Posts Tagged ‘The Democracy Papers’

Defectors define democracy.

Tuesday, December 4th, 2018

One of the critical strengths of our Canadian democracy is that we elect people in each electoral district to represent us in parliament. While we might choose them because of the party they represent, they have the right to determine at any time whether or not to be a part of that political party. It is a safeguard for us as voters. It is a right that we would lose at our peril.

And yet political commentator Robin V. Sears, writing in the Toronto Star, sees the ability of MPs and MPPs to refute their party allegiance and sit as an independent or to move to another party as hurting our democracy. He knows not of what he writes.

Would Sears have preferred that Sir Winston Churchill remained a liberal throughout his remarkable career in the UK parliament?

It would be a fun game to go down a list of people who have moved to and from Sear’s CCF and NDP parties.

He was complaining about Ontario conservative Amanda Simard leaving her party on principles. He tries to belittle people with principles. He says they betray their voters, when what they are doing is standing up for their voters. Does he really think the largely francophone voters in Simard’s electoral district were standing up cheering what the Ford government is doing? Being one of those rare conservatives with principles, Simard, after thorough discussion and consideration, decided to make a stand. If I was constituent, I would have been cheering.

Frankly, I do not find much in the current Ontario conservative caucus by way of honour, principles or decency. Since taking office, they have been erratic, mean spirited and confused. Doug Ford has proved himself ill-advised and inadequate to the task of governing this province.

We have the advantage in our parliamentary system that if enough of his caucus walked out in disgust, we could have a new election. And now that the voters have had time to think about their June decision, I am sure we could do much better than Mr. Ford.


Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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Biting the hand with the handouts.

Monday, November 26th, 2018

We have warned Justin Trudeau repeatedly that those so-called independent senators are going to bite him on the bum. Blame him for all those Christmas presents that Canada Post cannot deliver by Christmas this year. Every day of further delay is thousands of  packages undelivered.

But elitism cannot be rushed. Justin Trudeau made it clear back when he became the elite leader of Canada’s liberals that henceforth, the senators would not be liberals. And the slaves were freed.

And of course, they have minds of their own and they are always eager to emphasize their freedom. They were nominated by the elite committee that chose them as elite enough. They were then selected from the list of acceptable elites by the prime minister. They were welcomed to the senate by other elites.

And to sweeten the deal, they are paid the same salary and perks as an elected member of parliament. They even get a generous pension when they have to retire at 75.

But as an elite they answer to nobody. The government leader in the senate is not their boss. He has to be nice to them to get their cooperation. They might be considered nobodies by the conservative senators but they can outvote them.

They know that they can take an extra day to consider sending the postal workers back to work if they feel like it. It shows Canadians that they are independent and do not like being pushed around.

And so what, if Justin Trudeau is turning purple over there in the prime minister’s office? He is one of those elected people and therefore not as much an elite as the senators who do not have to get elected.

Here is an idea for you people who like the idea of proportional elections. Why do you not fight for the senate to be a house representing the proportion for each political party in each province in the general election voting. I would agree if these senators were nominated by the political parties and selected by registered voters for the individual parties so that they could be appointed senators for the term of the parliament. Think about it. There might be the germ of an idea there. It might work, as long as Canada’s elected parliamentarians always have the final word.


Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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Our friends in B.C have been ‘RUP’ted.

Monday, November 5th, 2018

Not being from the Wet coast as our friends there sometimes call their beautiful province, we had to get our information about the current British Columbia voting referendum from the Internet. It made sense until we found out that one of the possible voting systems was called RUP.

This was quite intriguing until I found out that it means Rural-Urban Proportional. It separates the rural mice from the town mice and lets them vote in different ways to come up with what might be a proportional legislature. The devil is in the details though and I found they were inflicting Single Transferable Voting (STV) on the townies while the farmers get to use the also confusing Mixed Member Proportional (MMP). It struck me as something like a game of snakes and ladders. The townies get to climb the ladders and the farmers slide down the snakes.

But the web site never explained the logic behind this screwball idea of using two systems at one time. Why? And, what was most disturbing, was that all the really important decisions about how it would work were to be made by the legislature after the referendum.

Looking at MMP was old home week for a guy who helped defeat that ridiculous idea in Ontario 11 years ago. MMP still puts people in the legislature for whom nobody voted. And the type of list system to be used is to be decided by the legislature?

Dual Member Proportional (DMP) voting is an interesting version of how we elected two-member aldermanic wards in Toronto in the last century. The only difference was that we did not list the parties. Thinking back to all the strategies that were used to cheat that system, it was a good thing it was discontinued.

All of these systems, other than first-past-the-post (FPTP), use lists or a party-selected order of preference. All, other than FPTP, use complicated mathematics to determine the winners. What is most disturbing is that these proportional systems take away the voters right to not only vote for but to help choose the people for whom they can vote. It denies the voters rights that we have had since confederation to help choose our candidates.

I believe that Canadians in B.C. should think long and hard about who would benefit before they start giving up these rights.


Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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Let’s have ‘Whack-a-Mole’ voting.

Sunday, October 28th, 2018

Blame Chantal Hébert. The other day she described the voting reform question as a whack-a-mole game. It just keeps popping up and needs to get a whack. The only reason Chantal noted it was because neophyte premier François Legault of the CAQ in Quebec made the same rash promise to reform how Quebec votes before he knew he would win. Now he just needs a way to back out gracefully.

Most Canadians, who have any opinion on this subject, think prime minister Justin Trudeau let them down. He did (foolishly) promise the voters that 2015 would be the last time they would use first-past-the-post voting. While he took the blame, it was really the opposition parties on the special committee of the commons that dumped on Justin’s promise.

Now we learn that Prince Edward Island might ask Islanders what they want. If they are smart they will settle for a reeve and some councillors and give the provincial problems to New Brunswick.

And we hear from the Wet Coast that the question of how to vote is being asked again. Maybe it will be third time lucky! You would think that they would finally understand the problems when the Greens are running their NDP government. Or they might never learn

It seems every time I write about this subject I get inundated by readers across the country claiming I am a Philistine trying to protect first-past-the-post. I even conceded recently that I would be happy to help promote run-off elections so that we could have majority choice voting. That just got me more complaints.

The problem is that people, for some reason, buy into the fiction that if your vote is not for the winner in an election, it is a wasted vote. As silly as that sounds, that is their argument against first-past-the-post.

No vote is ever wasted in a democracy. We can all have our say. And yes, it is very rare that governments are elected by a majority under first-past-the-post. If you really want to have a majority vote, then you have run-off elections. That is carrying your democracy further.

But having local representation—is to me, the very essence of our democracy. You can send the smartest person in town to parliament or the stupidest. It is your choice. Denying you that choice is the road to anarchy.


Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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A relentless push for change.

Sunday, October 21st, 2018

As best as I can follow the Google Analytics information about readership, there is a consistent and steady stream of world wide web users visiting the Democracy Papers. I wrote these papers in 2007 for the provincial referendum on voting in Ontario. It looks like more than 30,000 individual readers from around the world have accessed those papers in the years following. I think my words are ending up on political science tests around the world. Yet, they are not academic efforts. They are for anyone who is curious about voting systems.

In addition to those archived materials, I periodically comment in Babel-on-the-Bay on people’s strange ideas about voting systems. This seems to always provide me with fresh rants from people who dislike our first-past-the-post system of voting.

I quite understand the complaints. To paraphrase Winston Churchill as he once said about democracy. “It is not all that good a system; it is just better than the alternatives.”

But I will always defend the concept of having our local candidate who goes to the government for us. That is a key to our democracy and I will always defend it.

At the same time, I do understand the concerns of those who want change.

My only solution, for those who will take any improvement, is run-off elections. Many try to convince me of alternative voting as an inexpensive approach to this but it is really not the same. Alternative voting is where you can number your choices as 1, 2, 3, etc. and if you have ten candidates in your district, you can number all ten.

What bothers me the most about numbering the choices is that it is difficult for the voter to find out enough about some candidates to rank them. It has to be explained to voters that they only need to rank those candidates they would find acceptable.

And while there are those who think it is a bumper-sticker answer, alternative voting systems can make the losers the choosers. Run-off elections keep everyone in the same driver’s seat. It gives every voter the chance to make their choice anew. And in an era when we will all be switching to Internet voting, the costs of making up your mind again will be minimal. I expect it will be initially resisted by the politicians to the right of the political spectrum but they are natural pessimists and it might surprise them that this system can work for them too. It is better than the alternatives.


Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to

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?


Copyright 2007 – 2017 © Peter Lowry

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“Well here’s another nice mess, Ollie!”

Saturday, December 3rd, 2016

Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are probably too young to remember the 1920s to 1950s Hollywood comedy team of Laurel and Hardy but they seem to have a comparable act. It was Monsef’s turn on Thursday to dismiss the work of her own committee on electoral reform. She had given the committee an impossible task to complete in an impossible time frame and then took the committee to task for not working hard enough.

Playing the Stan Laurel role in the duo, Justin Trudeau got the shtick rolling during the 2015 election by foolishly promising that 2015 would be the last time Canadians would use first-past-the-post voting. From when he first said that many people knew he was headed for trouble. Choosing the inexperienced Monsef as the cabinet member to implement the change was likely his second biggest mistake on the file.

For Monsef to insult the committee, on the record, in the House of Commons was a mistake that cannot be expunged. The Minister obviously spent some time in the parliamentary woodshed for her mistake.  Those Members of Parliament not only deserved the multiple apologies the next day but they deserved some real contrition from the Minister after their hard work over the summer.

And they did a good job within the time limits and the parameters that had been set. What nobody noticed is that some of the by-the-ways of the committee’s mandate were a more difficult task than the original task. Internet voting itself needed more than a summer with all the misconceptions people have on the subject.

It was the Liberals on the committee that acted the most responsibly in the final report. The Conservative, NDP, Green and Bloc majority on the committee recommended that the government proceed with a proportional system of voting after a referendum on the subject. They knew it was a specious argument. They knew that there would be lots of time to argue about any proportional system the Liberals might design.

But that is what the Liberals on the committee actually suggested. They very honestly considered the next election in 2019 would be far too soon to consider using a different electoral system. They want Canadians to be far more engaged in the subject of electoral reform before anything is proposed.

But ‘democracy be damned’ as far as ‘Oliver Hardy’ Monsef is concerned. The ball has been played to ‘Stan Laurel’ Trudeau’s side of the net and he has to decide if he should save his Minister of Democratic Institutions. Or not.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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Trudeau doesn’t know democracy.

Monday, May 16th, 2016

One of the promises Justin Trudeau made to Canadian Liberals before becoming Liberal leader was that he would restore democracy in the party. He lied. He is now asking us to give up any of the rights we had as members of the Liberal Party of Canada.

Justin Trudeau wants the Liberal Party to just be his personal fan club.

At the party’s biennial convention May 26 to 29, Justin Trudeau is asking delegates to renounce their rights as Liberals and to approve a new party constitution. It is now a simple constitution for a top-down party. The details will be supplied by the national executive. Regions and electoral districts will be under the national executive’s direction.

Those Liberals who stuck by the party through lean years are to be cast aside as the fan club pays nothing and gets in line for their selfies with Justin.

This is certainly not liberalism. Party membership is not a cult. Party membership is a commitment by progressively minded people to contribute their time, their energy to working together to create the ideas, the public enthusiasm and promoting the candidates for public office to bring their progressive ideas to fruition.

Liberals do not work for their leader. They work with their leader. They choose their local candidates because they know who their neighbours will want to support. They send their policy ideas up the party hierarchy to be discussed and voted on, not to be edited.

Trudeau signed an e-mail to Liberals recently that said the new constitution would create a party that was more open, innovative and engaging than ever before. Why is he selling this crap? What has he got against us being hard working and opinionated? Does he have some special insight that makes him infallible? After all he is the one who stood up in the middle of an election and made the stupid promise that it would be the last time Canadians voted under first-past-the-post.

What he does not seem to understand is that the Canadian people are forgiving. He had no problem with his numbers of Syrian refugees in Canada by New Year’s Day. Nobody needs to criticize him for saying he might have been over-reaching with his promise on voting systems. It all needs far more study and Canadians need to be more fully informed on the possible changes. He needs to create a bi-partisan commission that welcomes dialogue and meets with Canadians to discuss options.

He also needs to let the Liberal Party muddle along in writing its own constitution. Justin Trudeau can exercise his one vote as he wishes.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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Without it, how do you reform democracy?

Sunday, May 15th, 2016

Minister Maryam Monsef has been heard from. The maybe minister of democratic institutions has announced a committee of MPs will spend their summer studying changes to Canada’s election system. What the minister does not seem to understand is that changes in our democracy have to be done democratically.

This is not a democratic committee. It will have 12 members and fully half of them will be Liberals. The other members will be three voting Conservatives, one voting New Democrat and one each from the Bloc and Green parties who will not have a vote. Green Leader Elizabeth May is the only eligible Green and she is wondering why her summer should be wasted when she cannot vote on the committee’s deliberations.

And is there any point to this undemocratic fiasco? We already know that the Greens and NDP want proportional representation in parliament, the Liberals want preferential voting and the Conservatives do not want either. This is not a subject suitable for classic political compromise.

The government is ignoring the host of variables in each choice. Even in the status quo there is choice. When you realize that the present system came down to us from our agrarian land-based ancestors, there are many ways we could change our first-past-the-post system. With today’s technology, voting need not be tied to a physical district, it frees us to consider voting blocs of trades or professions. What if all the doctors picked their own MPs? That idea would give the committee a bone it could really chew on.

Have we ever considered that a person’s chronological age has nothing to do with their maturity? Maybe we should consider a voting test in the same way as we test people for driving licenses. We could have bright 16-year olds voting and maybe dumb 25-year olds could have one more chance. And our dear senile granny might finally miss her vote this year.

But we should not be dogs in a manger over this silliness by the Liberal government. If the committee wants hold a town hall meeting in Barrie this summer to test the waters here, we should welcome them graciously. Heck, we could even invite them to a barbeque. Barrie is an hospitable little city.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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Are they damning democracy?

Sunday, September 13th, 2015

It is appalling the number of Canadians who say they want voter reform without bothering to research or understand the subject. Sitting in an audience recently with apparently a high percentage of New Democrat supporters, it was surprising how eager they are to reform how we vote. The speaker made an inane claim for proportional voting and they applauded wildly.

What these enthusiasts do not understand is that to adopt proportional representation in this country is to give up on democracy. We have this tradition of electing our best and brightest to our provincial capitols and our nation’s capitol. It is a system that has suffered greatly the last couple decades but we can hardly give up on it without a fight.

Proportional representation was initially designed to accommodate illiterate voters. The voter only needs to make a mark for a party by name or pictograph. The various parties are then entitled to choose members of the governing council according to their share of the vote.

Canada’s First-Past-the-Post (FPTP) system came to us from England where it started with people gathering at the village square to shout out their preference for a member of parliament. It is our ability to choose our member of parliament that is the most precious part of our system of government. This person answers to us.

Admittedly we have far too many people in this country who just vote for a party without considering the individual. Thankfully there are still some who do not want to vote for the village idiot just because he or she represents their favourite party.

What we are considering is that in as much as the same people pushing voting reform want to do something about the Senate of Canada, they can make the senate proportional according to the FPTP vote for the House of Commons. While the negotiations for that with the Province of Quebec would be interesting, there might just be a formula that would work.

This suggestion would give us the opportunity to renew the senate after every federal election. That would reduce its sense of entitlement, increase its energy and reflect a more contemporary attitude. And since the FPTP system can produce majorities of seats in the commons without a majority of the popular vote, the government party would not necessarily have a majority in the senate. This would ensure a more balanced examination of legislation by the senate and give the country better government.


Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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