could serve as an  emergency deputy returning officer in a pinch, (but you do if you wish to actually understand the system and comment upon it with any authority!)
Apparently,it’s also we-the-media who are responsible for convincing everyone that if you can’t explain the voting system in 15 seconds or fewer, it’s a write-off. (In point of fact it take many hours of study to fully understand many of the systems being proposed as I have personalty found out!)

On referendum, (more wasted time) Flumian agrees that it tends to be “a very blunt instrument,” and one that has, at least for those in the generation that currently dominates this table, been divisive and not particularly good at resolving complex issues. 
Pilon — that in the Irish system, voters get very good local representation, and can even choose between *different* representatives from the same party.  (Still have to do more research on that one)
Reid, - Given the sheer size of this country, will it not be very hard to ensure that ridings don’t become even more vast, or sacrifice true proportionality by putting a cap on the number of members?  Rose doesn’t disagree that this is one of those tradeoffs.

Thats it, I am sure it hardly touches the approximately 20 hours of presentations and discussions, for that you will have to go to http://www.parl.gc.ca/Committees/en/ERRE/Meetings and watch the video of each session. I do note that one “expert” has summarized his initial presentation on his blog at https://afhimelfarb.wordpress.com/2016/07/27/proportional-representation-fairness-representativeness-and-accountability/ which may be worth viewing. Also see Kadys brief overview of the week.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Democratic Reform Committee Members Named

Although Minister Maryam Monsef has nothing about the makeup or members of the Electoral Reform Committee on the Democratic Institutions web site it seems that the MPs to serve on this important committee have been named. according to the CBC they are :-
Conservatives: Jason Kenney, Scott Reid and Gérard Deltell
Liberals: John Aldag, Matt DeCourcey, Sherry Romanado, Ruby Sahota and Francis Scarpaleggia
NDP; Nathan Cullen and Alexandre Boulerice
Bloc Québecois: Luc Thériault
Greens: Elizabeth May.

The committee will elect its chair on Tuesday and is expected to hold hearings through the summer. The next few months will also include what is being described as "a series of national outreach engagements" with the minister of democratic institutions, Maryam Monsef, and her parliamentary secretary, Mark Holland.”

I presume the committee will have its own web site and that citizens will be able to submit their views directly to the committee in the very near future. I do hope they will be more forth coming than what appears to be a lack of communications from the Minister and her staff who at this time do not even have a direct contact email on their web page but mail must go through the PCO?

I am rooting for Ms May as chair but its liable to be one of the liberals!
Note: The committee elected Francis Scarpaleggia as chair and Nathan Cullen and Scott Reid as vice chairs.

A reader has provided a link to the Committee Web Site, it is :-

Contact them at  ERRE@parl.gc.ca

The Mandate of the Committee

Pursuant to Standing Order 81(16), the House proceeded to the putting of the question on the main motion, as amended, of Mr. Cullen (Skeena—Bulkley Valley), seconded by Mr. Dubé (Beloeil—Chambly), — That a Special Committee on electoral reform be appointed to identify and conduct a study of viable alternate voting systems to replace the first-past-the-post system, as well as to examine mandatory voting and online voting, and to assess the extent to which the options identified could advance the following principles for electoral reform:
1) Effectiveness and legitimacy: that the proposed measure would increase public confidence among Canadians that their democratic will, as expressed by their votes, will be fairly translated and that the proposed measure reduces distortion and strengthens the link between voter intention and the election of representatives;
2) Engagement: that the proposed measure would encourage voting and participation in the democratic process, foster greater civility and collaboration in politics, enhance social cohesion and offer opportunities for inclusion of underrepresented groups in the political process;
3) Accessibility and inclusiveness: that the proposed measure would avoid undue complexity in the voting process, while respecting the other principles, and that it would support access by all eligible voters regardless of physical or social condition;
4) Integrity: that the proposed measure can be implemented while safeguarding public trust in the election process, by ensuring reliable and verifiable results obtained through an effective and objective process that is secure and preserves vote secrecy for individual Canadians;
5) Local representation: that the proposed measure would ensure accountability and recognize the value that Canadians attach to community, to Members of Parliament understanding local conditions and advancing local needs at the national level, and to having access to Members of Parliament to facilitate resolution of their concerns and participation in the democratic process;

that the Committee be directed to issue an invitation to each Member of Parliament to conduct a town hall in their respective constituencies and provide the Committee with a written report of the input from their constituents to be filed with the Clerk of the Committee no later than October 14, 2016;
that the Committee be directed to take into account the applicable constitutional, legal and implementation parameters in the development of its recommendations; accordingly, the Committee should seek out expert testimony on these matters;
that the Committee be directed to consult broadly with relevant experts and organizations, take into consideration consultations that have been undertaken on the issue, examine relevant research studies and literature, and review models being used or developed in other jurisdictions;
that the Committee be directed to develop its consultation agenda, working methods, and recommendations on electoral reform with the goal of strengthening the inclusion of all Canadians in our diverse society, including women, Indigenous Peoples, youth, seniors, Canadians with disabilities, new Canadians, and residents of rural and remote communities;
that the Committee be directed to conduct a national engagement process that includes a comprehensive and inclusive consultation with Canadians, including through written submissions and online engagement tools;
that the Committee be directed to study and advise on additional methods for obtaining the views of Canadians;
that the Committee be composed of twelve (12) members of which five (5) shall be government members, three (3) shall be from the Official Opposition, two (2) shall be from the New Democratic Party, one (1) member shall be from the Bloc Québécois, and the Member for Saanich—Gulf Islands;
that changes in the membership of the Committee be effective immediately after notification by the Whip has been filed with the Clerk of the House;
that membership substitutions be permitted, if required, in the manner provided for in Standing Order 114(2);
that, with the exception of the Member for Saanich—Gulf Islands, all other members shall be named by their respective Whip by depositing with the Clerk of the House the list of their members to serve on the Committee no later than ten (10) sitting days following the adoption of this motion;
that the Committee be chaired by a member of the government party; that, in addition to the Chair, there be one (1) Vice-Chair from the Official Opposition and one (1) Vice-Chair from the New Democratic Party, and that all candidates for the position of Chair or Vice-Chair shall be elected by secret ballot, and that each candidate be permitted to address the Committee for not more than three (3) minutes;
that the quorum of the Committee be as provided for in Standing Order 118, provided that at least four (4) members are present and provided that one (1) member from the government party and one (1) member from an opposition party are present;
that the Committee be granted all of the powers of a standing committee, as provided in the Standing Orders, as well as the power to travel, accompanied by the necessary staff, inside and outside of Canada;
that the Committee have the power to authorize video and audio broadcasting of any or all of its proceedings; and that the Committee present its final report no later than December 1, 2016.

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