Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Fair Voting BC Newsletter


March 26, 2012
Mulcair, Robocalls, NDP Blowout?, Senate Elections, Just Say 'Phooey'
Dear Democratic Reform Supporters:
NDP Elects Leader Committed to Electoral Reform;  Online Voting Process Vulnerable to Attack
This weekend Thomas Mulcair was elected the new leader of the federal NDP and therefore of the Official Opposition.  We are pleased that Mulcair has said that moving to a mixed-member proportional system will be a fundamental plank of the New Democratic Party’s platform next election: “Canadians are well aware of the pitfalls of our electoral system. They agree with us that change is needed. When we get elected, we will get elected with a strong mandate to address those shortcomings. If needed, we will cooperate with other parties in the House of Commons and the Senate in order to make electoral reform a reality.”  We urge electoral reform supporters to hold the NDP to account moving forward.
On a related note, the NDP's online voting process was significantly delayed, allegedly by a form of Denial of Service attack;  Fair Voting BC remains deeply concerned about current moves towards increased use of online voting when virtually no reputable computer scientists are willing to endorse the use of such systems for public elections, arguing that all current systems are unacceptably susceptible to both external and internal attacks.
Robocall Scandal Demonstrates Susceptibility of Single Member Plurality Voting System to Manipulation
As Elections Canada digs deeper into the voter suppression tactics employed in the last federal election (largely against Liberal supporters), we are reminded that the main reason such tactics can be effective is because of the pathological sensitivity of our current Single Member Plurality voting system to small manipulations of votes.  With SMP, numerous ridings are typically won by vanishingly small numbers of votes (e.g., Jay Aspin won by only 14 votes in Nipissing and Ted Opitz by just 26 votes in Etobicoke Centre).  Adding these up, we find that barely 6000 votes out of nearly 15 million cast (about 0.04%) meant the difference between a minority and a majority government in last year's federal election.  Robocall tactics in a few selected ridings can therefore easily have a hugely disproportionate payoff that simply could not happen under a more proportional voting system - for example, 7000 effective robocalls under proportional voting would likely have no effect at all since 50,000 voters would have to change their minds to shift a single seat.  This hypersensitivity of SMP voting would also make internet voting highly susceptible to fraud.  Check out SFU professor Anke Kessler's assessment of the statistical impact of robocalling.
New Poll Predicts NDP Blowout;  Will BC Liberals Reconsider Voting Reform?
The BC Liberals may be reconsidering their failure to follow through on voting reform in light of a recent Forum Research poll that suggests that if an election were held today, "[t]he NDP would come close to shutting out the opposition . . . capturing 75 out of 85 seats". The Liberals would take nine of the remaining seats and Independent Delta South MLA Vicki Huntington would keep hers, the poll said.  According to The Tyee, "[t]he poll put support for the NDP at 47 percent with the BC Liberals and BC Conservatives tied at 21 percent each and the BC Green Party at nine percent."  While NDP supporters may crave the satisfaction of seeing the Liberals ousted (in a reversal of the 2001 election that saw only 2 NDP MLAs elected), democratic reformers know that such lopsided results, so common with our current voting system, don't actually promote good governance.  Rather, all voters should be able to count on getting the representation they vote for.  Will the current government take heed?
BC Liberal MLA Proposes Senate Election Process Using Online Voting
BC Liberal MLA John Les (Chilliwack) this month introduced a private member's bill calling for online elections to start this fall to choose future BC Senators.  Les's proposal calls for BC to be divided into six electoral districts and for the current Single Member Plurality voting system to be used.  In an additional wrinkle, he also calls for use of online voting.  Fair Voting BC does not regard Senate reform as a high priority issue (reform of voting for the House of Commons is far more important), but warns that hasty proposals could lead to significant problems down the road.  For example, using SMP (First Past the Post) voting would only replicate the current inequalities in the House, but proportional representation in the Senate might not be helpful either as that may prevent future changes in how the House is elected.  It may, in fact, be better to make Senate elections entirely non-partisan so as to preserve and enhance the Senate's function as a chamber of 'sober second thought'.  FVBC also strongly cautions against the use of online voting for public elections at this point;  as political scientist professor Dennis Pilon of York University warns, online voting is currently “a horror show.” (photo courtesy of thoth188 on Flickr).
Ida Chong Tells Civic Parties to Enforce Donation Rules by Saying 'Phooey'
In the wake of last week's filing of financial disclosure statements by Vancouver's civic parties, showing that donations were up 50% from 2008 (from just under $4M then to just under $6M last year), including a single corporate donation of nearly $1M, Minister Ida Chong has said she won't implement the request from Vancouver City Council to limit personal donations or ban union, corporate and foreign donations.  According to Vancouver Courier columnist, Allen Garr, "in an act that can only be described as wilful ignorance, Chong has suggested if the parties want spending limits and electoral reform they are free to voluntarily agree among themselves".  And her proposed enforcement mechanism is even more bizarre:  Chong said, "If they believe strongly that there should not be acceptance of corporate donations or union donations - if they believe strongly in that - then they should not accept them. And they can say phooey on the party that does."  Fair Voting BC would like to see rules with sharper teeth than that and encourages our supporters to say phooey to Minister Chong's proposals.
Reminder About Upcoming Democratic Dialogue Series

A reminder that we will be jointly offering a dialogue series later this spring in Vancouver with Party X asking “How can citizens ensure that public policy reflects the public will?”  Thanks to those of you who provided input into our poll of potential topics.  Over 80 of you responded, and it looks as if you'd most like to talk about online voting, citizen initiat ives and the Enbridge Pipeline consultation process.  Planning is now underway, so stay tuned for future announcements.
Local Gatherings
We'd also like to remind you about a couple of regular get-togethers of democratic reform supporters on the third Tuesday each month in Burnaby and Victoria.  The April meetings will be on the 17th.  The Burnaby meeting begins at 7:30 PM at the Bread Garden Urban Cafe near Metrotown (SkyTrain accessible): 4575 Central Blvd.  The Victoria meeting is held at Swan's Pub in downtown Victoria, near the Blue Bridge (Pandora and Store Street), starting at 5 PM (look for us in the alcove near the Store Street entrance).  For more details or to get in touch with the organizers, please send a note to info@fairvotingbc.com.
Book a Speaker from Fair Voting BC
Fair Voting BC has also been invited to speak about electoral reform to the BC Property Rights Initiative in April in Surrey - look for an announcement shortly.  If your organization would be interested in hosting an electoral reform discussion event, FVBC would be happy to provide a speaker - just drop us a note to get things rolling.
Yours for a stronger democracy,
Antony Hodgson
President, Fair Voting BC
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