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‘Overwhelming desire’ to change election system, local committee concludes

vote-federalFirst-past-the-post must go, and we don’t need a referendum to decide, says a local election reform group.

Murray Todd of the Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo Electoral Reform Committee said today (Sunday, Oct. 2, 2016) those conclusions were reached through “a distillation of information” from 10 events held over two months.

A resulting report says there is no interest in a referendum, and the first-past-the-post election system should be scrapped. A new system of proportional representation is preferred and it must be fair, accessible and representative, he said.

“Participants wanted the ability to vote for their favoured candidate and favoured party if the candidate was of another party,” he said.

An all-party Parliamentary committee has been reviewing reform alternatives since June. The local committee says it’s non-partisan, though Todd is a former federal Liberal candidate. The group held a town hall on the issue in early September.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised during last year’s federal election it would be the last under the FPTP system.

Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo MP Cathy McLeod has called for a federal referendum on the issue, saying constituents want a direct say.

Here’s the text of the local committee’s brief — which will be submitted to the federal Special Committee on Electoral Reform in Ottawa — released Sunday.

INTRODUCTION

During the federal election of 2015, three parties had policy planks relating to improving our First Past The Post system of voting. Those three parties, Greens, New Democrats, and Liberals, combined for 64.75% of the popular vote in our riding. In aggregate, Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo (KTC) voters strongly indicated an interest in changing our present system of voting.

After the Special Committee on Electoral Reform (ERRE Committee) was

formed, the Conservative Party refused to encourage town hall meetings. This policy was adhered to in the Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo riding.

Others disagreed with the CPC’s approach. A number of community members decided to form a committee and engage voters by holding open events, educational in nature and include the input our participants gave us in a brief to the ERRE Committee.

Our committee – the Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo Election Reform Committee – included active members of federal and provincial Greens, NDP and Liberal parties, as well members of Fair Vote Canada and the Anglican Church. We hosted events from mid-July until Sept. 19. We held 10 events: five farmers’ markets, three open meetings including Thompson Rivers University welcome back BBQ, one Rotary Club, and a town hall. We spoke directly with roughly 200 people, reached more through radio interviews plus a radio talk show, sparked articles in the local newspaper, and wrote letters to the editor.

We noticed an up-tick in election reform discussions in the letters section of the newspaper. Finally, over 4,000 emails were sent out to voters alerting them to what the committee was doing.

Across those 10 meetings we found no appetite for a referendum, approximately 12 people we spoke with supported a referendum (6%). Support of FPTP was equally weak.

FINDINGS

We asked a series of questions at our events. The following questions provided volunteers a framework for discussions:

1) What values are most important to you?

2) Are you satisfied with the present FPTP system?

3) (edited)Other systems combine current ridings into larger local

districts so almost every voter has a representative. What do you

think of this option?

4) Which is more important to you:

  1. a) a position articulated by a party, or
  2. b) a position articulated by a candidate?

5) If you wanted Canada’s electoral system to change, what would

that change look like?

These questions took up the bulk of our discussions.

Plus we asked four other questions:

  1. a) Do you favour dedicated seats for First Nations?
  2. b) Do you favour mandatory voting?
  3. c) Do you favour automatic registration for youth turning 18?
  4. d) Do you favour on-line voting?

Question one produced perhaps the most responses. Boiled down, respondents wanted a value-driven system that clearly included: fairness, equality, and inclusiveness. Frequently the rationale ‘if you get 25% of the vote, you should get 25% of the seats’ was the starting point for a discussion about fairness. Further the new system should be simple, collaborative, adaptable, and keep wasted votes to a minimum.

A number of people had difficulty with party lists, which would be a feature of most PR systems. The connection between a party producing a list and a voter selecting his/her preferred party and possibly having a choice of which list candidate for that party he/she would have at the same time caused some

confusion. If lists are part of a new system then much education and patience will be required to help voters understand how the system works.

There was noticeable support for Single Transferable Vote and discussion around Rural-Urban PR at the town hall. A motion passed at an earlier KTC Reform Committee meeting favouring PR and “leaning towards MMP.” That motion was carried 14-4.

Question 4 – voting for the party or the candidate was a more challenging question, with no clear positions one-way or the other. Our committee believes that FPTP is too rigid. The difficulty participants had in making a decision between party and candidate is another sign that proportional representation is a better option for our electorate.

Participants indicated a desire to be represented locally and to have each vote count. One person said we shouldn’t have to choose between our preferred party and our preferred candidate if the candidate belonged to another party.

At the town hall, several favoured more opportunity for independent candidates to be elected. A desire was expressed for a more accessible system with strong local representation. The town hall indicated a displeasure with MPs being more connected to their party brass in Ottawa than their voters in the riding.

Eighty three out of 91 at the town hall wanted a change from FPTP, many

preferred a form of PR; one of the tables said they specifically favoured Rural-Urban PR.

The idea of larger electoral districts which PR usually requires met with approval.

However, sentiment was decidedly against increasing the number of seats in

Parliament – increases in spending and taxes were cited as primary reasons.

The last few questions during the town hall discussion were yes/no:

  1. a) Dedicated First Nations seats was favoured by roughly 85%;
  2. b) Mandatory voting, 40% in favour;
  3. c) Automatic voter registration was nearly unanimous (only one opposed);
  4. d) On-line voting was favoured by 45%. Those opposed cited concerns of

fraud.

Many believe the current voting system is polarizing. Those people felt

compromise, collaboration, and cooperation were desirable attributes in a voting system.

There was discussion on the topic of lack of knowledge about electoral systems, and how our democracy works. At most of the events and forums, and with friends, family and co-workers, it was suggested our schools should play an important role in educating our students about Canadian democracy. Giving our students a firm grasp of our democratic system, municipal, provincial/territorial, and federal is essential.

CONCLUSION

The KTC ERC found an overwhelming desire for change. People disliked being forced into strategic voting, were angry with the disconnect between constituents and their MP, and wanted the ability to vote for the candidate of their choice and the party of their choice.

About 90% of the people we talked to want a proportional representation system, but were open to suggestions as to what that system would look like.

There was no ambiguity, however, when it came to what the new system should deliver. It has to be accessible, fair, inclusive, and open to smaller parties and independents. Single Transferable Vote and Rural-Urban PR had support from our respondents but MMP was also popular.

Including dedicated First Nations seats and automatic voter registration for those turning 18 were highly supported, but those we engaged with were split on mandatory and on-line voting.

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About Mel Rothenburger (6184 Articles)
ArmchairMayor.ca is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At ArmchairMayor.ca he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

12 Comments on ‘Overwhelming desire’ to change election system, local committee concludes

  1. Of course the people who are in favour of “electoral reform” don’t want the question to go to referendum. Here in BC we have twice been asked the question, and twice we have said no.

    • Only on a referendum on electoral reform does a “yes” vote of 58% equal a no. Any one of the parties in power would be thrilled to get those kind of numbers! And you wonder why people are cynical about a referendum?

      • Jim Irwin // October 4, 2016 at 11:08 AM //

        In 2009 the proposition was rejected 60/40. If the Liberals propose a plan anything similar to the one that was put forward in BC, where the political parties were going to get to name unelected party hacks to the legislature, it too would be defeated in a referendum.

  2. The voting system we employ must be a result of majority rule. That is how we work things in this country. Because a group of people want to change things for the ‘better’ they feel an oligarchy is necessary for one event. I agree we should have a better system of electing our government. I disagree that one group should call the shot on this important ingredient to our democracy. As for race based elections….I won’t even honor that with a comment.

    • If our country actually “worked on majority rule”, we would have had PR years ago, since a majority believe that 39.5% of the vote should equal 39.5% of the seats, as demonstrated by polls. Sadly, it doesn’t work that way, so a series of minorities take turns having 100% power, until we “kick the bums out”. Don’t you see how crazy this is? Under PR, they would each have the share of power they deserve, and they’d have to come to agreements that reflect the actual will of the voters — just as is done in the majority of democracies around the world. No more silly swings back and forth in policy every time a party goes up in the polls a few points.

  3. E M Helen McLean // October 3, 2016 at 9:56 AM // Reply

    I feel every citizen eligible to vote should have a say in this hugely important matter.Much more clarification is needed for people to make the decision and not have it made for them. The use of acronyms confuses many and more enlightenment as to the changes and success or failure of
    the various systems clearly stated as experienced in other
    countries.More lessons needed.

    • Every citizen had, and still has, a chance to have a say. There have been townhalls, webinars, roundtable chats, surveys…. you name it. This has been going on for months, but now you have only until this Friday, October 7 to educate yourself and send in your comments to the federal electoral reform committee http://www.parl.gc.ca/Committees/en/ERRE/StudyActivity?studyActivityId=9013025 . Lots of resources on the different systems under discussion here (check out the videos at the bottom of the page): https://fairvotingbc.com/join-the-campaign-for-fair-voting/fair-ways-to-vote/

      Sadly, time is of the essence: if the system isn’t changed before the next election, this rare opportunity will have passed, since the only reason the Liberals proposed a change is because they never dreamed they would win the election with a (false) majority and actually have to live up to their promise to take power away from themselves. Thirteen commissions and assemblies across the country have examined this question in depth in the past 15 years, and each and every one of them has recommended some form of proportional representation (where 40% of the seats = 40% of the vote). It has been studied to death, and the evidence is overwhelming. Let’s not blow this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fix our ancient system!

  4. This is a BAD idea. Our political system could quickly devolve into a similar mess as many European countries (Can you say Italy?).

    The average citizen can barely understand FPTP, can you imagine the chaos with these alternate schemes?

    • Are you saying Canadians are too stupid to vote in a fairer way — that most of the world is smarter than we are?

  5. Pierre Filisetti // October 3, 2016 at 7:02 AM // Reply

    I have a strong “hunch” that regardless of the type of voting, the overall plight of society will not change much.
    Also considering that a very small percentage of the population was involved in the discussions leading to the recommendations I question the practicality of such recommendations. Let’s not be fooled into believing we can make a meaningful, but I mean meaningful, change.

  6. This report certainly does read as a non-partisan approach to discussing the voting system. It appears irrelevant that Mr. Todd is a former federal Liberal candidate, the results do not seem skewed one way or another, even though there will be many who will discount or ignore these findings simply based on that alone.
    I don’t at this point have any specific opinion of one type or another to replace FPTP, but I do agree with the majority of the findings here, including the choice that we do not need a referendum on this. I do wish our MP would stop demanding this, and actually listen to the voters in the riding and support our desire to move on to a new system.

    • Of course the people pushing for “electoral reform” don’t want the question to go to referendum. Here in BC we’ve done that twice and twice we have said no.

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