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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?

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Copyright 2007, 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

Rethinking political communication.

Thursday, October 27th, 2016

Read something the other day that said young people ignore political pamphlets. What was new about this puzzled us. If it looks like a political pamphlet, it deserves to be ignored. We have been redesigning and creating new forms of communication for politicians for many years. Communications have to be written for the audience, not the subject.

Brochures are the fun and creative side of politics. Once many years ago a friend was studying a new brochure we had created and he said, “This looks like it is selling hamburgers.” Everyone loved that brochure, but the hamburger lost.

It was about the same time as another designer friend put together a brochure for a chap who was running in Toronto’s Greenwood riding. The obvious occurred to him and he portrayed the candidate as a modern Robin Hood. The candidate was offended by the suggestion and killed the idea. He lost the election so there was no way to tell if Robin Hood would have won.

But these two examples are probably what give political pamphlets a bad name. Too many of them do look alike and most are very badly written—not because of the inept writer but because of the candidate’s interference. The other problem is that the central campaign always provides cheap formats with the leader already in it. Not much thought is wasted in adding in the local candidate.

The best advice we can give anyone writing a political brochure is to get the campaign manager to give you a couple poll lists that will give you a balanced sample of the riding. Now take something to hand out, even just the candidate’s card, go knock on some of those doors and listen carefully. When you are ready to write the brochure a few days later, you will have a much better idea of what people want to know about the candidate.

One time we found out that nobody trusted the various candidates but the voters liked our candidate’s dog. We featured the dog on all the literature and the dog won handily.

And it has been a very, very long time since we last designed a two-fold, two-sided eight-and-a-half by eleven sheet that would fit in a business envelope. Sure it is cheap, but what is the point if nobody opens it?

You have to catch the attention, you have to have it relate to the familiar, you have to make a statement and if you do not, nobody is interested.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

Enquiring Canadian minds want to know.

Wednesday, October 26th, 2016

As a youngster in public relations, we used to reassure clients that people would read anything by pointing out that a million Americans bought the supermarket tabloid National Enquirer each week. Today that trashy publication is down to about half that circulation but it is finding a new digital life under the management of American Media Inc. (AMI). It was hard to know whether to laugh or cry when learning that an AMI executive responsible for the National Enquirer is now coming onto the board of Canada’s largest print media organization Postmedia.

The American is going to have to be a wonder worker to help stem the red ink in Paul Godfrey’s media empire. It seems that about once a week, we get a telemarketer calling to plead with us to subscribe to the National Post. Nobody appears to care though if we read the local Sun Media paper, also owned by Postmedia.

It seems that the American hedge funds that really own Postmedia are starting to realize that Paul Godfrey is not a miracle worker and they will never get all their money back. New Jersey-based Chatham Asset Management and fellow hedge fund Goldentree Asset Management have gone their separate ways in making anything out of Postmedia. Goldentree has put its larger share up for sale.

This is counter to Chatham’s converting about half its outstanding debt to about one-third of the equity in the Canadian media company. Since they are also major equity owners in AMI, they have put AMI executive David Pecker on the Postmedia board.

Pecker has been with AMI for a reported 17 years. During that time, he has been chairman, president and CEO. By taking the National Enquirer into the digital world, he has turned the company around and opened substantial new revenue streams for the tabloid.

The only evidence of his appointment to Postmedia’s board so far is the further decimation of Postmedia staff with an announcement by Postmedia that remaining staff are being offered buyouts to reduce staff by another 20 per cent. After the layoffs of earlier this year and the consolidation of news rooms, it is a wonder that there are staff left to lose.

But the good news for Paul Godfrey is that he gave himself a raise of some $400,000 to an annual salary of $1,700,000. Have you seen the new National Post Enquirer yet?

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

Election day is not a holiday.

Thursday, October 6th, 2016

One of the objectives of the current special parliamentary committee on electoral reform in Canada is to look at ways of encouraging more people to vote. To-date they have considered suggestions of everything from paying people to vote to making it law. Some American companies considering the importance of the upcoming federal election in the United States are even giving their employees the day off to vote.

But what everyone is doing is looking at the question of how to increase voting turnout through the wrong end of the telescope. The problem is with the politicians. They are lazy, inexpert and making the wrong assumptions before any election even gets off the ground.

If companies really wanted to help turn out the vote, they would give employees wanting to help their political parties the day off to work for their party to get out the vote. It is of no concern of the company which party but having employees who care makes it all worthwhile.

Political parties throughout North America have been on a steady downward spiral for the past quarter century. From the time that Jean Chrétien trashed his Red Book of promises in taking power in 1993, the Liberal Party of Canada headed downhill. In the same way, the Conservative Party of Canada became Stephen Harper’s personal instrument and forgot about the future.

And if no American politico is not now aware of the desperate need for America to reform its political primary system, they have been in a coma for the past year.

Political parties in North America have been taking a bad rap for the past 150 years. They are the unappreciated engine of the political process of the country. As corrupt as they might have been in the past, they work hard to reflect current morals. They are the public—some living in the past, some looking to the future. They generate politicians, good and bad, they deal in process and political possibilities.

We cannot have organized, national politicians without their handmaidens in the political parties. We need the workers, the strategists, the sign holders, the leaders, the door knockers and the challengers. Political parties must be allowed to grow and replenish.

Yet we encourage the destroyers. Harper is gone but Trudeau has taken the Liberal Party, shaken it like a rag doll and let the insiders fall out. Trump has driven a disillusioned Republican Party to perdition. It will take years to rebuild. Maybe it will be better for it. All political parties need to rebuild themselves. They do not belong to the politicians. They belong to their nation.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

Lessons from the world of twits.

Thursday, September 29th, 2016

The first question for today: ‘Is there life after Twitter?’ Front-page news the other day at the Toronto Star was that columnist Paul Wells is boycotting Twitter. It is a form of protest. He will forego his 30 tweets per day and his 60,000 followers until Twitter gets its censorship problems corrected to Mr. Wells’ satisfaction.

So welcome to the real world Mr. Wells. Welcome to the Twitter-free universe. This is your chance to get a life. You can walk around your city with your head held high—no longer myopically peering at your smart phone. You no longer even need that weather app; you can look up at the sky. And you can look at the world around you.

You could even be ahead of that guy Trump in the U.S. He has far more followers of his twits than you. He is a braggart and a buffoon and he entertains. Just wait for his reaction in November when he finds there is no app that will get those Twitterites to follow him to the polls.

A few years ago a grandson convinced us to give Twitter another trial. He said that all writers have to promote themselves on Twitter. That was not true. Twitter proves to be a colossal waste of time. If every Twitterite took that time to read a few good books, they would have something interesting to talk about. They would know more about their world. They would know more about people and how they live.

We spent many years of being an early adopter of things technical. The first home computers, the radio telephone in the car before the concept of cells was developed. Boy, did we have the gadgets—usually at excessive cost and then the analysis, report and rejection.

Social media has done almost as much for the Internet as pornography. Both build users. They both repel. Social media is intrusive, dangerous, exploitive, vulgar and eventually nauseating—come to think of it, so is pornography.

So good on you Paul Wells. You might have done the deed for your own purposes but you could be helping free the slaves of social media. Think of all those young people learning to interact properly with their peers instead of sexting. Think of the exercise our youth will get as they go out to explore their neighbourhood without the life-line of a smart phone. They will be the ones looking around them in wonder. They might be seeing their real world for the first time.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

The Division of Ignorance.

Sunday, September 18th, 2016

If you are black, is that license to call people racist because they are white? It seems the editors of the Toronto Star have stopped thinking when they accept op-eds from writers who just want to create racial strife. Desmond Cole, a regular contributor to the Toronto Star said in a September 15 op-ed article that “Suspicion of all immigrants who are not white, or not members of the former British Empire, is a Canadian value.”

Mr. Cole insults all Canadians who happen to be white and the Toronto Star should be embarrassed. Cole uses a speech by Sir John A. Macdonald as support for his thesis and says the fact that it was 150 years ago is irrelevant.

And it is obvious that Mr. Cole has no idea of the wide differences today between British and Canadian values. Canada has grown in many ways over the past 150 years. As mentioned recently in one of our commentaries, our Canadian values are constantly changing—we hope for the better.

Of course people such as MP Kelly Leitch do not help just because she might think bigotry plays well with some of her voters. Leitch has been severely criticized within her own political party for her proposals and her chances of winning her party’s leadership have fallen from slim to zero.

But the comments of writers such as Mr. Cole and the disruptive antics of an organization such as Black Lives Matter do not help matters either. They can cause embarrassment for the black community.

Nor are Mr. Cole’s opinions on Canada’s treatment of its indigenous peoples germane. When he takes the time to see how attitudes have changed across Canada over the years and the extensive efforts of Canadians to atone for past mistakes, maybe then he can comment. To suggest that Canadians practice a forgetfulness of past indignities is not only wrong but displays an ignorance that is hard to take.

Another grievous error in Mr. Cole’s comments is his scurrilous attack on the North-West Mounted Police, its successor Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the spin-off Canadian Border Services Agency. Nobody believes that these forces are paragons but they certainly do not deserve to be described as being “steeped in centuries of racism, colonialism and white supremacy.”

It seems to this writer that Mr. Cole welcomes divisive comments by politicians as a way to keep his own cultural war going.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

Bye Toronto Star, it’s been good to know you.

Sunday, August 14th, 2016

The writer has no inside knowledge about what is happening there but it was when reading the Toronto Star a few mornings ago that we got the feeling that there is little time left for it. It was not just the announcement of more firings and layoffs or the lack of weight to the complete paper. What it really lacks today is substance and depth.

And here we thought the National Post would be next to bite the dust. That paper has been desperate to just get its distribution to the point of having any meaning. Maybe it is the combination with the Sun newspapers that is keeping the doors open on Paul Godfrey’s American funded fool-hardiness.

Did you know that Joe Atkinson’s modest little Toronto Star newspaper was 124 this year? It still holds on to the circulation honours as Canada’s number one broadsheet newspaper. We are just not sure how long it can keep going.

We would sure miss Chantal Hèbert’s columns. She does a wonderful job bringing Quebec into perspective. A great political reporter such as Bob Hepburn seems to be down to one column a week. We are hoping Martin Regg Cohn is just on a well-earned vacation.

You would think they could do with fewer of those high-priced names on the paper’s board. They hardly seem to be doing a good job of bringing the paper into the 21st century. Our household dropped the less than adequate Sunday print edition and tried the electronic version but that also seems a loser.

But the real concern is in finding sources to replace the news-gathering resources of the Toronto Star that are trustworthy. As much as we appreciate the Ottawa insights of the Ottawa Citizen, the Godfrey biases hang over that newspaper like barrage balloons.

And you can hardly trust anything from the Internet. As much as the Huffington Post works hard, its roots are in a conservative blog. It would probably be justice if this bewildered, beggared blogger returned to where he started his career–embracing the corporate tentacles of the Globe and Mail.

If you are a news junkie, you have come to despise the self promotion, repetition and self-deception of today’s television news programming. You ignore the torn off news clips on radio, rewritten (maybe) from the news wire. Local papers are nothing but wraps for advertising flyers. And the major print media are dying from a death of a thousand cuts. We will all soon be as ignorant as all those followers of the Republican Party candidate in the United States.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

The madness of modern media.

Wednesday, July 20th, 2016

Where do you get your real news? Canadians can still turn to the impoverished Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Canadian Press Services and its Broadcast News are sadly reduced versions of a trusted past. Television and radio are more and more faceless conglomerates while newspaper empires crumble. All news media are in a rear-guard action as the Internet encroaches on their audiences.

Good grief, you are not reading this blog for news are you? Sorry, all you get from blogs are opinions.

The blogger who posits his or her opinion as news is misleading you. It is like suggesting that Fox News in the United States is free of bias or that Calgary-based Shaw’s Global Television in Canada does not favour pipelines. And how do you like having Canada’s largest television network CTV under the control of Bell Canada?

It is when you consider the madness of Canada’s media situation that you begin to understand the slippery downhill slope that traditional media are on. Why are they letting the Internet take over? Has print media just become another version of a Pokémon Monster? Is print media going to move on mass to the Internet with the confused public?

Are we expecting people with their cellphone cameras to replace professional news coverage? Are pseudo media such Huffington Post taking over with what seems to be a mixed offering of social media blogs and news networks? Where is the line between fact and fiction? How can readers have any trust?

All we know is that daily papers are thinner and thinner as the advertising moves to buy the viewers of television and identified audiences on the social media of the Internet.

Meanwhile we are time-shifting the TV shows we might watch while using live broadcast for breaking news and our favourite sports? And only a spendthrift would waste the extra money on sports packages that you might or might not watch. You are better off watching those occasional interests at a sports bar.

We knew this was coming in 1976 when we saw the Hollywood movie Network and we agreed that we should all be mad as hell and not take it anymore. It showed us that television news was no longer news but repetitious clips of entertainment designed to promote the network’s commercial laden programs for the lowest common denominators of society.

And people wonder why someone such as that disgusting Donald Trump can develop a following. Do we have any media left that we can trust?

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

 

The lost art of politics.

Monday, July 18th, 2016

The other day, the question came up: What is wrong with politics? You have to figure there are several good books in that question so you are hardly going to answer it in a 400-word blog. If you boil it all down to basics, you have to say that people no longer want to compromise. And compromise is the essential art of politics.

In politics you have to do what you can today while saving the impossible for tomorrow.

But you cannot put off the impossible forever. In a world of diametrically opposed positions, the compromise is becoming harder to find. We have seen many examples of this in the stand-off positions taken by the politicos in the American Congress. The Democrats and Republican politicians practice brinkmanship while the country is in dire straits. They are intransigent to appease their disparate publics. The tri-partite strength of the American Dream is often shattered when the President, the politicians and the judges of the Supreme Court are at loggerheads. There are many frustrations and proposed fixes and little action.

Canadian politics are no better. At least Canadians can blame Queen Victoria and quisling politicians for the current state of their almost unrepairable constitution. Canadians use generational change as an excuse to throw out each previous generation of failed politicos. The new breed quickly tosses the worst of their predecessors’ failed laws.

The Canadian Dream is something we recreate as the need arises. We think that compromise is something we do with our farm-team provincial politicos. Our approach to compromise is to water our wine—to appease the lowest common denominator.

Canadians are high on clean air, sparkling waters and virgin forests until we need to despoil them to tear away the minerals and hydrocarbons. Making money comes first.

Compromise in Canada is what we do with our business benefactors. Just tell us when you are through raping and pillaging the environment so that we can pass a law against it.

Canada is run for the One Per Cent. They prefer to buy their positions of trust, their appointments, their honours, their recognition and/or their obscurity. They are the proud patrons of our politicians.

The public has its day when periodically, the politicos turn their attention to the desire to get re-elected. Sometimes they do that too late.

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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?

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