A beautiful bike for a beautiful family

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Two years ago, our community came together to sponsor a Syrian refuge family.  They arrived last autumn and have been slowly adapting to their new home.  The family (all seven of them!) are incredibly warm, loving and fun.  With five kids, getting around their neighbourhood without a vehicle is really difficult, so I’m crowdfunding a three-wheeled cargo bike that can hold three kids + groceries!  This will make a huge difference for the family.  Thanks! ❤️

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Atlantic Uprising: How the east coast is leading the way on voting reform

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Cross-posted on Huffington Post

While we’ve all been distracted by the fallout of Donald Trump’s unexpected election as president, another important political story has been unfolding under the radar. At the same time that Hillary Clinton lost the presidency, despite getting three million more votes than Trump, voters in New England (the birthplace of the American Revolution) and Prince Edward Island (the birthplace of Canadian confederation) delivered an unprecedented one-two punch to the archaic and dysfunctional first-past-the-post voting system.

In two referendums, one on each side of the border, residents of Maine voted in favour of switching the entire state over to ranked choice voting (RCV) and two days earlier voters in P.E.I. embraced a system called mixed member proportional (MMP).

Both of these systems offer distinct benefits to voters and offer a glimpse of hope that we can overcome the democratic deficit in both countries. First-past-the-post feeds cynicism and apathy because it distorts election results, pushes out new voices, forces people to vote ‘strategically’, encourages negative campaigns and produces predominantly white/male governments that do not reflect the diversity of the population. Both RCV and MMP, on the other hand, help to cure some of these problems.

Continue reading

Misleading Leaside: Lobbyists score a hat trick with digital billboard

cross-posted on the spacing wire

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Outfront Media wants to construct a massive digital billboard in the residential community of Leaside. The problem is, no one wants digital billboards in their neighbourhood, for obvious reasons, so companies like Outfront have to find creative ways to build community support. After all, digital billboards are not legally allowed near homes which means that Outfront needs to apply for a special exemption from the sign bylaw — and that requires some support from local residents.

So here’s what they did.  They offered the community $40,000. Annually. Simple as that.

The proposed billboard would replace an existing smaller static paper billboard on the property of the Leaside Memorial Gardens Arena.  Outfront has offered to increase their billboard rent by $40,000, contingent upon securing an exemption from the sign bylaw.

According to the lobbyist registry, representatives of Outfront discussed this proposal with the local councillor twenty six times. They also met with each and every member of the arena’s Board of Management (details here). Continue reading

Justin and Dave’s War on Misleading Language

Toronto City Councillor Justin DiCiano posted a tweet this morning, about ranked ballots, runoff voting, and majoritarian systems.

He suggests that there’s an “inconvenient truth on ranked ballots“, that  “you don’t need a majority to win” and that “the truth will set you free“.

Some people were confused about it.

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Then Justin asked me to help explain his position.  I’m happy to.

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First Past the Gardiner? 63% feeling bent.

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In the last municipal election, sixteen members of Toronto City Council ‘won’ their seats with less than 50% of the vote.  The lowest was 17% for Councillor Christen Carmichael Greb and the lowest results for incumbents were 25% for Ron Moeser and 28% for Frank DiGiorgo.

75% of Moeser’s constituents didn’t want their Councillor back, but they got him anyway.  72% of DiGiorgo’s constituents voted for change… but got the same guy they had before.

Fair elections use some form of runoff, where the winner has to pass a threshold to win.  In a single-winner race, that threshold is 50%+1.  A majority.  This can be done in a multi-round runoff, with the lowest candidate being eliminated in each round of voting or as an ‘Instant Runoff’, using a ranked ballot.   The province of Ontario is about to pass legislation that will let cities use ranked ballots in the 2018 election.

In the meantime we have another great example of election failure happening this week in Toronto, reminding us why First Past the Post is a loser system that hardly anyone in the world uses.  I’d like to introduce exhibit A: Under Gardiner. Continue reading

Tin Foil Tim: Hypocrisy of aluminum proportions

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So, this actually happened: Tim Hudak stood up in Ontario Legislature yesterday and said that the only people who support ranked ballots and democratic reform are people “from the tinfoil-hat crowd“.

First, as the founder of the RaBIT campaign and 123 Ontario, let me say – with pride – that I do indeed wear a tinfoil hat, and I have since I was a child.

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I have never hidden this fact from the media nor from my colleagues in the voting reform movement.  In fact, in recent months I have proudly worn tinfoil hats on both CBC’s Power & Politics, and CTV’s Canada AM.

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So, I suppose my first question to Tim is: What’s your point?  Tinfoil hats are beautiful.

But more importantly, I’d like to ask Tim Hudak why he’s trying to publicly insult the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, his current leader Patrick Brown, his entire caucus, and himself?

After all, the Ontario PC party decided in 2004 that it was time to change THEIR voting system.  Guess what system they switched to?

Ranked ballots.

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Prescription: Ranked ballots for Toronto, proportionality for Parliament

[cross-posted from the Toronto Star]

Ontario’s non-stop election marathon is over. During the last 18 months, we’ve elected our provincial government, local city councils and a new federal government.

This rare alignment gives voters an unusually long break before the next round of elections, an electoral holiday providing us with an opportunity to step back and explore opportunities to improve our democracy.

Canada has the dubious distinction of being the only OECD country using first-past-the-post universally for all elections (local, provincial and federal). It’s a system that works fine for a two-candidate race, but in a multi-party system it completely breaks down. That’s why the Liberal Party won 54 per cent of the seats in our new Parliament, even though only 39 per cent of Canadians voted for them. And that’s why so few western democracies use it.

Consensus is slowly building that our current system has to go. The question is, which system do we replace it with? There’s no simple answer and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution.

Here in Toronto, with a non-partisan council, there’s a groundswell of support for a simple ranked ballot. Also known as a preferential ballot, this much-needed reform would allow us to hold an “instant runoff” in each ward, where the winner is required to win 50 per cent of the vote. Currently, candidates are “winning” their local races with results as low as 17 per cent, which arguably defeats the whole point of having an election. Local campaigns are increasingly divisive, voters are encouraged to vote “strategically,” and we repeatedly elect councils that don’t reflect the diversity of Toronto.

Meanwhile, cities across the U.S. using ranked ballots are experiencing friendlier campaigns, more accurate results, the freedom to “vote with your heart,” and a measurable increase in diversity and representation. It’s the right reform for Toronto and will hopefully be in place for 2018.

But while a simple ranked ballot is an important step forward for Toronto, there’s one important thing that it doesn’t deliver: proportionality. For our federal party-based elections, the need for proportional representation (PR) is crucial. The concept behind PR is simple: If you win 20 per cent of the popular vote, you should end up with 20 per cent of the seats.

Ranked ballots can produce proportional results, but only when they’re used in multi-member districts where you have four or five MPs per riding (this is called the Single Transferable Vote, or STV). But a ranked ballot in single-winner ridings does not deliver proportionality. In fact, a recent report by the Broadbent Institute predicts that under a simple ranked ballot, the Liberals would likely have won an additional 33 seats, distorting their majority even further.

Clearly, that’s not the answer for Canada. That’s why a growing chorus of national organizations and community leaders are calling for proportional elections.

Cynics and opponents of PR will stoke fears of unstable governments and fringe parties gaining power. They’ll offer Italy and Israel as nightmare examples of what PR can produce. But they’ll neglect to mention that almost every European country uses some form of PR, including some of the most stable governments in the world.

The World Economic Forum ranks Switzerland, Finland, Germany and Holland as the top four competitive economies in Europe. All four use PR, as do Sweden, Norway, Australia, New Zealand and 86 other countries.

PR also delivers governments that are more diverse and representative. For example, Canada ranks low when it comes to representation of women in the legislature, at 26 per cent. Meanwhile, all the top-ranking countries (Sweden at 45 per cent, Finland at 43 per cent, etc.) use PR.

Change is in the air. At the local level, the Wynne government is introducing historic legislation allowing any city in Ontario to use a ranked ballot, either in single-member wards or as multi-member STV.

Federally, Justin Trudeau has pledged that “2015 will be the last election under first-past-the-post.” This is good news, but he would be mistaken to think that the introduction of a ranked ballot alone will fix Canada’s democratic deficit. Only a proportional system will deliver a House of Commons that reflects the desires and diversity of Canada’s voters.

Our marathon of elections is over: provincial, municipal and federal. All three used first-past-the-post and all three were highly divisive and delivered distorted results. Now is the time to talk about how we can make the next round of elections as fair, friendly and proportional as possible. Voters deserve nothing less.