Monday, October 31, 2016

Justin Trudeau's 16 word report on electoral reform

Results of the public consultation on electoral reform in the Papineau riding

"most were favourable to the idea of a proportional and mixed-proportional voting system"

Discussion of electoral reform in Canada suffered from an almost total four month legacy media blackout on the more than 40 Electoral Reform Committee meetings held in June through October and the over 300 witnesses who testified at them. Ditto the cross-Canada community consultations held by the committee, individual MPs, and Minister Monsef. 

That changed on October 19 when Justin Trudeau told LeDevoir that there was possibly less public appetite for electoral reform now that Harper was gone and consequently we might be getting proportionately Small Change rather than the promised Real Change.

Today from PostMedia : Trudeau quietly held town hall where most were in favour of proportional voting system

The portion at top is from the 3-1/2 page report on that October 6th town hall produced and submitted to ERRE. It was one week after four MSM opinion pieces in early October suggested Trudeau dump electoral reform altogether (or at least kick it up to the 2019 election promises), but one week before his remarks to LeDevoir. 

Make of that what you will.

Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef also came under fire last week in Victoria BC for echoing his remarks on a diminishing public will for electoral reform and the difficult political realities of proceeding without public consensus for a specific system of change. 
Here's Monsef's opening remarks to the Waterloo public consult on September 14th. Watching her here, I think she means what she says; what we don't yet know is whether the Trudeau government means what she says.

h/t Laurel Russwurm for Monsef vid. Laurel replaced an unusable bit of vid in the middle with stills but keep going - the vid comes back.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Monsef "very very sorry" she cannot advocate for PR

Tweets like the above appeared today following Minister Monsef's Q&A at her Victoria BC electoral reform public consultation. Her remarks echo those of Justin Trudeau earlier this week, giving rise to the fear that the Liberals are backtracking on implementing electoral reform and their campaign promise that 2011 would be "the last election under FPtP".
I've transcribed her responses to the two relevant questions from the audience in full below so you can judge for yourself. 

Shorter : She repeated Trudeau's recent remarks about people no longer clamouring for change under the new government, that implementing electoral reform depends on a broad consensus from Canadians and the ERRE committee, and that she's "very, very sorry" but she cannot advocate for proportional representation because 1) she has not heard PR asked for from "an overwhelming majority across the country" and 2) "political realities".. 

A refugee from Iran made a heartfelt plea to Mosef, refugee to refugee as he said, to bring in proportional representation, PR, and not to water it down, to repay the debt to this country.  "That will your legacy to this country."  Huge applause.

Transcript of Monsef's response : 
"To my Iranian-Canadian friend : I agree with you we didn't come here for the natural resources in this country; we came here so that we can be whoever we want to be; we came here so that we can have choice, and choices, and we have that because our democratic institutions have provided us with opportunities, means, and liberties.  
So where I think your argument kind of lost me is you went from like the only way to do this is through proportional representation. In this room, there is a lot of appetite for moving towards PR. My job isn't to advocate for PR specifically; my job has been to go across the country and hear from a diverse range of perspectives. And most rooms are different - there hasn't been a consensus on any specific system. And that actually makes my job very very difficult. It puts more emphasis on the work of the committee because now they have to find the consensus that they couldn't find in the country. 
It's why conversations and you ranking these principles is important because maybe it's not a pure proportional system, maybe it's not MMP, maybe it's a system that's never existed, maybe it's a hybrid that makes sense for Canada. I haven't arrived at that conclusion because there is no consensus. But what I am hearing is how much Canadians cherish that local representation, how much they want a more legitimate and effective system, how important inclusion and accessibility is.  These are basic pieces that are really helpful. 
So I can't promise you that I'll be advocating for PR because I haven't heard that from an overwhelming majority across the country.  
But what I can promise you is that I'm hustling with my parliamentary secretary and we are advocating hard for reform, for reform that means improvement, that sets the stage for the next generation of leaders to come in and make the system better and I think that is my responsibility. And you're right I do have a great deal of debt to repay to this country - that's why I'm doing this and sometimes especially over the last month things have gotten a little bit crazy and absurd. Over the last month I have asked myself a few times - why are you doing this? You had a good job; people liked you; you got to make a difference and you got paid, you got to stay in Peterborough, evenings and weekends to yourself - what were you thinking? But it is true I have all these privileges because a lot of people have made it possible for me. I do have a significant debt to pay back and I intend to pay it back so I can get on with the rest of my life where I have maybe a bit more privacy and sanity, but I promise you that I'm doing this for the right reasons and at the end of the day, I want to make things a little bit better so more people feel involved to be a part of this process so that those silly pieces like the older woman in my riding what she had to deal with and went through - we can fix those things.  
So I'm looking for that consensus - I haven't seen it across the country and now I'm waiting on the committee. I can't make you a promise. I'm very very sorry."            

Question from audience : How can you possibly quell out fears about what Trudeau said about not needing a change in the election system? Those of us engaged in this process for months and months were really upset.

Monsef :
"So it's a little bit frustrating in some ways because literally since May I've been saying what the Prime Minister has been saying. We want things to be better, we want reform. We're inspired by what we're hearing from Canadians like you. But we're not going to move ahead with reform unless we have that broad support from Canadians. We have a majority, sure we could ram through whatever we want, but we're not going to do that. We heard that loud and clear at the beginning of this. The Prime Minister remains I think he said deeply committed to electoral reform, as do I. We're now going to wait for this committee to come back to us. What he said was ... these rooms, this room is full right now but I gotta tell you in most rooms across the country it hasn't been standing room only.

People aren't clamouring for change the way they were under the former government. And I get that - people have other priorities like jobs, kids, and grandkids and house concerns and they care about things like the environment. But this does have a significant longterm impact and it does matter and like I said I'm pushing for this every day. We're finishing our tour right now hearing from Canadians who wanted to be part of this conversation. We're very serious about this and we're going to see it through. We really really hope that the Canadians that have come to us with a thoughtful consensus that they've been able to come to because we are not going to ... 
Even though the Prime Minister has a preference, even though I am arriving at a preference of a specific system with certain elements, we're not going to move ahead unless we have support from Canadians. So yes we want change but we're not going to ram it through because that's just a political nightmare and anti-democratic so ..."

Audience : Didn't he say it would be the last election under FPtP?

Monsef : 
"Yeah and I was standing behind him when he said it in Ottawa. He said he'd bring together a committee to study the issue and if conversations like this were happening in the country during the summer of last year, you can bet anything that these rooms would be packed and people would be asking and demanding for change."

Audience : "Well they might be in four years. [cheers, claps] ... The majority in this room did not stand up and say Yes for FPtP. ... Yeah like 6 people ... In four years it could be a very different story - that's not the way to go."

Monsef : What's not the way to go?

Hard to hear audience responses here : Campaign promises ... people are still hopeful .. You promised last election under FPtP ... clapping 

Monsef : 
"I'm not disputing that. I have a mandate to advocate and pursue and propose change. I'm not disputing that. What I'm adding here though is a reality that we're all aware of - If the Liberal Party were to say Hmmm there's no consensus among the committee, we haven't heard from all Canadians - I don't really think a referendum is a good idea but the committee might come back and say that it's the only way .... ok I know there's some scars in this room, please ... if reform does not have broad support of Canadians, we're right back in the same problem area that you just said"

Audience member : No we're not because the Liberal Party was elected on a campaign platform ... backtracking ...

Monsef : 
"Ok we're not backtracking - I'm explaining a political reality that what we said was Canadians are going to come and recommend something and then we're going to move ahead. We established the committee. We established the committee under traditional rules and people freaked out - oh these rules with the majority and the minority means you're going to ram through whatever change you want. That's not what we voted for - And so here we have this room full of people who feel like me, who feel like the Prime Minister, but that's not every room in the country and you have to take that into consideration.So again, my commitment to you, to everyone in this room, is every day we're advocating for change."

Audience member : Please make a decision that isn't a non-decision. 

Monsef : 
"I'm hustling every day, like 24 hours a day for change. That's my job and I'm wholeheartedly committed to it. There are political realities around it that anybody in this room given what you've experienced with electoral reforms [STV vote in BC] is ignoring - well that's not really helpful or effective. My job is to take all of that into consideration. So my promise to you is I'll be advocating for change. .. on both sides of the aisle within both chambers because we're going to need the help of Senate as well."      

 Transcribed from livestream of the meeting at

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Cons mini-referendum

This summer the Conservative Party Caucus had themselves a mini-referendum about having a referendum about electoral reform. 

ERRE Committee vice-chair Scott Reid held a presser about it last Friday and was very pleased to announce a 90.6% approval rating of 73,740 YES votes from the 81,389 returned responses. 
Sure, the ballot only went out to 59 ridings held by Con MPs and allowed 4 responses per household, but still - a 90.6% approval rating for a referendum!

When a reporter asked how many ballots were originally sent out in order to get those 81,389 back, Reid expressed regret at not having those numbers available so I'm giving him a helping hand here. 

The total number of eligible electors in the 59 ridings cited is 4,613,620. I know because I added them up last night.

If 81,389 ballots were returned out of 4.6 million, that's a response rate of 1.76%
If 73,740 of those were YES REFERENDUM! votes, that's a 1.6% referendum approval rating, and it's a 1.6% referendum approval rating in Conservative-held ridings only, a third of which are in Alberta. 

I have no great quarrel with the 4 page CPC referendum/referendum itself - the explanations and questions are about what you might expect. But when you consider that it was received on the heels of a flyer saying a referendum was required to "stop the Liberals from rigging the 2019 election" in, for instance, Con MP Len Webber's riding of Calgary Confederation... well, lets just say that riding's 2.2% response rate probably indicates Calgary Confederationists are not setting their hair on fire over it. 

The CPC Caucus submission to the Special Committee on Electoral Reform contained the following tables about their mini-ref. I added two extra columns on the far right - total number of electors in the riding and the riding response rate to the questionnaire - to give their numbers some context. I also added the names of the MPs.  Click em to read em. 

So there ya go, Scott - your missing numbers. You're welcome.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Referendumpster fire

CPC MP and ERRE committee member Scott Reid held a presser today to lay out the CPC position on electoral reform : No referendum, no Consent to electoral reform.

Mr Reid cites the results of a householder CPC MPs sent to their constituents. Shocker : 90.6% of them voted for a referendum.

Wikipedia : 
"In Canadian politics, a Ten Percenter is a party political flyer that MPs have the right to mail — at no cost to themselves — to households in their own ridings, equivalent to 10% of the households in their constituency. They may also send the same flier to all of their constituents if they change 50% of the copy." 
Complaining that members of the public who show up to ERRE road show meetings are "self-selective" and therefore not representative of Canadians as a whole - a complaint also repeated in committee by ERRE Lib MP Sherry Romanado - Reid calls his survey of 59 Conservative ridings out of a total of 338 possible ridings "the largest sampling of views on this issue to date." Ok but 30% of ridings surveyed were in Alberta. Nothing "self-selective" there.

The 81,000 votes from across Canada returned to the Conservative office or the local riding MP include up to 4 votes permitted per household. To put that in context, 81K is the same number of voters found in the ridings of Ottawa West or North Vancouver. 
In Scott Reid's own riding of Lanark-Frontenac-Kingston with 77,808 voters, 1400 responded to his electoral referendum questionnaire ... which works out to a 1.8% response rate. 
So, you know, good effort, Cons.

Now Scott Reid has been personally in favour of implementing a proportional electoral system like STV since 2001 and his fellow ERRE member CPC Gerard Deltell also favours PR , but alas their hands are tied by the 2004 CPC founding charter which specifies that any electoral reform must be preceded by a referendum. Apparently their Bill C-23 Fair Elections Act didn't count.

Reid also reported he thinks a five-party committee consensus to proceed with a PR system is possible, that a public referendum on PR would pass, and that Elections Canada CEOs JP Kingsley and Marc Mayrand have said there is time before the next election in 2019 for both a referendum and a new electoral reform system provided the new system is not unduly complicated in the redrawing of ridings. 

So why are the CPCs the fly in the electoral reform ointment?

Reid notes that Minister Monsef has not proposed any specific model to replace FPtP or pledged to accept the committee's consensus position, supposing they reach one after this referendum ultimatum. 
Reid :
"Up til now, she has only said she'll take it under advisement so we can move towards that model. What I don't want to have happen is this : have the committee move towards some kind of conclusion and then the government says 'thank you very much, we're doing something else' because we have an ironclad commitment about 2019 and then impose a system that favours the governing party. That would obviously be completely unacceptable and I am anxious at all costs to make sure that doesn't happen."
I get this concern. I do. The dreaded Alternative Vote, a non-proportional system considered capable of keeping the Libs in power forever because the Libs are everyone's presumed first and/or second choice on a ranked ballot in a single seat riding, is right there in the ERRE committee road show handout and was included in the public e-consultation on the ERRE site.  

But after months of sending out householders like the one pictured at the top here - sent out prior to the committee rejig in May which allowed the Bloc and Elizabeth May a seat at the ERRE table and reduced the number of Liberals on committee from a majority of six down to four Libs plus the chair - together with your failure to hold town halls in your communities to inform yourselves and voters about possible alternatives to FPtP, and the fact your official seven page Conservative Caucus submission to ERRE today is about nothing but holding a referendum ...  well, Cons, you failed miserably at reaching out further afield than just to your dog-whistled fear-mongered householder base here to achieve that all-party consensus you claim to aspire to.

h/t Pat McGrail and James Valcke for the householder viz.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Electoral Reform for Dummies - that would be us.

Well that was then. 
Today some sixteen months later, having attended exactly zero electoral reform committee road meetings or community-based townhalls these past few weeks, our legacy media is jointly suggesting Trudeau throw in the towel.

Susan Delacourt : Time for Trudeau to cut his losses on electoral reform
"Mayrand just gave the Liberals a face-saving excuse. They should take it."

Ms Delacourt manages to interpret Elections Canada CEO Marc Mayrand's caution that :
any new electoral system should enjoy broad support beyond a simple majority of MPs (Liberal MPs, in this case) in the House of Commons.
“I believe that changes to the Elections Act should reflect a broad consensus, that’s for sure. And I believe that a single party, whatever the majority of that party is, should not be entitled to change the act unilaterally,” Mayrand said.
into an 'out' for Trudeau, as if somehow the NDP, Bloc, and Elizabeth May, not to mention the wildly cheering Canadian public who voted for reform above, do not count. 

Having hung this on something Mayrand didn't say, she goes on to speculate about "what Mayrand didn’t say (but could have)" and it goes downhill from there, although I give her points for not mentioning a referendum until several paras in - perhaps because Mayrand says it's unnecessary. 

"I don’t think electoral reform is a top-of-mind issue for Canadians," she says, apparently oblivious to the irony that, aside from Kady O'Malley, a media boycott might be having some bearing on that.

Toronto Star : Mayrand is right – give the people a voice on election reform: Editorial

The Star editorial board first plumps for a national referendum but settles for kicking reform down the road aways:
"Trudeau’s best move would be put election reform to a national vote and let Canadians chose the system they want, even if it means breaking a promise to do away with first-past-the-post during his first term in office."

Ditto the Ottawa Citizen It's more important to do electoral reform right than to do it quickly
"First, the Liberals need to break the promise that 2015 will be the last first-past-the-post election. Second, they must replace that promise with a new one to pass enabling legislation for a voting system change prior to the 2019 election, but give up on the idea of implementation by that date."

So did you all get the same phone call from Butts?

Who have I missed here? The Sun papers are sticking with their slogan No Referendum, No Reform.  Oh, and the Globe and Mail - nothing from them. I guess their entire interest in electoral reform was exhausted in their Minister Monsef birther scoop.

Not really much use to us alive, are you, legacy media?

The truth is though there is a problem with the ERRE committee. 
Electoral reform advocates and activists remain resolutely positive and, in the spirit of the multi-party nature of the committee, open to whatever form of proportional representation is leading despite individual preferences for one system or another.
But underneath that there is concern.

Despite a mandate to come to a consensus about implementing a new electoral system, at least three of the four Liberals on the committee appear unconvinced electoral reform is even necessary and one is still making up his mind about a referendum. They've had 36 meetings and over a hundred witnesses, yet still take turns repeating bs rightwing Keep It Simple talking points about ballots the size of bedsheets and how complicated it would be for voters to rank several candidates/parties on a ballot instead of just one. 

Committee Liberals also complain that the members of the public who show up to public ERRE meetings are biased in favour of electoral reform. As if people unconcerned about being represented in government are going to make a special trip in to say 'I don't care about this'.

Last word goes to Conservative MP and ERRE member GĂ©rard Deltell, speaking on electoral reform at the Quebec National Assembly on Sept. 27, 2011:
"We have almost 30 months before the next election. We have time to do what all the parties have always urged, that is, a proportional system.'

Monday, October 03, 2016

Does this poll make my electoral ass look big?

Apparently half of NDP voter respondents are either very or somewhat satisfied with our current First Past the Post electoral system - really? - but 71% of them are definitely or probably in favour of a referendum. Does this seem at all likely to you?

On Sept 28 I attended the travelling public Electoral Reform Committee in Vancouver. 
One of the witnesses was Mario Canseco, VP of InsightsWest, who presented the results of his company's Sept 14-16 weighted online survey of 1029 Canadians on electoral reform. The committee was given his brief but since then the questions and data behind the brief have been published online. It is not mentioned who commissioned the poll.
This was the big news at the time to the committee : Overall, nearly two-thirds of poll respondents are very or somewhat satisfied with keeping our electoral system the way it is and 68% definitely/probably want a referendum.

As there was no media present *yet again* at the committee, it's unlikely anyone will take a look at the survey, now being quoted online by referendum and FPtP fans with names like XXX the Deplorable. Here's the data info on the First-Past-the-Post question :
Let's leave aside for the moment whether First-Past-the-Post is accurately described here.
If I understand this data correctly, half of respondents who voted NDP in the 2015 election are very satisfied or somewhat satisfied with First-Past-the-Post. How likely is that? Or that 72% of Liberals are? Or that only 9% of Canadians overall are very dissatisfied with a system in which just over half of their votes - 9,106,936 of them - were wasted.

Moving on to what electoral system should replace FPtP for the apparently only 22% of Canadians with any interest in doing so
It seems twice as many Conservatives (26% based on their vote in the 2015 election) are strongly in favour of Party-List PR than are their NDP (11%) and Liberal (12%) counterparts. Who knew? 
Notable that between 20% and 38% in the different categories were unable to give any opinion either positive or negative on the three alternative voting systems presented to them.
Meanwhile a whopping 71% of NDP respondents and 65% of Liberal respondents told the pollsters they are in favour of holding a nationwide referendum :

So how does Insights West recruit these respondents? According to their website, you sign up with their survey panel by email : 
"You can earn between $0.50 to $5 for some surveys, for others you will be entered into sweepstakes draws with chances to win gift cards from a variety of Canadian retailers."

At the ERRE meeting on Wednesday, Mr Canseco said the respondents are not advised ahead of time what survey they will be taking but that after it starts the different voting systems are explained to them. 
Mr Canseco is tweeting his survey online. I have tweeted my questions as to what I interpret as anomalies in his survey back at him but he has yet to respond. If any poll nerds out there can explain them to me, I'll enter your name in the Creekside sweepstakes draw.

The Electoral Reform Committee is running its own e-consultation with Canadians until this Friday at midnight EST. They put a background paper online if you want to brush up first. The survey takes 15 to 30 minutes and can be completed over several sessions if you prefer.  

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