Saturday, December 31, 2016

Van Helsing #DigiCanCon via Netflix Canada

I just finished season 1 of Van Helsing via Netflix Canada. Filmed in Vancouver with most cast members being Canadian, this is the type of Canadian content that makes me feel proud of Canadian talent.  There were so many familiar Canadian actors from other series out of Vancouver including Flash and Sanctuary, and it even had Amanda Tapping directing 4 episodes. Nomadic Pictures, the producer, operates out of Calgary.

I'm excited to hear that season 2 has already been ordered, and that production starts next month.  My hope is that for future seasons that legal Internet distribution will be simultaneous with any broadcast-era distribution.

The Wikipedia page for the series suggests that some fortunate events happened for this to be released on Netflix Canada on December 23'rd (after the September 23 broadcast launch) rather than being tied up in broadcast-only licensing for much longer : Super Channel's ongoing bankruptcy proceedings. In earlier articles (Ad free CBC? Why not shift money to creators? and Space (Bell) has no Class when it comes to protecting copyright) I discussed how I consider broadcasters and BDUs to be in a conflict of interest when it comes to the modern lawful distribution of video content. I consider it a sign of ongoing progress when broadcast channels close and new OSI layers 3+4 (what ISPs provide) neutral video distribution systems open (like the launch of Amazon Prime Video in Canada).

I hope that in the new year we will continue to see more Canadian content with wide international distribution on modern layer-6 neutral video distribution services like Netflix, Google Play, Amazon Prime Video and CraveTV. I further hope that opponents to the ongoing cycle of technological change like Denis McGrath, councillor for the Writers Guild of Canada, will not be able to confuse politicians into continuing to favor broadcast-era distribution and distributors over the interests of Canadian creators and Canadian audiences.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Imagining an #EngagedInER conversation between Russell McOrmond (1997 #PR ) and Russell McOrmond (2017 #STV )

I can imagine a conversation between Russell McOrmond (1997) and Russell McOrmond (2017), and how that would go.

Both of these individuals feel they have a good grasp of the problems with First Past the Post, and both feel they have properly analyzed the obvious solution to the obvious failure.

These two individuals would likely hate each other :-)

RM1997 would think RM2017 was arrogant for constantly bringing up the fact that he was 20 years senior, and in that last 20 years had:

  • met many sitting MPs
  • had long conversations with some sitting MPs - in constituency and parliamentary offices, as well as in the Government Lobby (that part of center block behind the curtains on the government side), the parliamentary restaurant, as well as private pubs and private homes. I've even been invited by sitting MPs to help represent Canada in front of policy delegations from other countries.
  • attended many federal committee hearings (more than I care to count), and have been a witness in multiple committees
  • had joined a different federal party and voted in that parties leadership race.

RM2017 would be suggesting that systems based on ranked ballots in multi-member districts are the only systems which solve both the plurality problem (what non-partisans focused on the individual people rather than only the parties care about) and the proportionality problem (what partisans, especially those who support small parties, care about). He would be mentioning that the last 20 years of experience is why he believes the people matter more than the parties.

RM1997 would be telling RM2017 that none of that nonsense mattered, and that all that mattered is that the only party that could ever represent RM1997 in parliament needed a change to the system in order to represent him. Who cares who the MPs are, normal people don't talk to MPs :-)

You can see where this is going :-)

While I have 20 years more experience , I recognize that it would be rather presumptuous of me to think that I didn't have anything more to learn. I have the fact I learned so much in the last 20 years as proof that there is always more to come.

I can't learn from RM1997 as I already know everything he knows. There are so many people in this debate wanting to educate me on those same things, believing the only way I could possibly disagree with them is because I don't know these things. And I've been blocked on Twitter by a few of these people, upset that they can't change my mind by repeating words used by RM1997.

(re-posted from  Disqus)

Monday, December 19, 2016

First look at Amazon Prime Video Canada

I received an email this morning from titled "Your Prime membership now includes Prime Video", indicating that Amazon Prime Video has been launched in Canada.

Like Youtube(Google) and Netflix, Amazon is an internet native company, so I wasn't surprised to see that Prime Video worked on most of my devices.  It plays from my desktop, Chromebook, and has an Android App.  Missing, and something people often complain about, is Chromecast support. Amazon has a competing Amazon Fire series of devices, but they are not being sold in Canada.  This is quite unfortunate that their ongoing rivalry with Google diminishes the utility of their service. Vertical integration isn't helpful, and it is inappropriate to expect everyone to have so many different incompatible devices plugged into their televisions.

This service wasn't quite what I was expecting.  I thought Amazon Prime would be more like Google Play Movies and TV, offering per-movie, per-episode or per-season pricing for video.  Instead this is more like Netflix where my yearly fee for Amazon Prime gets me access to a catalog without an incremental fee to watch each movie or TV episode.  I immediately watched the first episode of Mozart in the Jungle which looks like an interesting Amazon original series.

I will continue to evaluate.  At the moment I would rank the service higher than CraveTV, even with Amazon Video's lack of Choromecast support, as the user interface is considerably better.  This is also early for the service as they have very little Canadian licensing for content, given even Internet video services have to deal with the archaic region restrictions and region licensing.

During the DigiCanCon consultations I was made aware of some Canadian content released on Amazon Prime that was available in the USA but not Canada.  That title is still not available in Canada, but I have asked the copyright holder (via twitter) if they know if there is something they can set from their end.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

A few Straw Men of Canadian electoral reform

straw man is a common form of argument and is an informal fallacy based on giving the impression of refuting an opponent's argument, while actually refuting an argument that was not advanced by that opponent. (Wikipedia)

It is hard to engage in electoral reform conversations in Canada without having one of the two top straw-men thrown at you.  Which one you are thrown depends on which of the most common perspectives you hold.

This is massive generalization, but Canadians could be divided into 3 groups.

  1. Everything is fine, leave it alone.
  2. Our voting system is broken, and the problem is a lack of proportionality (See Gallagher index)
  3. Our voting system is broken, and the problem is plurality

When it comes to choosing an electoral system, there are a number of interesting variations.

  • People who believe that plurality is a feature, not a problem, in that it forces a "consensus" to form between the top two opposing visions of how to run the country.  The "spoiler" effect is seen as a need to better "educate" voters to stop voting for third parties.
  • People who note there is no consensus on this issue, and who believe we should leave the system alone until there is consensus.
  • People who believe that any solution to the proportionality problem also solves plurality, so do not consider plurality to be a legitimate issue to be concerned with.
  • People who believe that any solution to the plurality problem also solves the proportionality problem, so do not consider proportionality to be a legitimate issue to be concerned with
  • People who believe the only "fair" system is one that recognizes that proportionality and plurality are two separate problems that need to both be solved.
  • People who vote along party lines, believe there is only one right choice, so don't see any value to ranking choices on ballots.  Voters who might have a second choice just need to be better educated about the "one true choice".
  • People who don't vote along party lines, and who if they vote for a party nominated candidate voted despite, not because of, the party affiliation.
    • They will most often see more than one candidate they think can represent them and want to rank them rather than be forced to pick only one.
    • They will sometimes oppose any attempt to take votes for party nominated candidates, presume they were support for the parties, and put them into formula in order to make claims not supported by the actual marked ballots.
  • People who don't trust political parties, and believe parties already have too much control over Canadian politics, so oppose proportionality.

The Straw Man for Proportionality supporters

The proponents of a system that solves the proportionality problem have to deal with this Straw Man all the time: that they are proponents of the most controversial form of proportional representation which is "pure PR" where an entire country or province becomes one single district and all the MPs are allocated based on party lists.

Not only has Fair Vote Canada never made that proposal themselves, I'm unaware of any other organization or serious electoral reformer who has advanced that proposal in Canada.

There is always the "thin edge of the wedge" claim, which is that any introduction of PR into Canadian politics will be abused as a way to eventually push Canada to abolish local districts.  Any introduction of at-large members or larger districts is seen as negative not because of the merits or flaws of specific proposal in front of them, but because of their fear of pure PR.

Engaging in this "thin edge" argument is as fruitless as arguing against the more direct Straw Man as it is based on a presumption of dishonesty on the part of PR proponents.  This presumption of dishonesty isn't helpful for having healthy debate.

The Straw Man for Proportionality opponents or skeptics

The opponents of proportionality, as well as those who don't think solving a lack of proportionality alone can solve the major problems with our voting system, are eventually claimed to support abolishing political parties.

Not only have I never made this proposal myself, or support abolishing political parties, I'm unaware of any organization or serious electoral reformer who has advanced that proposal in Canada.

There is always the "thin edge of the wedge" claim, which is that any regulation of political parties or reduction of the influence of political parties over Canadian politics will be abused as a way to eventually abolish political parties.   Often, any discussion that suggests that votes for party nominated candidates can't be presumed to be support for the party itself are taken as an attack on political parties, rather than a simple recognition that not ever voter votes along party lines.

Engaging in this "thin edge" argument is as fruitless as arguing against the more direct Straw Man as it is based on a presumption of dishonesty on the part of PR opponents or people who don't consider PR to be the greatest voting system problem.  This presumption of dishonesty isn't helpful for having healthy debate.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Are US voters really that much smarter than Canadian voters?

There are so many things I found disappointing about the democratic institutions voter compass site.

Some aspects I found offensive, such as the question "A ballot should be easy to understand, even if it means voters have fewer options to express their preferences".  This leading question suggests the people who created this site think Canadians aren't as smart as people from most other countries already using more advanced voting systems.

Since is is a common Canadian pastime to presume they are better than people south of the US-Canada boarder, we should take a look at their ballots.  People who don't like the outcome of the recent US presidential election may think their system is flawed, but if you ever looked closely at the Canadian system you realize it is purely luck and not design of our democratic institutions that gives the false impression we have something better.

Lets ignore for the moment that the Liberal platform promised to change the voting system from First Past the Post before the next federal election, something that can be done without constitutional change, and something many of us will punish the Liberals for until they honor that promise.

Lets pretend, as the democratic institutions voter compass site suggests, that everything is on the table including discussing how the government is formed.   Lets ignore the fact the vast majority of the questions on that website are off-topic for a discussion on changing our voting system, and that many questions discuss policies that require constitutional changes.

The Canadian System

In Canada in federal elections we mark a single X on a ballot beside a line that has the name of a person. Most often there is also the name of a political party that nominated that person.

From this single X a person who only needs a plurality of votes, not a majority, becomes the MP in the House of Commons for that electoral district.

Once the House of Commons assembles these MPs then decide who the Prime Minister will be. While the convention in a Westminster system is that the Prime Minister is the leader of the party whose members have a plurality of seats (not necessarily a majority), other configurations are possible in a healthy Westminster system. While the formality is that it is the governor general representing the Crown who appoints the Prime Minister, it is actually up to the full membership of the House of Commons who can vote non-confidence in a person that asked and received permission from the governor general to form government.

The Prime Minister controls the appointments of most key positions in Canada's democratic institutions, including the governor general, the Cabinet, justices of the Supreme Court, senators, heads of crown corporations, ambassadors to foreign countries, the provincial lieutenant governors, and approximately 3,100 other positions.

The Cabinet is appointed by the Prime Minister out of the membership of both the upper house (Senate) and lower house (House of Commons).  This cabinet along with the Prime Minister form the executive branch of government, with all members in both the upper and lower houses forming the legislative branch of government.  Cabinet members have mixed responsibilities (some suggest conflict of interest) to both executive and legislative branches of government.

While we still have ties to the British Monarchy, it is now the Prime Minister that appoints the Governor General, creating a conflict of interest if it were actually the Governor General that appointed future Prime Ministers.  This is why it is understood that it is up to the membership of the House of Commons to decide who the Prime Minister is.

All of this with a single X which doesn't allow any clarity in what the voter is intending to say.
  • Are they voting for a person they believe is the best local candidate to become part of the legislative branch, or are they voting for the political party they believe would best represent their views in the legislative branch (or a full spectrum between those two extremes).
  • Are they attempting to vote directly for the executive branch (the Prime Minister, who like most heads of executive branches in other countries then appoint the rest of the executive branch), ignoring the formation of the legislative branch?
  • Are they attempting to (by this point very indirectly) influence appointments of Senators, Judges, or other unelected parts of our democratic institutions?

As there is no way to tell what the X means, everyone can (and does) argue endlessly about what a voters intent is.  They will pretty much always be wrong as there is no mechanism to have clarity around voter intent.

Most of the current debate around electoral reform is based on assumptions, not facts, about how people vote.  The whole notion of measuring the disproportionality of a resulting House of Commons based on support for parties presumes that the single X was a vote for a party rather than the person, and that it is the makeup of parliament rather than who forms the executive branch that mattered to the voter. Without knowing the percentage of people who voted for the person despite, and not because of, the party, it is impossible to measure the disproportionality of the house to party support.

The claim our current ballot is "easy to understand" because it has so few words on it and voters make few marks is embarrassingly invalid. The question should be whether the meaning of a marked ballot can be understood. The fact is our current marked ballots cannot be accurately understood by anyone, and if we have any concern about voter intent this critical flaw needs to be fixed.

Attempting to understand a Canadian marked ballot

In my case when I vote I am voting for the person (not the party) who I believe would make a good legislator in the legislative branch.  It's not that I don't care about who forms government, but that I don't believe I have any influence on this as it is too many levels indirected from my ballot for me to have any influence.  When I was younger, involved in party politics, and voted for the leader of "my" party I thought differently, but that time passed. I also don't focus on political parties as I've noticed from meeting sitting MPs that the good legislators have far more in common with other good legislators from any political party than the tribalism I've seen within and between political parties.  I don't believe my views are well represented by political parties, but they can be represented by individuals (and I've been proud to meet many good legislators).

In his Toronto Star column Bob Hepburn didn't state it, but it is clear from his argument that he is only concerned about the executive branch of government and the executive's legislative agenda.  In his mind the only thing that matters is the leader of one of the two parties most likely to be named the Prime Minister, and he demonstrates no consideration for the workings of other branches of government.

It isn't surprising that we couldn't agree on a voting system as our criteria for success is different as we are focused on trying to have influence on entirely different branches of government. I can think he is naive for believing he has any influence on who the Prime Minister will become, and he can think me naive for being focused on the makeup of the legislative branch of government.


What if we were able to talk about more than the voting system, and fix the obvious problem between Mr. Hepburn and I which would be to have separate ballot questions for separate democratic institutions?

The United States system

The US system was derived from the Westminster system, but with many improvements.

The two most obvious improvements:
  • Separate ballot question for Executive Branch (President, rather than Prime Minister)
  • Elected Senate, which along with an elected House of Representatives forms their Congress which is their legislative branch.

As a compromise between the President being elected by Congress and being directly elected by voters, the Electoral College concept was created.  Instead of using popular vote across the country, which would have meant the larger cities would be choosing the President, the allocation of vote to each state was based on the number of seats they had in Congress.  As each state has 2 Senate seats regardless of population, and a minimum of 1 House of Representatives seats which is otherwise based on population, each state has a minimum of 3 electoral college votes towards electing the President.

We can and they should discuss whether it is a good idea that how Electoral College votes are allocated is up to each individual state, or whether it should be required to be allocated proportionally according to popular vote within each state.  I wouldn't suggest that the US system is perfect, but I am suggesting I believe it is better than what we currently have in Canada.   I am not one of those people who would want to abolish the Electoral College rather than reform it to become proportional, but believe it is embarrassing that so many Canadians' are focused so much on the US electoral college that they don't even notice that they aren't able to vote for the equivalent position in Canada.

At the Federal level Canada's vague single X was improved by the US into 3 different votes for 3 different institutions within those two branches of government in the US.  Even while they still use single-member plurality for these votes, and have considerable room for improvement, this is still far more advanced than the Canadian system.

While US Supreme Court judges are still appointed by the executive branch like Canada, some states elect rather than appoint judges, and some states us a "bipartisan commission" for appointing judges. Like the discussion about the electoral college, people tend to change their opinions about whether judges should be directly elected or nominated by elected officials depending on whether the "right choice" according to their own political views is made with the current process.  This will be an ongoing debate within the USA, but it is a conversation that has barely started in Canada. Some Prime Ministers have been seeking HoC advise on appointments, but this is not yet codified in law that can't be ignored by a future Prime Minister.

While Canadians may see a handful of referenda their entire lives, US citizens have a few initiatives to think about on most ballots.  The process and biases of campaigners is something they have experience with, including the fact that an initiative that passes at one time may be repealed in a later initiative.  It is all part of the ongoing legislative process which US citizens have far more direct influence over than Canadians.

If you are a Canadian who has never done a quick image search for sample US ballot, then you should do so now.

Technological Assistance

I have yet to meet someone who is both an expert in technology and in the features of voting systems that believe that online or paperless voting is a good idea.  Unfortunately we have to fight so hard against corruption being introduces by ballot-less voting that we technologists aren't able to easily simultaneously encourage the introduction of accountable assistance for voting.

Rather than having voting machines invalidly trusted to do count votes without voter verifiable ballots, we can introduce technology to do two very different things.

  1. Assist voters in filling out their ballot.  In fact, one obvious advancement is to have voters use well designed technology to form and print their ballot in the voting booth.  Voters can then verify that the ballot is correct, and then bring that newly printed piece of paper to the person running the polling station.
  2. Count, and possibly use other brands to re-count paper ballots

When I vote in municipal elections in Ottawa we already use machines of the second type.  A pre-printed ballot is marked by the voter and then inserted into a vote counting machine that keeps the ballots (for potential re-counts, which could even be done by hand if there were technical problems). The process is far quicker than provincial or federal elections.

Introduction of technology to print ballots at polling stations might not be cheap, and needs to have a backup in the face of technical problems, but it solves any claim that more accurate ballots are too complex.  Compared to many other things governments spend money on, this would be money well spent.

For instance, ranked ballots become trivial:  you slide the names on a screen into the order you want from top to bottom, remove the names you don't want, and you are done.  If the number of names grows it might be easier to first choose names you want from the larger list, and then sort the list of candidates you accept after.  User interface design is something that has experts who can make it easy for any voter.   While I don't consider counting to be hard, having assistance makes an easy thing trivial.

The same with having more than one ballot question for different branches of government, as well as ballot initiatives for when capturing information directly from voters with an accountable process is needed.

It would be great to live in a country that uses a proper mechanism for ballot initiatives to get a clear idea how Canadians are thinking on specific issues.  When I think of US ballot initiatives and compare it to a voter compass falsely claiming to be part of a government consultation I am embarrassed by how far behind other countries Canada's democracy really is.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Definitely not

The government has created a website.

When I first heard the government would be doing a survey I assumed there would be some code on the postcards to ensure that people could only vote once, and the government could avoid the self-selecting sampling that happened with the town halls the ERRE committee did.  This didn't happen, making the website statistically invalid.

When I started to fill in the survey myself I cut-and-pasted the questions and my answers, which I then intended to comment on.  The survey was so bad I won't be doing that in detail: I include my answers at the end for curiosity, but they have no meaning.

With a useful survey you work hard to avoid leading questions, so you can get an idea of what people think without answers being tainted by the question itself.  Most of the questions in this survey are leading questions that direct people to specific answers, which causes the person taking the survey to ask who the author was and why they are biased towards specific answers.

Many of the questions ask about the government.  In a Westminster system we don't vote for a government, but vote for parliamentarians.  Parliamentarians then form government, and under a properly functioning Westminster system can form different governments between elections (including as a result of byelections, floor crossing, or coalition forming).

Questions about the forming and function of government are outside of the scope of a questionnaire intended to get views from Canadians about how we count the votes used to elect parliamentarians.  Unlike changing how we count in parliamentary elections which doesn't require constitutional amendments, changes to how government is formed would. Inclusion of these out-of-scope questions only confuses what the current debate is about.

If the goal is to ensure reform is impossible by bundling all issues together, then that goal will be achieved rather than modest incremental reform which is the only type of reform that will be possible.

The questions about government were also leading questions, intended to claim that only if there is a strong centrally lead executive branch is there accountability for decisions.  While this might be useful in a debate towards a constitutional amendment to separate the executive branch from a legislative branch as has been done in other countries (such as the USA), it is not a remotely helpful line of thinking in attempting to choose between different methods of voting in parliamentarians.  These leading questions are effectively perpetuating misconceptions about how parliament and the government function in a Westminster system.

With all this bias, leading questions, and perpetuating of civics misconceptions, and insecurity of the survey itself we really have to ask ourselves what the purpose of this survey is.  If I was Vox Pop Labs I would be embarrassed to have my brand associated with it, and I am embarrassed as a Canadian to see what at least one branch of government thought would be a legitimate process.

Why non-partisans don't like the Gallagher Index

The following is an edited version of a comment I added to a National Post story:  Liberals called it ‘incomprehensible,’ but professor flattered his formula was used in electoral reform debate

The Gallagher Index only measures the disproportionality of an electoral outcome based on presumed support for political parties. It assumes support for parties that doesn't always exist on a ballot that doesn't separate parties from candidates, it doesn't measure a voting system only estimates of the parliament potentially formed by a voting system, and it doesn't measure any other type of disproportionality.

Imagine you believed in secularism and someone came up with an index based on religious beliefs.  You would likely be quite offended by the index.

This is how non-partisans, people who don't vote along party lines, will feel about the Gallagher Index. It appears to be being wielded not as one tool among many in a toolbox, but as a sword to disenfranchise non-partisans. Being critical of the Gallagher Index isn't necessarily a criticism of the math, which isn't that complex.  In my case it is a criticism of holding up support for political parties as being something that should be optimized for to the exclusion of voters who vote for candidates despite, not because of, political affiliations.

In 2006, 2008 and 2011 (but not in 2015) I voted for David McGuinty in Ottawa South. While he was nominated by the Liberal party of Canada, I did not vote Liberal. I do not want my vote to be misinterpreted as support for the Liberal Party of Canada, or to go towards electing other Liberal nominated candidates.

The more I hear people talking about the Gallagher Index the less likely I'm going to be willing to vote for any party nominated candidate. I can't remember the last time there was an independent that ran in Ottawa South federally, so I guess that means I can't vote.

It is simply wrong to claim that anyone who votes for a party nominated candidate can be counted as support for that political party, but this is the nonsense activity which happens when party-PR activists measure Canada's parliament with the Gallagher Index.

I've spent more than 20 years as an electoral reform advocate who believes that plurality voting makes our parliament unrepresentative of the people that body is intended to represent.  Plurality distorts party politics, forcing the merger of dissimilar parties as happened with the Reform and Progressive Conservatives.  Left alone, a plurality system will eventually force us back into a 2-party system with only two names on the ballot.  The more diverse views that are shoved under ever larger big tents, the stronger party discipline becomes.  The harder it becomes for parliamentarians to represent constituents rather than obey party dictates, the less representative the parliament can be.

Opposition to plurality voting, not support for party proportionality, is my reason for wanting electoral modernization. While I believe that multi-member non-plurality based systems are better than single-member non-plurality systems, I believe this as I support proportionality to criteria other than support for political parties.

Of all the systems I've reviewed over the decades the only class I believe matches both those who are concerned with proportionality and those who want to fix the harm caused by plurality voting are systems based on STV: STV with fixed district magnitude, STV with mixed district magnitude, and ranked ballot Rural-Urban Proportional (ranked RUP) which is a mixed system with district magnitude of one (AKA: alternate vote in rural) and higher (STV multi-member in urban).

Think of STV as being a way to pick a team on the ballot similar to how sports fans pick a Fantasy Sports team: they pick the players they think are best regardless of what team they happen to be playing for at the moment.  STV is a proportional system, but allows both partisans and non-partisans to vote while party based proportional systems (based on party lists) benefits those who vote along party lines at the expense of those of us who do not.

Any other voting options beyond STV effectively disenfranchise some voters -- those who vote along party lines, or those who do not.  While parliaments formed by STV tend to have a higher Gallagher Index than party list systems, I do not believe this is a metric to be optimizing for any more than I believe a least squares index of religious beliefs is something to be optimized for.

We all need to remember: Under our Westminster parliamentary system Canadians elect parliamentarians, and parliamentarians form a government.  Parliamentarians can also change the government without calling an election.

Canadians are not directly electing the executive branch as they do in the USA and other countries, and it would take massive changes (including constitutional changes) to allow Canadians to directly electing a government.

Monday, December 5, 2016

The non-consensus consensus on Electoral Reform, and the Liberal promise

I haven't read every word of the third report of the Standing Committee on Electoral Reform yet. It looks like it will be great reading, and includes information about the other times this question has been studied in Canada, as well as the fact that different provinces have used different systems historically. This is important for those who think this is a novel topic to think about.  If there is one thing I have learned from my decades involved in electoral reform it is that Canadians are in need of an upgrade to their civics education: in this I mean all Canadians, not only the younger Canadians the report focused on for civics education.

The report clarifies that 1921 was a turning point for Canadian federal elections: that FPTP works fine when you have a two-option election, but since that time we have had 3 or more different options on the ballot in each riding which FPTP is ill-equipped to handle if voter intention is of any concern.

While there will be more to discuss later, for the moment I would prefer to focus on why there is confusion and disagreement about whether a consensus was reached, as well as discussing the Liberal promise.

What we heard in the house was that the Minister expected the committee to go as far as recommending a voting system, something the committee did not do. While some people cling to the idea that proportional representation was the system they recommended, everyone needs to understand that proportional representation is not a system but a feature that exists in one form or another in the vast majority of electoral system options.

If I look at what the committee was asked to do, coming up with one voting system wasn't required:
Identify and study viable alternatives to the current voting system as well as mandatory and online voting;
Fortunately the committee recommended that mandatory and online voting not be implemented at this time, so we at least dodged those bullets (online voting being the one that would corrupt the system the most).

They certainly did quite a bit of identifying and studying, speaking with many Canadians across the country.

They didn't narrow down the list of voting options much. They recommended against a "pure party lists" system, but recommended a low Gallagher Index which is "used to measure the disproportionality of an electoral outcome; that is, the difference between the percentage of votes received, and the percentage of seats a party gets in the resulting legislature."

I consider this reference to the Gallagher Index quite unfortunate as there are other things that an elected parliament can be disproportionate to than support for political parties.  It could be disproportional to votes for women, for votes for various ethnic groups, votes for individuals with specific experience or ideas not discussed in narrow party platforms, or other types of diversity.  Someone having a strong support for proportionality is not necessarily the same thing as supporting a low Gallagher index.

While partisans believe all this diversity is offered by parties, non-partisans do not.  Those who don't trust political parties won't believe there will be a change in other types of diversity for any PR system that grants seats based on support for political parties. Some Canadians believe that political parties are themselves the largest problem in our voting system, not the way we count.  This Gallagher Index recommendation ignores a (as of this time inadequately studied) percentage of Canadian voters who don't vote along party lines, and who even if they voted for a candidate nominated by a party should not be claimed to have supported that party, and who would not want their vote to go towards assigning party seats.

While many non-partisans support proportional representation, it is not the lack of proportionality to alleged support for political parties they are talking about.

With the call for FPTP to be on any referendum, as well as a referendum being recommended, they appear to have narrowed down the list to nearly all the options most often discussed in Canada. The following list is the remaining systems I've seen discussed recently, sorted from my least favored to most favored.

  • Dual-member proportional representation (DMP) - some suggest this is party proportional, but I believe this is wishful thinking.  This system has all the flaws of FPTP, with the additional flaw of bundling candidates together in larger districts.  It will make me less likely/able to vote as the two-name ticket means that I'm more likely to dislike one or the other and not be willing have my vote counted as support for the second person on the ballot.
  • FPTP - put there primarily at the insistence of the Conservative party.
  • MMP, as proposed in Ontario (FPTP + party lists), without clarity if the party seats are allocated per province or country wide.
  • Rural-Urban Proportional with FPTP for rural and open party lists for urban, without a clear definition on the variety of open list options or district magnitude. I rank RUP higher than MMP as I assume the size of rural ridings will not increase over pure FPTP!
  • Rural-Urban Proportional with AV for rural and open party lists for urban - IMO anything with a ranked ballot is better than one without.
  • Bicameral Mixed-member Proportional Representation - although I'm not sure if the Gallagher index folks would be happy with this one as they focus on how well the parties did in the lower house.  I rank this option higher as it doesn't add party list seats to the lower house, which will change the dynamic when parliamentarians choose the government and possibly reconfigure and choose a different government between elections (floor crossing, coalition building, etc  - a reminder about that required civics lesson for those who mistakenly believe Canadians vote for the government rather than parliamentary representatives!).
  • Rural-Urban proportional with FPTP for rural and STV for urban, without clear discussion of whether fixed or flexible district magnitude would be used.  I don't think this option is under consideration, but the RUP proposal didn't seem to care which of the 4 very different options it presented were discussed.
  • STV with a fixed district magnitude across entire country - not ideal, but at least we got past all the horrible party list and plurality (single or dual member) options.
  • STV with a varied district magnitude depending on the geographic region, where magnitude must be 2 or higher.
  • Rural-Urban proportional with AV for rural and STV for urban, which is a mixed system like the BC-STV system which includes district magnitude of 1 (also called alternative vote) along with multi-member districts with ranked ballots being consistent for all seats.
  • Not discussed is my ideal, which is a RUP-like system (ranked ballots in single or multi-member districts) where the neighboring districts decide to join and/or separate depending on the interests of the specific districts.  As boundaries are redrawn and populations move, what is within an urban area and what is considered rural changes.  District magnitude in the Ottawa region should be different than in Toronto as the population is quite different.

So, what was excluded?

  • Pure Alternate Vote (AV).
  • Pure party list systems.
  • FPTP+leaders , which is an oddball option where the leaders are given at-large seats if their nominated candidates received at least 10% of the popular vote.  It seems to be a close sibling of MMP except only a single at-large seat is assigned to parties.
  • Abolishing elections. Given all the wide number of options which are claimed to be proportional, which some confuse with being a system, I guess having a ballot at all was a voting feature that achieved consensus.

While there are good reasons to want to advance beyond AV, from reading the discussion it appears that the greatest mark against AV was that people believed the Liberals wanted this option as well as implausible claims that AV exaggerates false majorities to the benefit of Liberals.  While it is by far not my favorite system, the unnecessary campaigns against AV have confused people into believing the problem is with ranked ballots rather than single member districts in urban areas.  In my case I rank all ranked ballot systems, even AV, as being above any system based on party lists (open or closed) or plurality (single or dual member).

While there are now people who would disagree with any system that has ranked ballots, there are other people (myself being one) that will disagree with any system that grants seats to political parties or is based on plurality.  If you expand your understanding of proportionality beyond support for political parties the question about whether a system is proportional or not is not controversial, but the question about whether you achieve proportionality via ranked ballots in multi-member districts or party lists is very controversial.

While the report will make for a good read, I think it should be obvious that no consensus was found on a specific voting system, and no alleged consensus was offered by the report.

The Supplemental Report of the Liberal Members

I find the Supplemental Report of the Liberal Members to be illuminating.  While the NDP and Green supplemental report focused on narrow concepts that would benefit those parties rather than indicating concern for the improvement of parliament, the Liberal report was truthful in ways that can greatly harm the interests of the Liberal party of Canada.  The Liberal supplementary report corrects a number of problems in the Majority Report, but it also makes those who ran the 2015 Liberal campaign and wrote the 2015 election platform look amateurish (at best) or dishonest.

Recognizing the lack of consensus, something that has easily existed for a hundred years in Canada, the Liberal members indicated "Our position is that the timeline on electoral reform as proposed in the MR is unnecessarily hasty and runs the risk of undermining the legitimacy of the process by racing toward a predetermined deadline."

This deadline was set by those who wrote the 2015 platform at the Liberal Party campaign office.  Yes, it is arbitrary. Yes, it is ill advised if you want to have a legitimate process that actively educates and engages the population. The Liberal campaign office didn't suggest interest in legitimacy, realistic policy, civic education, or legitimacy of the process. They seemed only interested in simultaneously abusing some of the worst features of FPTP to ensure that they and not the NDP or Conservative nominated candidates won, as well as deflect criticism for their ongoing abuse and benefit of this flawed system.

This Liberal Campaign promised cannot be broken without consequences!

We will make every vote count. 
We are committed to ensuring that 2015 will be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system. 
We will convene an all-party Parliamentary committee to review a wide variety of reforms, such as ranked ballots, proportional representation, mandatory voting, and online voting.
This committee will deliver its recommendations to Parliament. Within 18 months of forming government, we will introduce legislation to enact electoral reform.

Everything that the Liberal members wrote in the report was well known and true before the 2015 election. Given this fact, the Liberal Party needs to recognize that it needs to fall on a sword they forged themself.

The Liberal campaign said that the 2015 election would be the last under FPTP and if they as a party are to have any legitimacy and trust moving forward they need to change the system.

If there is a referendum, everyone associated with the Liberal party (candidates and all) will need to campaign in favor of a change to ensure that no matter how many options are on the ballot, that change wins. Funds will need to be dedicated to public education on the options (public and Liberal party funds). The Federal Liberal party can't be seen to be hiding the referendum or required educational material (both on the changes, as well as the required civics lesson to explain the current system) as the provincial Liberal party did in Ontario and BC.

At this point it doesn't matter which system the Liberals impose, it just can't still be FPTP during the next election. The Liberal party must recognize that any change or lack of change to the system will upset some Canadians, but that while they are damned if they do they will be damned much more by people who might have voted for them if they don't.

My own promise, and confession

On Canada Day this year I wrote that I was skeptical but optimistic about the Liberal promise to rid us of FPTP. I discussed how I campaigned against the Liberals during the election.

During the 2015 election I was frustrated by what I saw in Ottawa Center, a race between the largely unknown Liberal nominated candidate and a well loved across the spectrum NDP incumbent of Paul Dewar. Liberal campaigners were claiming that a vote for the NDP would split the vote and allow the Conservatives to win, something that was entirely impossible in Ottawa Center as the Conservatives weren't a contender in this two-horse race between the Liberal nominated candidate and Paul Dewar.

Based on what I saw as a corrupt campaign in Ottawa Center, I was unwilling to vote for the Liberal nominated candidate in Ottawa South, even though I believe that David McGuinty was (still is as an individual) the best option.

My confession is that even though I always want to vote for the person despite the party, I broke from my own political ideals and voted along party lines last election because of this issue. If the Liberals actually back away from their election promise, as naive as some of us can believe it was (or as dishonest as some believe it was), there will likely be far more people voting along party lines and punishing the Liberals next election.

While I don't yet know if the 2015 election will be the last under FPTP, I do know that 2011 will have been the last time I voted for David McGuinty (unless he crosses the floor) or a federal Liberal party nominated candidate until FPTP is gone.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Creator groups must Focus On Creators

When the current Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly suggested that someone saying "Without culture, nobody would be on the internet" was thoughtful, and possibly even a new idea, I became aware that this is a area of policy that is new for Ms Joly.

We now see a new campaign aimed at the Minister called Focus On Creators launched by several associations which has a similar message the Minister may not have a context for.

While I am an author of software and non-software works, and in my policy analysis and activism I always have a Focus on Creators, I do not agree that all the groups who are promoting this campaign have that same focus.  All too often representatives of these groups claim the interests of some intermediary is synonymous with the interests of a group of creators, and are focused on that intermediary.

Technology giveth, and technology taketh away

It is normal technological and societal progress that new technology disrupts old technology, as well as the businesses and business models that formed around the older technology.

As new communications technology comes forward the creators that embrace it will succeed, and those who do not will tend to have diminishing audiences as well as diminishing financial success. When yet another communications technology comes forward to disrupt that technology, those who succeeded with the older communications technology either need to move forward or be as left behind as those who did not embrace the previous generation of technology.

From a public policy standpoint the most important thing to remember is that while technologies and the businesses that surround them will come and go, there is absolutely no reason for the interests of any specific technology provider to be thought of as synonymous with the interests of the cultural and content industries.

Opponents to the ongoing cycle of technological change

This cycle has been true since humans first started to write stories down.  There were those who thought storytelling would die if it was written down and not kept alive by storytellers passing it down from generation to generation.

There have been quite strong personalities that have been opposed to change.
"These talking machines are going to ruin the artistic development of music in this country. When I was a front of every house in the summer evenings, you would find young people together singing the songs of the day or old songs. Today you hear these infernal machines going night and day. We will not have a vocal cord left. The vocal cord will be eliminated by a process of evolution, as was the tail of man when he came from the ape."
  • Jack Valenti, longtime president of the Motion Picture Association of America, was also hostile to new technologies suggesting in 1982:
"I say to you that the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone."
"So if you were to take this out of the context of an argument about film and television, I would make the case that what we're talking about here is industrial dumping. We have laws against stuff like this."

While Mr McGrath's words may be the most recent, what he is expressing is similar to what has been said throughout written history.  There is no reason for anyone to believe the current technological changes are all that different than what we have seen in the past: some creators who tie themselves to a specific previous generation technology (and the companies and business models that form around that technology) will have problems succeeding, and creators who embrace the new technology under its own terms (including related business model changes) will prosper.

I've interacted with Mr McGrath only a few times over the years (as he tries to quickly end conversations), but all evidence suggests that he confuses the interests of the creators of television with the interests of broadcasters.  Broadcasters are the companies that formed around a very specific type of distribution technology, and should not be seen as being part of the content creation or cultural industries. Mr. McGrath and some others in the "small screen" (Television) industry have gone so far as to suggest that anything that uses wired and wireless means of communicating small screen shows, whether that communication is programmed or not, should be regulated as if they were broadcasters.

I provided more details for this scenario in: Ad free CBC? Why not shift money to creators?
The shortform is that Netflix is not a broadcaster.  While this claim helps the interests of companies that are actually broadcasters, it harms the interests of creators of "small screen" shows.

Creator groups must Focus On Creators

In my participation in Copyright revision process starting in the summer of 2001 I have interacted with many fellow creators from a wide variety of creative sectors.  I have come to know many of the creator groups and their spokespersons. I have formed a good sense of which ones are helping members navigate change, and which ones have confused the interests of their members with the interests of specific intermediaries (technology providers, business model services, funding agencies, etc).

As a creator I can't sign on to this specific "Focus on Creators" campaign.  While I strongly believe that related government policy should focus on creators, I do not believe the groups behind this specific campaign are actually focused on the interests of creators.

Intermediaries sometimes barriers to creators getting paid

During the DigiCanCon consultations, many creators wanted to speak about funding.   I believe it is important for the Minister and the department to be aware of some of the barriers some intermediaries have been putting up to creators getting paid.

We are often told how copyright infringement is a cause of declining revenues for creators.  If we focus for a moment on scripted content for the big screen (Movies) and small screen (Television) we see a number of barrier put up by specific intermediaries which make it hard for audiences to access and pay for that access.

Video creativity is not the only creative sector where we see changes in technologies, and the related changes in business models, being claimed to be a threat to creators.
  • "Access Copyright activism disconnected from realities in educational publishing" discusses how some author activists, most notably specific individuals associated with the Writers Union and the Professional Writers Association of Canada, confuse the interests of Access Copyright with the interests of writers.  New technology has made direct licensing via online databases easier, as well as new peer production mechanisms possible, and the educational community is moving in that direction.  This only has an impact on fiction authors because of their ties with Access Copyright, with Access Copyright's primary money being an unrelated marketplace for non-fiction educational works that is being disrupted by modern technology.  The so-called "educational fair use" debate is largely about modern technology disrupting Access Copyright's older business services.

During the Bill C-32/C-11 consultations there was considerable discussion about the music industry.  In that case the interests of major labels were being confused with the very different interests of composers and performers.   The major labels were primarily a specialized banking sector formed around the high costs of the technology used to record and distribute music.  Technological advancement changed this business dynamic to where a successful industry flips the power dynamic to one where the interests of composers and performers must be the focus, and labels are only the "hired help" when and if needed by the musicians. In other words, a "Focus on Creators" is a focus on the interests of composers and performers, which are interests quite different from major labels whose interests often conflict with creators.  In Canada the major label interests are represented by "Music Canada", one of the groups behind this campaign.