Archive for the ‘Repeat’ Category

Ten reasons for first-past-the-post voting.

Wednesday, November 1st, 2017

The following has been retrieved from the archives of Babel-on-the-Bay. It is part of the Democracy Papers and has been the most read item in our web site. Thousands of readers have searched for and presumably read the content. It was originally written for the Ontario referendum on mixed-member proportional voting in 2007. Co-ordinating the ‘No’ side in Central Ontario was one of the easiest tasks I have ever had in politics. Ontario voters voted ‘No’ by about two to one. The article has been edited for length.

First-past-the-post (FPTP) voting is an awkward name for simple, single-member constituency plurality voting. It is almost too simple: you just go to the polls, vote for one person, the votes are counted and the person with the most votes wins.

And that gives you reason number one in favour of FPTP: There is no confusion. What you vote for is what you get–if enough of your neighbours agree. If your candidate loses, you tried and you have nothing of which to be ashamed. Your vote was counted and you made a contribution to democracy.

It is the matter of democracy that gives us reason number two for FPTP: it is the most democratic method of electing members to government. Whether there are two candidates on the ballot or 20, FPTP means that in your constituency you elect the person preferred by the most voters. If it is fair when there are two candidates, why would it not be fair with 20?   If you would prefer that the person be the choice of more than 50 per cent of the voters, it is a simple matter today to have a run-off election.

But ideally, we want to keep the voting simple, which is reason number three for FPTP: it is very easy to keep honest. There are no complicated formulas, no mathematical manipulations, just a simple, easy to understand, count of ballots for candidate ‘A,’ candidate ‘B’ and so forth. The one with the most votes wins. No questions.   An occasional recount is needed when the vote is close but that can be fun to watch.

We cannot compare our politicians to horses but if we learn one thing at the racetrack, it is that training and past performance are critical factors to consider before we place a bet. And people need to find out something about the people on the ballot before placing their trust in them as politicians. There is far more than money at stake.

That is reason number four to support FPTP: You are putting your trust in people. You do not have to vote for a party. You can vote for a person, a person you trust, one who works on behalf of the people in your constituency. Parties do not have to keep their word. It is difficult to hold a party accountable. A person comes back for re-election and is accountable.

When you think about it, politics is about people. That is reason number five to support FPTP: It serves people. Elections are not about political parties, or party platforms or any of the parties’ broken promises. To put parties ahead of the people we choose in our constituencies is to give political parties control of our lives. Political parties deal with ideology, broad solutions and holding power. It is people who can deal with our concerns as individuals.

In that vein, you have reason number six to support FPTP: It gets things done. An election is a call to action. It is when we sum the activities on our behalf of the previous government and our member and consider our collective needs for the coming term. It is a time for change or a time to consolidate and it is the voters’ decision to make.

That leads us to reason number seven to support FPTP: It gives the voters control. It means, voters can quickly remove a government that becomes so convinced its ideology is right that it ignores the needs of voters. The ability to change governments is one of the most important capabilities of FPTP.

When our votes are counted, we have reason number eight to support FPTP: We know who to call. Your politicians are there to represent all the voters in their riding. They can ignore you, if they dare. They can even disagree with your ideas. They might tell you why they cannot support your ideas, but, if they are good at their job, they might have an explanation that satisfies you.

That is reason number nine for FPTP: Our politicians are accountable. They cannot get away with an answer such as ‘my party leader said I had to vote for it, so I did.’ There are no excuses.   The record of our politicians is there for us. They have to meet our expectations.

And, finally, reason number ten for FPTP: It is hard to get elected and hard to stay elected.   To be the first past the post in an election is no easy task. The voters are demanding and ruthless with those who think there are shortcuts to earning our trust. Should we ever ask for less?

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Copyright 2007 – 2017 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Ten reasons to support first-past-the-post voting.

Sunday, November 20th, 2016

This is an updated version of the paper of the same name from the Democracy Papers of 2007. With the special committee of the house of commons due to report soon on their findings, it is something the committee needs to consider.

First-past-the-post (FPTP) voting is an awkward name for simple, single-member constituency plurality voting. It is almost too simple: you just go to the polls, vote for one person, the votes are counted and the person with the most votes wins.

And that gives you reason number one in favour of FPTP: There is no confusion. What you vote for is what you get–if enough of your neighbours agree with you. If your candidate loses, you tried and you have nothing of which to be ashamed. Your vote was counted and you made a contribution to democracy.

It is the matter of democracy that gives us reason number two for FPTP: it is the most democratic method of electing members to government. Whether there are two candidates on the ballot or 20, FPTP means that in your constituency you elect the person preferred by the most voters. If it is fair when there are two candidates, why would it not be fair with 20? If you would prefer that the person be the choice of more than 50 per cent of the voters, with today’s Internet voting, it is simple and inexpensive to have a run-off election among the leading candidates.

But ideally, we want to keep the voting simple, which is reason number three for FPTP: it is very easy to keep honest. There are no complicated formulas, no mathematical manipulations, just a plain simple, easy to understand, count of ballots for candidate ‘A,’ candidate ‘B’ and so forth. The one with the most votes wins. No questions. An occasional recount is needed when the vote is close but that can be as much fun to watch as a close horse race.

We cannot compare our politicians to horses but if we learn one thing at the racetrack, it is that training and past performance are critical factors to consider before we place a bet. And people need to find out something about the people on the ballot before placing their trust in them as politicians. There is far more than money at stake.

That is reason number four to support FPTP: You are putting your trust in people. You do not have to vote for a party. You can vote for a person, a person you trust, one who works on behalf of the people in your riding. Parties do not have to keep their word. It is difficult to hold a party accountable. A person, your MP or MPP, comes back for re-election and is accountable to the voters if he or she wants to be re-elected.

When you think about it, politics is about people. That is reason number five to support FPTP: It serves people. Elections are not about political parties, or party platforms or any of the parties’ broken promises (or, even worse, promises they kept that they should not have kept). To put parties ahead of the people we choose in our constituencies is to give political parties control of our lives. Political parties deal with ideology, broad solutions and power. It is people who can deal with our concerns as individuals.

In that vein, you have reason number six to support FPTP: It gets things done. An election is a call to action. It is when we sum the activities on our behalf of the previous government and our member and consider our collective needs for the coming term. It is a time for change or a time to consolidate and it is the voters’ decision to make.

That leads us to reason number seven to support FPTP: It gives the voters control. It means, the voters can quickly remove a government that becomes so convinced its ideology is right that it ignores the needs of the voters. Both left and right wing parties have felt the wrath of voters over the years. The ability to change governments is one of the most important capabilities of FPTP.

When our votes are counted, we have reason number eight to support FPTP: We know who to call. Your politicians are there to represent all the voters in their riding. They can ignore you, if they dare. They can even disagree with your ideas. They might have to tell you why they cannot support your ideas, but, if they are good at their job, they might have an explanation that satisfies you.

That is reason number nine for FPTP: Our politicians are accountable. They cannot get away with an answer such as ‘my party leader said I had to vote for it, so I did.’ There are no excuses. The record of our politicians is there for us to examine. They have to meet our expectations.

And, finally, reason number ten for FPTP: It is hard to get elected and hard to stay elected. To be the first past the post in an election is no easy task. The voters are demanding and ruthless with those who think there are shortcuts to earning our trust. Should we ever ask for less?

-30-

Copyright 2007, 2016 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Vote Reform Primer: Proportional.

Tuesday, June 7th, 2016

The following is an up-dated version of the discussion on proportional voting in the Democracy Papers of 2007. This is the second of the series.

There is no denying that proportional voting in its many variations is the most common voting system in the world. This works very well in countries with many languages or with a high rate of illiteracy. All the voter needs to do is indicate which political party they prefer by making a mark or selecting the symbol of the party they prefer. After the election, members of each of the parties are appointed from party lists to the legislature according to the number of votes. There is usually a cut-off point of maybe three or five per cent below which no appointment is made.

In their enthusiasm for this form of voting, you will hear some supporters claiming that it will increase voter turnout and female legislative representation. Would it not be wonderful if such simplistic solutions to fixing our voting systems would work?

But the truth is that it is not so simple. Proportional representation (PR) has evolved in many variations.   Mixed-member proportional (MMP) voting is just one variation that tries to accommodate both first-past-the-post (FPTP) and PR.   MMP is the system that was presented as an option for Ontario voters in the October 2007 referendum.

But can it improve voter turnout? No. The voting method is not what influences voter enthusiasm or voter apathy. MMP voting in Mexico could hardly overcome voter apathy during 71 years of that country’s politics being dominated by one party. It was only the winds of change that took the usual 40 per cent turnout to over 60 per cent in the year 2000 to elect a president from an opposition party.

It has been constantly proved in Canadian elections that the closeness of the contest, the attractiveness of leaders and candidates, the efforts of campaign workers, the reporting of the news media and the major issues being argued as well as regional events are all factors in influencing voter turnout.

“Increasing female legislative representation” is an ongoing myth of those who support proportional voting. This idea might have something to do with the high percentage of women in public office in the Nordic countries of Europe that use PR voting but there are also sociological factors to consider. An unusual factor in Norway is a 40 per cent rule in the Storting (parliament). Despite the successes women have had, they still feel they need a law to ensure 40 per cent of the legislators are women. Some sociologists suggest that this rule limits women more than ensuring their role. Since Norway uses pure PR voting, the party lists for each of their electoral districts have the obligatory female representation. According to the International Parliamentary Union, currently 39.6 per cent of the legislators in Norway’s Storting are women.

Some people would consider it unfair to suggest Mexico’s MMP voting helps increase the number of female legislators. They would point out the supposed Mexican male machismo and that male dominance in a devoutly Catholic country would hold women back. And they would be wrong. Despite women only winning the right to vote in Mexico in 1947 and the right to run for election in 1953, they have progressed to a greater share of seats than women legislators in Canada. Mexican women hold over 42 per cent of their federal congress seats and Canadian women currently hold just 26 per cent of the seats in our House of Commons.

PR voting is no panacea. It is a system that the Mexicans have fiddled with for the past 90 years. They are still not sure they have it right. While the Mexican President is chosen by direct FPTP election, the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies (similar to the U.S. House of Representatives) use a mixed-member selection process. Of the 128 senators, 96 are elected and 32 are selected from closed party lists. In the Chamber of Deputies, 300 deputies are elected by FPTP voting and 200 selected from party lists.

In Ontario, the proposal was that there be 90 members elected by FPTP in larger ridings, averaging 135,000 people, and then another 39 members be selected from party lists according to the party vote. How this would solve the ills of a plurality (FPTP) system remains very much a mystery.

The suggestion often made by PR supporters is that the FPTP system means people who do not vote for the winner are wasting their vote.   They also think people are wasting their vote when they add their vote to the winners’ pile when the winner already has more than enough votes. It is not a very logical argument.

Hundreds of years ago, before voters were given ballots to indicate their choice, they would gather in the market square and would shout out their choice of person to send to parliament. While that system was not perfect, it was the best that could be done at the time. Even today, FPTP is not a perfect system but at least it allows us to make a choice and not have to trust political parties to make our choices for us.

Today Canadians have a system of voting that allows them to vote for someone they have an opportunity to know. The candidates are very frequently from your community and we have the opportunity to decide if we want them to represent us. Proportional voting means that we can only vote for a political party and its leader.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Vote Reform Primer: Back to Basics.

Saturday, June 4th, 2016

The following is an up-dated version of the discussion on first-past-the-post voting in the Democracy Papers of 2007. We will be running a series of these primers over the next few weeks. We welcome any questions or arguments you might have. We are always pleased to respond to serious questions.

When we wrote the Democracy Papers nine years ago, it was to help people in Ontario to understand the question being asked in the Ontario Referendum on Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) Voting. While there was a great deal of confusion as to what MMP meant, it became quite obvious early in the discussions that Ontario citizens were quite unlikely to vote in favour of the proposed voting system. It seemed that the more obvious that became the more strident the proponents of changing how we vote became.

One particularly group demanding change is Fair Vote Canada which is an offshoot of Fair Vote in the United States. As the name implies, these people do not do not think first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting is fair. And while they pose as non-partisan, it is important to recognize that this organization is mainly made up of New Democratic and Green Party supporters. These parties have the most to gain if we ever switched to proportional voting.

The premise that FPTP voting is unfair is based on the fact that all you need to win is a plurality (or simply the most) votes. They think it is unfair for someone to win if they do not have more than 50 per cent of the votes. They also think it is unfair if a party only wins 40 per cent of the votes and wins 60 per cent of the seats in parliament. They also think it is unfair if you win 20 per cent of the votes across the country but do not win 20 per cent of the seats in parliament. These people should really call themselves ‘Unfair Vote Canada.’

What they are really complaining about are some of the characteristics of FPTP voting. And those are only some of the problems.

FPTP voting is an awkward name for simple, single-member constituency plurality voting. It is almost too simple: you just go to the polls, vote for one person, the votes are counted and the person with the most votes wins.

But with a system that is simple, there is no confusion. What you vote for is what you get–if enough of your neighbours agree with you. If your candidate loses, you tried and you have nothing of which to be ashamed. Your vote was counted and you made a contribution to democracy.

FPTP is the most democratic method of electing members to government. Whether there are two candidates on the ballot or 20, FPTP means that in your constituency you elect the person preferred by the most voters. If it is fair when there are two candidates, why would it not be fair with 20?   If you would prefer that the person be the choice of more than 50 per cent of the voters, it is a simple matter to have a run-off election.

FPTP is very easy to keep honest. There are no complicated formulas, no mathematical manipulations, just a plain simple, easy to understand, count of ballots for candidate ‘A,’ candidate ‘B’ and so forth. The one with the most votes wins. No questions. An occasional recount is needed when the vote is close but that can be as much fun to watch as a close horse race.

But there is far more than money at stake. In FPTP you are putting your trust in people. You do not have to vote for a party. You can vote for a person, a person you trust, one who works on behalf of the people in your riding. Parties do not have to keep their word. It is difficult to hold a party accountable. A person, your Member of Parliament, comes back for re-election and is accountable to the voters.

Politics is about people. It is there to serve people. Elections are not just about political parties, party platforms or any of the parties’ broken promises. To put parties ahead of the people we choose in our constituencies is to give political parties control of our lives. Political parties deal with ideology, broad solutions and power. It is people who can deal with our concerns as individuals.

In that vein, you have a good reason to support FPTP:   It gets things done.   An election is a call to action.   It is when we sum the activities on our behalf of the previous government and our member and consider our collective needs for the coming term.   It is a time for change or a time to consolidate and it is the voters’ decision to make.

FPTP gives the voters control. It means, the voters can remove a government that becomes so convinced its ideology is right that it ignores the needs of the voters. The ability to change governments is one of the most important capabilities of FPTP.

With FPTP, we know who to call. Your politicians are there to represent all the voters in their riding. They can ignore you, if they dare. They can even disagree with your ideas. They might have to tell you why they cannot support your ideas, but, if they are good at their job, they might have an explanation that satisfies you.

In FPTP our politicians are accountable.   They cannot get away with an answer such as ‘my party leader said I had to vote for it, so I did.’   There are no excuses.   The record of our politicians is there for us to examine.   They have to meet our expectations.

And, finally, with FPTP it is hard to get elected and hard to stay elected. To be the first past the post in an election is no easy task.   The voters are demanding and ruthless with those who think there are shortcuts to earning our trust. Should we ever ask for less?

 – 30 –

Checking back on the Morning Line for Toronto.

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

This is a repeat of Babel-on-the-Bay’s entry of September 4 this year. It has been an overly long and arduous municipal campaign for Toronto voters and candidates. As we always used to say to our campaign workers: Vote early…and often!

This mayoralty contest has been an uphill battle for broadcaster John Tory. His instinct was right last year when it was obvious that he saw no redemption for him in going after the mayor’s job. The people who convinced him to run were also right.

Toronto needs John Tory more than John Tory needs the city. He is a businessman with typical business strengths and weaknesses. He can make decisions and stick with them. He is a strong leader and has demonstrated the ability to negotiate. He is also a political person. He is a Conservative in the Bill Davis mould. Those long-ago breakfasts with Brampton Bill at the Park Plaza paid off handsomely for the young lawyer and along with his relationship with Ted Rogers got John Tory away from a boring career with the family law firm.

John Tory knows Toronto far better than any competitor in the mayoralty race. He knows what the city needs and he knows how to make it happen. Gridlock and transit needs have kept his campaign focussed on what Toronto most needs at this time. His SmartTrack surface rail solution is the most practical and cost-sensitive answer to keeping the city moving. It is the right direction. It is neither a new nor overly expensive solution and fits in well with the Ontario government’s plan to electrify and speed commuter lines in and around Toronto.

He is the only candidate for mayor who can make this simple solution happen. And it needs to happen as soon as possible.

Another thing Torontonians can count on with Tory is that he will create a working executive committee that will take back the reins of control of the city from the civil servants. It means we will see more actual progress in Toronto in the next four years than we have seen in the last 15, since Toronto’s forced and poorly managed amalgamation.

All John Tory has to do over the time left before the election is articulate his feelings and belief in Toronto as a great city. Despite all the foolish and ill-considered insults from the Chow people, Tory has kept his cool. He has stayed on track.

We wish John Tory well. He has not had an easy time of it and he has a tough job ahead of him as Mayor of Toronto.

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Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to peter@lowry.me

The perfect hair of Stephen Harper.

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

The following blog was first run in August 2012 and it continues to draw visitors. Over the past two years more than 3000 visitors have searched out this specific entry. As we are taking a day off, we decided to run it again for your reading pleasure.

It is amazing what can get readers interested. A story the other day mentioned the Prime Minister’s exquisite hairpiece. Lo and behold, we get e-mails pro and con the idea that the guy wears some hair that might not have his follicles. So what? Only his hairdresser knows what is real and what is not.

Okay, hands up everybody who thinks that is all Stephen’s real hair. Quiet. We are counting here.

Next, can we have hands up by everyone who is sure that Stephen wears a rug.

That settles it. Readers of Babel-on-the-Bay are a pretty knowledgeable bunch. The ‘ayes’ have it. Stephen’s rug appears to be general knowledge.

Having viewed the various iterations of Stephen Harper over the years, it is obvious that the first hairpiece was in place in the 90s. It was lank and lacked the iron-grey strength of today’s more professional pieces. After all, he could only get the cost of his full-time hairdresser covered after becoming Prime Minister back in 2006. With all Stephen Harper’s travels around the world, his hairdresser probably has more air travel time in an Airbus A310 than most Canadian Forces Air Transport Command pilots.

This is probably the same hair and make-up specialist that Harper hired away from CTV back when he defeated Paul Martin and moved into his first minority government. Stephen seems to keep her busy. We hear that she not only does his hair, fixes his make up—you can see the eye-liner when he does a TV bit—uses a lint remover to fix his suits and, we suppose, even does the fast check of his clothes, shoes and makes sure his fly is done up. Hey, maybe that is why he is often late for media and photo sessions.

To really see the scope and placement of his hairpieces, you have to have a camera person shooting tight head and shoulders shots outside on a windy day. You will notice that the straight front of the hair across the forehead will sometimes shift slightly, as a single piece. It happens when she has not used enough glue. It would take a force eight gale to disturb a single strand of that hair with all the lacquer she sprays on it.

Maybe we can have some fun criticizing Stephen’s hairpiece in our blog but it is hardly a subject worthy of the lads and lassies of our nation’s fourth estate. They need to check for substance in the man. And if they ever find any, maybe they could let the rest of us know about it.

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Copyright 2012, 2013, 2014 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to peter@lowry.me

Ten reasons to support first-past-the-post voting.

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

THE DEMOCRACY PAPERS #10- Revised  This is now the tenth and final of The Democracy Papers that were originally written in 2007 to make the case for our first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting in North America.

First-past-the-post (FPTP) voting is an awkward name for simple, single-member constituency plurality voting. It is almost too simple: you just go to the polls, vote for one person, the votes are counted and the person with the most votes wins.

And that gives you reason number one in favour of FPTP: There is no confusion. What you vote for is what you get–if enough of your neighbours agree with you. If your candidate loses, you tried and you have nothing of which to be ashamed. Your vote was counted and you made a contribution to democracy.

It is the matter of democracy that gives us reason number two for FPTP: it is the most democratic method of electing members to government. Whether there are two candidates on the ballot or 20, FPTP means that in your constituency you elect the person preferred by the most voters.   If it is fair when there are two candidates, why would it not be fair with 20?   If you would prefer that the person be the choice of more than 50 per cent of the voters, it is a simple matter to have a run-off election or, to save money, even easier to have voters indicate a second, third or fourth choice in a preferential vote.

But ideally, we want to keep the voting simple, which is reason number three for FPTP: it is very easy to keep honest.   There are no complicated formulas, no mathematical manipulations, just a plain simple, easy to understand, count of ballots for candidate ‘A,’ candidate ‘B’ and so forth.   The one with the most votes wins.   No questions.   An occasional recount is needed when the vote is close but that can be as much fun to watch as a close horse race.

We cannot compare our politicians to horses but if we learn one thing at the racetrack, it is that training and past performance are critical factors to consider before we place a bet.   And people need to find out something about the people on the ballot before placing their trust in them as politicians.   There is far more than money at stake.

That is reason number four to support FPTP: You are putting your trust in people. You do not have to vote for a party. You can vote for a person, a person you trust, one who works on behalf of the people in your riding.   Parties do not have to keep their word.   It is difficult to hold a party accountable.   A person, your MPP, comes back for re-election and is accountable to the voters.

When you think about it, politics is about people.   That is reason number five to support FPTP: It serves people.   Elections are not about political parties, or party platforms or any of the parties’ broken promises (or, even worse, promises they kept that they should not have kept).   To put parties ahead of the people we choose in our constituencies is to give political parties control of our lives.   Political parties deal with ideology, broad solutions and power.   It is people who can deal with our concerns as individuals.

In that vein, you have reason number six to support FPTP:   It gets things done.   An election is a call to action.   It is when we sum the activities on our behalf of the previous government and our member and consider our collective needs for the coming term.   It is a time for change or a time to consolidate and it is the voters’ decision to make.

That leads us to reason number seven to support FPTP: It gives the voters control.   It means, the voters can quickly remove a government that becomes so convinced its ideology is right that it ignores the needs of the voters.   Both left and right wing parties have felt the wrath of voters inOntarioover the years.   The ability to change governments is one of the most important capabilities of FPTP.

When our votes are counted, we have reason number eight to support FPTP: We know who to call.   Your politicians are there to represent all the voters in their riding.   They can ignore you, if they dare.   They can even disagree with your ideas.   They might have to tell you why they cannot support your ideas, but, if they are good at their job, they might have an explanation that satisfies you.

That is reason number nine for FPTP: Our politicians are accountable.   They cannot get away with an answer such as ‘my party leader said I had to vote for it, so I did.’   There are no excuses.   The record of our politicians is there for us to examine.   They have to meet our expectations.

And, finally, reason number ten for FPTP:   It is hard to get elected and hard to stay elected. To be the first past the post in an election is no easy task.   The voters are demanding and ruthless with those who think there are shortcuts to earning our trust.   Should we ever ask for less?

-30-

Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Leading with your left.

Sunday, May 27th, 2012

(This blog entry was first run on May 20, 2010. It is still a valid premise. It has been modified to reflect the changes of the past two years.)

They used to say that the Liberal Party campaigned on the left and governed on the right. It used to be true. When it failed was during the short tenure of Paul Martin as Canada’s Prime Minister. After the damage done to Canada’s social programs when Martin was Jean Chrétien’s finance minister and his so obvious ties to the business community, he had no credibility with which to campaign effectively from the left of the political spectrum. The voters did not buy it.

Since the days of Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier, the Liberal Party has tried to sit broadly across the middle of the political spectrum. It enables the party to attract both left and right wing candidates, supporters and voters. The party tries to be all things to meet the wants of the voters but slow enough to implement change to please the most stolid of the right wing. As a provincial party leader once explained to a group of unhappy left wing members of the party, no policy was going to happen unless both the right and left wings of the party could flap in unison.

For a left-wing thinker such as Herb Gray, who gave 40 years of his life to Canada’s Parliament, the rate of change was glacial but he never lost his humour or his belief that the party could meet its commitments to people. The same could be said about another long-serving left-wing Liberal, Lloyd Axworthy. Lloyd did much to meet the needs of the people in his riding and across Manitoba. These parliamentarians believed in the promises of the left.

But where does the Liberal Party stand today? There seems to be a question mark. And it falls on all Liberals to clarify the question. They have to stand to be counted.

Despite the voices calling for a merger with the New Democratic Party, there is no clear movement in that direction. When Stéphane Dion tried to form a coalition with the NDP, along with the support of the Bloc Québécois, it was never clear whether Michael Ignatieff rejected the coalition because he was more concerned about being seen out and about with the NDP or taking help from the Bloc.

Michael never stated his intentions. He ran a campaign on the right and lost to Stephen Harper. He ran on the right so badly that he lost to the NDP.

We never said that a merger with the NDP is the only answer. The Liberal Party could lose two right wing supporters for every NDPer being dragged kicking and screaming into the den of the enemy Liberals. What such a merger can do is return credibility to the Liberal Party. Social solutions can be promised by a clearly left of centre party and social solutions can be implemented by the party when in power.

We can have a national daycare program. We can strengthen Medicare. We can work towards a guaranteed income for all Canadians. We can make things happen.

It is up to all Liberals to speak up and be heard. If you want to fight Stephen Harper on the right of the political spectrum, he will laugh his way back to the Prime Minister’s office with a clear majority for the rest of his life. Fight him on the left—with the NDP on side—and you will have an opportunity to lead Canada into a greater future.

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Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to peter@lowry.me

Ontario could have done better.

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

THE DEMOCRACY PAPERS #8- Revised  It was in 2007 that The Democracy Papers were written to make the case for our first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting in North America. Despite changes being rejected firmly in Ontario and twice in British Columbia, people still complain. The complaints are understandable. No system is perfect. Neither is democracy but it is better than the alternatives.

Suppose a decision needs to be made about something important to you. And that decision is being made for you. Who do you want to make that decision? Do you want people whom you know and trust to make it? Do you want people who are experts in that field to help? Do you want extensive public discussion on the issues? Do you want to consider all the options? Or would you, in some wild state of insanity, decide to get a bunch of lottery winners to make the decision for you? That is what happened in Ontario running up to the 2007 election.

And what is worse, most Ontario citizens were not aware of it. Surveys, in August that year, showed that less than 30 per cent of the population knew of Ontario’s citizens’ assembly on electoral reform and the referendum to be put before the voters during the October election. Ontario citizens were mugged.

In one of the most capricious acts of government in Ontario since the Harris Conservatives decided we did not need to be so rigid about checking the safety of our drinking water, the McGuinty Liberals set a group of lottery winners to play with our electoral system.

Not that there is anything wrong with examining our electoral system.   First-past-the-post (FPTP) voting is no sacred cow. Examine it all you like. It took centuries to develop. Nobody thinks it is perfect.

But would it not be better to have such things studied by people who know what they are doing? What is wrong with learned discussion? Why could we not consider the pros and cons with people who understood voting systems and the political scene? Why were we instead being force-fed a single option? It was wrong.

The McGuinty government picked one voter from each of 103 ridings in the province and said ‘you decide.’ They turned this befuddled group of citizens loose without even a leader who knew about the question. Judge George Thomson had presided over family court before going to work for Ontario’s civil service at Queen’s Park.   He was on the same learning curve as his flock. The results show how little they knew.

The lottery winners voted for a system called mixed-member proportional (MMP) voting. This is a somewhat confusing system of voting where political party appointees can be appointed to the legislature to ‘top up’ party representation. Their job done, the lottery winners went home to their ridings.   It was the voters who were left to sort it out in the referendum that came with the October provincial election.

And they did not get much help.   Elections Ontario had been told by the government to spend what was necessary to educate Ontario voters. Luckily, Elections Ontario decided to spend less than $7 million on the task. They left the educational job to the various groups organizing pro-MMP/pro-FPTP campaigns and the news media.

The battleground turned out to be the Internet. The news media were slow getting into the fray, relying mainly on their own political columnists and talking heads. The one thing for sure is that nobody showed off their expertise. One newspaper column solicited from an assistant professor inVictoria, B.C. gave a glowing report on MMP, mentioning how it has been used in Germany with excellent results. The academic needed to extend his research a bit and he would have also found that MMP was a reluctant compromise in 1949 because of how Hitler’s Brown Shirts took advantage of proportional voting in the Wiemar Republic.

But then everyone needs to improve their research on this question. Platitudes such as ‘MMP will help more women and minorities get in the legislature’ are all very nice but nobody has offered any proof of that statement.

Proportional representation is the most common voting system in the world. The reason is because it is easier for illiterate voters to vote for a party symbol than a name. Mixed-member proportional is not as common. Mixed member means that some people are elected directly and some are appointed by their political parties. The pro-MMP people are usually selective in their examples.   Using New Zealand is a guarantee that not many Ontario voters would know much about that country’s politics. Far more Ontario residents would be familiar with the results of MMP voting in Mexico. Now why does nobody mention the Mexico experience?

The most vigorous pro-MMP campaigns was by the Green Party and NDP. These parties are under the impression that they will benefit the most from MMP. The pro-FPTP campaigns were slower to emerge because of the ease with which the pro-MMP groups label you as reactionary. Hopefully, more and more informed people will join in on the discussion.  We need to protect our democracy.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Looking at proportional voting.

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

THE DEMOCRACY PAPERS #5- Revised  It was in 2007 that The Democracy Papers were written to make the case for our first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting in North America. Despite changes being rejected firmly in Ontario and twice in British Columbia, people still complain. The complaints are understandable. No system is perfect. Neither is democracy but it is better than the alternatives.

Have you wondered why those who support proportional voting only mention two examples of legislative bodies that are elected by that method? There are other examples and some of them have important lessons to share with Canadian voters.

The poster child of proportional voting is New Zealand. That country has had mixed-member proportional (MMP) voting for the past ten years. All most Ontario voters know about New Zealand is that the people speak English, the South Island has the mountains and the small country exports a lot of frozen lamb. The Canadian voters who can name the prime minister of New Zealand might not be more than two in a thousand.

The other example, only mentioned in passing, is Germany. Proportional voting has existed in some of the German states and in that country’s federal government since the days of the Weimar Republic. MMP was just a temporary compromise after the Second World War.

Proportional voting is one of the most common voting systems in the world as many third world countries use it to overcome low literacy rates among voters. It is much easier for an illiterate voter to choose a party symbol rather than deal with the complexity of candidates’ names. Canada does not have a major problem with voter literacy.

There are many variations of proportional voting. The best example of pure proportional voting is the system used to elect the Knesset of the State of Israel. This has been the system used since the first election in the new state in 1949. The number and make-up of political parties shift as the do sands of the desert areas of the country. The large cabinets are usually made up of representatives of various parties.

An important example of mixed-member proportional representation is the House of Representatives that forms part of Japan’s Diet. The appointed members and elected members do not always enjoy friendly relations. Riots in the Diet are an embarrassment to their countrymen.

A closer example of proportional voting is in the United States where the system is used to select the President. The Electoral College, charged with selecting the President, is elected state by state on a proportional basis. If the Americans used FPTP voting for President, Al Gore would have won the election in 2000 against George W. Bush.

A number of cities in the United States have also experimented with proportional voting systems. Most notable was New York City. It implemented proportional voting in 1936 in an attempt to clean up imbedded corruption in the city government. This voting system was revoked after a decade by what many claimed were the elites who were unhappy about the number of radicals, blacks and communists who were getting elected. More importantly, the proportional system earned the enmity of the major newspapers and the experiment ended.

Most of Europe, as well as the European Parliament, use proportional systems of one sort or another. One notable exception is France. The French instituted proportional voting after the Second World War but switched back to FPTP in the late 1950s. With the exception of the federal election of 1986, the French have preferred their system of run-off elections that ensures all successful candidates have a majority of votes.

The mother of parliaments, Great Britain, has held onto first-past-the-post voting in single candidate ridings. Despite this, the country has gone along with proportional voting on representatives to the European Parliament. The devolved governing bodies of Scotland and Wales which could be looked on as provincial bodies (unless you are a Scot or Welsh) are using MMP voting.

While the majority of countries in South America use proportional representation to elect their governments, only Bolivia and Venezuela use mixed (both constituency and list candidates) representation. Closer to home, the next major country to use mixed representation is Mexico. It is possible that those promoting MMP have decided not to say to Canadians: “Let’s have a government just like Mexico’s.”

What becomes clear as you examine the various countries and their electoral systems is that the dynamic countries that offer the leadership to the rest of the world are mainly those countries that have retained first-past-the-post electoral systems. The countries that have opted for proportional systems are mainly countries that are trying (though not always succeeding) to develop a consensus approach to governance.

For all the weaknesses and frustrations of first-past-the-post, the conclusion is that North Americans like it. They know it is a system that forces candidates to take the time, make the effort and show the determination to win. Our first-past-the-post electoral system challenges the candidates, not the voters. It is the voters who benefit.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me