Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Why We Don't Need A Referendum on Electoral Reform

There's nothing that scares the Cons as much as electoral reform, and Justin Trudeau's plan to scrap the so called first past the post system.

They know that it would cripple their chances of ever ruling Canada again, and that the only thing that might stop that from happening is a referendum.

So I'm not surprised by this desperate tweet from Rona Ambrose.

After Trudeau gave the referendum idea a big thumbs down. 

The federal Liberals say they will not hold a referendum to gauge public opinion on voting reform as they fulfill their promise to abandon the first-past-the-post system but will instead leave it up to Parliament – where they hold a majority of seats – to decide how Canadians will elect future governments.

For it's about time power was returned to where it belongs, to the Parliament that is the heart of our democratic system 

Ambrose and her foul Cons are the last people to call anyone "arrogant" or pose as the defenders of democracy. Not after the way they behaved, and after what their monstrous leader did to our Parliament and our values.

Which couldn't have been less democratic or more obscene.

So if the Cons keep beating their drums for a referendum.

They need to be reminded of a few hard facts:

(1)  There is no legal requirement for a referendum to be held to change the electoral system. Even if one was held it would not be binding, or constitutional.

A government cannot give away its powers and duties to “the people” through a binding referendum. A government may choose to have a referendum (which isn’t really part of our parliamentary system or culture), but it cannot make the results binding on itself or future governments. For that to happen, it would have to be part of our Constitution, which it is not and never has been.

(2) More than sixty percent of Canadians voted for electoral reform so their wishes should be respected. And all that needs to be determined after an extensive consultation process is which new voting system would work better.

Not whether we should change the system or not, as the Cons are hoping.

(3) If that consultation process shows that a system of proportional representation is better than the ranked ballot system that Trudeau favours, he would have to take that into account. But on that question the jury is still out.

Proportional representation has the advantage over first past the post that it produces a Commons that reflects the proportion of votes cast for each party. But it also fosters a multitude of smaller parties and leads almost constantly to minority governments and coalitions. 

In a country as vast as Canada with a weak national identity, proportional representation would be a formula for recurrently weak government.

So a ranked ballot might be the way to go in a country like this one.

The logic of the ranked preferential ballot is directly opposite to first past the post: it encourages each party to be civil towards its adversaries because its candidates all need 50 per cent of the votes to be declared elected.

So parties seek consensus rather than polarization. The preferential ballot discourages extremism and encourages courtesy and compromise. It encourages more people to vote even in regions where their preferred party is weak because they know their vote will not certainly be wasted as with first past the post, but could help defeat the party they most abhor.

(4) No new electoral system would help the Cons, so whatever they may pretend they are only interested in the status quo.

And should be reminded what Stephen Harper and his Dr Strangelove Tom Flanagan once had to say about that. 

Many of Canada's problems stem from a winner-take-all style of politics that allows governments in Ottawa to impose measures abhorred by large areas of the country. The political system still reverberates from shock waves from Pierre Trudeau's imposition of the National Energy Program upon the West and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms upon Quebec. Modernizing Canadian politics would not only be good for conservatism, it might be the key to Canada's survival as a nation.

And lastly but not leastly, when Cons like Scott Reid, who is flogging a petition calling for a referendum, claim that their misdeeds don't count.

Do as we say, not as we did. That, in a nutshell, is Conservative MP Scott Reid’s message to the Liberal government over its plans to change how federal elections are won and lost. Reid said that Liberal misbehaviour cannot be condoned just because “the Conservatives behaved badly when they were in government.”

They should be told to go and pound sand. Because that bad behaviour does count and should never be forgotten.

The Cons didn't offer up a referendum when they eliminated subsidies to political parties to favour themselves.

Or offer one up when Pierre Polievre rammed through changes to the Election Act to try to suppress the progressive vote..

So they should be treated with the same contempt they showed others.

The Cons would use a referendum campaign, and their well oiled propaganda machine, to sow mass confusion, and lie through their teeth as they have done so often in the past.

The thought of allowing a party like that one to return to power is unthinkable.

The Liberals must do what must be done with the democratic tools they have been given.

And bury the the Harperite cult forever...

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  1. I wholly agree Simon. You didn't add the caveat that the history of referenda elsewhere, like in countries such as Switzerland, demonstrates that they consistently favour the status quo. It is easy to stoke fear or sow confusion in a referendum and people will most often vote down any change. The Cons are banking on this simple fact. This country should never have another Con regime!

    1. hi Kirby....yes you're right, I should have mentioned that referendums favour the status quo. How could I have forgotten after my experience in Scotland? ;)
      And we know that the Cons will try to sow confusion with ads from third party groups filling the airwaves, which with the complexity of the different systems, could torpedo any chances of electoral reform, I realize that progressives are nobler than Cons, but now is the time to be as ruthless with them as they were with us...

  2. .. well that's ms Rona Balogna Ambrose for you - Spewing from the pulpit.. But irony, hubris & reality are elastic distant galaxies.. & truth a thing mankind shared while plowing the fields behind a match pairs of brontosaurus. After all she is privy to the secret evangel fables of Stockwell Day and time traveller Jason Kenney. Unwilling to explain how 240 + ridings were attacked during the Harper March to Majority.. via secure logins to CMIS for data downloads of the Canadian electorate.. then manipulated, Rawna Bwana's lip r sealed.. didn't happen - dunno - before the courts - before my time... blah blah woof woof. If the current First Past the Post system was ripe for exploitation by a single bad apple named Sona.. then Amen & case closed.. Goodness gracious we have some shallow & sterile 'minds' inheriting the toxic legacy of Harper Kenny MacKay Poilievre Anders et al

    1. hi salamander...yes we do have some shallow and sterile minds, but of course that is the good news. Their talent pool is now so shallow they're all turning into mud skippers. Some like Pierre Poilievre I understand are totally demoralized, Jason Kenney is so full of anger some fear he might be struck by a bad case of spontaneous combustion, and Rona Ambrose staggers on not knowing what she's doing. The good news is there seems to be quite a bit of activity on the Progressive Conservative side, so that might herald an almighty battle between east and west (Alberta) that could tear the Cons apart. Needless to say I'm keeping my fingers crossed...:)

  3. I believe minority governments are more conducive to the principles of democracy, simply because parties have to work together to pass bills that make sense for the majority, instead kowtowing to special interest concerns. For instance, if Harper had not won a majority government 2011 there is no way he would have been able to ram through his omnibus bills which shut down our environmental protection services. It seems to me, the system we have now, gives the party with a majority mandate, almost tyrannical powers to enact laws that are not always in the best interest for the majority of the voters. Don't get me wrong, I was thrilled when we kicked Harper and his theo-neo-cons to the curb, but the Liberals are running on the same 39% voter approval and some of these votes were progressive socialists who voted strategically to end Harper's rein of terror. I have faith that Trudeau will do the right things for average Canadians, instead of the interests Big Oil or corporations, but that doesn't change the fact that he does have unlimited powers with his majority party. It too easy for a Shithead like Harper, to get elected and then impose laws that make no sense, and in fact can be detrimental to the freedoms of average Canadians. Having said all that, I think it's hilarious that the Cons seem to think it okay for them to ramrod any bill they seemed fit to pass, but think that Trudeau shouldn't have the same powers. It's too obvious that our electoral system is old, archaic and broken. Time for change.

    1. You might be interested in Single Member-Proportional Vote (SM-PV) as an electoral system then. It creates majority governments based on seat counts (as now) but makes voting on legislation be based on the percentage of the popular vote each party has (ie passing bills behaves like a minority government).

    2. hi GreazedLitenen...Like you I am a fan of minority governments. And so lean towards proportional representation. But Johnson, with who I usually disagree does raise a question that should be considered. Is it the best system for a country like this one? And as he also points out the ranked ballot does in its own way force parties to be less partisan. I should also say that while I like minority governments because they encourage compromise which was after all what created this country, so I find it a very Canadian way to govern. However I need to read up on all of this, and hear what experts have to say. But whatever cripples the Cons and keeps them out of power will be more than good for me....

  4. Oh yeah, the Cons changed all the rules using 25% of the peoples will. Now they want a referendum on a platform item of a legitimate goverment. Rich

    1. hi Steve...yes they do have a nerve and they are absolute hypocrites. Posing as defenders of democracy after spending almost a decade spitting in its face. But then what else can they do, they are desperate, and if we do what we need to do they are doomed...

  5. I am a Liberal. And I would prefer a referendum on this issue. Each side should be given ample opportunity to show why it's option is the best and how it would work. Then take the vote and make it binding on the government.

    This would have been a better way to make changes to our constitution.

    However, if there is to be no referendum then I want this government to invoke Preferential/Weighted/(call it what you will) Balloting. Then let's see how long it is before the NDP is screaming for a vote on the issue.

    1. hi James...if we lived in a country where all the political parties shared a common set of values, I would also have no problem with a referendum. But since I know that the Cons, who want the status quo, will bring nothing to a referendum but lies and confusion, I would rather it be left in the hands of parliament, and that it seek out the opinions of as many Canadians as possible....

  6. Don't forget that 70% of voters favour parties that wants change. With this issue settled by a super majority, a referendum ( is used ) should have only two choices PR or RB. The FPP problem has been dealt with.

    1. hi rumleyfips...I agree with everything you say. We voted for parties promising electoral reform and our views should be respected. The Cons are looking for a referendum where all three options are voted on, in the hope of splitting the vote, and preserving the status quo. They should not get that, and we should be ruthless with them...

  7. Of the four points you raised, only the first is reasonably solid: There is no constitutional requirement for a referendum on electoral reform. But while there is no requirement, its still a good idea. A change made without a referendum can easily be undone on the same basis. A successful referendum ensures the change has broad consensus and by doing so cements it more firmly.

    On point two you make a fatal assumption; that by voting for a party you are supportive of their entire platform. This last election I voted for the Liberal MP for a number of reasons (none of which were electoral reform).

    On point three it should be noted that "If that consultation process shows that a system of proportional representation is better than the ranked ballot system that Trudeau favours, he would have to take that into account" is not true. Trudeau has no legal requirement to take any consultation into consideration in making his decision (hey, if the argument is good enough for you to use, its good enough for me).

    On point four you are *mostly* correct. There are no systems CURRENTLY SUPPORTED by a party in the House of Commons that favours the Conservatives. But more on that in a second.

    "They should be told to go and pound sand. Because that bad behaviour does count and should never be forgotten... So they should be treated with the same contempt they showed others... The thought of allowing a party like that one to return to power is unthinkable."

    This is a rather obvious example of Argumentum Ad Hominem (sub-group: Poisoning the Well).

    Ideally, the new electoral system wouldn't favour any party. Keeping one party perceptually in power (and another perceptually out of power) is not a good idea. Personally I feel Single Member-Proportional Vote (SM-PV) would be the way to get the most positive reform out of the least amount of change (which a recent Broadbent Institute report concluded is what Canadians want). Or (if we *must* cast two ballots) Direct Party and Representative Voting (DPR Voting).

    1. hi Tory Pirate...I am very wary of government by referendum, especially on a complicated question like electoral reform. I'd like to see as much citizen involvement as possible, and the bottom line is that when the Cons argue a referendum is required they're wrong.
      On your second point, I realize that people vote for parties for different reasons, and may not agree with every position that party holds. But when a party does get a mandate it should count for something.
      Thirdly, although it's true that Trudeau would not be obligated to respect the choice of a consultation process, he would lose credibility if he ignored it, and I don't think he is the kind of politician or person who would do that.
      And on your fourth point, while I agree I do have a very hard line, and I do want to make the Harperites pay for those nightmare years, there is nothing to prevent the Cons from becoming a more centrist party, so their fate is in their own hands...

  8. The Liberals campaigned on getting rid of first-past-the-post voting. If that happens, the best the Cons could hope for in the future is MAYBE a Con minority government.

    As I have said before, the most democratic Parliamentary governments are coalition governments. They get the most accomplished that the majority of its citizens approve of.

    I am happy the Liberals won. But I would have been even happier with a Liberal/NDP or NDP/Liberal coalition.

    1. hi David...well you know that I favour minority governments too, and that is the reason I voted for the NDP. But we also have to consider that we have a very un-Canadian party in our midst, and until they change their narrow wedge issue approach, I'm glad that we have a majority government that can ignore therm when they act up. But I'm going to have to read up on all the systems, before I can back one of them,,,

  9. Anonymous3:52 PM

    Liberals won a clear majority with a platform of electoral change. Through debate in Parliament, work of committees, and consultation with the public, I believe that this can be done in a transparent manner. We are moving in the right direction, that's the most important point, as we reclaim our democracy.

    I have voted in two Quebec referendums (referenda ?). It takes financial and emotional energy that I really don't think Canadians have the stomach for at this point in time. I really believe that we need to put faith into our system on this one. That doesn't mean walk away.Voting is important, but a referendum would really be more of the negative old con stuff. If Ms. Ambrose and her posse have convincing arguments, they can show some collegial spirit, roll up their sleeves, and get on with it.

    I really have to laugh at recent con media on this issue, saying Trudeau doesn't know what to do about this election promise, yada yada, he's in over his head. Ha ha! Just watch him :)) You know, he really seems to love it when he's under estimated...


    1. hi TS....like you I lived through two Quebec referendums, and I saw what happened in the Scottish one, and they are very divisive, can be very emotionally exhausting. And I would rather have Parliament deal with the matter. For I haven't the slightest doubt that the Cons would try to create as much confusion as possible and it would be a nightmare...

  10. Thank you Simon for taking up the electoral reform cause. This is the most important moment in our country's history. Presently corrupt interests can capture the leadership of the two main parties that only need 40% of the vote for absolute power with no checks or balances. You can see why they are fiercely opposed to Canada becoming an actual democracy.

    The on-the-take news media publishes so much misinformation and outright lies on the subject, you'd think we live in a third-world country. No standards of journalistic integrity whatsoever.

    The fact is of 181 democracies around the world, 96 use some kind of proportional voting (53%); 22 have semi-proportional voting; 16 some kind of runoff voting (like ranked ballot voting.)

    That's 74% of all nations that have adopted "misguided and naïve" electoral reform. (Toronto Star)

    The other 47 countries, deep down in third-world territory, are still stuck with our anti-democratic caveman voting system, First-Past-the-Post.

    The corrupt, captured journalists are telling us proportional voting is radical. That Canadians are too dumb to understand it. That we must take this issue to the people in a referendum.

    But instead of fulfilling their role as members of the fourth estate — which is supposed to act as a protectorate of democracy, informing the people on the facts — they are spreading propaganda.

    They are taking part in an underhanded agenda to suppress a democratic development in our country that has taken place in the vast majority of countries across the democratic world. It's the biggest act of corruption I've ever witnessed in this country, eclipsing any political scandal.

    So it's up to us in the social media to fight for this cause and inform Canadians. No one else is going to do it for us. Even many Liberal partisans entrenched in the party system are strongly opposed to any kind of reform (Warren Kinsella is the quintessential example.)

    I have to hand it to Trudeau. He is acting like a real man of principle, something I have not seen before in any Canadian politicians I can think of. Hopefully, it's not all just an act. But it's up to us to hold his feet to the fire on this fundamental issue at the core of our society.

  11. BTW, the enemies of democracy have adopted a simple strategy to maintain the status quo. They are trying to get Ranked Ballot Voting eliminated as an option to polarize the debate. Then claim that PR is too radical a choice and we must stick with FPTP.

    They are hoping to achieve this goal by either demanding a referendum, or making it appear the issue is too divisive and, therefore, the status quo is the only option.

    Liberals in BC and Ontario, promised electoral reform, but in its place delivered designed-to-fail referendums to kill it off. They put up a number of roadblocks like: a) an anti-democratic 60% win threshold; b) tack the referendum onto a general campaign to minimize attention to the issue; c) suppress campaigning on the issue, which is how the public is typically educated about an issue they are voting on (as I pointed out, the news media, normally involved in the public education process has an agenda to do the opposite.)

    Tasha Kheiriddin of the National Posts suggests this as a blueprint for killing elector reform in, "Why proportional representation would be bad for the Conservatives."

    Chantel Herbert (usually a responsible journalist) has spearheaded the movement to polarize the debate and then divide and conquer. She claims that ranked ballot voting is off the table because simulations show it would've given the Liberals an even bigger false majority.

    This is not true. These simulations assume that those who sacrificed their votes to vote Liberal to stop Harper would've made the Liberal candidate their #1 choice on their ranked ballot. But given the NDP was leading for half the campaign and half the Harper majority term, many would've voted #1 NDP, voting for daycare, federal carbon pricing, reversing corporate tax cuts, killing Bill C-51 anti-terror nonsense and opposing disastrous TPP free trade.

    Since RBV punishes polarizing politics — parties lose out on alternative votes which is how the Liberals picked up more seats from Conservatives under RBV simulations — the Conservatives would not have used them.

    Also, RBV allows two conservative parties to exist without the Liberals winning from vote splitting. (Australia, which uses RBV, has 4 conservative parties.) So Red Tories now voting Liberal would have their own party to vote for.

    So clearly if we change the voting system we get different election results. RBV would make it harder for Liberals to get false majorities, not easier.

    Although ranked ballot voting is not fully proportional, it's automatic strategic voting that eliminates all vote splitting. So center-left ridings end up with center-left MPs. Conservative ridings end up with conservative MPs. (There will likely be two major conservative parties under a PR or RBV voting system.)

    So the best strategy for electoral reformers is to: 1) demand we vote like the rest of the world with a proportional system; 2) be willing to settle for a semi-proportional system; 3) grudgingly accept ranked ballot voting. But under no circumstances, walk away with nothing. (This may be our one and only real chance to make Canada a democracy.)

    In order to beat the anti-democratic forces, we must anticipate their moves and expose them with the facts.

    Canada is a multicultural country. We don't need a self-interested aristocracy moderating the will of the people. Canadians are a good-natured people and the best stewards of our nation. Time for government of Canadians, by Canadians and for Canadians.