Many Canadians feel the federal government’s new online survey on democratic reform asks the wrong questions.

Some are calling the survey “leading”, others call it “vague”, others worry that the responses could be construed to manipulate a system that is preferred by some Liberal backroom operators – the Alternative Vote (AV or majoritarian ranked ballots with single winners / FPTP with a ranking option).

It definitely drags the dialogue backwards and reinforces myths about proportional representation.

Fair Vote Canada asked the Minister to include fair questions about the kind of system Canadians want – proportional representation. Our request was ignored.

Although billed as “not a referendum” thirteen million households in Canada will receive a postcard encouraging Canadians to complete it, to inform the government’s decision on electoral reform. It is extremely important that all Canadians who support proportional representation carefully consider these questions. Many include a negative qualifier that reinforce myths about proportional representation.

We have outlined below some of the most problematic questions and try to decipher what the survey is really asking.

 

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Key Questions Where You Can Say YES to Making Every Vote Count!
Plus: How to Work Around the Myths and the “Even If” Traps

We suggest disregarding the “even if” and consider the mythbuster that follows:


Q – There should be parties in Parliament that represent the views of all Canadians, even if some are radical or extreme.

A – Answering “strongly agree” supports proportional representation.

MYTHBUSTER: None of the PR models for Canada will encourage “radical” or “extreme” parties in Parliament. They are all moderate models with relatively high natural thresholds. There is zero appetite in Canada for “pure PR” and such models are not even in the realm of possibility. What needs to be conveyed to the government is not fear of diversity, but support for more diversity and a Parliament that reflects how Canadians voted. For example, in 2008 almost one million people (6.8%) voted for the Green Party but the Green Party voters received zero seats. In 2011, the Liberals got 9.3% of the vote in Alberta, but their voters got zero seats. If those voters had been represented, it would not have been “radical” or “extreme” – it would have been fair.


Q – There should be greater diversity of views in Parliament.

A – Answering “strongly agree” supports proportional representation.

PR results in a Parliament that fairly reflects Canada’s political diversity in every region.


Q – It is better for several parties to have to govern together than for one party to make all the decisions in government, even if it takes longer for government to get things done.

A – Answering “strongly agree” supports proportional representation.

We suggest disregarding the “even if” and consider the mythbuster that follows:

MYTHBUSTER:  Cooperative decision-making means that decisions made in Parliament will represent a genuine majority of voters – not 39%. Over 80% of OECD countries use PR and their politicians are used to working together. There is an abundance of evidence that countries with more collaborative decision making outperform those with winner-take-all systems on measures of democracy, environment, equality, and fiscal responsibility.


Q – Governments should have to negotiate their policy decisions with other parties in Parliament, even if it is less clear who is accountable for the resulting policy.

A – Answering “strongly agree” supports proportional representation.

We suggest disregarding the “even if” and consider the mythbuster that follows:

MYTHBUSTER: Cooperative decision-making means that decisions made in Parliament will represent a genuine majority of voters – not just 39%. There is no empirical evidence that such cooperation means that it’s not clear who is “accountable.” PR means greater accountability because each voter has a vote with real power to elect an MP and hold him or her accountable. In the last federal election, 52% of voters elected nobody. 39% majority governments are often not accountable to voters and Canadians resort to strategic voting to attempt to remove them. A 39% majority produced this survey after rejecting input from every other party in the House. Fair Vote Canada strongly recommends all candidates face the voters at election time.


Q – A ballot should be easy to understand, even if it means voters have fewer options to express their preferences.

A – To support proportional representation, consider answering disagree or strongly disagree. By doing so, you are answering in favour of more voter choice, which is associated with PR.

This is a particularly confusing, misleading question that makes it very difficult to tell the government what you really want.

PR ballots for Canada are simple and user-friendly. But it does not appear the government understands that.
PR ballots also offer voters more choice – either between MPs in a multi-member riding, or between local and regional MPs.
Proportional representation ballots are easy to use, offer more choice AND fair outcomes. 
It is not an either/or scenario.
First-past-the-post ballots are simple and they offer little choice.
Winner-take-all ranked ballots offer more choice but many ineffective votes and can lead to more distorted outcomes in the aggregate.

Of course we all want a ballot that is easy to understand. Who would say “I want a ballot that is incomprehensible?” There is no realistic risk that our MPs – many of whom are fighting against any change – are going to propose something overly complex if you express a preference for more effective choice.

But if you agree with the simple ballot statement in this survey, you risk telling the government that you like winner-take-all voting over choice because it is simple.

MYTHBUSTER: By electing multiple members in a riding or a region with PR, you have greater say for you over who represents you. Our Parliament will reflect how we voted. None of the PR ballots for Canada are difficult to use. PR means we have both – simple ballots and more choice. Voters in over 80% of OECD countries and 90 countries worldwide use proportional systems and do not find their ballots complicated. In fact, PR-STV was used in Canada for 30 years and voters had no problem with it.


Q – It should always be clear which party is accountable for decisions made by government, even if this means that decisions are only made by one party.

A – To support proportional representation, consider answering disagree or strongly disagree.

By doing so, you are answering in favour of cooperative decision making instead of single party 39% majorities.

MYTHBUSTER: This is a MISLEADING question inviting you to reinforce a myth that “accountability” comes from single party, false majority governments.  Cooperative decision making means that decisions made in Parliament will represent a genuine majority of voters – not 39%. PR means greater accountability because each voter has a vote with real power to elect an MP and hold him or her accountable. In the last federal election, 52% of voters elected nobody. 39% majority governments are often not accountable to voters and Canadians resort to strategic voting to attempt to remove them.


Q – Voters should be able to express multiple preferences on the ballot, even if this means that it takes longer to count the ballots and announce the election result.

A – Answering “strongly agree” supports proportional representation.

We suggest disregarding the “even if” and consider the mythbuster that follows:

MYTHBUSTER: More say on your ballot over who represents you will not necessarily lead to longer time to count the ballots. It completely depends on the design of the system and the the technology. If one version of PR means voters must wait an extra hour to find out the election results, is that a real concern?


Q – A party that wins the most seats in an election should still have to compromise with other parties, even if it means reconsidering some of its policies.  

Answering “strongly agree” supports proportional representation.

We suggest disregarding the “even if” and consider the mythbuster that follows:

MYTHBUSTER: Cooperation so that decisions are supported by MPs representing a genuine majority of voters does not mean that parties must “reconsider their policies.” It simply means parties work together to create a policy that will be supported by MPs representing a genuine majority of voters, every party will not get everything they want all the time. When a single party has a 39% majority, other parties and their voters get zero say into how the country is governed, effectively turning them into spectators.


“Priorities”

In this question, the government invites you to check your top priorities.

Highlighted below are the priorities that most strongly support proportional representation. Many of the other priorities are also associated with PR, but we have highlighted only the most obvious ones to send a strong message to the government about which direction voters would like to see them move.

  • Governments that collaborate with other parties in Parliament
  • Strengthening the link between voter intention and the election of representatives
  • Governments that consider all viewpoints before making a decision
  • Increasing voter turnout
  • Governments that can be easily held to account by voters
  • MPs that focus on what is best for the country
  • Ensuring the security of the voting process
  • Ensuring the voting process is easy to understand
  • Government with strong representation in every region
  • Allowing voters to express a wide range of preferences when voting
  • Governments that can make decisions quickly
  • Ability to vote online during elections
  • Better representation of groups that are currently underrepresented in Parliament
  • MPs who focus primarily on the interests of their local community
  • Increasing the presence of smaller parties in Parliament

For More information about the benefits of Proportional Representation, please see the brief we submitted to the Government: www.fairvote.ca/

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