Green and growing

My story about being a Green politician in Canada, and why it was the best thing I ever did.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Time to bring back the per vote subsidy

When the Chretien government moved to eliminate corporate donations to political parties, it realized that there would be a gap in party funding, so they created the per vote subsidy. It is a very simple system: for every vote your party receives in a federal election, you get a small amount of money ($1.75 at the start) per vote per year until the next federal election. Since elections happen roughly every four years, a vote will generate about $7 for the party (this increased due to inflation indexing).

There are two other mechanisms for raising money in parties. The first is personal donations which are subsidized through extremely generous tax refunds (75% of the first $400, etc.). The second is that national parties and individual election campaigns receive a 50% and 60% respectively rebate for their election expenses. This subsidy works based on spending money in an election.

The per vote subsidy was by far the least expensive of these three options. In spite of that, the Harper government eliminated per vote funding. Why would they do such a thing, if it is not that expensive?

In my opinion, the primary reason is that it gave people a reason to vote for the party they believed in. Even if their local candidate did not win, the party would get the $7 or $8 that their vote generated. It was a reason to believe in your cause, whatever that cause might be.

Proportional representation does the same thing. If my vote counts, somehow, even if my local candidate does not win, then I have a reason to vote to support my beliefs. The duopoly of Liberals and Conservatives do not want that. They want you to be a supporter of the "big tent", a tent within which your minority beliefs will be ignored.

Per votes subsidy went away for the same reason that proportional representation was nixed by the current government ... it did not serve the interests of the big tent parties. I expect that a major reason for the Chretien government to have introduced the payment in the first place was to encourage the Reform party and other upstart Conservative movements, in order to keep the Progressive Conservative party in check. With the first past the post system, Chretien won three undeserved majority governments.

The political masters of the Canadian government live in mortal fear that Canadians might someday get the government they really want, and they will block progress on every front until Canadians stand up and say we will not accept this any longer.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Prime Minister Tells a Whopper

Last week, on International Women's Day, I watched the Prime Minister respond to a young lady's question about why the commitment to changing the electoral system was abandoned when it made such an important difference to women. See video here.

The short answer was essentially threefold (a) "The process was headed into dangerous territory" and (b) "There was no consensus" and (c) "I make decisions based on what is best for Canada". Two of these statements are absolutely false and the other is misleading.

"The process was headed into dangerous territory" - The electoral reform (ERRE) committee had overwhelming majority support for proportional representation and had debunked the alternate vote system favoured by the Liberals. Had the process continued and their recommendations heeded, we would be well on the way to the implementation of a proportionally based system, not dangerous territory. This characterization is a simple scare tactic, one unbecoming of the Prime Minister.

"There was no consensus" - There is a bizarre sliver of truth in this statement. In the vacuum of leadership around this issue, it was clear that two different consensuses were emerging. The first was the overwhelming support for proportional representation coming from ERRE and the huge number of Canadians who made their wishes known there. The second was the emerging alliance between the Liberals and the Conservatives, working together because first past the post has given these two parties overwhelming advantages in the last 150 years. It has handed them every single election victory and continues to give them many, many unearned majority governments. First past the post favours having two large parties, which is why the US federal electoral system is referred to as a two party system, even though it is not. There is simply no chance for another party to form the government, and history has shown this to be true in Canada as well.

"I make decisions based on what is best for Canada" - In this case, there is a clear choice to be made from the two alternatives above. Choose a system where every vote counts, or choose to continue with a system that favours the Liberals and the Conservatives. What is best for Canadians is to have all of their votes recognized and counted. What is best for the Liberal party is first past the post. Decision made. Perhaps the PM'sstatement is true for other issues, but it doesn't pass the smell test here.

Originally, I believe that the Liberals thought they could fool people into thinking that their preferred alternate vote system would make every vote count. In truth, it makes your vote count once all of the small parties are eliminated. In fact, it simply advantages the Liberals over the Conservatives and everyone else. It rigs the game even further, as demonstrated here.

So, let's stop pretending. This is a decision about power, about retaining power, and about making it tough for others to take power away. Is this what is best for Canada?

Of course, we need to take responsibility for this outcome because, after all, we voted this government in, didn't we? I would happily accept that responsibility ... if it were not the case that, once again, my vote went straight to the garbage bucket and made no difference whatsoever in the outcome. I am so tired of that.


(cross posted at

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Simple MMP - A new voting system for Canada

I have been working for several months now on a new electoral system for Canada. There are lots of alternatives out there, but none of them delivered what I wanted.

I was looking for:
- maximum proportionality
- no constitutional issues
- easy to use
- transparent
- minimal use of unelected lists
- simplicity at the ballot box

In the end, I devised Simple MMP.  You can read all about it here

The short overview of the Simple MMP goes like this:
1. Cut the number of ridings in half by combining adjacent ridings.
2. Run an election the same we run an election now - one vote for one candidate
3. This will elect half of the Members of Parliament
4. In each province, add up the total popular vote for each party, and then assign top-up seats to achieve maximum proportionality
5. Top-up MPs are selected from the runners up for each party based on the highest percentage vote
6. In some provinces where a party's support is over 50%, we may have to go to a list to get one or two top-up MPs

That's it. Simple. Effective. Transparent. Accountable. Proportional.

There's more detail on the web site, including a new measure of proportionality called the democratic deficit, and comparison of simulations of various voting systems.

Have a look at it and let me know what you think.


Saturday, August 08, 2015

Gaming the debates

According to a recent article on CBC News, Thomas Mulcair.said "It goes without saying that since Stephen Harper is the person I want to defeat and replace, I'll take part in debates where he's present. Otherwise it wouldn't make much sense, would it?"

To The Honourable Mr. Mulcair:

Remember that it is the people of Canada who are doing the hiring, not the incumbent. It is not normal to insist on having one of the other candidates at your job interview.

Show some leadership and don't let PMSH bully you around!! Show him up instead. Show up for the debates.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

US government shutdown a consequence of electoral system

Our good neighbours to the south are nearing two full weeks of government shutdown.  At issue, a split in power between the two "governing" parties means that a standoff has developed.  At a time when there is much work to be done, there is little being accomplished in Washington.

We might argue that this is an inevitable consequence of a bipartisan system.  When there are two parties, each will court the voters in the middle, and each will, in the long run, get about 50% of the vote.  In some ways, this is a reasonable and good outcome.  In Canada, we have only twice every had a government that had 50% of the vote.  Our current government wooed 38% of the voters, enough to give it a majority in parliament.

So there is the difference  In Canada, 38% is enough to give you near regal authority over the affairs of government, and in the USA, 50% isn't enough to guarantee that you can pass a funding bill.

So why, we might wonder, has the USA ended up with 2 parties in the Congress, and Canada has 5 in Parliament?  I believe it has to do with the extent to which the electoral system is non-proportional, or dis-proportional, if you will.

Canada's system is disproportional because 38% of the votes, properly placed around the country can create a majority government which wields 100% of the power.  The US system is similiar, although it is slightly more disproportional when we consider the electoral college system.  In this system, whoever gets 50% + 1 of the votes in a state essentially gets ALL the electoral college votes for that state, which is used to select the president.  In Canada, we call it first past the post, as you would declare the winner in a horse race.  In the US, if you are first past the post, you get to keep all of the other horses.

In Canada, it is very difficult for a new party to break in.  Usually, it happens when the party has a regional basis of support, because the effort can be focused on the local horse races, and the national parties must speak to the entire nation.  This is how the BQ came about, as well as the Social Credit, the Reform party and the CCF (forerunner of the NDP).  A local focus allows a party to take advantage of local disproportion.

In the US, it is even harder for a new party to break in.  Even a strong regional support will not offer up any electoral college votes until the state wide numbers get closer to 35% to 40%.  That's a lot of votes to get out for a new party.  They will not be getting the White House any time soon.

So the US remains a bipartisan electorate.  Canada is not far behind, in that every government since Confederation has been Liberal or Conservative.  Only recently, has the official opposition torch passed to the NDP .. a tremendous and historic accomplishment.  But it also places the NDP in the difficult position of needing to attract voters away from the Big 2, which means some politically centrist.policies may be in the offing.

To summarize, disproportional representation leads to a concentration of political power.  In the US, it has created a bipartisan system, and in Canada, a near-bipartisan system.  A true bipartisan split in power leads to the kinds of standoffs we see operating in the budget implementation process.

In Canada, we need to change.  If we don't start to give the other three parties some weight in the government proportional to their support, they will fade away, with a disinterested public having little time for those who cannot make a difference.  Then we can have standoffs and impasses, too!

Proportional representation is the only solution to this problem.  Yes, there will be minority governments.  But if only a minority of people support a party, isn't that what should happen?  Minority governments force real compromise.  Not the compromise of threats and stalemates, but rather the development of natural associations.  Parties will try to find their middle ground with all of the other parties.  And if it can't be made to work out, we can check back with the people through another election.

I wonder what the people of the US would say about the budget?


Thursday, April 11, 2013

Early polls show a strong Liberal lead in Labrador

Well, it looks like the Liberals have a substantial lead in Labrador, according to this Forum Research poll.  The poll shows the Liberals over 50%, Conservatives and NDP around 20%.  They thought to ask, if Trudeau wins the leadership, how would you vote?  In that case the Liberal vote goes to about two thirds.

This makes mute my earlier post about the NDP running a candidate.  For me, it does raise the question of how do we determine the right conditions for pre-election collaboration?  I think it is time that we, as Canadians, have an intelligent discussion about this topic.


Sunday, April 07, 2013

NDP - I hope you know what you are doing in Labrador

Today, the writ dropped for the by-election in Labrador.  In 2011, the results looked like this:

10004 Labrador  2011

1. Peter Penashue (CON): 4,256  39.81%
2. Todd Russell (LIB): 4,177  39.07%
3. Jacob Larkin (NDP): 2,120  19.83%
4. George C.R. Barrett (GRN): 139   1.30%

This riding was decided by 79 votes.  Peter Penashue is being investigated for having accepted corporate donations, and for having overspent the legal limit for his campaign. (See Pundit's guide for a very thorough analysis of the issues).

In spite of the allegations still pending, the prime minister is running Penashue for re-election.  The Green Party has decided to not run a candidate, so that we can assist in electing Penashue's replacement.

From the numbers from the last election, it is clear that the Liberal party has the best shot at winning this election.  Of course, things may have changed on the ground, but I have not seen any polling to suggest otherwise.  Since it is highly likely that Justin Trudeau will be the new Liberal leader as of next Saturday, I would suggest that support for that party will still be strong for this by-election, and perhaps stronger than under Ignatieff.

The NDP is running a candidate, new to federal politics.  In the past, I would have applauded this, as I believe that every Canadian should be able to vote for all of the major parties.  However, I believe it is time for us to use the Westminister electoral system, rather than having it use us (note: us = Canadians).

In this case, I hope that the NDP has done some polling and believes that it has a very good chance of winning this riding.  Anything short of that, and I believe they should pull out to assist in toppling Penashue.  The majority of Canadians do not want our present government, and this is a method by which we can ensure that the greater desire of Canadians is fulfilled.  This is one small step towards implementing proportional representation.

Don't get me wrong.  If the NDP thinks it can win the riding, as a result of the wave of support in Quebec and elsewhere, then have at it!  But, if you don't have the polling support, please consider having one less name on the ballot.  This will turn into quid pro quo in the next election.  The same argument extends to the Liberals, of course, but in this riding, there is good evidence to suggest they can win this riding.

So that is my message, sent wistfully and with very little hope that it will be heard.  The Conservatives have known about the timing of the by-election, and will be ready to hit the street today.  If they win, I will be shaking my finger at the NDP.  This could have been the beginning of something great.