Lessons from Past Referendums

The current discussion on electoral reform in Canada (led by current elected MPs and the media coverage they affect) is on whether a referendum is required if we are to fundamentally change the way we vote.  Last week, I wrote about why it is absolutely required.  This post discusses past referendums and what we can learn from them.

Provincial referenda on electoral reform have taken place in BC (in 2005 and again in 2009), PEI (2005), and Ontario (2007).  Other First Past the Post systems that have held referenda include New Zealand (1992 and 1993) and the United Kingdom (2011).  The referenda themselves had some similarities and differences.

1. Results and Thresholds

In 2005, BC voted 58% in favour of adopting electoral reform.  However, a threshold of 60% of the total vote was required, as well as a simple majority in at least 60% of the ridings in the province (97% of the ridings did achieve this).  Because of this result, they voted again in 2009 with the same thresholds.  This time, 60% rejected the reforms.

In PEI and Ontario, 64% and 63%, respectively, voted against their version of electoral reform in referenda with the same thresholds as BC.

New Zealand did vote to change their system with 85% and 54% majorities in a twin referendum system I’ll explain below.  The election was held on the basis of a simple majority (50% + 1 vote required to win).

The UK voted 68% against their version of reform.  The election was on the basis of a simple majority.  An amendment to require a 40% voter turnout for the vote to be valid was presented in Parliament but was not ultimately required.

2. Voting yes/no on one electoral reform alternative

In all four Canadian provincial referenda as well as the UK, the question posed to voters was to choose between the existing system and one alternative system.  The actual alternative that was presented as an option varied (Single Transferable Vote in BC, Mixed Member Proportional in PEI and Ontario, and Alternative Vote in UK).

Of note, BC and Ontario developed their (different) alternatives through the use of Citizens’ Assemblies (choosing random average citizens similar to jury duty).  PEI came to their alternative through a government-appointed commission.  The UK’s alternative was chosen directly by elected politicians.

New Zealand was the only jurisdiction to use a different approach.  They held one referendum in 1992 where voters answered two separate question.  In the first they voted on whether to retain the First Past the Post system or change the system (without specifying what would replace it).  With their second ballot, they voted on which of four alternatives they would prefer.  Sixty-five percent of voters chose Mixed Member Proportional.

Before changing the system, New Zealand held a second referendum in 1993 asking voters to choose directly between FPTP and MMP.  This vote passed by 54% in favour of reform, a smaller margin than the year before.

3. Concurrence with general election

Among the referenda mentioned above, the 1992 New Zealand referendum and the 2005 PEI referendum were the only ones where electoral reform was the only item to be voted on at the polling station.  BC and Ontario timed their referenda to take place together with provincial elections.  The UK referenda coincided with local (municipal) elections, as well as national elections in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.  The 1993 New Zealand referendum coincided with their national election.

Observations

In a two-option ballot (FPTP or One Specific Other Approach), many voters who do want electoral reform may disagree with the specific alternative being presented to them.  For example, in Ontario, the implementation of Mixed Member Proportional being proposed would have resulted in a 25% increase in the number of MPPs.  Some voters (I personally know several) voted against it based on that one feature alone.  Interpreting the 63% FPTP result as meaning that the majority do not want any change is not accurate.

Secondly, holding the referendum at the same time as a regular election, although much more cost-efficient, may serve to limit discussion and education on the subject at hand.  In Ontario, many voters (I personally know several) did not even know they would be faced with a referendum in 2007.  When they went to vote for their MPP, they were given a second ballot and needed to decide on the spot.  Many chose the status quo because they just hadn’t been told what the alternative was.

This effect of a dominant election overshadowing a less-publicized concurrent one can be seen in Ontario municipal elections, where mayors and councillors are chosen at the same time as school board trustees.  Typically, you would think it is rare for someone to show up at the polling station without having already decided how they will vote.  However, it can be quite common.  As people show up to vote for the mayor, they realize they also need to choose a school board trustee.  They may well choose a name at random, or based on how it sounds.  As a test ask a friend which party they voted for in a past provincial election, who they voted for mayor in the last municipal election, and who they voted for trustee.

Recommendations

A referendum is absolutely required to dramatically change the way we vote and how our representatives get elected.

The referendum itself should be by ranked ballot where voters get to identify their preferences, including the status quo, in order.  (Only one election required, as opposed to New Zealand’s approach.)

Any citizen should be able to propose a system of electoral reform and gain ballot access through petition drives.  For example, 10,000 signatures are required to be included as one of the choices that gets voted on.

The threshold for adoption should be a simple majority to avoid the controversy of a potential result greater than 50% but below an arbitrary super-majority.  (Why didn’t BC choose 55% or 61%?)

Reform proposals that require constitutional changes (including my proposal for the Senate) should be handled separately, following the established formula.

The referendum should not take place together with a general election.  It should have its own set date with a one year proposal submission period and a six month campaign period.

 

Or… we could just leave it completely up to politicians elected under the current system, who have majority control of the parliament with only 39% of the vote, who said at campaign that they would change something but still haven’t told us what that change would be.  Which would you prefer?

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The Politician’s Self Interest

This week, Ottawa wrapped up 2015 by starting a public debate on one aspect of electoral reform.  The Conservative Party announced that they would use their majority in the Senate to block any electoral reform legislation that does not include a referendum on the issue.  The entire discussion should serve as evidence for how what I’ll call “Big Politics” lobbies for its own interests when it comes to electoral reform.

First, a comment on lobbying: Whenever legislation is proposed, you can expect one part of the public to support it and another to oppose it.  Sometimes, the issue can present a significant economic impact on one subgroup.  You can expect taxi license holders to oppose Uber, Big Tobacco to oppose smoking restrictions, teacher unions to encourage more education spending, factories to solicit subsidization, failed companies to want bailouts, etc.  To the extent that these groups conduct their lobbying by making information available to decision-makers, they play an important role in the democratic process.  As long as they are not resorting to intimidation, extortion, or bribery tactics, they should be allowed to have their voice heard as long as their message is taken in context.

One must understand that electoral reform can have a significant economic impact on politicians who put food on their family’s table by winning elections.  Accepting this fact will help to understand the positions that the different parties have taken on this issue.

Throughout the 1990s, when the federal Liberal Party won landslide majority governments and controlled the Senate, you didn’t hear a word from them about changing how people vote.  It was only after the 2011 election, where they were reduced to 34 (out of 308) seats and third party status, with their future existence in question, that electoral reform appeared on their platform.

The NDP and Green parties, who have never formed a government under the existing rules and who consistently win less seats than their percentage of the popular vote, absolutely want to change the way elections are run.

The Conservative Party campaigned in the most recent election opposing any changes to the current First Past the Post system.  At the time, they were sitting on a majority government earned with only 39.62% of the popular vote (in the 2011 election).  With vivid memories of the Reform/PC days, they understood that vote splitting was now working in their favour and had provided them with several unlikely seats in large urban centres… and wanted to keep it that way.

Now that we understand where the parties were coming from in October, let’s look at their positions since then.  The Liberals, ironically, ended up winning a majority government with… wait for it… 39.47% of the popular vote.  When the Conservatives had achieved the same result in 2011, it was evidence of how the system was broken.  This time, however, the Liberals interpreted this result as a strong mandate from the Canadian people. Almost immediately after the election, there were murmurs from party insiders that maybe they should leave the system alone. Instead of breaking their promise, however, Trudeau has indicated that he personally prefers a ranked ballot (without the accompanying proportional elected Senate in the Manougian model). He hopes to be the second choice for NDP and Green voters, solidifying an advantage over the Conservatives.

The Conservatives, under interim leader Rona Ambrose, have taken a good position for a bad reason.  They argue that any change to the electoral system should be subject to a referendum by the population.  The Liberal response is that no referendum is required because almost 70% of voters chose parties that wanted reform.

I wish I could slap both dominant parties’ wrists.  If Trudeau really thinks that he has no need to consult voters and that his 40% majority grants him the right to alter our democratic system according to his choosing, he is already showing the Liberal arrogance that almost led to his party’s extinction.  Would he feel comfortable giving the Bank of Montreal the final say on Canada’s financial regulations?

And the Conservatives have not yet abandoned their position that no reforms are required to our current First Past the Post system.  They are only demanding a referendum because three similar provincial referendums have failed in the last 10 years.  They are hoping to maintain the status quo where they do get a shot at governing every once in a while.  For their own sake, they better realize that pinning their hopes on splitting the left-wing vote is not a sustainable long-term strategy.

A referendum is absolutely required as validation that the new system serves voters and not the ones who came up with it.  It is more important than ever for you to make your voice heard and hold the politicians accountable.  Next week, I’ll be going into more depth about electoral reform referendums that have taken place in Canada and other English-speaking countries.

Yes means yes… to government

“Yes means yes” is a slogan not typically connected to electoral reform but I want to use it to preface this week’s topic: affirmative consent to government.

Particularly on college campuses, “No means no” used to be a slogan that was used to prevent sexual assault and rape.  It implied that if one person, typically the female, expressed discomfort in escalating intimacy, the other person, typically the male, would be criminally liable if he tried to dismiss that hesitance.  However, this paradigm has shifted in recent years to “Yes means yes”, where one party is responsible for outright asking beforehand for consent, which can be expressly given or withheld.

So why are we talking about rape in a blog on elections?  Well, there was a time when warrior kings physically asserted themselves over a population.  We now use pejorative terms like dictators and autocrats to refer to them because they rarely treated their subjects with respect.  In the New World, the Intolerable Acts passed by George III’s Parliament (that had no representatives from the colonies) were an egregious example of unwelcome domination.  Despite protests from the colonists, there was no relief until many died as Americans sent the message that “No means no.”

Today, throughout much of the world, violent revolutions are no longer necessary as elections are used to show that a government does rule with the consent of the people.  However, not all elections are created equal.  In my last two posts, I explained how elections can be fairer in Canada, both for the House of Commons and the Senate.  Before that, I wrote about the need to expand the franchise to minors.  This week, I want to discuss two consent-related topics: mandatory voting and declining the ballot.

1. Mandatory Voting

In their “Real Change” platform document, the current Liberal government lists mandatory voting as one of the electoral reform options that they will look at.  It is a policy that countries like Austria, Italy, and the Netherlands have abandoned, while others like Belgium, Greece, and Mexico do not enforce in practice, despite having laws on the books.  I do not believe that Canadians should be fined (or worse) for holding back their vote because forcing citizens to the ballot box clouds the consent they are offering by doing so voluntarily.

One country that does enforce its mandatory voting laws is North Korea, where only one name appears on the ballot and landslide victories are used to justify legitimacy.  If you think that western democracies are completely different, this clip from the Simpsons should be amusing:

In Australia, where they do have mandatory voting and a non-optional ranked ballot, each name on the ballot MUST be ranked in preferential order or the vote is not counted.  Going back to the “Yes means yes” symbolism, does it seem acceptable to force a girl to go to the college bar where they had to rank all of the boys in the place in the order of who they prefer to take them home that night?  If they complained about the outcome, is it ok to tell her “You’re the one who chose him.”?

I have never missed voting in an election but wouldn’t want to face law enforcement in a “free” country if I did.

2. Declined Ballots

Although, I am against mandatory voting in any scenario, it would be a slightly less oppressive policy if we had already reformed how ballots are declined.

Canadian elections were not always by secret ballot.  The measure was adopted in 1874 to ensure that voters would not be subjected to intimidation, while also making bribery for votes ineffective.  To this day, you can keep your political preferences completely private… except for one.

A voter in Canada has a lot of options at election time.  He or she can choose a candidate and vote.  But, perhaps, they think that all the candidates are clowns and undeserving of their support.  They can choose to stay at home and not vote at all, which can be falsely interpreted as voter apathy when it is actually voter discontent.  They can also go to the voting station and “spoil” their ballot by filling it out incorrectly.  (Actually, this would result in a rejected ballot if their voting intention is not clear.  A spoiled ballot, using Elections Canada’s definition, is a piece of paper that was replaced with a new one, in the event a voter makes a mistake before casting it into the box.)  Rejected ballots can be falsely interpreted as voter stupidity when they actually represent voter discontent.  The correct way to communicate voter discontent is to decline your ballot.  To do so, you have to arrive at the voting station, receive your ballot, and then hand it back to the clerk saying that you decline to cast it.  It is registered in a separate tally.

One problem is that declining your ballot cannot currently be done in secret.  Scrutineers representing the candidates observe the vote and can see and record your protest.  The “Declined” option should appear on the ballot itself so that voters clearly realize that they do not have to choose any of the registered candidates if they don’t want to.

Furthermore, I believe that if the “Declined” option gets more votes than any of the candidates, none of them can claim legitimacy to represent those constituents.  It should be perfectly reasonable to leave the seat vacant until a by-election can be called at a later date.  One year should be enough time for the parties to nominate new candidates and/or for groups to form new parties.

Including “Declined” or “None of the Above” on an optional preferential ballot would provide affirmative consent to the winner of an election to make laws on behalf of the people.  Just like “No means no”, our current first past the post system just doesn’t cut it anymore.

The unfortunate truth is that candidates are all too eager to start governing.  Make your boundaries clear to them.

What “Real Change” in the Senate should look like

It’s one of the impossible issues for a Canadian Prime Minister.  Everybody knows Canada’s Senate is broken but when it takes seven out of ten provinces to amend the Constitution, the issue becomes a hot potato.

The NDP wants to abolish it, as did the Conservatives in 2006, before they gave up on it.  Actually abolishing the Senate requires unanimous consent from all ten provinces, however, which is next to impossible to obtain.  I actually think there is a role an Upper House can play in a parliamentary democracy… but not without amending the Constitution.

First, let’s review what happened last week.  On the new Parliament’s opening day, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau proposed to implement the Liberal Party’s election policy on the Senate: avoid it like the plague.  Quite quickly, he was called out by BC Premier Christie Clark on the fact that this barely qualified as “reform” and certainly not as “real change”.  The two tweaks proposed were:

  1. He will ask other people for help in choosing who gets appointed.
  2. He will not let the Senators, old or new, sit in his party’s caucus.

One can understand the political logic behind trying to distance yourself from high-visibility personalities who have few accountability measures placed on them (and absolving yourself of responsibility for their conduct).  Stephen Harper’s Senate appointees caused him much embarassment, arguably playing a role in removing him from 24 Sussex Dr.  It is disingenuous, however, to tell Canadians that the solution is to remove the tenuous accountability measure that did exist: to their party leader.

In Canada, Senators, once appointed by the Governor General on the advice of the Prime Minister, keep their seat until age 75.  They never need to face the public in an election.  The system is a remnant from colonial times to secure the privileges of the upper class, giving them a veto in case the commoners tried anything too drastic.  A telling feature is the requirement to own property to be eligible for appointment.  Many of the provinces also had Upper Houses but they were all abolished as unnecessary many decades ago.

Around the world, where there are bicameral legislatures (two Houses of Parliament), the Upper House does tend to imply a collection of more experienced elder statesmen who can bring a perspective that may be absent among the winners of the local election races that make up the Lower House.  In the US, Senators were appointed by state legislatures (for six year terms) until the 17th Amendment came into effect about 100 years ago.  Now, they are chosen by statewide popular elections.

What might a better system for Canada look like?  People like having a local representative that they can contact, whose office is within a drivable distance, whose phone number is not long distance, who understands the needs and mindset of their community.  For that reason, we have electoral districts which elect MPs to the House of Commons.  However, this arrangement tends to favour a two-party system (a phenomenon nerds like me call Duverger’s Law), which makes it more difficult for like-minded individuals from across the country to push issues overlooked by the main parties.  If they don’t have a sufficient concentration in any one riding, they may be completely shut out of Parliament.  Also, parties who get less than 50% of the total vote may end up getting majority governments without the consent of the majority of the people.

To address this issue, varying groups (usually supporters of smaller parties) call for more proportional representation, which assigns seats in accordance with total vote results beyond a single-member constituency.  The actual formulas and systems of proportional representation proposed vary widely.  You can check some of them out at www.fairvote.ca.

The Manougian Model, however, proposes something new.  At every general election, allow voters to cast two ballots.  One is a preferential ballot for their local MP, which I discussed in my last post.  The second would be a vote for the Senate, where they vote for one party. Ahead of the election, the party will make public a ranked list of candidates for Senate seats.  The intention is for these candidates to be accomplished in a field of importance to federal decision-making.  The total number of votes that a party obtains nation-wide in the Senate election would be tallied.  That absolute number would then be divided by a quotient, ignoring the remainder, to decide how many Senate seats they will get (assigned to individuals in the previously identified order).

What is the quotient?  It is a number chosen such that a typical voter turnout would result in a desirable number of total Senators  (there are currently 105 seats).  Note that it is the absolute number of votes that matters, not the percentage share that is used in many other proportional systems.  The effect would be that a lower voter turnout would result in fewer individuals sitting in the Red Chamber.  It adds an incentive to each voter to perform their electoral duty even if they are confident that their party will win.  It provides a clear incentive to parties to motivate their base.

Ultimately, it provides a much needed check and balance to a Prime Minister who has a majority in the House of Commons obtained without a majority of the popular vote.

Our colonial past officially ended in 1982 when Canada earned the right to change its own Constitution without Britain’s involvement.  Let’s roll up our sleeves and truly make it ours.  Now that‘s real change.

The Ranked Ballot

It has many names: ranked ballot, preferential voting, instant-runoff, alternative vote, etc.  It’s a small, simple change that makes voting more fair.  In addition to voting for your favourite candidate, it allows you to indicate who your second, third, (and more) choices are.

If, after the first choice votes are counted, no candidate receives a majority (more than 50%) of all the votes cast, the candidate with the least first choice votes is eliminated, and those votes are redistributed to the other candidates according to their indicated second choices.  This process continues until one candidate has an absolute majority of the total votes.

A non-optional preferential ballot is the system already used in voting for the Australian federal House of Representatives.  The video below explains how the ballots are counted in that jurisdiction and how it ensures that the “most-favourable” candidate ends up winning the seat.

Note that, in Australia, the voter must rank every single candidate on the ballot.  Making it mandatory to rank every candidate is not necessary for the system to work.  As a rule, the election results should attempt to include as many votes as possible.  For that reason, I suggest an optional preferential ballot for the Canadian House of Commons, as one part of the Manougian model.  If a voter stops ranking the candidates and all their choices have already been eliminated, it simply drops off the tally of total votes in the next round.  (Note that I think it is essential to include a Declined option to differentiate between indifference and opposition to the remaining voters but that is a topic for another post.)

With this system, if a person marks just one “X” next to just one name, the same way they do now and have for many years, the ballot should not be rejected but count as having voted for a first choice only.

The main issue that this solves is known as the “Spoiler Effect”.  You can probably guess what it is but CGP Grey does a great job of explaining it in this video:

So a ranked ballot (alternative vote, etc.) is a great idea and only helps ensure an outcome that the most people would be happy with.  In fact, the First Past the Post system it would replace is so inadequate that Canadian political parties themselves do not trust it when they are deciding on a new party leader or voting to nominate a party candidate in a given riding.  These political parties themselves use either a ranked ballot or require all the voters to return round after round until one candidate does obtain an absolute majoriy.  (Separate runoff elections are expensive and annoying to conduct and that is why an instant runoff is so superior.)

Much groundwork has already been done to ensure that a ranked ballot is the system the City of Toronto will use to elect its mayor in the 2018 municipal election.  A group called the Ranked Ballot Initiative of Toronto (RaBIT: http://www.123toronto.ca/) has led the charge to get City Council to ask the Queen’s Park to amend the Municipal Elections Act to allow its use by municipalities who would like to opt in.  You can see their 11 minute explanation of the change at the following video:

What are your thoughts about the ranked ballot?

Franchise Expansion: Minors are persons, too

Who should get to vote?  That question has been answered differently throughout history.  When Athens invented democracy in the fifth century BC, it looked very different.  Many posts were filled “by lot” (yes, as in lottery) and the participants included only free adult male citizens who had completed military training.  Notably, women, slaves, and foreigners were excluded.  Citizenship, which was based on lineage instead of birthplace, could also be revoked for failing to pay debts.

In British colonies, representatives were chosen (without a secret ballot) by the propertied class.  It was during the ratification of the United States Constitution that property requirements were reduced or eliminated as an acknowledgment that the Revolutionary War was fought by all.  It was after the US civil war that slavery was abolished in North America and the franchise was extended to African-Americans in recognition of the role they played in the Union Army.

Fortunately, post-confederation Canada did not need any conflicts to understand that “All men are created equal.”  It did take a World War, however, to acknowledge that women were also equal and deserved the right to vote.  As late as 1928, the Supreme Court of Canada had ruled that women could not be appointed to the Senate because they were not “persons”.  On October 18 every year, we celebrate Persons Days to mark the overturning of that ruling in 1929 by our British masters.

The 1960s ushered in cultural shifts and opened new debates.  The voting age at the time was 21 even though younger Canadians could get married, serve in the military, and earn a living.  The UK and Canada lowered the voting age from 21 to 18 in 1970, the US followed in 1971, and it is now the most common age requirement for voting rights across the world.

Certainly, some sort of age requirement is reasonable.  A two-month old infant cannot be expected to cast a ballot.  However, is the citizen whose 18th birthday is the week after the election not mentally capable of making an informed choice?  Under what pretense are they denied a say in their country’s future?  (Full Disclosure: Although a university student at the time, I could not vote in the 2004 federal election.)

In 2007, Austria lowered its voting age to 16 for all elections.  Scotland moved to give 16 and 17 year olds a vote in its 2014 referendum on independence.  Here in Canada, MP Mark Holland introduced Bill C-261 in 2004 to reduce the voting age to 16, arguing that it would turn the tide of youth voter disengagement.  It was defeated… by MPs who governed on behalf of Canada’s youth but were not elected by it.

What is the official policy of the ruling Liberal Party on the matter?  It straddles pages 27 and 28 of their “Real Change” platform available here.  In case they remove the file, it says:

LiberalPlatformYoungCanadians

Obviously, I don’t think that goes far enough but I’m also not in favour of a straight reduction in the voting age, either.  In the third pillar of the Manougian model for Canadian electoral reform, I spell out an alternative system to ensure that young Canadians are appropriately represented in the halls of government.  It is a concept borrowed from Ontario school boards, where student trustees, elected annually by secondary students, sit alongside trustees elected, once every four years, by citizens over 18.  They have full participation rights in Board meetings and committees (except during staff appointment decisions) and even get to cast their vote on final Board decisions.  Their vote is recorded but does not count toward deciding a motion’s passage or defeat.

My suggestion is to add Student Parliamentarians to the House of Commons, elected by 14-17 year-old citizens and permanent residents, from among candidates aged 14-17 who are Canadian citizens.  New, separate constituencies should be created for them, which span several regular ridings, such that the youth demographic is represented in equal proportion to the general population in the average electoral district.

Elections should take place annually, where one Student Parliamentarian is elected for a two year term.  Thus, each constituency would be represented by two Student Parliamentarians, who would learn from their senior partner in the first year, and mentor their junior partner in the second.  Just like student trustees in Ontario school boards, they would have the right to speak and vote in the House of Commons but their votes would not be counted towards the passing or defeat of a bill or motion.

In this way, youth are given a seat at the table while acknowledging that their education in how countries should be run is not yet complete.  The annual election exercise would give them all a wealth of experience in the voting process and facilitate their registration to the general election list of voters when they turn 18.

You may have noticed that I included permanent residents as eligible to vote in this process.  Most immigrants to Canada apply for citizenship shortly after meeting the three-year residence requirement.  At least in Toronto, there is a movement to extend voting rights for municipal elections to permanent residents even before they obtain citizenship.  Personally, I think it is reasonable to ask a newcomer to spend one election observing the process before getting to cast a ballot of their own.  I am not recommending that the citizenship requirement for voting rights be abolished.  However, in the scenario of a Student Parliamentarian, who is there as a barometer of future public opinion, and an annual election that plays an educational role, I believe it would be fair to include permanent residents as voters but not candidates.  It is as inclusive as possible without creating potential complications if a non-citizen Student Parliamentarian were to lose their residency status.  (Full Disclosure: I was a Canadian citizen at birth.)

To those who would say that a 14 year old is not mature enough to have any say in the democratic process, I want it to be clear that they are already eligible to become members of the major political parties, within which they are already eligible to vote for riding association executives, local candidate nominations, and even during leadership races.  In those scenarios, their vote is equal to a 44 year-old’s.  Also, you do not need to be a citizen to join the major Canadian political parties.

This reform is just the first of many that I will write about on this blog.  Check back often and let me know what you think.  Remember, you are the one who gets to decide if it becomes a reality.

 

The Manougian Model for Canadian Electoral Reform

During the recently-completed Canadian federal election season, the Liberal, NDP, and Green parties all suggested that major reforms were required to the way in which Canada elects its Members of Parliament.  The ruling Conservatives had refused to appoint new Senators to fill vacant seats out of frustration with the status quo system for the Upper House.  Everyone agrees the federal parliament can be improved.

You have probably already heard about why the First Past the Post system is flawed.  Instead of having me repeat it all, let’s review by watching this video by CGP Grey:

The winner of the 2015 Canadian federal election was the Liberal Party, led by Justin Trudeau.  They made their stance on electoral reform very clear.  You can read it on Page 27 of their platform at: https://www.liberal.ca/files/2015/10/A-new-plan-for-a-strong-middle-class.pdf.  In case they remove the file, it says

LiberalPlatformElectoralReformThey were sworn in on November 4, 2015.  Unless they break their promise, a bill with proposed changes will be introduced by May 4, 2017.

I started this blog to have my say on how I think the country should choose its legislators.  Ultimately, you, as a Canadian citizen, are the final decision-maker.  I plan on posting weekly to go into depth into various aspects of electoral design, defending the different pieces of my proposal, which I’ll call the Manougian Model.

For now, with no accompanying explanation or defense, here it is:

  1. Make the Senate an elected assembly using the fully proportional method of closed party lists.
    • Senate elections to be held concurrently with the House of Commons.
    • Senators to have no geographically-subdivided constituency.  They would be elected from the entire country-wide vote tally.  (Constitutional amendments required.)
    • Allocate seats not from the usual method of vote share percentage, but by absolute number of total votes.  That is, a lower voter turnout would result in less total Senators.
  2. Elect MPs to the House of Commons using an optional preferential ballot.
    • Maintain the current 338 electoral districts and their boundaries (until the next census).
    • Include a “Declined” option on the ballot, which does not drop off the final count.
    • Allow for a seat to remain vacant for 12 months if the “Declined” option obtains a majority.  (By-election to follow.)
  3. Add Student Parliamentarians to the House of Commons
    • Elected by 14-17 year-old citizens and permanent residents.
    • Candidates must be aged 14-17 at the time of the election and be a Canadian citizen.
    • Two representatives per constituency, elected for two year terms on a staggered basis, separately from the regular general elections.
    • Constituencies would be much bigger than the regular 338 electoral districts to reflect a similar number of eligible voters.
    • Student Parliamentarians would have the right to speak and vote in the House of Commons.  Their votes would be recorded but not counted towards the passing or defeat of a bill or motion.
  4. Introduce a term limit of two consecutive general elections within the same House.
    • Allow MPs to run for the Senate immediately after two terms in the Lower House and vice versa.
    • Allow returning to a House after a one term absence.
  5. Maintain the freedom to not vote without penalty.
  6. Maintain the requirement to cast a paper ballot.
    • No on-line voting option.
    • Machine-assisted voting available for accessibility needs only.

Check back often to get more details of what I mean, and why I think this way.

You are the Government

In a democracy, the people are the decision-makers.  If you live in Canada and are a Canadian citizen, you are a decision-maker.  Sometimes, though, we may not quite feel that way.  We may vote once every election cycle but leave the act of governing to those representatives that end up getting elected.  Often, we don’t keep on top of everything they are doing.  We’re busy.  Sometimes we hear they are doing something we don’t agree with.  In that case, we might be motivated to give our representative a piece of our mind, maybe even attend a protest.  Most of the time, though, we keep our opinion to ourself and take a fatalistic view that nothing we do will change the outcome.

The truth is that the average Canadian is very powerful.  Voting is important, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg.  You have the freedom of expression and the freedom of peaceful assembly.  You have over 30 million compatriots that care about living under the rule of law and will listen to reasonable arguments.  Whereas in other countries, citizens need to arm themselves and risk their lives to influence their country’s direction, all you really need to do is show that you care.

This blog is about building an even better democracy.  If you think it’s useful, come back often.  If you don’t agree with it, I’d love to exchange ideas.  The philosopher Joseph de Maistre first said “Toute nation a le gouvernment qu’elle mérite.” (Every nation gets the government it deserves.)  I started this blog today because I think we deserve the best.