This morning, Larry Gordon announced that he was stepping down as National Executive Director of Fair Vote Canada. Usually, the resignation of an ED from a medium sized non-profit wouldn’t be cause for a blog post, but Larry was not just an ED. Larry was actually one of the original co-founders of FVC back in 2001 (along with Doug Bailie of Edmonton and Chris Billows of Winnipeg). He then became the first president, and then the first (and only, to this date) Executive Director in 2002.
On the surface, it may seem that FVC has not accomplished a lot. During the last decade, four provincial referendums have been held on proportional representation, and all four were lost. But political movements don’t measure success solely on immediate victories. The true measures of any movement lie in two areas: physical support on the ground, and the shifting of our political culture on an issue. On both counts, the success of Fair Vote Canada is astounding.
Larry’s resignation today marks the end of a ten year adventure, that began with a small group of committed people who had an idea, and turned into a national-wide organization with 3,000 paid members and 12,000 supporters. In the first BC referendum, the YES campaign received 58% support. Sadly, the threshold for victory had been set at 60% by a government that feared change. I’ve worked on two referendums (Ontario and BC) and I can say without a doubt that voting reform advocates and volunteers are some of the most passionate, dedicated and creative bunch I’ve ever seen. They are informed, angry and ready for action. And FVC should take full credit for that.
As for shifting political culture, anyone who works in advocacy knows that this is as hard as pushing a stalled car – uphill. But sometimes, even in a short period of time, attitudes can completely change on a topic. Cigarette smoking is probably the best example: transformed from broad social acceptance, to complete marginalization through public policy, in a matter of decades. FVC is trying to do the same thing. To take a horribly flawed and broken voting system, and shift public opinion from acceptance to rejection. Of course, there are many steps between acceptance and rejection. Dissatisfaction, frustration, curiosity, resentment and, most importantly, becoming aware of viable alternatives.
What an immense task to take on. In a country that takes great pride in its history, and pride in its British roots, and a parliamentary democracy that spans over nine thousand kilometers coast to coast – to shift public opinion about our voting system is beyond ambitious. But they did it, and we’ve all benefited.
FVC has secured high profile endorsements from across the country, and across the political spectrum. Larry and the FVC team have put the issue on the map, and made voting reform an impossible issue to ignore. Even after four electoral defeats, the topic is still alive and is a part of mainstream discourse.
Just two weeks ago, a single FVC press release triggered excellent coverage by major media in New Brunswick, with interviews, articles, a newspaper editorial calling on the government to look at PR, and lots of animated debate online.
I’ve been involved with community organizing and political advocacy for over ten years. I believe strongly that the biggest obstacle lying in the way of change and progress, is our voting system. We pride ourselves for living in “a democracy”, yet our democracy is not democratic. Over and over again, we see the winners lose, and the losers win. We see important voices pushed completely out of the dialogue. We see hundreds of thousands of votes that are wasted. We endure the endless threats of vote-splitting. And we watch helplessly, as voters become more and more cynical towards a system that breeds partisanship, instability, regional tensions, negative campaigning and distorted results.
We must move beyond our voting system. It’s holding back the creative potential of the country to work towards intelligent, collaborative, multi-partisan solutions to the obstacles we face.
And when we do finally liberate our political landscape from the sad place we find it now, we’ll have one person to thank in particular: Larry Gordon.
I’ve worked closely with Larry, on local issues as well as the BC campaign (team photo below) and I can say that he was the right person for the job and that he brought to the table a leadership style that was creative, constructive, often humorous and obsessive enough to keep him there for ten years.
If you know someone who has the talent, skills and commitment to fill Larry’s shoes and lead FVC into the next chapter, please direct them to the job posting that went up today.
And if you haven’t already joined Fair Vote Canada, do it now.
And one last time, THANK YOU to Larry Gordon for trying desperately, against all odds, to move Canada towards sanity – and succeeding.
(Click here to read an in-depth interview with Larry, from seven years ago, about Fair Vote Canada and the movement for voting reform.)