Friday, August 30, 2013

Ranked ballot ends need for party mergers

After the 2011 election results came in, many pundits were saying the Liberals and NDP would have to merge to stop the Conservatives from becoming Canada’s natural governing party.

Right-leaning parties faced a similar conundrum back in the 1990s. Then vote splitting between the Reform and PC parties allow the Liberals to come up the middle and win easy fake majorities.

Haphazard FPP

The silliness of our present voting system is evident in two ways:

  1. By awarding power to leading minority candidates and parties, the vast majority of voters can wind up with the opposite of what they voted for.

  2. Merging parties is really a bizarre solution for correcting distorted election results.

Clearly the sensible solution is to upgrade our voting system — as 91% of developed countries have done — to ensure the voice of the people is actually heard.

Why party mergers?

One might wonder why party mergers are a solution is the first place. This is because FPP only produces democratic results when there are two parties: that is, one party gets majority support from voters.

Of course, less parties means less representation. In the US, left-leaning voters are marginalized in the Democratic Party; moderate conservatives are squeezed out in the Republican Party.


Under PV or PR, voters will get better representation because these voting systems are designed to handle many parties. It’s time to stop fooling around with democracy.

FPP makes most Canadians second-class citizens

The foundation of democracy is one person, one vote. That means every person of voting age has an equal say in how our country is run. But do we really?

Some voters are more equal than others

In Canada, we have an ironic interpretation of democracy. Instead of ensuring a majority of voters is represented in government, we often dole out unfettered power to a minority party that gets about 39% of the vote.

That means the 39% has a greater say than the 61%. Not only is this absurd, it violates our fundamental democratic equality and relegates the super-majority to second-class status.

Voting reform to the rescue

The only way to stop this violation of our fundamental rights is with voting reform.

Preferential Voting (ranked ballot) makes MPs earn their seats with a majority. (Same system parties use to elect their leaders.) This stops the vote splitting that gives a minority more say than the vast majority.

Proportional Representation also guarantees that every vote is equal. Under this system, parties get the same percent seats they get in votes.


Most developed countries dealt with this assault on voters' rights a century ago. Canada is long overdue in becoming a real democracy.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Ranked ballot: Anyone But Conservative voting

The Green Party was polling as high as 10% before the 2011 election. Yet they dropped down to 3.9% at the ballot box — lower than their 2008 showing of 6.8%. Why did the Green Party lose half it's voters? Voters were trying to vote strategically to stop a Harper fake majority: that is, Anyone But Conservative voting.

Strategic voting unreliable

The problem with strategic voting is that it's almost impossible to properly organize — as the 2011 election results clearly attest to. Since there's a swing vote in each riding, it's hard to know what party to back to beat the Cons.

The 4% of Green strategic votes therefore ended up canceling each other out. Harper's sleazy practice of micro-targeting voters in key ridings proved much more effective.

Ranked Ballot to the rescue

A simple and effective voting reform can solve the problem: Preferential Voting. This merely changes the ballot from single-choice to ranked. That allows voters an alternative vote if their #1 choice is no longer in the running.

So instead of voters guessing, they will get guaranteed strategic voting. One can vote: #1 Green, #2 NDP, #3 Liberals, #4 Marijuana Party, #5 RhinocerosAnyone But Con!

Liberals running on ranked ballot

The Liberals have promised to bring in PV ranked ballot voting. Justin Trudeau has made it part of his Democratic Reform platform. Canadians have a rare opportunity to fix our broken voting system and stop the perverse effects of vote splitting for good.

Although PV is not as good as PR, it will accomplish a great deal as an intermediate step. The Liberal initiative would not be the final word on voting reform.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Progressives must consider benefits of ranked ballot

In an ideal universe, Canada would have PR like 85% of developed countries. But we ended up in a whacky one: we dole out absolute corrupt power to an arbitrary minority party and call it democracy.

Canada is more that just a little bit behind the learning curve. European nations figured out FPP was absurd a century ago.

PR in Canada

The odds of bringing PR to Canada do not look good. The only federal parties that support PR are the NDP and Greens. Although the NDP is the Official Opposition, the latest poll has them back in third place dropping from 103 seats to 44.

If the Liberals form the government, the best we can hope from them on the PR file is another designed-to-fail referendum.

So clearly it’s time to consider Plan B options.

PV is progressive

Although PV ranked ballot doesn’t fix everything, it does offer a lot of improvements that will significantly benefit progressive Canadians.

  1. Higher dictatorship threshold: PV makes it harder for a minority party to win all the power. Presently the magic number is 39%. PV will bump that up a number of points. The end result will be more minority governments which the NDP are a part of.

  2. Lower proportional threshold: It takes about 29% before a party gets proportional representation or better under FPP. According to one poll, that number is lower than 24% under PV. So the NDP is going to end up with more seats (and more say) with PV than FPP.

  3. Moderates polarizing results: Under FPP, parties compete for the entire vote. This creates a major/minor party dynamic on the center-left. Voters tend to want to back the winning horse and fear vote splitting will produce a conservative majority.

    When the Liberals and NDP only compete for the #1 spot under PV, this distortion disappears. It makes little difference to center-left voters who they rank #1 or #2. So they will no longer have to vote for the lesser of two evils. They’ll be able to vote for what they want.

  4. Easier for an NDP breakthrough: It took the NDP 75 years to become the Official Opposition. During this time they averaged 15% of the vote and 9% of the seats. Under FPP, the NDP’s rightful voice in Parliament is suppressed and the Liberals wind up with NDP seats.

    PV will remove the shackles. The NDP will be able to compete with the Liberals head on. They will be able to win and form governments.

  5. Green votes: Under FPP, vote splitting means a high Green vote will weaken other center-left parties, allowing the Conservatives to win. With PV, Green supporters can vote Green without worry of the spoiler effect.

    Not only that, other center-left parties will need to court Green voters to get alternative votes. The NDP could corner the market by forming a voting coalition with the Greens, like right-wing parties do in Australia. So if the NDP form or prop up a government, Green voters will actually affect legislation.

  6. Legislating PR: The only way PR will become law in Canada is if the NDP forms the government. The best chance the NDP has at forming the government is using PV ranked ballot.


FPP has produced 30 years of right-of-center government. With a united Conservative party, it will produce 30 more. Center-left parties now need moderate conservative votes to split the right-wing vote and keep the Conservatives out of majority territory. If the Conservatives get a likeable, competent leader like Jim Prentice, they could win perpetual majority governments like the Chretien Liberals.

Progressives need to consider the PV compromise. Under FPP, progressives have no say in government. PV opens up many significant opportunities.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Conservative senate would kill PR bill

Just imagine if the dreams of PR reformers come true after the 2015 election. Somehow, we manage to get a government to pass a bill that makes PR law. If a party runs on that platform — which the NDP appears to be doing — it will have its mandate. There’s no requirement to hold a referendum.

How it could happen

There are a number of ways this could play out. The NDP could win a majority government. The NDP could win a minority and get pro-PR Liberal MPs to side with them in passing a PR bill.

Who knows, the Liberals — who voted 73% in favor of PV ranked ballot at their 2012 convention — could have a change of heart. So could Liberal leader Justin Trudeau who currently rejects PR.

How it could all go wrong

But what happens when the bill gets to the senate? The senate controlled by Conservatives appointed by Stephen Harper?

According to the Constitution, both the senate and House of Commons are equal in power (except in some rare cases.) The senate is supposed to restrain itself because it’s comprised of partisan crony hacks. Yet every once in a while, it weighs in and kills legislation.

Technically the House could pass a PR bill 20 times and the senate could reject it 20 times.

Role of corporate media

What side would the corporate media take — which usually ignores the issue of PR, except to occasionally rant it will destroy the country?

Clearly they would laud the senate’s decision to stop the “unfair, unwise and anti-democratic” legislation that would turn Canada into a “laboratory for electoral reform.” (Which is what Martin Regg Cohn said about RaBit — the ranked ballot initiative for the Toronto mayoral election.)

Even if a 50% threshold referendum is held and won, the senate could reject it claiming a 60% threshold is required. (That’s in designed-to-fail territory: New Zealand, for example, won two PR referendums by less than 60% — 54% in 1993 and 58% in 2011.)


As PR supporters formulate strategies to bring the reform to Canada, they should take the senate into consideration. It could turn out to be a bigger obstacle than legislating PR itself.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

PR: more stable government than FPP

The corporate media and business community offer many stern warnings against the dangers of PR voting reform — despite the fact that 85% of developed countries use the system.

Among them is the claim it will lead to short-lived governments paralyzed by conflict. They say we should stick with our existing system FPP, which provides “strong, stable government.” According to the Toronto Star:

“The best argument in favour of [FPP] is that it leads to strong governments. By contrast, proportional representation is a recipe for unstable coalitions, permanent minority government and legislative chaos.”

How true is this claim?

And the winner is…

Let’s compare Canada’s post-war government stability under FPP to that of Western European nations that use “chaotic” PR:

At 3.1 years ranking 11 of 12, Canada is clearly no paragon of government stability under “strong, stable” FPP.

Why FPP is less stable

Andrew Coyne points out why FPP is actually less stable than PR:

“We think of minority governments as unstable because, in our present winner-take-all system, they are: the payoff from [a] two per cent swing [vote] is such that every party has its finger poised over the election button, ready to press it the minute they get a pop in the polls.
“But take away the leverage—let a two per cent swing in the popular vote mean a two per cent change in seats—and everyone is forced to calm down. Politics becomes more incremental, a matter of long-term persuasion, rather than short-term gambles.”

The real reason FPP is promoted

The reason the business community promotes FPP is because it’s easier for them to influence government under single-party “benign dictatorships.” If we use a democratic voting system that produces multi-party majority governments — reflecting the true will of the people — their corrupt advantage disappears.

No doubt the foxes will howl in indignation if their position guarding the chicken coop comes under threat. But Canadians must ignore their self-serving snarls and focus on the facts.

The choice is ours

We can choose democracy or the status quo, plutocracy. If we choose the first, voting reform is the only way forward. Either PR or PV ranked ballot will bring real democracy to Canada.

Stability Wars: FPP vs PR

“Granted, some minority or coalition governments do manage to deliver solid, progressive government. But they are rarities. More commonly, governments in proportional systems are divisive, unstable, short-lived and paralyzed by conflict.” —Toronto Star

In one corner we have “strong, stable” Canadian FPP. In the other, “chaotic” Western European PR.

Drum roll…

And the winner is…

Average post-war election term (years)

Country From To Years Terms Avg
Luxembourg 1951 2009 58 12 4.83
Italy 1948 2008 60 15 4
Norway 1949 2009 60 15 4
Switzerland 1951 2011 60 15 4
Finland 1951 2011 60 16 3.75
Germany 1949 2009 60 16 3.75
Belgium 1950 2010 60 18 3.33
Netherlands 1952 2012 60 18 3.33
Austria 1949 2008 59 18 3.28
Sweden 1948 2010 62 19 3.26
Canada 1949 2011 62 20 3.1
Denmark 1950 2011 61 23 2.65


Clearly the above quote from the Toronto Star is pure and utter bunk. Canada does not have “strong, stable government” under FPP. European PR is not “divisive, unstable, short-lived and paralyzed by conflict.”

Strong government vs good government

No doubt, we often dole out absolute corrupt power to minority parties — excluding the vast majority from government. This foolishness produces a “benign dictatorship” which certainly qualifies as “strong government.” But it doesn’t give us good government.

Good democratic government means a majority of voters is represented and parties work together to come up with compromises that best reflect the will of the people.

We will need PR or PV ranked ballot to achieve good government.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Stalin and Hitler delivered strong government...

One of the selling points of primitive and undemocratic FPP is that it provides “strong, stable government.” What Stephen Harper once said was a “benign dictatorship.”

I imagine the idea can warm the cockles of your heart if you're the Father Knows Best type.

Is strong government good government?

But aside from base feelings, does awarding absolute corrupt power to a “dictator” — benign or otherwise — really offer any advantages?

Sure there won't be any conflict between governing parties as can happen when two or more parties share power. There's no danger of dreaded gridlock — that end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it scenario where parties are forced to work together and come up with a compromise.

But the problem with letting a minority party make all the decisions — unchallenged with no checks or balances — is that they can make really bad decisions and there's no way of stopping them. There's also the slight hitch that the vast majority of voters is left out of the process.


So forget benign dictatorships, not-so-benign dictatorships and shiny-pony dictatorships with a big sparkling smile. Real democracy is the only solution.

Harper shows strong government is bad government

Democracy can get complicated. When there are more than two parties, it’s rare for one party to win the support of the people — that is, an actual majority.

Upside-down democracy

In Canada and the UK, we approach this problem in a backwards, slipshod manner. We let arbitrary vote splitting award all the power to a minority party and call it “strong government.”

At first glance, there’s an obvious problem with this primitive solution (First-Past-the-Post): a minority ends up calling all the shots while the vast majority is shut out of the process.

But when radicals like Stephen Harper get absolute corrupt power on 40% of the vote, the shortcomings of our ironic interpretation of democracy become painfully obvious.

Benign dictatorships

While in opposition Harper called this intolerable situation a “benign dictatorship.” (Of course, he’s perfectly OK with the system as long as he’s the “dictator.”)

But instead of rolling the dice and praying arbitrary dictatorships somehow balance themselves out in the long run, why not do like the rest of the developed world: upgrade to a democratic voting system?

Democracy in the free world

Almost all developed countries typically have stable multi-party majorities that provide checks and balances to government. When parties have to work together and compromise, not only does this best reflect the will of the people, it prevents corrupt, secretive, out-of-control government.

Either Proportional Representation or Preferential Voting (ranked ballot) will stop the insanity. Enough is enough.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

MythBuster: ranked ballot favors Liberals

Some people believe that the Liberals will benefit the most from ranked ballot voting. This is based on the premise that the middle party will get the most alternative votes: NDP voters will rank the Liberals #2; Conservatives voters will rank Liberals #2.

What this fails to take into consideration is that most Conservatives loathe the Liberal party and want to see it destroyed. They will not give the Liberals their alternative votes.

Also ranked voting cuts both ways on the center-left. It makes little difference to a centrist who they rank #1 or #2. So if the Liberals take a right-of-center position on economic issues, centrists can vote — #1 NDP, #2 Liberal — without worry of vote splitting letting the Conservatives win.

PV will make it easier for the NDP and Greens to get votes. It will make it impossible for the radical conservatives to get absolute corrupt power a super-majority is opposed to. It will make the Liberals work hard for their votes and compromise with other parties when they form governments.

Voting systems in a nutshell

There are two different ways voters can be represented in a democracy: by person and by party. This is the main reason there are many different voting systems.

Definition: Seat/Riding: A riding is a territory where voters elect one or more representatives. Each representative occupies a seat in the legislature and has one vote. A majority of votes is required to pass bills and govern.

  1. Westminster: (Our existing system of democracy.) Voters in a riding elect an individual to represent them (MP) who belongs to a party. A party or coalition needs a majority of votes from MPs to pass bills and govern.

  2. First-Past-the-Post: (Our present voting system.) Westminster where the leading candidate wins the seat (single-member plurality.) The winner can be a minority candidate the majority doesn’t support (due to vote splitting.) Collectively, dozens of wrongly-awarded seats can give a 39% minority party false majority power: majority of seats, minority of federal votes.

  3. Preferential Voting (ranked ballot): Westminster where the majority candidate wins the seat. Uses instant elimination rounds. Voters rank candidates instead of marking one with an ‘X’. Lowest candidate is eliminated in each round until one gets a majority. A person’s vote on each round is their highest ranking candidate still in the running. Reduces wasted votes. Stops vote splitting. Prevents false majorities.

  4. Proportional Representation: Ensures parties get the same percent seats they got in votes (10% of the federal vote means 10% of the total seats.) Eliminates wasted votes and vote splitting. Ends false majorities. Coalitions tend to form stable multi-party majority governments. Used in 85% of developed countries.

  5. Party list PR: Parties produce lists of candidates. People vote for parties. Seats are awarded to each party proportional to the federal vote. Parties appoint candidates to seats.

  6. Mixed-Member Proportional (PR): Combination of Westminster and party-list PR. People vote for a candidate and for a party. Winning candidates are awarded seats. Additional party-list seats are awarded to parties to ensure total seats are proportional to the federal vote. Parties appoint members to party-list seats.

  7. Single Transferable Vote (PR): Voters rank candidates who belong to a party. Many candidates are elected to a single, large riding. Seats in each riding are awarded to parties proportional to the riding vote. Highest ranking candidates get party seats. Collectively, this approximates federal proportional representation.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Under FPP, conservatives call the shots: ask Mulcair

Our primitive voting system, FPP, breaks down when there are more than two parties.

In the 1990s, the Liberals had an unfair advantage due to center-right vote splitting. Now a united Conservative party has an unearned advantage due to center-left vote splitting.

Small-c conservatives more equal than others

About 40% of Canadians are right-leaning. Under FPP, a fake majority is at 39%. This means conservatives now call the shots.

Any center-left party must appeal to moderate conservatives to split the right-of-center vote to keep the Conservatives away from majority territory.

Mulcair right-wing on taxes

This is no more evident than Mulcair’s recent position on taxation.

Mulcair not progressive on taxes

He is now espousing the right-wing mantra that Canadians are overtaxed:

“I am categorical on [higher taxes]. Several provinces are now at the 50 per cent rate. Beyond that, you’re not talking taxation; you’re talking confiscation. And that is never going to be part of my policies, going after more individual taxes. Period. Full stop.”

High tax fallacy

This position is, of course, a fallacy:

  1. We’ve had 30 years of continuous tax cuts which have created soaring inequality and government debt. We were much more prosperous in the centrist Keynesian post-war era when taxes were much higher for the rich. Back then we also paid down most of our debt.

  2. Among 31 OECD developed countries, Canada ranks #9 in lowest tax revenues.

  3. Our once progressive tax system has become regressive. The wealthiest pay the least taxes — far below the 50% “confiscation” rate Mulcair talks about:

“By the centre’s calculations, the top one per cent of Canadian families — those earning at least $266,000 — paid 30.5 per cent of their income in taxes in 2005. That was less than any other income group — even the lowest.”

Voting reform seriously needed

This is why we need voting reform. It’s appalling that a 40% minority of conservatives determines the fate of our country. In a democracy, a majority decides.

If we had a democratic voting system all voters would be equal. Social democrats could be social democrats and win Canadians over like they often do in Germany and other northern European countries.

PV ranked ballot is the quickest fix

PR is the best option on voting reform. But PV ranked ballot also has a lot to offer the NDP as a stopgap measure. (It can be legislated direct on party platform; PR requires a referendum, 4 of which have already failed in Canada.)

If we had PV in 2011, the NDP would’ve formed the government. The ranked ballot would also eliminate the polarizing major/minor party dynamic between the NDP and Liberals. That would make the NDP a real player that forms governments.

Monday, August 12, 2013

If we had PV in 2011, NDP would be in power

Some PR true-believers spread a lot of misinformation about PV ranked ballot, claiming it’s somehow worse than primitive FPP.

Is an NDP minority government worse than an unfettered Harper majority? That’s what we would’ve got if we had PV back in 2011.

2011 Federal election

Here’s how the 2011 federal election would’ve turned out — according to the Globe and Mail — using PV instead of FPP:

2011 Federal election

Party Vote FPP FPP PV PV
(Majority: 155 seats of 308)
CPC 40% 166 54% 142 46%
NDP 31% 103 33% 118 38%
LPC 19% 34 11% 46 15%
BQ 6% 4 1.3% 1 0.3%
GPC 4% 1 0.3% 1 0.3%

Under PV, the NDP and Liberals would’ve formed a coalition government (the norm in other developed countries) with 50% of the vote and 53% the seats. Clearly that’s more reflective of the will of Canadians than a 40% Harper “benign dictatorship.”

March 2013 projection

Also according to the Globe and Mail, if an election was held in March 2013, the Conservatives would’ve won using corrupt FPP. But under PV, the NDP would’ve formed the government:

2013 Federal election simulation

Party Vote FPP FPP PV PV
(Majority: 170 seats of 338)
CPC 32% 147 43% 117 35%
NDP 31% 108 32% 126 37%
LPC 24% 76 22% 93 28%
BQ 5% 4 1.2% 0 0%
GPC 8% 3 0.9% 2 0.6%

Under FPP, Harper’s polarizing style gives the Conservatives a big advantage. But when PV is used, divide-and-conquer tactics are punished as Conservatives lose alternative votes to the NDP and Liberals.


Although PV is not as good as PR, it would provide many benefits for the NDP — not to mention Canadians. Let’s not let lame rhetoric muddy the voting-reform debate.