Thursday, January 3, 2013

Cancelling my Fair Vote Canada membership/donation

Since some time close to the founding in 2000 I have been a member of Fair Vote Canada, including having a $10/month automatic donation. Today I have contacted FVC to cancel the donation and let my membership lapse.

When I first joined the group was in favour of electoral modernization, was non-partisan and appeared agnostic to any specific voting system alternative to the very broken First Past the Post system. It appears over the years it has moved from being non-partisan to being multi-partisan, and is now focused on voting systems that favour political parties. When they speak of being proportional they mean party proportional, fixated not on the potential of a representative having the most voter support but only on votes which are targeted at parties rather than representatives.

While I heard ramblings over the years about what I consider a change, the policy direction became obvious in the language of a motion for FVC members to have a referendum on limited support of Alternative Vote (AV).

Whereas support for the Alternative Vote (AV) in a municipal context has become an increasingly divisive and disruptive debate within the electoral reform movement;

Whereas National Council has concluded that Fair Vote Canada’s Statement of Purpose does not allow the organization to support the Alternative Vote because it is not proportional, while some Fair Vote Canada members support the Alternative Vote as an improvement to First Past the Post where no parties exist and as a stepping-stone to proportional representation;

Whereas Fair Vote Canada's membership should be involved in major policy decisions for the movement including clarification or modification of any foundational documents, and this done in an open, transparent and democratic manner;

Be it resolved that a Referendum be held on the following question, and that a majority of votes cast shall settle the question:

Please indicate your support for one of the following positions:

A: Fair Vote Canada’s mandate is to promote Proportional Representation and that Fair Vote Canada only support systems that are proportional, at all levels of government.


B: "Fair Vote Canada supports the Alternative Vote for municipal council elections where no parties exist" and that line be added to the paragraph on Proportional Representation in the Statement of Purpose.

This language not only demotes Ranked voting systems in scenarios where parties already exist, but only sees them as a stepping stone towards imposing parties in municipal elections.

Of those two options (B) is more palatable, but is still not something I can support given if parties exist at all FVC is only willing to support voting systems which will further privilege parties over independent representatives. I believe this would only corrupt municipal politics further than is already the case, something I don't want to be seen as supporting.

In my ideal world we would be seeking to minimize the influence of political parties on our democratic system as a whole. Recognizing that this isn't a goal that is achievable in the short term, I've been willing to align myself with other electoral reformers interested in moving us towards systems which were better than FPTP, and which are at least hybrids with representatives and parties. The BC STV system proposed in BC and the Mixed-Member Proportional system proposed Ontario both offered systems that was a healthy compromise between those goals.

The wording of the referendum has clarified that FVC as an organization isn't intending to be working for goals compatible with my own, even if they coincidentally support a hybrid voting system that both they and I can support. While I can still work on specific campaigns to modernize when such as compromise is offered, it is clear that giving (or even being seen to give) support to FVC itself is not in my interests.

Note: With a Ranked Ballot in a single-member district the winner is the individual candidate that has the highest proportion of voter support, regardless of whether they were the first choice (the only choice with the antiquated FPTP) or was offered support at a lower ranking than first. Single Transferable Vote systems can be proportional even with single-member districts. The word "proportional" has been taken by FVC to be synonymous with party proportional where it is the proportion of support for a party that matters, not the proportion of support for an individual candidate (which may or may not even be a member of a political party).

It is quite unfortunate that many I've spoken to in FVC don't see this as an extreme narrowing of the original statement of purpose, and a major change in the overall policy direction of the organization since its founding.


Julien Lamarche said...

Bonjour Russell,

I don't think your interpretation of the motion reflects FVC's lobbying record.

The Toronto chapter has lobbied since 2010 for municipal, multi-member STV. Fair Vote's endrosed BC-STV, which does not require political parties.

The most ardent defender of option A at the Toronto chapter, Gary Dale, also does not see the relationship between parties and proportionality.

I would ask that you reconsider your interpretation of the organization's intent based on actions rather then a particular wording.

Julien Lamarche
President, NCR chapter
Fair Vote Canada

Russell McOrmond said...


One of the people that has helped clarify FVC's promotion of party proportional systems is yourself.

This is not a misinterpretation of a referendum question, given recent press releases such as "Fair Vote Canada underlines the need for proportionality in elected representative bodies at all levels of government" clearly opposes ranked ballots in single-member federal districts, and promotes parties at all levels of government. This was a press release against the federal liberals support of AV, an issue where I side with the Liberals. While AV with current ridings may not be as good as BC STV, it is IMHO better than Ontario's MMP proposal. The press release pretty much embarrasses FVC by suggesting AV is almost as bad as FPTP, which is only true if your goal is promoting parties and not promoting better representative democracy.

The claim FVC makes in its press release is that AV is not "proportional", which is false: ranked ballots ensure that the elected candidate has the highest proportion of support in the riding, and eradicates vote splitting and related electoral disinfection which enables a fringe candidate with a minority of support to be elected.

Essentially FVC promotes parties and opposes electing representatives to single member districts, something where I can't agree with or continue to be seen to support FVC.

It is true that there will be specific compromise voting systems like BC STV and Ontario's MMP that both FVC and I support, but that isn't the same thing as FVC having the same ultimate goals as electoral reformers.

Julien Lamarche said...

Well, if you think AV is better than MMP then we are clearly in disagrement.

Julien Lamarche said...

And again, your interpretations don't reflect our lobbying record.

Unknown said...

While first past the post is a bad voting system, it is not the worst. Block Vote, for example, is clearly worse because it gives the block of voters the absolute right to elect more representatives than if they had been split geographically.

Systems like AV and Borda Count attempt to identify the single most popular candidate in each district and elect them. This makes them less proportional that first past the post and therefore unsuitable for electing representative assemblies. Giving the majority every seat is simply NOT a good way to elect a representative body.

A system like SNTV or Limited Vote is usually more proportional than FPTP so FVC may not oppose a move in that direction - toward proportionality.

Then again, it might, for the simple reason that SNTV and Limited Vote are not reliably proportional. Chances to change our voting systems are rare and should not be squandered on dubious changes for the sake of change.

One thing that Fair Vote Canada has always been clear on is that proportionality is the hallmark of fair voting systems.

In the case of Toronto, the RaBIT campaign for AV opposes Fair Vote's own campaign for a proportional system - STV - which works without parties.

The wording of the referendum is apparently to allow the members to vote on whether to endorse or reject the RaBIT campaign which specifically uses the excuse of "no parties" for campaigning against proportional representation. Had they left that wording out, the RaBIT supporters would probably complain that they aren't supporting AV in general - just in municipal elections without parties.

There is no secret agenda to endorse parties here - just a desire to let the members speak clearly on the RaBIT campaign.

Unknown said...

You seem to be concerned that PR systems may not allow independent candidates to run. However every PR system I am familiar with allows independent candidates to run and require the same number of votes as a party candidate.

For example, STV only allows votes for individuals, not parties.

MMP allows candidates to run either in a riding or as an at large candidate within the proportional region. In the former case, they need to get the most in the riding while in the latter, they typically need to achieve the threshold for a single seat (see Droop Quota).

Similarly, List PR systems will elect an independent if they get the threshold number of votes to elect someone from a party list (again, see Droop Quota).

Of course, the systems that give parties the most control are those that elect people in single-member ridings because that is where they can drop party hacks into safe seats, knowing the public have to vote for them. In systems with party lists, the quality of the list candidates counts strongly in convincing voters to vote for a party. You can't fill it with hacks and expect to win.

Russell McOrmond said...

The comments, as with FVC, equate the term "proportional" with being proportional to voter support for a political party. People are then trying to educate me as to whether a given system is party proportional.

With First Past the Post it is not proportional either to voter support for individual representative candidates or support for parties, which is why nearly all electoral reformers are against it.

STV in multi-member districts is proportional both to the support for parties and support for individuals, which is why nearly all electoral reformers are for it.

When discussing the merits of other systems it matters whether the reformer is most interested in parties or individual representatives. In my case I prefer systems which favor independents over party nominated candidates (lists or riding), while FVC's definition of "proportional" being equated to party support favors parties.

I'm happy to have a discussion about electoral systems as I find that interesting, but please recognize that there are (at least) two different legitimate focuses an electoral reformer could have and that FVC only represents one of them.

I'm not *opposed* to all electoral systems which offer some level of party proportionality. Political parties, and many voters only paying attention to parties (or their leaders) rather than candidates, is a fact of our current political system. I may not like it, but I still recognize it.

I would be opposed to a pure-PR system, but fortunately nobody has proposed such a system in Canada.

As I already said there will be times when I will agree with the support FVC gives to a specific system, but given its outright rejection of AV I no longer wish to support FVC.

Or put another way, FVC doesn't represent me so I don't want to be counted as one of their supporters. (membership or financial contribution).

Thanks for pointing out RaBIT Ranked Ballot Initiative (RaBIT) initiative which looks great. I hadn't read about it before, and I hope it is successful in Toronto and then hopefully other cities will adopt as well.

Their Q&A even endorses FVC, far beyond what I would feel comfortable doing at this point given the immediate reaction from some FVC representatives (and press releases) was to oppose AV even in municipal elections where parties don't exist (and IMHO should be actively discouraged).

Such opposition sets FVC up to be opposed by those who like myself don't want to promote parties further than they are already promoted. It's too bad these things turn into us-vs-them when there are ways to have worked together.

It is not an "excuse" to say "no parties" when someone is proposing party proportional representation. Obviously people who don't support parties infiltrating municipal politics will oppose an electoral system which is proportional to party support.

I won't go line-by-line on what "Unknown" had to say, but I will say that there is a lot in there which is possibly deliberately confused. I'll suggest that readers beware, which should be a given when someone doesn't trust their words enough to use their own real name. I tried to disallow anonymous comments on this blog, but get them anyway given all one has to do is create a throw-away Google account to bypass that policy.

Russell McOrmond said...


Just so we are clear, we are having two different threads:

a) What voting systems does FVC support. In this Wayne Smith, current ED, can be taken at his word when he has said to me more than once that, "FVC has always been resolutely opposed to single member district ranked ballots, also know as the Alternative Vote or Instant Runoff Voting. If it's not proportional, we don't support it.".

While never clarified, the word "proportional" means in proportion to support of the political party.

b) What voting systems each of us supports, and how we would rank them based on what we believe to be the greatest failing of our current democratic system.

When you say "if you think AV is better than MMP then we are clearly in disagrement." then that is (b). We can both agree to disagree on what is a better voting system given we each have different criteria for success of a voting system. When I was a party member, I was a strong supporter of party proportional systems as I believed the team was everything, and thought of the local candidates as a place-holder for the team. My views have changed since the 1990's and consider parties themselves to be a very large part of the failures in our current system.

We can agree to disagree on these things.

But when you say, "your interpretations don't reflect our lobbying record" then I have to say you are incorrect as I believe you, Wayne, and nearly every person who is said to speak on behalf of FVC has in recent years been quite clear about opposing voting systems that are not party proportional. This includes (and this is what offends me, and what made me want to publicly leave) scenarios that don't yet have political parties such as Canadian municipalities.

I may have a different memory of the founding of FVC, but that doesn't matter any more: what the current representatives are promoting is quite clear, and is different than what I wish to promote.

Note: I believe FVC is guilty of the very thing which I believe caused the lost opportunities in Ontario and BC. Electoral reformers who have different ideas of what is the "best" system end up voting against improving the status quo because they believe we will only ever have one chance at this. People are opposing AV to replace FPTP based on the belief that there is some "better" system which we must go to directly, not recognizing that we do not (and never will) all agree of what the "best" system is. In BC there were MMP supporters who voted NO, and in Ontario there were STV supporters who voted NO, and I believe both were wrong to do so. I campaigned on the YES side in Ontario even though I don't like MMP : I just recognize it as a major step up from pure-FPTP (it was still partly based on FPTP) while not being as offensive as pure-PR.

Julien Lamarche said...

I disagree with your assessment of why the referendum failed. BC-STV 2005 and 2009 shows timing and organizing are the two main factors which will lead to success or failure.