Archive for the 'electoral reform' Category

War is Peace; Freedom is Slavery; Ignorance is Strength

My god, Orwell was prophetic.

Here’s the latest capitalist Orwellian doublethink, this time via Saskboy.

“Get your vote out Ontario. Mixed Member Proportional is on the ballot today, so even if you don’t like any of the parties (which would bewilder me, since Green is an option ;-) you can still vote in the referendum for MMP. Who doesn’t want a more representative democracy? (Amusing answer: Fascists, Authoritarians, Dictators, Communists, Jason Cherniak, James WDIKGrit, Saskatchewan NDP, most Americans, and political hacks.) “

I understand that not everybody is going to be a communist or a Marxist.  Heck, I even appreciate that probably a significant portion of this blog’s readership don’t actively identify as either communist or Marxist.  But c’mon, let’s at least have an ounce of honesty here!

This is my response to Saskboy via his blog.

“Communists don’t want more democracy? Wow, that’s news to me! I was under the impression that we advocated radically expanding democracy both within the current spheres of politics, but also into economic spheres (i.e. to ensure democratic control of the economy as opposed to elite control).

Silly me, all this time I’ve actually been opposing democracy when I’ve been meaning to expand it.

I also thought that I voted FOR MMP less than 1 hour ago in the Ontario election, but I guess since you say that we’re opposed to it, then I must be wrong.

Oops, wrong again. The Communist Party’s candidates say they support MMP and encouraged others to vote for it.  see here

Also, if you’re interested, you can also see here, here and here ( for more proof that the Communist Party not only supports MMP, but actually supports a MORE vigorously proportional version of proportional representation.

But kudos to Saskboy for not letting those pesky and inconvenient “facts” get in the way of his red-baiting.

I guess that supporting MMP actually means opposing MMP.

I guess that supporting a radical expansion of democratic rights means opposing democracy.

And, I guess that War is Peace; Freedom is Slavery; Ignorance is Strength.

The NDP are cowards, what should true progressives do?

It goes without saying that by far most serious progressives with any degree of integrity and fortitude oppose our current, antiquated, 18th Century Burkean electoral system.  Now, of course, this precludes the cowards over at the Ontario NDP who have never met a progressive principle they couldn’t betray in some creative fashion either actively or through omission.

Maybe they’re taking pointers on how best to screw over progressive causes from Tony Blair since he seems to have more free time since leaving 10 Downing Street?

Now, it’s no secret that I support the Single Transferable Vote system over the MMP system that the Ontario Citizens’ Assembly ultimately endorsed and which Ontario will be voting for this October.

But, I’ll save you the trouble of reading through my position on that topic.  There’s an even simpler way that we progressives can use to decide which electoral system we ought to support.

The easiest way of deciding which electoral system we progressives should support, is to take a look at which system economic and governmental élites hate the most, and then simply chose that one.  You can bet your bottom dollar that, if élites love it, you most likely shouldn’t.

But how can we tell which electoral system élites most favour and which one they most despise?

Fortunately, while it’s obviously true that élites may B.S. the masses from time to time; it’s also true that they almost never, ever, B.S. each other.  Thus the importance of primary documents.

When I was working as an intern on Parliament Hill, I spent a lot of time going over documents prepared by the Library of Parliament to brief MPs on topics ranging from organic farming to electoral systems.

What I came across was this briefing paper which was prepared during the Mulroney years and which nevertheless remains THE briefing paper used by governmental élites and MPs wanting more information on the subject.

Thus, this is quite possibly the closest thing you can come to a manifesto of the ruling classes on electoral systems.

A simple word counter reveals wonders about which systems élites love and which ones they hate.

The paper discusses 6 different systems:  Single Member Plurality Systems (AKA what we have now), Multi-Member Plurality Systems, Single Member Majoritarian Systems, Party List Systems (AKA what the Citizens’ Assembly indorsed), Party List System Variants, and Single Transferable Vote.

To make it easier, I’ve drawn up pretty diagrams for all to enjoy.

Below, I’ve created tables and graphs used in the briefing paper to document the percentage of words used in support of a given electoral system and opposed to it.

The trend speaks for itself.government-of-canada-electoral-systems.png

Single Member Plurality Systems


Total words supportive/neutral:



Total words opposed:





  Multi-Member Plurality Systems


Total words supportive/neutral:



Total words opposed:




Single Member Majority Systems


Total words supportive/neutral:



Total words opposed:




Party List Systems


Total words supportive/neutral:



Total words opposed:




Party List Systems: Variants


Total words supportive/neutral:



Total words opposed:




Single Transferable Vote


Total words supportive/neutral:



Total words opposed:




Out of all of the six systems, the briefing paper spends a majority of its time bashing only one of them — Single Transferable Vote.  And this, despite the fact that some of the systems in the briefing paper are pretty stupid systems (like Multi-Member Plurality, AKA Single NON-Transferable Vote).

So, what should we progressives support? 

Well, élites hate STV, so you should love it.  But it’s also clear that élites prefer our current system to MMP, so, I for one will be supporting the MMP referendum in Ontario this October…. grudgingly.

For more on STV and electoral change, see also:

On changing our electoral system

Steve Paikin repeats popular myth on TV

U.S. Presidential Candidates compared to Canadian political parties

Steve Paikin repeats popular myth on TV

A few days ago I was watching Steve Paikin’s television program “The Agenda”.

On this program, he was discussing the Ontario Citizens’ Assembly and the new electoral system they’ve proposed for Ontario when the discussion came to the pros and cons on each system.

Now, in his defence, the myth he repeated is a popular myth found even in the Parliament of Canada’s own briefing papers.  The myth is that the way we run our elections — what is known as Single Member Plurality (SMP) or First Past the Post (FPTP) — is somehow more stable than Proportional Representation (PR) systems which are, by extension, somehow less stable.

This myth has two parts to it.

#1) our system (SMP or FPTP) is stable

A simple review of our history in Canada shows that our FPTP system is far from stable.

minority-parliament-data-canada.pngThis chart shows the breakdown of elections resulting in minority governments versus ones which result in majority governments.  Between the time following the introduction of responsible government in Canada and prior to Confederation exactly 50% of elections resulted in minority parliaments.

Not such a great record of stability especially considering that this is supposed to be the main strength of our system.

After confederation the record improved, but still, to this day, approximately every third election we hold results in a minority Parliament.

Minority Parliaments were elected in:

1854, 1858, 1861, 1921, 1925, 1926, 1957, 1962, 1963, 1965, 1972, 1979, 2004 and 2006.

#2) Proportional Representation systems are less stable

Much of this myth that PR systems are less stable comes from the specious reasoning that since minority governments in this country last an average of a little over 1 year and 5 months, therefore, since PR systems result in minority parliaments more often than not, they too must be unstable.

Again a brief look at the empirical data is more than enough to blow this part of the myth out of the water.


As you can see, Germany — which employs the same brand of proportional representation which the Citizens’ Assembly has endorsed for Ontario — is actually more stable on average than our First Past the Post system and only slightly less stable than the UK system.

But even then, the difference between the time gap between German elections and British elections is not that much. 

Since the establishment of the West German Parliament in 1949, there have been 16 elections resulting in an average gap between these elections of 3 years, 8 months.

In Canada, on the other hand, we’ve had 39 elections since the introduction of Responsible government for an average of 3 years, 7 months between elections.

Lastly, since 1801, the U.K. has had 54 elections resulting in an average of 3 years, 9 months between elections.

So, should we be afraid of Proportional Representation, as the myth repeated by Steve Paikin suggests, because it’s somehow less stable while our system is somehow magically more stable?

Obviously this is the most shallow argument for keeping the our current system and we in the PR crowd should stop conceding PR skeptics’ main point because, as I’ve shown here, it simply doesn’t hold water.

On changing our electoral system

In today’s edition of the Toronto Star, Ian Urquhart – somewhat of an electoral reform reactionary – reported that the Ontario Citizen’s Assembly on Electoral Reform is overwealmingly in support of the electoral system known as Mixed-Member Proportional (or MMP for short).

For those of you who don’t know what MMP is, you can follow the link I’ve pointed out, but simply put, it’s a system whereby you have two types of representatives:  One type are elected exactly as we currently elect our MPs – most votes wins, doesn’t matter if you don’t have  a majority of the vote, but so long as you have the most votes.  The second type are elected en masse based on how everyone else voted so that parties that get screwed in the first type of MPs are rewarded with MPs in this second type, the idea being that in the end, we still have geographic MPs while having a legislature which still represents how the public actually voted.  For specifics, again, see above.

Now I have been an opponent of MMP for several reasons.  None of these, mind you, are because I’m opposed to electoral reform, in fact on the contrary – I’m strongly in favour of another type of electoral system called Single-Transferrable Vote or (STV).  But, I disagree with MMP on the following grounds:


  While MMP is proportional, it still clings to this archaic notion that the lifeblood of representation and our interests are more or less defined by where we live.  Yes, 200 years ago when Catholics settled in town A and Protestants settled in town B and nobody moved and everybody was born, lived, and died in town A or B, geography was a hugely important feature of who you were.  As I wrote on Greg’s blog a while back:

     “The fact that I happen to live just south of the Ottawa-South/Ottawa-Centre riding boundary has much much less to do with the aspects of my person I would like represented than, for instance, my age, gender, education, economic class etc… In my submission to the Citizen’s assembly I quoted polling data which showed that people’s attachment to their community has steadily decreased over the past 20 years. In short, the constituencies people belong to now are socio-cultural and span geography.”

So to me the central feature of MMP is it’s attempt to fuse a desirable proportional aspect into our absolutely outdated notion that we need to have one MP paternalistically look after and somehow be accountable to a small geographic area. 

Ah — the supporters of either our current system or MMP will retort — but without a direct linkage between one (and only one) MP and constituency, there would no accountability.  But this is specious logic. 

First of all:  with the vast majority of ridings being safe ridings in this country (which wouldn’t change under MMP), most MPs could hold puppy-kicking competitions on the first wednesday of every month and would still get elected!  Is that accountability?

Second of all: with the vast majority of MPs being elected under either our current system or under MMP are elected without majority of support.  In other words, most of their constituents, who they claim to represent, are people who voted against that MP.  Is that accountability?

Continue reading ‘On changing our electoral system’


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