Dear Fair Vote Members,
I am writing to express my grave concerns about the current Fair Vote Canada referendum and its implications for our movement. In detailing my past interactions with the Option B proponents, I hope I can provide needed context for voters and directly confront some of the misinformation being circulated by RaBIT.
I am not a member of the FVC e-mail list and so I am asking a friend to circulate this statement. My name is Stuart Parker; I have been active in the fair voting movement since 1996 when I co-founded a group called the BC Electoral Change Coalition, a coalition of groups backing voting reform comprising the BC Liberal Party (then the official opposition), BC Reform Party (then holding two seats in the legislature), Family Coalition Party, Marxist-Leninist Party and Green Party as well as Western Canada Wilderness Committee, Canadians for Direct Democracy and the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation. I served as Vice President for this group until its dissolution in 2000. From 2005 to 2007, I served as part of the national council of Fair Vote Canada and as a director of Fair Vote Ontario. And from 1999 to 2009, I served as a director of Fair Voting BC and, in that capacity, was a key decision-maker and campaigner for the Yes to STV campaigns in 2005 and 2009.
The contribution to our movement of which I am proudest was my securing an agreement from then-Deputy Mayor Nancy Chiavario for the inclusion of proportional representation in the city’s 1996 referendum on its voting system. Despite our having no budget and there being no pro-PR citizens’ organizations as we have today, our small campaign managed to secure 36% of the vote for genuine fair voting at the municipal level.
When I moved to Toronto in 2004, the city was opening negotiations with the province with a view to changing its governance structure. And so, when I was elected to FVC’s national council the next year, I made it my priority to insure that proportional representation for our city was on the table in the discussions that led to the creation of the City of Toronto Act and the amendment of the Ontario Municipal Elections Act. Working in concert with my fellow national councilors, Linda Sheppard and John Deverell, we produced a report calling for proportional representation for Toronto and networked with other reform-oriented organizations. As part of these efforts, we participated in nearly every hearing and public consultation event on the City of Toronto Act and made formal presentations to the Toronto City Council’s Finance Committee and the Ontario Provincial Parliament’s Standing Committee on General Government.
One of the things that became clear to us during our work was that Toronto required reforms beyond simple PR in order to become a democratic city. The power of incumbency, we found, was generated not primarily by the voting system but by (a) the prohibition on registered political parties, making it difficult for lower-information voters to discern the policies and ideology of non-incumbent candidates and (b) the city’s election finance system that permits incumbents to fundraise for all 48 months of the electoral cycle while prohibiting non-incumbents for fundraising for 38 of those months. For this reason, we considerably expanded the package of reforms we were proposing and were advised by then-FVC-president Wayne Smith that Fair Vote Canada was not comfortable signing-off on so many reforms unrelated to PR.
So, in 2007, we created the organization the Toronto Democracy Initiative and in 2008, issued the following report on civic democracy in Toronto: http://stuartparker.ca/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/tdi_civicdemoc_april08_02.pdf. In 2009, we became aware of an organization called Better Ballots, a non-partisan coalition financed by the MayTree Foundation and led by Dave Meslin with whom I had worked very harmoniously on the 2009 BC referendum for the Yes to STV campaign. Dave and I took different lessons from that campaign, however. I believed that our very poor showing (STV’s popularity fell from 58% in 2005 to 36% in 2009) was due to specific errors concerning messaging and staffing choices, something for which I issued a public apology, as well as much less favourable rules for the campaign. Because, I believe, Dave had not been involved in 2005, he came away from the campaign convinced that STV was not a saleable voting system.
Better Ballots was, supposedly, a process simply designed to encourage dialogue around reforms to democratize Toronto. Desmond Cole’s organization, which backs granting voting rights to non-citizens, was one of the groups that Better Ballots invited into their coalition. Curiously, no representative of FVC or TDI was asked to sit on the board of Better Ballots. As both an FVC member and TDI director, I approached Dave and asked him if a person who backed fair voting could be seated on his board. Because Better Ballots was essentially a rubber stamp for Dave’s efforts, he informed me that no FVC representative would be allowed to sit on the board for this supposedly unbiased public consultation process but that he would consider allowing TDI to sit on the board under one condition: that if it came to a choice between the process backing FPTP or IRV, I would agree, in advance, to support IRV, that when push came to shove and proportional representation were taken off the table, I would back IRV.
This struck me as a strange condition for sitting on a board administering an unbiased public consultation process but I agreed, a choice of which I have since repented. I could see that with strong backing from organized labour, Toronto’s blue chip charities and Dave’s very impressive contacts, it was vital that someone from the fair voting movement be part of its decision-making process.
Shortly after being appointed to the board, I saw that I had stepped into a dysfunctional organization. Nobody besides Dave and me knew very much about voting systems and he seemed very reluctant to address that problem. No efforts were made at educating our fellow board members about the issues we were debating and, in fact, discussions in the group were orchestrated to prevent it. I appealed to Dave’s co-chair, Vivian Dzau, for help but she resigned shortly thereafter.
Things came to a head when it came time to organize a huge public meeting where all the reforms the group was considering (weekend voting, non-citizen voting, STV, IRV, etc.) would be presented to the public and voted-upon. When I saw the list of options that Dave was going to put before the public I could see that there was an agenda to show that IRV was “simple” and other voting system changes were unmanageably complex. More disturbingly still, Dave was insistent that the meeting not educate participants at all about voting systems; they were to hear “pitches” and not get any general information about how their current voting system worked, how other cities’ worked or any data that might allow them to make informed choices.
The way it was structured, voters could not learn that, until a decade before, the city had had double-member wards; they were not allowed to hear that a ranked ballot in a ward with two or more representatives is STV. In fact, Dave vehemently insisted that “ranked ballots” and STV were totally different things and that people at the event would be told so and not that STV is one of a number of systems that use ranked ballots. They were also to be told that “double-member wards,” “multi-member wards” and “at-large elections” were totally different things and bore no similarity to one another and that they, likewise, could not be talked about at the same time or compared and that STV was a voting system completely unrelated to all three and not one of a number of systems that use multi-member wards. By making it appear that STV advocates were incoherent or factually incorrect when we described our voting system or even simply provided those present with context, Dave hoped IRV would come out as the only thing that made sense.
I held a marathon discussion and mediation with Dave and one other board member to attempt to hammer-out some kind of agreement for the public meeting to educate people about voting systems and not be obviously rigged to favour IRV. After hours of discussion, I gave up and sent an e-mail to the Better Ballots board stating that I wanted to present my concerns to the whole group because it was clear Dave was rigging the process and planned to misinform the public, deliberately creating confusion about STV and other alternatives to IRV, tricks he had clearly learned from observing our opponents in the 2009 referendum.
Upon my expressing my concerns to the Better Ballots board, I was immediately removed from the organization and barred from any future board meetings. It was no surprise to me, then, that the result of the Better Ballots launch was the RaBIT campaign and that misinformation about voting systems has only spread.
In April 2010, I left Toronto and moved to the United States, where I resided for the next two years before moving to Vancouver, where I was recently appointed interim president of the local FVC chapter and elected to our local board at the AGM I called in November. I am very saddened to see that the anti-democratic practices of bullying and misinformation that I witnessed firsthand in Better Ballots have only escalated since RaBIT’s launch. I understand that today, FVC-Toronto’s executive is essentially running in circles, working to stave-off filibustering and takeover attempts by RaBIT, an organization that, unlike Fair Vote, insulates itself from any member-driven democratic efforts to change its mandate.
The goal of RaBIT is clear. Fair Vote members were speaking out in favour of options like STV, limited vote, cumulative vote and SNTV. It is evident that Dave and his colleagues have determined that the only way IRV can win is for those talking about truly democratic reforms are silenced.
The effort to take over FVC-Toronto is not, in my view, an effort to get FVC to consider a wider range of voting reform options; it is an effort to prevent activists from speaking out credibly for proportional representation when Toronto City Council next debates its voting system. This, in turn, is part of a larger effort to restrict debate so that people do not consider returning to the multi-member wards the city had for decades and only recently abandoned or consider the way driving political parties underground and giving incumbents a 38-month fundraising advantage has led the city to where it is today.
RaBIT silently backs the 38-month fundraising advantage, the party ban and single-member wards not because they are popular or carved in stone but because backing those things allows them to distort the debate, making single-X voting the only culprit for Toronto’s democratic malaise and IRV, the only solution.
It is not just the system of IRV that has no place in Fair Vote Canada; RaBIT’s campaign of misinformation and bullying must also be rejected. The future of fair voting in Canada depends on it.
If you would like to get in touch with him, you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org; (his previous submission is on his blog: http://stuartparker.ca/thoughts-on-the-fair-vote-canada-internal-referendum/ ).
Jim Harris (former leader of the Green Party of Canada)
While I love Dave Meslin, his energy and effectiveness at campaigning on issues, I ONLY support the AV system for electing a single office – such as Mayor – or in the US President. For electing a single office it works well.
But in electing a city council I strongly reject this system. MMP or STV create a far, far more proportional result.
Having Fair Vote Canada accept this for municipal council elections would set a dangerous precedent. To have an AV system at the municipal level would be the thin edge of the wedge for the introduction of AV at the provincial and federal level – which would be a horrific blow to electoral reform
Why a referendum? Why now? Why?
Many have asked about why a referendum now and why these particular referendum questions. As a member of both national council and the Toronto Chapter executive, I am at ground zero and fully responsible for this event; I supported the unanimous vote of National council in favour of the referendum.
In spite of this I am, like many, concerned that we are doing this since I feel it is potentially putting the organization in jeopardy. Many of our most devoted members are unhappy with this process. For me it was not an easy decision since I have been involved in one way or another in Fair Vote since its inception more than 12 years ago. I have probably invested as much time and money in it as anyone.
I feel some form of proportional representation is critical for the health of my country and that FVC working for a non-proportional system-- even in a limited context -- will detract from that goal. Advocating for PR via Fair Vote has been my passion. So it was not an easy decision to support the referendum and put these options to a vote. But, given the total context of events, I saw no other choice.
So why do this?
Since 2009, Dave Meslin (now leader of RaBit* and also a member of FVC) has consistently argued that advocacy of alternative vote (AV) (ranked ballots in a single member ward) for limited use in cities without parties is compatible with the FVC Statement of Purpose.
He has stated on a number of occasions that he would bring forward a motion to formalize this change.
… I believe that the RaBIT campaign fits harmoniously with the Fair Vote Canada mandate, and I believe that a majority of our membership would agree. To me, there is absolutely no contradiction between the pursuit of proportionality and the pursuit of runoff voting at the local level in existing single-member wards, for a Council that does not have parties.
I plan to put forward a motion at the Toronto FVC AGM that re-affirms our commitment to proportionality, while also expressing support for the RaBIT campaign. [December 10, 2010]
He had intended to bring this motion forward to the 2010/11 Toronto Chapter AGM but since the Statement of Purpose is a national council concern he was told it would have been ruled out of order. At the 2012 Chapter AGM, the membership reaffirmed their support for PR (78%) but a resolution asking the National Council to review their decision and consider a broader approach, allowing local chapters to advocate for a wider range of municipal reforms failed. http://www.fairvotetoronto.ca/agm-agenda.html
At that AGM a slate of five candidates who preferred ranked ballots for Toronto ran for the executive. Three Rabit supporters were elected to the seven-seat Toronto Chapter executive on April 26, 2012.
Since 2009, there have been numerous flash points between AV and PR supporters. AV followers were upset by PR supporters who would describe the AV option as “cosmetic” or a “phony reform” or write comments on blogs about evidence that Rabits did not accept. PR supporters would be upset by criticism of what they felt were valid debating points. They started holding fewer formal meetings to avoid potential public conflicts.
Once there were two camps within the executive, conflict escalated with neither side able to find common ground. Professional mediation collapsed after one session. The pro PR side felt they needed confirmation of their mandate to advocate for PR in Toronto and sought a special motion from National Council to do so which Council did on August 9, 2012, with none opposed. But a letter to city council on October 10, 2012 drafted by national council and the Chapter co-chairs as mandated by the motion generated substantial controversy that involved not only those within the organization but outside as well. The letter in part said:
Toronto Council is being asked to introduce ranked ballots for City Council elections. Fair Vote Canada does not recommend this system for electing representative assemblies at any level of government.
Toronto's elections can be most improved by making them more fair, diverse, and inclusive thorough proportional representation. Because proportional systems are widely used in cities around the world, including those without political parties, there are well- researched models that can be adapted for Toronto’s use.
The National Council and Toronto Chapter of Fair Vote Canada call for City Council to engage in a transparent, public process to investigate all options thoroughly in order to choose the system that is best for the citizens of Toronto.
The pressure of this ongoing conflict has been destabilizing and upsetting for both sides in the issue. Volunteer time has doubled without moving our agenda forward. Some members have been on the verge of quitting. Several chapter members were sworn at—one paragraph in one email had four profanities directed to one person. The health of several participants has been compromised by the stress, especially in the last six months but the pressure for long time members has been there for more than 3 years. In any corporate entity all this would be a health and safety issue.
Spending volunteer time in constant confrontation is not sustainable.
Why a referendum?
Since this has been an ongoing issue since 2009 and since emotions on both sides have escalated and given all the contextual information available to us, national council felt that it was time to deal with AV in a national referendum in order to determine the wishes of the membership and settle the question.
Why Option B?-- Why AV for cities only?
The pro-AV group does not advocate Alternative vote for other levels of government; as their statements indicate, they all uniformly back PR for upper levels of government. So the question was designed to reflect what Option B supporters have been asking for over the past three years.
This is an important referendum because as Jim Harris said in his recent statement, adoption of AV in Toronto is likely to “set a dangerous precedent”: if established in Canada, AV would become the “go-to” choice for all levels of government.
This is not a simple referendum about alternative vote in cities. In my mind, it will determine whether we will have any chance of a proportional Canada.
Please vote Option A
*(Ranked ballot initiative for Toronto) which is an advocacy group for Alternative Vote (AV), a winner-take-all system similar to our current system First Past the Post (FPTP). AV is also known as Instant runoff voting (IRV) or or ranked ballots in a single ward or constituency.
Proportional Represenation everywhere, parties or no parties.
For many years I have been a member of an organisation, Fair Vote Canada, that has been dedicated to ending the problem of wasted votes in Canadian elections by advocating for Proportional Representation.
It finds itself at an unfortunate crossroads however as internal divisions have forced a referendum on whether it should give up on advocating for proportional representation in municipalities without parties and instead support another system called AV or IRV. This is happening because of some overlap in the membership of Fair Vote Canada with a local campaign (called Rabit- Ranked Ballot Initiative of Toronto) pushing for the AV system at Toronto City Council.
Simply put this would be a complete and total disaster. AV for a representative body strikes directly against the core principles of Fair Vote Canada and comprises a serious challenge to the cause of Proportional Representation in Canada as a whole.
The logic of the referendum seems to be built on the idea that proportionality is only about parties as that is the distinction being drawn in the referendum question. This idea is completely wrong. Proportionality has never been about parties. It's about the simple idea that if voters vote for something in an election for council or parliament then they should have earned representation in that council or parliament. That's the principle of Fair Representation that Fair Vote Canada is built on whether parties exist or not.
And that's the principle that's violated by both the current FPTP system and Rabit's proposed AV.
After all both FPTP and AV as systems are perfectly fine with some candidate getting elected to council or parliament with 50%+1 of the vote while the rest of the electorate is treated as completely irrelevant , unimportant, and not worthy of representation. It's *those* unrepresented and wasted votes that Fair Vote Canada was built to champion and advocate for and supporting AV for election to any sort of legislative body would be a complete abdication of that responsibility and cause.
Further the claim by some that the AV option would only affect municipalities without parties is either incredibly naïve of disingenuous. Any adoption of AV to the sixth largest government in the nation (Toronto City Council) will obviously have repercussions to how favourably AV would be viewed in every other legislative body in the country. After all if AV works for a city of 2 million why wouldn't it work for all the smaller cities of Canada and the many provinces that are smaller? If AV can be adopted by these why not all provinces or even the federal government?
This is especially concerning as each and every one of the arguments made by Rabit for the adoption of AV at City Council can be applied word for word to any provincial or federal parliament and worse the Rabit campaign's attack on PR can be as well.
After all, going by Rabit's own words why would we ever choose a PR system that creates electoral districts that are too large, reduces choice and diversity of candidates, and makes it impossible for a candidate to run an independent campaign? These are all incredibly damaging and baseless claims on Proportional Representation that are made on Rabit's own website (http://www.123toronto.ca/questions_answers.htm retrieved 30th of December 2012) and they can be applied for *any* level of government.
How can Fair Vote advocate for PR if, let alone respond to such attacks, it explicitly or implicitly give them its blessing?
I appeal to all members of Fair Vote Canada to affirm their support for Proportional Representation for all levels of Canadian government, parties or no parties, by choosing Option A.
Hello FVC friends,
Most of you don't know me so I will introduce myself,I am Sharon Sommerville and I'm co-chair of the very active Waterloo Regional Chapter of FVC. I am also a Director of the K/W Federal Liberal Association and Chair of the KWFLA Social & Outreach Committee.
I, along with other Liberal members in FVC have been working very hard to shift the Liberal policy position and although there is a long way to go we have made good progress. The KWFLA will host Brian Tanquay, Laurier PolySci prof. and long time PR supporter as keynote speaker at our upcoming AGM. He will address the need for PR. Stephane Dion, who at last year's Liberal policy convention convinced the membership to support AV is now engaging in talks & debates across the country in favour of a more proportional system. Dion will be debating P3 here in Waterloo on Jan. 27th. Both of these events speak to a new found willingness by our local executive to look at proportional options which in the past they have strongly opposed.
The Liberal Party is at a turning point in both democratizing the party and deciding what type of electoral reform we will endorse in 2015. To have an realistic chance of implementing PR federally we need the LPC to support PR as one third of a three party agreement on electoral reform. However the politics play out, Liberal endorsement of PR is a necessity and as long as the party remains wedded to AV there is little chance of getting a three party agreement to support PR.
My concern is that the adoption of AV in the City of Toronto will add momentum to the Liberal strategists who are set on AV. It could shift the debate within the party in their favour as well as build public support in the media for AV in general and federally in particular. For Fair Vote to support AV, when we need to be the voice for proportional representation would make the job for those of us toiling in the trenches of the Liberal Party much more difficult.
In my view, it is counter productive to work against ourselves by adopting AV and very unhelpful in getting the shift we need in Liberal Party policy on electoral reform.