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Yes, Change is Hard and Requires Math, That is Why We Elected You

December 3, 2016

So it seems that the response about the electoral reform committee (EMME) process is that there are lots of committed, organized, focused, passionate people who want to make this country better, speaking for the importance of changing our voting system to one that assigns seats in proportion to the total votes. But…that most Canadians just aren’t interested, or excited. Well, I guess if no one is interested it must mean everything is fine.

The committee report did not choose a specific proportional system that Canada should switch to, but it did put constraints on what that system should be. MonsefWhen criticizing the report of that committee Minister of Democratic Institutions Maryam Monsef used the fact that one of those constraints was a formula called the Gallagher Index. She didn’t critique the index itself or what it meant for different possible systems. She critiqued the fact that it was a complicated looking formula. Complicated? Is that the Liberal Party saying something is too complicated for the Canadian public to understand?

No, you know what’s complicated?

Climate change is complicated.
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But that didn’t stop you.
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Impossible Economic/Environmental Tradeoffs are complicated.
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But you make a choice and expect us to understand.
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Quantum physics is complicated but…

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Important choices are sometimes complicated.

Sometimes, almost always actually, these choices require mathematical formulas in some form. The pipeline decision involves a lot of math. The climate change discussion is based on huge mathematical simulations run worldwide and supercomputers. Canadians know these things. This is literally one of the reasons they elected the Liberals over the anti-science, anti-knowledge policies the Conservatives were offering and the vague opportunistic policies the NDP were offering in the last election.

So why on Earth should our voting system be so dead simple that in any given election it doesn’t give two thirds of the country a voice?  So simple that almost a third of the country (urban Conservatives, Libs in Alberta, NDP all over, Greens everywhere) never, ever get the representative they want?

It is possible for something to be too simple you know.

Being complicated is not an argument against change. Even the committee’s response of a general type of system rather than a specific system isn’t an argument against change.

A Way Out

If the Liberals really want a way out, here’s an idea, you can do what New Zealand did and have a referendum to decide whether we should decide. What could be more Liberal than that? (sorry, but it’s kind of true).

The question would essentially be :

No seriously though, do you want to change the voting system to something proportional? – If so, answer Yes. 
Or do you want to keep the current first past the post system? – If so, answer No.
— The Question

At least then we’d know there really is permission to do this properly. Then you could examine the choices before us, use the Gallagher Index and get down to it.  Or as NDP democratic reform critic Nathan Cullen so eloquently put it this week in the house:

“Stop it. People aren’t stupid,” Cullen said. “Let’s get to work.”

— Nathan Cullen, NDP

It would also allow the Liberals wiggle room to half fulfill their campaign promise to make a change before the next election. If the referendum goes “yes” then they could campaign on their particular choice in the following election and implement that system without and additional referendum. The NDP could campaign on their favourite choice. And the Conservatives could campaign on referendums being an inappropriate way to make large scale national decisions about policy…oh wait.

Got it? Great. I’m sure you’ll make the right choice.

Actually, I’m really not. I’m getting worried. But so should the Liberals. If they get this wrong, they’re going to lose a lot of those committed, organized, focused people who want to make this country better that kept nagging them at the committee hearings.

Don’t Throw Away Our Shot

November 24, 2016

For the first time, we find ourselves not as a reflection of another power. Our politics is not a derivation of Westminster or Washington anymore. Our politics is specific to us, not a derivation from a distant metropolis. — “Canada in the Age of Donald Trump” — Stephen Marche, The Walrus

Hello Prime Minister Trudeau,
I know recently you and your wife were in New York, to make an inspiring speach at the UN I believe, and when you were there you got to go see the musical Hamilton. A play about an experimental nation, led by a ramshackle band of rebels, rogues, and intellectuals who wanted to throw off the shackles of the empire ruling them. The cast were purposely diverse to constrast to universally white male makeup of the original founders of the time. It had inspiring music and a universal message. It’s about democracy. It’s about the voice of the people and what those who are empowered by that voice need to do to honour that empowerment.

I know you understand this deeply becuase your father cared about it and gave our nation one of the greatest tools we have to defend our way of life, to hold the line against attempts to degrade the voice of the people. I don’tknow where you really stand on proportional voting and other various issues, but I know where you stand on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and how important your job is as a representative of the voice and rights of the people.

So all I’ve got to say is: The world is burning, Prime Minister.

Everyone else seems to want to go the other way, away from the values of the Charter. Away from the values of openness, knowledge, honesty, fairness and hope. Away from what your father wanted, what you want, what so many Canadians want for humanity.

You know there are people in this country who want to the other way too. Certaintly not every Conservative party member or conservative Canadian want to, but enough. There are Canadians who think Trump is the solution or that he’s too brash and obvious but he has good ideas.  These people cannot be ignored and they shouldn’t  be ignored. Ignoring the complaints of people who feel left out of the accelerating changes and opportunities arising in our society is part of the problem and part of the reason Trump’s racist, hateful, fearful, anti-knowledge rhetoric found ground to anchor on to. The complaints and the problems that make people so angry that they resort to someone like Trump should not be ignored.

We need to hear the voices and find solutions that work for all people in our society from all classes, all walks of life, all ethnicities, all genders and all nations within our country.

Things are moving quickly. Quiker than we could have possibly imagined. England is still playing with their decision to abandon Europe and the wishes of most of the rest of the UK. America has made a choice that they are going to deeply regret for generations. France may be next.

The fires is starting Prime Minister and we might only have one shot to stop it from spreading here.

Luckily, you’ve already started the preparation to fight the fire whether you knew it at the time or not.

Our cousins to the south, who are so similar to us, have made this mistake so we cannot assume we will not make it as well. Sometimes being different for the sake of it is a good thing. Sometimes you’ve got a shot to change something. You may not know what the outcome will be, what the next chapter in your nation’s history will be but you know it will be different. And different is what we need right now.

The previous government did not go as far in tearing down a society built on hope, progress and honesty as Trump and the Republicans promise to in the coming years. However, they were moving in that direction, towards using fear, destroying knowledge, prioritizing money over lives or nature and defining a litmus test for Canadianness.

We cannot go down that road Prime Minister. Allowing more voices to be heard will allow us to continue on a different path. Diversity and openness have been our strongest and most rewarding values in the past 40 years. We still have not made up for the dark policies our nation carried out before that time, but we are healing and moving forward. We must not stop moving forward, even if all the world is turning back. They’re all wrong, and many of them even know it, but are unable to stop.

If we have a proportional system of voting and end up with more voices in parliament arguing and fighting for their issues, then that’s better. If proportional voting means we sending six or seven parties to parliament instead of five, that almost all of them will be interested in moving our country forward rather than backward. In fact, if some small parties show up with extremes views they will feel their voice is being heard in some way which reduces the anger of being ignored. They also will be less likely to hide their extreme views by fitting within a larger mainstream party. So I’m not worried about small parties trying to burn it all down. What I’m worried about is one party, getting absolute power even though the majority don’t want it and using that to mimic the ideas of fear, introversion and truthiness rising in so many of our allies.

There’s not much time to fix this. Things are going to keep moving quickly. It looks like your decision on how to deal with electoral reform will happen just as the fire is staring next door. Let’s choose something truly proportional that lets all voices be heard. Personally I think the people have spoken already by supporting your party and that we don’t need to be asked again to enact the new system. People will speak very loudly in the next few elections. If they reject it, they will reject it and it will be known even clearer than before. Everything can be changed, that’s the great thing about Canadian democracy, it’s up to us now, not some ancient founding father who could never have predicted this future. If we delay this change we may lose our one shot to make ourselves different enough to stop the cultural memes that enabled Trump to take hold there to take hold here.

We can’t save our cousins to the south. We can’t save the world. But consider this; if we can’t save ourselves from the oncoming storm, when we can see it so clearly, when we were are already in the process of building a defense, if Canada can’t do better with all the advantages the luck of history and geography have given us, with all the benefits the Charter gives us, with all the good will your government has right now; If we can’t do better then what hope does the world have?

 

So sing us out Prime Minister…

I am not throwing away my shot
I am not throwing away my shot
Hey yo, I’m just like my country
I’m young, scrappy and hungry
And I’m not throwing away my shot

I am not throwing away my shot
I am not throwing away my shot
Hey yo, I’m just like my country
I’m young, scrappy and hungry
And I’m not throwing away my shot

Message to Trudeau: #StickToThePlan

October 20, 2016

According to this article the Prime Minister had some words the other day in Montreal’s Le Devoir newspaper about how much support is now needed for different kinds of electoral reform. They weren’t the best words.

“Under the current system, (Canadians) now have a government they’re more satisfied with and the motivation to change the electoral system is less compelling”

and

“Less support and a small change could be acceptable. A bigger change would take greater support”

and then in parliament

“In the spring, the member opposite (Mulcair) was tremendously worried that we would use our majority to ram through changes to our electoral system and we worked with them to demonstrate the hard work that a committee could do, hearing all perspectives… Now, he’s changed his mind and he wants us to use our majority to ram through electoral change.”

Oh gosh.

There are a few things wrong with this entire line of discussion:

  1. It plays right into opposition arguments about Liberals changing their policies once they get in to power.
  2. Even worse, it plays to Conservative Party arguments that no change should be made without first going to a referendum. They are reading the mood of the country based on talking to people and polls. People will talk about it less right now because they are happy yes, but also because they assume it’s a done deal! Why rally in the streets when there is a minister travelling around doing town halls? There’s lots of support. And regardless, that’s your mandate! You were elected partially to fix our voting system. Stick to the plan. Don’t use the fact people aren’t protesting in the street to weaken the change. The Conservatives will use this window to argue that what is really needed is a referendum. Referenda are traditionally very very biased towards the status quo because it is easier to scare people to say no than to take a change and say yes to a particular policy. No change is perfect so it’s easy to come up with arguments against one, implicitly assuming the current system isn’t that bad. But in this case the status quo is that bad.
  3. It insults all the citizens who’s votes were wasted in the last election: Urban conservatives, rural Liberals, NDP voters, Green Voters. Just because the current system sometimes gives us parties that are good at governing doesn’t mean it’s working. The makeup of parliament should not be what it is today given the way people voted. 39% of the country supported the Liberals, they would likely still be in government under a better voting system. But they’d have a much stronger opposition and possibly be in a coalition with the NDP or the Greens. Even more likely, there would be a completely different party makeup once a few elections of effective voting allow people to create parties that truly match their beliefs.
  4. We’re. Not. Going. To. Take. It. The Liberals should be wary of underestimating how much the promise to change the voting system was part of their win. Most people in this country aren’t voting system nerds like me. The don’t really care about ranked ballot vs proportional or whatever. But they do have widespread, legitimate worries about politicians rigging the system in their favour, corruption, and business and usual power grabs. Whatever else the Liberals did and Trudeau appealed to in the last election, one thing you could always point to was that this was a party, and a leader, willing to promise in a concrete way to get change one of the structures in our democracy that benefits them. Sure the current voting system sometimes benefits the Conservatives greatly, but often it benefits the Liberals. Most importantly though, the current system has never, ever, benefited any other party in a structural way. The NDP and Bloc had to build incredible social movements just to be recognized in Parliament and the tiniest misstep has been enough historically to keep the NDP out of power against the two favoured, traditional parties. Don’t get me started on the amount of work the Greens have had to put in for their single seat when they should right have over a dozen.

 

Prime Minister Trudeau : #StickToThePlan #ERRE #DemReform

 

Teaching Yellow Dogs New Tricks

October 20, 2016

This is an interesting point by Stewart Prest at the Ottawa Citizen: Here’s an argument for Proportional Representation – the yellow dog effect. A yellow dog riding is what some call a ‘safe riding’ where the same party always wins the same seat election after election. More proportional voting would make most of these seats more competitive or at least give citizens multiple representatives.

I wonder if there is voter participation data on a per riding level that could let us see how much of the lack of low voter turnout is due to yellow dog ridings? I would assume voter turnout is much lower in a riding everyone knows won’t change hands. So nationally, how many of the people are sitting out of voting altogether are in those ridings?

My Letter to my MP on Electoral Reform

September 15, 2016
Dear Mr. Saini,
I am one of your constituents and I must say very happy you won your seat and your party won the recent election even though I am not always a Liberal voter.
I was unable to attend your open house last night in Kitchener with Minister Monsef but I have a strong interest in electoral reform and I’m very happy that this process is being carried out now under your government.
In the past I have been fairly active in arguing for electoral reform of some kind and for more proportional systems in particular.
Unfortunately I have not had much time to write on this topic since I returned to Ontario.
You can find my previous writing on the subject at my blog: Pop The Stack
But just to keep it short and fun here are couple discussions of electoral reform in the language of Lord of the Rings and Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy🙂
But in all seriousness, this process is a profoundly important one and I hope after the public consultation is done, your government will follow through looking at all the opinions.  Even more importantly I hope you will have the bravery to make the right choice and implement it without a referendum even if a loud minority disagrees with it.
Option 1 – STV
The best option is clearly some form of Single Transferable Vote with ridings of various sizes, 1-3 members in rural areas, maybe 5-6 in urban areas. The BC-STV system was a good approach and was supported by many people. It would allow for voters to have influence over the candidate each party can put forward over time and make government truly representative. It was brought down in the referendum by cynical people using people’s fears. They are against all change because they benefit from the existing system.
Don’t listen to those who say STV is too complicated for Canadians. If they can handle our Prime Minister giving a lecture on quantum computing they handle a ballot where they rank candidates from all parties and the votes are weighted and counted by a computer.

Option 2 – MMP
My second choice would be something along the lines of Mixed Member proportional with party lists. If the list system is open to some primary voting process to party members this would be even better.
Option N – Something else….
Now anything is better than our current system, I do believe that. So some list based, alternative vote or instant runoff system would be an improvement, as hobbits argued.
However, it has severe drawbacks in that a party which has many third or second ranked votes could be dropped off before those votes are used. This would in particular hurt parties competing in the ideological space of the Liberal party such as the NDP and especially the Green party.
So choosing such a system would be bad for the country, waste a once-in-a-generation opportunity for change, and look like the triangulating, strategic manipulation that Liberal opponents love to attack the party for. It would, in my opinion have a much greater chance of emboldening conservatives who support FPTP (for some reason) to use in a later election and would be at risk of being reversed. Which is strange because I truly believe conservative voters have should be even more eager for change that liberal voters (use of case intentional) as they have considerable wasted votes in the urban centres that are the engine of our country.
So that’s it. Do the right thing and make us proud.
Thank you for your time,
Mark Crowley

Come on Colorado, Just Take One Whiff, What Harm Could It Do?

May 5, 2016

Colorado may be about to try out another experimental lifestyle habit, single payer universal healthcare:

This needs to happen. Just try it out America! If you are so into allowing states to experiment just try it.

What trouble could one little state cause?…

Of course, this is how we got single payer in Canada. Saskatchewan tried it out, slowly country came along. 40 years later our health care system is one of the most commonly cited things Canadians are proud of about our country.

Amazing advice! One thing you can do today. The results will astound you!

October 19, 2015

Vote.

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