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'It's about what's best for Canada'

Electoral reform town hall expresses clear desire for change
By Mike Youds
September 12, 2016 9:26 P.M.

Participants got a bonus at a town hall Monday night on federal electoral reform: A crash course in alternative forms of democratic representation and a voice in community input for the federal all-party committee examining possibilities.

About 80-100 people took part in two hours of listening and discussion on the choices available to Canadians as they consider how to achieve a more balanced and equitable electoral system than the current first-past-the-post method.

“Literally two-thirds of voters in the last election could have stayed home,” said Matt Greenwood, who ran for the Green Party in 2015. “That’s not democracy, that’s indefensible.”

He was referring to the fact that the Liberals, who received less than 40 percent of the popular vote, won a clear majority of Parliamentary seats. Liberals and Conservatives have traded the advantages of FPTP for years, its winner-take-all victories along with its tendency to produce two-party systems that don’t reflect diversity of beliefs and opinions.

Ken Gray, rector of St. Paul’s Cathedral where the meeting was held, acted as MC, helping to bridge perceptions of partisan influence.

“We’re all here for the same reason,” he began. “We care about the community we live in.”

Terry Kading, a TRU political science professor, said the vast majority of his students tend to agree with one another on a need to reform the electoral system.

“They have a sense that something is wrong with the existing system,” he said.

Most in the hall seemed to agree with that, along with other voters who’ve become accustomed to election outcomes that don’t reflect their political views or desires.

Greenwood gave a brief overview of the various alternatives to the status quo, including mixed-member proportional representation (PR), single transferable voting (STV and a hybrid system, PR-STV.

Participants listened intently to a half-hour presentation by Anita Nickerson of Fair Vote Canada, who was connected via Skype to her home in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ont. Nickerson pointed to recent Canadian elections in which half of all voters were not represented in the result.

“That’s actually not the way it works in most democracies,” she said. Eighty percent of Western democracies use proportional representation, and it’s not overly complicated, she stressed.

“That kind of goes against common sense. I think Canadians are just as smart as voters in Germany or Ireland.”

Then there’s the myth about minority governments reeling from one election to the next, unable to govern effectively. Countries with PR have no more elections than those with FPTP, she said. There are, however, more incentives with PR for parties to collaborate and co-operate. Governments elected through PR more accurately reflect the views of the median population. Almost all are governed by majority coalitions. Partisan divisions are more effectively overcome as well, she noted.

“It’s about what’s best for Canada, not about what’s best for your party,” Nickerson said.

The second half of the meeting was taken up with small-group discussions centered around a set of questions used to shape input for the federal all-party committee. Their thoughts and observations were recorded on flip-sheets.

“Somehow, if we can focus on collaboration and co-operation, then more people would be motivated to vote,” said Peter Mutrie.

“Every citizen should have a say and I think that’s the democratic way to go,” said another participant who favoured a referendum on electoral change. Others opposed a referendum.

About two-thirds in the room favoured dedicated seats for First Nations. Two-thirds were against mandatory voting. A sizable majority favoured automatic voter registration at age 18, while the room was almost evenly divided over online voting with a slim majority against.

“I thought it was great,” Kading said afterward. “I think that because of Justin Trudeau’s election campaign promise, it’s kind of created a unique opportunity. I think the whole consultation process is unique.”

He said it was important for participants to see what other countries are doing and recognize the desire to improve representation in Canada. Regional representation was clearly a dominant concern, he added.

Marcia Small records participants' opinions for submission to federal all-party committee on reform.

 

Grouchy 1 says:
September 13, 2016 08:40am

" About two-thirds in the room favoured dedicated seats for First Nations "

I have to disagree with that premise. There should be no " dedicated " seats for anyone. You either get elected on your merits, or you don't.

"Two-thirds were against mandatory voting."

Voter turn out is pathetic, and we need a way to get everyone to vote, federally, provincially, and most definitely at the municipal level.


" A sizable majority favoured automatic voter registration at age 18, "

Most definitely, a good idea.


"the room was almost evenly divided over online voting with a slim majority against."

I'm torn on that one. I just don't trust the government to have good security protocols in place , even though I do almost everything else online.

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Matt Greenwood says:
September 13, 2016 07:29am

Just to clarify, my actual quote was "Literally 2/3 of the people who turned out to vote in our riding COULD have stayed home for all the difference their vote made." This was referring to the fact that 65% of people in the Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo riding cast ballots that elected nobody, and 9 million other Canadians across the country had the same experience.

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Richard Lung says:
September 12, 2016 11:31pm

In the UK, STV in single member constituencies is called the alternative vote (Ranked ballots in Canada; IRV in the USA). STV is the name for the system of proportional representation, that is a proportional count of a preference vote. The latter was called the Hare system, when it was used in Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg. They had good to superb proportional representation by STV in muli-member constituencies ranging from 5 to 10 members.
When the BC Citizens Assembly recommended STV, they meant PR in anything from 2 to 7 member constituencies, to accommodate the differing proportions of population from rural to urban areas. The BC CA is Canada's best hope for genuinely democratic elections, because a transferable vote can transcend party divisions and gives PR to all social groups. Whereas party list systems or their MMP hybrids give parties alone the exclusive benefit of a proportional count, instituting parties in the electoral system as a ruling class, to which all other groups in society have to go a-begging for a share of the representation.
STV avoids this bottle-neck by allowing the voters to make their own orders of choice. STV is a democratic voters list system, not an oligarchic party list system.
Richard Lung.
Website: Democracy Science.
Three free e-books on election method:
Peace-making Power-sharing; Scientific Method of Elections; Science is Ethics of Electics.

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Gisela R says:
September 14, 2016 12:28pm

I think we should recognize that any form of PR (where 30% of the vote = 30% of the seats) would be an improvement over our current system, whether it's STV, MMP or my current fave, Rural-Urban Proportional. While many MMP methods use closed party lists, the versions being considered for Canada would see MPs elected from the party’s regional candidates, and you can vote for the regional candidate you prefer. So no closed party lists. Every MP would be elected directly, just like now.

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Don Derby says:
September 17, 2016 06:17pm

I read your comments with interest and was intrigued to learn that" the versions being considered for Canada would see MPs elected from the party's regional candidates, and you can vote for the regional candidate you prefer".
My question is- Who is considering this type of MMP in Canada? Even the Law Reform Commission in their report of many years ago only suggested such a thing might be possible. It might solve the problem with the Party Lists used in MMP which provide MPs who are not selected by voters.

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