Category Archives: First-Past-the-Post is Evil

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.

Under new management: Meet the 2015 RaBIT team!

Layout 1Eight years ago, I printed 500 copies of a flyer called “Let’s bring Instant Runoff Voting to Toronto”. I was tired of seeing distorted results after each election and I was frustrated by the negative campaigns, the lack of diversity and all the chatter about ‘splitting the vote’ and ‘strategic voting’. I was hoping to spark a discussion about our local voting system and simply let people know there was a better way to run our elections.

I never imagined that within a few years we’d be on the verge of becoming the first city in Canada to abandon the so-called “First-Past-the-Post” system, creating a new election culture that will be more fair and friendly.

PrintAlong the way, hundreds of volunteers have helped out with RaBIT and some have become part of our core team. This week, that core team is formally taking over the entire project!

Today is my last day with the RaBIT campaign as I’ve decided to step away from the project to focus on a book I’m writing about democracy, to work on a national campaign for proportional representation, to continue my work on the Reform Act and to coordinate a new provincial network of ranked ballot campaigns across Ontario.

nwvLkUVwKN2ULjYs1kWw4u_7zNAjxPgWBVKmRlCDc5o,Wf25X-ZHSGWbQqjanUuwOrfr1uP2GpUB-GNyHQBYwTo,mNAo3oYKC5Yb3gb58TVsvP4SWzKZC-67AjmuSHZzmPYRaBIT is moving forward from our grassroots beginnings and we’re formally registering as a non-profit organisation with a Board of Directors. The new board will be lead by our two top organisers, Katherine Skene and Desmond Cole. Together with the other ten board members (listed below), they’ll guide our campaign through the next stages.

I just want to take a moment to thank everyone who has helped out with this campaign, even in the smallest ways. Hundreds of you have e-mailed your City Councillors and many of you have attended our public events or volunteered at one of our information tables. Some of you have donated money to our campaign and over 8,500 of you signed our petition to the province.

I’ve learned so much on this campaign and your support has inspired me every step of the way.

I hope you’ll stay connected and involved. If we can maintain this momentum, we’re guaranteed to see ranked ballots being used in the 2018 municipal election.

2015 RaBIT Board of Directors:

    Desmond Cole (co-chair)
    Katherine Skene (co-chair)
    Chloe Doesburg
    Chris Drew
    Evan Dean
    Jeff Dennler
    Katherine Janicki
    Marjan Farahbaksh
    Michael Urban
    Miriam Fine
    Rodney Merchant
    Sarah Rimmington

Social Media Coordinator:
Michael Wheeler

Diversity our strength?

diversity_motto

That’s the official motto of Toronto.  “Diversity our Strength”. 

We love to brag about our it.  The whole world, on our doorstep.  You can see it wherever you go.  Well, almost.  You don’t really see it at City Hall.

The corridors of power are still – in 2014 – dominated by white men.  Here are some charts showing how bad the discrepancy is, between who we are and who leads us (below).

women_2014 minorities_2014

Desmond Cole wrote a good piece about this today as well, check it out here. [Note, his numbers are a little different than mine.. I think because he only looked at the 44 Ward seats, and I included the full Council which is 45 seats].

One part of the problem is our voting system.  There’s a tonne of data showing that voting systems have a huge impact on representation and diversity.  Learn more at RaBIT, Unlock Democracy and Better Ballots!

But to be honest, there is no simple solution.  It’s a problem that is fueled by cultural barriers, media bias, voting systems, economic realities, and many other factors.

The main thing, is to keep pointing it out.  To ignore the lack of representation is to normalise it – and legitimise it.  Only by raising awareness and speaking out, will we be able to spark some change.

You know something’s wrong, when your City Council representing “The Most Diverse City in the World” …looks like a lot like the Maple Leafs.

leafs_Council

“I’m a geek, you’re a geek” • RaBIT on TV

Paikin_TV

This week, I had the privilege of spending some time with Steve Paikin, and talking about the merits of municipal ranked ballots and runoff voting.

Watch here.

Thanks for your support

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:

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Original post:

Sarah_banned

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.

Des_expelledI’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”.

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Joyce Murray: A catalyst for cooperation

Something interesting is happening. In a political culture dominated by fierce partisanship, a growing number of people are talking about cooperation.

Screen Shot 2013-03-01 at 5.23.04 PMDuring last year’s NDP leadership race, Nathan Cullen ran on a platform of cross-party electoral cooperation.  He didn’t win the race, but he attracted (and boosted) the support, energy and enthusiasm of a growing movement for a progressive alliance.

Now, the Liberal Party is having a leadership race, and they also have a candidate who’s preaching constructive cooperation.  Her name is Joyce Murray and when I heard about her campaign six weeks ago, I volunteered to organise her first public campaign event in Toronto.  The gathering was fun, positive, and attracted people from across the progressive spectrum.

Screen Shot 2013-03-01 at 5.14.51 PM

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City Hall: Now Welcoming Women

About a year ago, I wrote a blog post about the lack of gender balance at City Hall.  I included a group photo of City Council’s Committee Chairs:

City Hall

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Yes, they’re all men.

But, since that blog post, things have changed at City Hall.  As of this month, there will now be one female Committee Chair at City Hall.  Jaye Robinson has been appointed chair of the Community Development and Recreation Committee, bringing the number of female Chairs on the Executive Committee up from 0% to 14%.

In honour of this breakthrough, I thought I’d reappropriate a recent (odd) marketing campaign from Mark’s Work Warehouse and design our own ad for Toronto:

Now_Welcoming_Jaye

click for full-size image

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PS: If you’re interested in boosting representation at City Hall, here are some groups working on democratic renewal and political accessibility:

WoTopoli