UPDATE (June 2013) • Sometimes you just have know when to walk away. Despite the positive update I posted in April (below), the situation at Fair Vote has gotten worse and I’ve decided to quit the organisation after seven years of volunteering. I’m working with an amazing team of people to start a new national campaign for proportional government, called Unlock Democracy.
I’m not gonna go into details here, because we don’t need to air dirty laundry (and there is a LOT of dirty laundry here), but I’ll just mention four major turning points for me:
• The only group that actively campaigned against the RaBIT campaign, was Fair Vote Canada. I’ve never seen a movement so committed to shooting itself in the foot, and attacking its own peers.
• The Toronto Chapter Executive didn’t hold a single meeting for an entire year. Then they organised a rigged election for the 2013 Executive, by rejecting all the candidates they didn’t like.
• A recent meeting of the National Council ended with two young female members in tears, after being verbally attacked by a male colleague. Sadly, this type of bullying and harassment has been happening for years.
• I reached out to one of the key members of the National Council, and offered to sit down over lunch or coffee to discuss the situation. The offer was repeatedly turned down. If people aren’t prepared to talk, then there is little possibility to build consensus.
For these reasons – and hundreds more – I’m done. I wish Fair Vote the best of luck. There are some really good people working there, including the Executive Director Wayne Smith and the current President Doug Bailie.
But you gotta know when to fold ’em. And I’m folding. The movement is big enough for two groups, and hopefully we can all work together at some point.
UPDATE (April 2013) • Good news, in regards to this story. The National Council of Fair Vote Canada has voted to reinstate Desmond Cole and Katherine Skene on the Toronto Chapter Executive. Also, they have accepted the nominations (previously rejected) for National Council, for Sarah Lambert, Gautam Lamba, and others.
There is also now a comprehensive agreement in place that allows both RaBIT and Fair Vote to work collaboratively.
I want to personally thank Jim Harris who has been working tirelessly to forge a consensus and encourage a healthy dialogue and required compromise on all sides. He is truly a master of mediation.
As someone who is a committed volunteer for both RaBIT and Fair Vote, I’m thrilled to see everyone on the same page. Thanks Jim, and also thanks to our Executive Director, Wayne Smith. And thanks to all members of National Council who supported this positive step forward.
Now, let’s get to work. If you support proportional representation, and you’re not a member of Fair Vote… join today! It’s only $10:
Thanks for your support
A couple of weeks ago, three members of Fair Vote Canada were expelled from their elected positions on the Toronto Chapter Executive (myself, Desmond Cole and Katherine Skene). One week later, three members were told that their nominations for the Fair Vote National Council had been rejected (Sarah Lambert, Gautam Lamba and Katherine) – simply because they had volunteered with an external group.
I’ve been involved with community organising for 15 years. I’ve volunteered for dozens of groups in Toronto, I’ve been employed by about 15 non-profits, I’ve served as a Director on boards such as the Mayworks Arts Festival, and I’ve been a member of two political parties. I’ve seen my share of conflict. But in all that time, I can say that I’ve never experienced this kind of exclusionary, top-down, anti-democratic behaviour. It’s stunning, and the worst part is that it’s happening within an organisation called “Fair Vote”.
Andrew Coyne wrote about this situation last week, and called it “Madness“. I agree with Andrew, and I encourage members to speak up. These tactics reflect poorly on all of us: the organisation, the movement, the Advisory Board, and the cause itself.
I haven’t said anything publicly about this situation (I’ll try and write something later this week). But in the meantime, I did want to take one moment to thank all the people who have written to Fair Vote in support of those who’ve been expelled and/or barred from elected positions. It’s been inspiring and motivating to read these letters. I’ve pasted some of them below.
One quick comment: Some people have revoked their Fair Vote membership, in protest of the expulsions. I want to urge people to keep their memberships, and to stay involved. The movement for proportional representation is too important – and too small – for us to be fragmented. Let’s all stick together, and try to foster a culture of collaboration rather than conflict.
I’m hoping that the National Council rescinds their decision, and allows all members to participate in the democratic process. Anything less, is an insult to the name “Fair Vote”.
Thanks. I’ll write more soon. Just wanted to say thank you. : )
Dear Wayne and Doug,
It is with sadness that I write to ask you to cancel my monthly donations to Fair Vote Canada, effective immediately.
I’m very discouraged that FVC has focused so much energy towards trying to prevent achievable and sensible voting reform in municipalities that don’t have political parties. I now believe FVC has crossed the line into actively working to keep the first past the post system in these contexts, a perversion of what I thought I was supporting.
Further, I’ve become concerned about FVC’s ability to effectively prioritize resources. The National Council’s time is best spent advancing the cause of proportional representation at the provincial and federal levels — a cause that, frankly, has been withering for years — not picking fights with other PR supporters. (Have we learned nothing from so many failed referendum campaigns?)
Worst of all, the expelling of committed and effective (not to mention duly elected) FVC members from the Toronto executive is not only petty, but makes a mockery of the values of cooperation and constructive disagreement we allegedly want to inspire in our elected leaders.
We like to argue that political parties are capable of working more collaboratively. I wish we were capable of leading by example.
For now I will remain a member of FVC, just as I remain hopeful that we can do better. If we are to see any meaningful reform in our lifetimes, we must.
Ontario MMP Campaign Speaker
B.C. STV Campaign Donor
Former Democratic Reform Advocate, Green Party of Canada
I have heard that Fair Vote Canada has expelled three of the executive members for supporting run off voting in the Toronto Municipal elections.
Frankly I am horrified that an organization dedicated to promoting more democracy could have such a narrow view of democracy. Expelling people for supporting a minor variant that the majority disagrees with is the antithesis of democracy.
I ask you and the rest of the Executive to re-consider this precipitous move. If you do not reconsider, I don’t see how you can be considered as a democratic organization. Honestly, this reminds me of the worst factionalism in the old days of the Trotskyist movement.
Please re-consider this rash and fateful decision. When it becomes public, you will lose all credibility not just with the media but with people who support PR.
I was just informed that several democratically elected members of the Board of the Toronto Chapter of Fair Vote have been expelled by other members of the Board due to their involvement other electoral reform projects that have nothing to do with Fair Vote. I was also informed that the National Council has banned members from seeking office because they have volunteered on other electoral reform projects.
As a person who is supportive of proportional representation and other methods of electoral reform, who is both a member of Fair Vote and has been a volunteer on other electoral reform projects (the Ranked Ballot Initiative being one of them) these actions are in complete contradiction of democratic principles and go against everything that I have been working on in an effort to improve our democratic system of governance. I am shocked and disappointed in this organization, and I believe that I became a member in error, misunderstanding the principles and values that underlie this organizations. I would like to revoke my support for this organization at this time.
Dear Fair Vote,
I have been a member in the past, and was looking forward to rejoining this spring, especially with the excitement the RaBIT movement has generated around the cause. I’ve just seen your email to Sarah Lambert, and I almost had to laugh at its absurdity — it’s the picture of some strange Orwellian un-democracy, and it really, really makes the organization and its leaders, you, look awful.
Really hoping you guys will figure out a way to wipe this egg off your face and change course — it’s frankly embarrassing for you, Fair Vote, and the democratic reform movement in Canada. Look forward to re-joining if you do.
Dear President Bailie and Mr. Smith;
I’m disturbed to learn that duly elected Toronto Executive Members Katherine Skene, Dave Meslin and Desmond Cole has been expelled from their elected positions.
I strongly urge the National Executive to restore their democratically elected position immediately to protect the credibility and integrity of our own voting process.
Yours, for an even stronger Fair Vote Canada.
Please cancel my membership to Fair Vote Canada, effective immediately.
I want no part of an organization that does not support the true principals of democracy.
I appreciate the work you do to increase democracy and civil discourse; however, I believe you mishandled this matter. I’ve been following the matter from all sides. Why was the membership not consulted on the matter i.e.; expelling democratically elected members? The Run-off Nation-wide vote cannot be considered in this matter as we were voting for the National Strategy, not the expulsion of elected members! If you felt so strongly about your conflict of interest assertion, you should have handled it democratically!
What a terrible example for democracy, consensus and bridge-building.
I have not given up on the cause, nor have I given up on your organization entirely; however, I am definitely shocked and disappointed by your actions and rationalizations for said actions.
Please explain why you chose to secretly expel democratically elected members rather invole us, the members in this process.
For the record, I personally am not fully convinced either system is better than the other. Please keep me in the loop re; future updates.
If the referendum of the membership on the issue of RaBIT went the other way would the National Council have acted the same way with regards to RaBIT campaign members?
If so, I would suggest you reconsider these recent actions. Again, over 40% of membership were on side with option B. These members like myself saw the cohesion between RaBIT and FVC. Making a decision to exclude unilaterally, members of that campaign, do not to me reflect openness or democracy.
During the campaign and even now the vitriol expressed towards RaBIT campaign members and supporters has been anything but fair. These actions some of them from National Council members have ruined my perception of FVC operations. As a past chapter president and dedicated volunteer I am truly saddened by the depths this simple difference of opinion has sunk to.
I will add that at no time have I heard RaBIT members speak with the disdain that FVC national councilors have. Suggesting that RaBIT campaign members are up to some grand scheme to ruin FVC defiled the referendum and has now lead to well meaning dedicated FVC volunteers being excluded from running in so called democratic elections.
May this email serve has the termination of my membership and that of my husband.
Both of us are dedicated to the promotion of proportional voting in Canada but we cannot stand idling by while the democratic process within FVC is eroded.
When this matter is dealt with accordingly, the view of more than 40% of the membership respectfully noted, and the active members of RaBIT allowed fully participate as members of FVC we will be happy to renew our memberships once again.
We all come to the table with different ideas and experience. Disagreement in a respectful way can lead to great achievements together. Exclusion however can only lead to division and failure.
I sincerely hope that FVC National Council can see the value in respectful debate for the sake of the movement.
Hi Wayne and Doug,
I’ve read the various e-mails concerning the expulsion of FVC certain members. It’s unfortunate we’ve reached such an acrimonious state. I must admit, I don’t fully understand the nuances of the substantive debate, but I am left with the impression that it may have been better to allow the expelled executive members to have faced re-election rather than “pre-emptively” expelling them. Again, I’m not even sure where I stand in the debate (and of course I don’t know what happened behind the scenes), but 45% of our members seemed to support their views, so I would have hoped we could have found a way to have worked together.