Declaration of Voter's Rights

Monday, November 4, 2013

Saskatoon Stop to Stop FPTP

A goodly number of people attended Craig Scott's NDP’s National Electoral Reform Tour stop in Saskatoon at the France Morrison Library Auditorium on October 2.  From a show of hands an encouraging 25 percent were unfamiliar with proportional representation.  
The event was co-hosted by FVC Saskatchewan Chapter and I had the pleasure of being emcee.  In my welcome I explained that three years ago if you had told me that I would be engaged in politics and electoral reform I would have laughed and declared I am a tree hugger not a glad hander.  The problem was every time I went to hug a tree or a river or a cloud, there was a wage slave preventing me.  After learning about proportional representation (PR), I am convinced that proportional representation can mitigate corporate-government cronyism that forces individuals to become wage slaves.
Scott's presentation was interactive with survey questions interspersed.  After asking baseline questions Scott used videos, charts, and graphs to illustrate why first-past-the-post (FPTP) has to stop.  His chart of the 2011 election showed that FPTP's distortion of the popular vote gave the Conservatives an undeserved 44 seats in the House of Commons; under PR their share of seats would have been 122 and under FPTP they claimed 166.  Scott stressed that the NDP have also been awarded false majorities. For example in Ontario in 1990 the NDP claimed 74 of the 130 seats when under PR they would have had only 49 seats.  Scott listed wasted votes, unfair allocation of seats, and the differing number of votes to elect a single MP* as unacceptable flaws in our current FPTP system and elaborated on the connected consequences like adversarialism, strategic voting, diminished diversity, etc.  (*Election disparities such as 30,000 votes for each Liberal seat and 131,000 votes for each Conservative seat in a 2000 election.)

In his case for mixed member plurality (MMP), Scott shared visuals of ballots for both a closed list ballot and an open list ballot.  The ballots show that you vote for a constituent candidate and you vote for a party.  The open list party ballot gives you a third possible vote in the party's ranking of "top-up" MPs.  Much of the discussion afterwards was focused on the pros and cons of choosing between closed and open lists.
In a closed list system the party ranks all its candidates.  This ranking determines who becomes a member-at-large in the legislature.  If the popular vote gives the party 40 seats and they have 35 winning candidates they would fill the 5 seats with the top 5 candidates on their closed list.  In an open system, voters can influence the party ranking of the candidates.  While open lists might be perceived as giving voters more control, there is evidence that suggests that closed lists produce more diversity as parties take the macro rather than the micro view.
Proportional representation is seen as confusing and the status quo has tremendous inertia.  Scott's comment about Canadians being at least as smart as Germans, Scots, and New Zealanders and he trusted Canadians could figure MMP out elicited some laughter.  I have recommend to Scott, and I recommend to you, that as we promote PR we switch the word confusing with unfamiliar.  It seems trivial but confusing may give people an excuse to avoid PR whereas unfamiliar suggests it can become familiar.
There are many decisions to be made and I commend Scott for his dedication to gathering input and contributing momentum to making 2015 the last unfair election.
Thanks to Adam for being my boots on the ground.
Blogger Nancy Carswell