Saturday, November 26, 2011

Balloting and Electoral Reform

Part of this post was transcribed from the webpage of razorbill press. Anyone interested in joining a working group on political/electoral reform is encouraged to join the facebook group or contact us at

We need better politics, better politicians. What's our problem?

We lurch from crisis to crisis, rarely noting that we attend to the details of each crisis, but ignore its fundaments.

Actually, most crises are the same when you peel away the details. Most crises exist because somebody forgot something, somebody didn't think something through, somebody did somebody a favour, somebody pulled a fast one, somebody lied, somebody didn't bother to check. Something happened that was not supposed to happen. Not thought through. By somebody.

C.P. Snow (a wartime advisor to Churchill) pointed out in a brilliantly acid little book Science and Government that a key facilitator of many crises and shenanigans is the availability of secrecy. I.e. somebody didn't know that the first duty of a public servant is to the public, and only secondarily by proxy to bureaucrats and politicians.
Secrecy means: somebody could keep the cat in the bag so we would never know why this or that program was delayed or cost so much or didn't work or did gross damage. Why things went pear-shaped. And keeping the cat in the bag costs other facts, so that many problems just snowball because the cover-up renders certain truths inaccessible or unusable even by the decision-makers.
Obviously there's lots wrong with politics, and lots of reform needed and obvious:

Election expense reform (so we get more choice, and candidates who haven't had to sell something first);
• limitations on ability of parties to use whipped votes;
• an effective means of recall;
• election promises regarded as contracts, rescindable in event of breach;
• a requirement that any elected or appointed or employed official will provide a timely straight answer to any fair question
better voting systems to make democracy a process of real choice ....
All of those for one purpose: to get us representatives who can think, who will plainly explain what they think, who will not tolerate shenanigans, who will act for the national community instead of for parties and special interests--in short, to get us good democratic government. Too often, we get politicians who think of politics as a bus and all most of them want is to grab the steering wheel.
For a refreshingly wide-ranging and illuminating discussion of how the state of politics in Canada has changed, see Jian Gomeshi's interview of Elizabeth May, on 2009 Sept. 4.


Democracy Watch comments on ElectionAct:

Firstly their page about the Open Government Partnership [doesn't say partnership amongst whom]:

"Federal Conservatives break all of their international Open Government Partnership commitments by failing to consult with Canadians about their draft action plan before meeting in Brazil this week"

And that page links to many others including one with this comment about the Elections Act; the page deals with many issues:
"The Canada Elections Act must be strengthened to close loopholes that allow for secret, unlimited donations and loans, and Democracy Watch and its Money in Politics Coalition have been pushing for these changes for years. The Financial Administration Act must also be strengthened to tighten up rules on sole-source contracting. And related Treasury Board codes, policies and rules in all of the above areas must also be strengthened (To see more details, click here).

As well, opposition MPs and the Information Commissioner and Democracy Watch's Open Government Coalition have been pushing to strengthen the Access to Information Act for several years.

The Ontario, Quebec and B.C. governments have all recently made changes to some of their good government laws, but despite the changes secret donations and gifts and secret lobbying will still be allowed.

"All Canadians should be very concerned that politicians across Canada have left open loopholes that legalize secret, unlimited political donations and loans, and secret lobbying, which are a recipe for corruption," said Duff Conacher, Board member of Democracy Watch. "International standard-setting agencies have concluded that to combat corruption effectively, governments must close these loopholes and require financial institutions to track the bank accounts of politicians and government officials and report suspicious transactions to enforcement agencies."


A nice article in Mother Jones discussing different electoral systems 


Gudahtt said...

I find it a little strange that proportional representation is only presented in one form, MMP.
PR is really more like a category that plenty of electoral systems fall under, most of which bear little resemblance to MMP.

tbaird said...

True. I guess MMP was singled out because it is the version that came closest to passing in Canada (,_2007).

A really interesting aspect of the Ontario effort at electoral reform was that the MMP proposal was decided by a "Citizens' Assembly". If we end up pushing for electoral reform, perhaps we can propose something similar?

Gudahtt said...

Definitely, that would be much more agreeable and feasible than picking a particular system to support, given the disagreement about that.

MMP wasn't quite the closest to passing in Canada, BC-STV came much closer:

MJ said...

BC came up with a cool version of STV, fine-tuned for Canadian politics.

Also, check this out:

tbaird said...

Thanks for the links guys! I've added a link to the facebook group to the main post.