Advocatus Diaboli

This blog is about things, issues, ideas, and concepts on subjects focusing on Canada, Canadian Issues and Affairs and those that affect Canada and Canadians from afar.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Norm’s Note and Notions on Democratic Reform and Electoral Reform:

Pre-Amble:

Getting the ball rolling on Democratic and Electoral Reform in Alberta should be something the Alberta Greens look at pushing on to the public and media agenda, prior to the new leaders of the Tory’s taking the throne. We can do this by hosting a series of public round tables around the provinces, tapping into our connections in the various political science faculties, and others to provide the backbone so it is a legitimate event and process.

Democratic and Electoral Reform is an area that all of the current Provincial Parties sitting in the legislature are vulnerable on, and it is something that the majority of Albertan’s are looking for, and it is something that can attract the non-voters to the Green Party.

Thought I might put my two cents forward on Democratic and Electoral Reform.

My Recommendations for Policies:

o The provincial Legislature should sit at least 200 days, and no more than 250 days
o Power must be devolved down to the MLA’s
o The Legislative Committee system must be revived, and allowed to become an integral step in the legislative process, with regards to all things the Provincial government does.
o These committees must travel to other parts of the province to hear from Albertans.
o There must be a new system to televise all proceedings of the Legislative activities, either via television or over the Internet.
o There must be a truly interactive system set up for the public to have input through the legislative committees.
o Appointments to provincial boards, agencies and such must be done through the committee system and in public
o MLA’s must be given a seat on the boards of all groups, agencies, and such that receive provincial monies.
o Similar legislation for election financing, at least equal to that of the federal election financing legislation must be enacted in the first term of the Alberta Green Party being elected to power.
o There must be ‘Whistleblower,’ Legislation enacted in the first term of the Alberta Green Party being elected to power.
o All MLA’s must be required to hold quarterly town hall meetings, with a suitable amount of money to fund such to follow the change in policy.
o Funding for MLA’s to each have a fulltime assistant for their office in Edmonton and Constituency office in their ridings.
o Funding for each MLA to have a fulltime researcher.
§ Neither of these positions is to report to or through the Public Affairs department or Premiers office.
§ They are to work for the MLA’s.
§ Each assistant is to be paid accordingly with what a civil servant would be paid. With benefits as well.
o MLA’s salaries must be substantive enough to attract good people to the posts.
o Each MLA must be given a substantial communications budget
o Each MLA must be encouraged to engage outside researchers with an appropriate budget.
o Lobbyist legislation at least equal to that of the Federal government’s must be enacted in its entirety unlike that of the Federal government’s legislation.
o With in one year of being elected a citizens panel will be organized to research and develop a new and more representative system of electing MLA’s to the Legislature for presenting to Albertan’s to vote on with in three years after their start.
o A fixed term for elections to happen every four years on the same date.
o To hold extend the term of City elected officials to four years and their election to be held on the same date as the provincial election.
o MLA’s to only hold their seats for three terms, with a premier only allowed to hold that position for two terms at a maximum.


Background:

These are two distinct areas, but one relates to the other. In a study conducted by the Chief Electoral Officer right after the 2000 election it was found that up to 80% of those under 30 – 35 years of age, who were eligible to vote in Canada, voted.

The percentage over all, of all those who were eligible to vote in Canada, and voted was 50%.

The same numbers can be extrapolated to Alberta where only about 26% of the eligible voters in the province of Alberta for the last provincial election voted for Ralph Klein’s Tories.

That means 74% did not. In many ridings in Alberta, less than 50% of the voters that showed up voted for the winning candidate. Be they Tory, Liberal or NDP.

One of the reasons for this falling turn out that consistently showed in the aforementioned study, as given by those that did not show up, was that they did not think their vote mattered, the politicians did not related to their needs, or things would not changed despite them voting.

That means in order to get more people to become involved in the civic/political arena you need to show them a direct link to them voting, and the changes or activities of the elected officials that relate most to them. In addition there needs to be a direct view of the work that the elected officials are doing, a link from that to open discussions with both the rank and file voter, bureaucrats and stakeholders in an issue or policy, and its outcome.

There also needs to be a reason for people to get involved in the political process outside of the one open door meeting they come to, to bitch about something directly affects them, and voting, working to get good people elected or even run themselves.

To do the latter, the process and the actual mechanics of being an elected official must change.

Someone who is use to seeing results of their actions, or separating their work and private lives from each other, will quickly be discouraged, if we keep the current adversarial nature of politics.

To be good people involved in politics, you must be prepared to work on a realistic conflict of interest policy, and keep the possible conflicts in the public light, so people can see what is going on in front of the closed doors of cabinet, or the premier’s office.

As an example, a business-person who has build up a successful business in a smaller centre, is going to have many people that are their friends or business associates, that may do business with the government. What gives first to pay the costs of that businessperson entering politics? Do they give up their long friendships and business relationships, for politics, or do they just not get involved in politics?

We seem to be able to trust our judges to have a long legal career with many friends that have evolved over the years from the work, and allow the judge and lawyers to work out the conflicts amongst themselves.

Participatory democracy means many things to many people; it can also be a double-sided sword that leads to inertia.

It is something that is needed though, and much easier to do now, with the advent of technology.

What Other Provinces are doing:

• British Columbia adopted an innovative approach with the creation of a Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform. It had 160 members, selected by draw from a list of names that reflected the gender, age and geographical make-up of British Columbians. The Assembly spent nearly one year deliberating on whether British Columbia should change its electoral system. In December 2004, it submitted its final report, in which it recommended the single transferable vote (STV) system for British Columbia. The proposal was put to the voters of British Columbia as a referendum question during the provincial election held on May 17, 2005. Although the proposal was approved by a majority of voters, it did not attain the required 60% approval of ballots cast province-wide and by a “simple majority” of the ballots in 60% of the 79 electoral districts.
• In New Brunswick, the government established a Commission on Legislative Democracy in December 2003. The eight-person Commission was given a broad mandate “to examine and make recommendations on strengthening and modernizing the electoral system and democratic institutions and practices in New Brunswick to make them more fair, open, accountable and accessible to New Brunswickers.” In its final report, released on January 19, 2005, the Commission recommended a regional Mixed Member Proportional system that would combine 36 single-member riding seats with 20 list PR seats, elected within four approximately equal-sized, multi-member, regional districts. In order to implement this change, the Commission advised that the Government of New Brunswick hold a binding referendum no later than the next provincial election so that, should the change be accepted, it could be in place in time for a provincial election in 2011. The Commission made recommendations about many other matters, including the adoption of fixed election dates.

• In March 2003, the Estates General on the Reform of Democratic Institutions (the Béland Commission) presented its report to the Quebec government. In addition to studying the reform of the voting system, the Commission looked at such issues as lowering the voting age and fixed election dates. The Steering Committee for the Estates General visited twenty communities in Quebec and held 27 public hearings. The Estates General was held in February of 2003 where 1,000 people were brought together to deliberate on these issues. The Commission recommended a change in the voting system to a form of regional proportional representation that would add compensatory measures to correct for proportionality while maintaining the link between the citizen and the representative. While the Quebec government has not adopted the recommendation of the Estates General, it introduced a draft bill in the National Assembly in December 2004, which, among other reforms, proposes a mixed electoral system in which voters would have one vote. A committee of the National Assembly will undertake extensive public consultations on the changes recommended in the draft bill.

• In January 2003, the Government of Prince Edward Island appointed a retired Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Prince Edward Island to examine options for reform of the Island’s electoral system. The Commissioner’s report in December 2003 recommended a Mixed Member Proportional system, as well as further study of the issue, including more public consultation. On December 16, 2004, the Legislative Assembly passed a motion directing the Standing Committee on Legislative Management to appoint an eight-person commission to be known as the Commission on Prince Edward Island’s Electoral Future. The Commission is required to develop and conduct a public education program to increase understanding of first-past-the-post and the Mixed Member Proportional systems, develop a clear and concise plebiscite question, and to make a recommendation on when the plebiscite on this matter should be held.

• In Ontario, the provincial government announced on October 23, 2003 the creation of the Democratic Renewal Secretariat, to be located within the Ministry of the Attorney General, with a mandate “to modernize Ontario’s democratic institutions so that they more fully reflect 21st Century realities.” This includes such elements of the electoral system as Internet and telephone voting, transparent and effective limits on money in politics, fixed election dates, and ways to get more young people involved in the democratic process. In November 2004, the government further announced that a citizens’ assembly will be created to examine the first-past-the-post electoral system and to recommend possible changes, with a referendum to be held if an alternative electoral system is recommended. On March 7, 2005, the government tabled democratic renewal legislation. If passed, the legislation will give Elections Ontario the ability to select volunteers for the Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform.

The issue has also been placed on the agenda at the federal level. In March 2004, the Law Commission of Canada published a report Voting Counts: Electoral Reform for Canada, in which it recommended that Canada adopt a Mixed Member Proportional system for elections to the House of Commons. This report was based on extensive research and a multi-faceted citizen engagement strategy. This engagement process included public consultations, special events and forums, contact with local community groups, and a web-based questionnaire, in addition to a program of research. The goal of the Law Commission was to ensure that a broad and diverse cross-section of citizens had an opportunity to share their thoughts and provide feedback. In order to facilitate the process of reform, the Law Commission recommended that the federal government prepare draft legislation on the Mixed Member Proportional system recommended in the report. The report further recommended that once legislation was drafted, a parliamentary committee could use the legislation to initiate an extensive and inclusive public consultation process.

Our Committee approached this study by hearing from a number of witnesses. These included representatives of the Law Commission of Canada; representatives from various groups involved with public policy; academics who have studied issues relating to electoral reform and public consultations; and representatives of various provincial initiatives involving reviews of electoral systems. A complete list of witnesses is annexed as an Appendix to this report. All of these individuals and groups have been extremely helpful in providing members of the Committee with valuable insight on how to approach the issue of electoral reform, the ways in which to review the existing electoral system, and how best to consult with and engage citizens.

In March 2005, members of the Committee divided into two groups and travelled to several countries in order examine at first hand the experience of electoral reform and to see how those countries had consulted and engaged citizens in the reform process. Seven Members travelled to Edinburgh, Scotland; London, England; and Berlin, Germany, while six other Members travelled to Wellington, New Zealand, and Canberra, Australia. During these trips, the Members had the opportunity to meet with a wide variety of politicians, academics, representatives of political parties and electoral commissions, and persons involved with electoral reform, among others, and to study at close hand the systems in these countries, and the processes of reform that were utilized, where applicable.

As the Order of Reference makes clear, our mandate is to recommend a process that engages citizens and parliamentarians in an examination of our electoral system with a review of all options. In undertaking our study, it was inevitable – indeed, it was necessary and desirable – for us to examine some of the types of reforms that could be made. Many of the witnesses and the people that we met discussed the advantages and disadvantages of proportional representation, and various changes that could be considered to the Canadian electoral system.

In the final analysis, however, this report is necessarily concerned with the process for examining the electoral system, rather than with the examination itself.
Despite different approaches to the study of electoral reform, it is clear that no contemplated change can be done without citizen engagement. A successful consultation strategy will ensure that the process is, and is seen to be, objective, transparent and accountable. Citizen engagement also gives legitimacy to the recommendations that are made. The electoral system must reflect the views, the priorities, and the values of Canadians, and their involvement is essential.

At the same time, the Committee feels strongly that Parliamentarians also have an integral role to play in any evaluation of the electoral system and of any proposed changes. Ultimately, any decision to change the electoral system is a political one. Many of the Members of the Committee have strong views on the necessity for electoral reform, and types of changes that should be considered. The witnesses that we heard from, and our visits abroad, provided considerable insight into the alternatives that are available, and their relative strengths and weaknesses. In particular, the applicability of proportional representation to Canada, including its different elements, is an issue on which all Members have perspectives based, in part, on their political experiences and their study of different electoral systems. The views and experiences of Members are an important component of approaching electoral reform.
After careful consideration of all of the issues and perspectives, the Committee has decided to recommend the following process for examining our electoral system and the options. Our proposed system is designed to engage both citizens and Parliamentarians, and attempts to do so in a timely manner. It does not presume that any particular reform will be adopted, or, indeed, whether the current system should be reformed. It is, however, intended to provoke a public discussion and debate on the merits of electoral reform. Careful scrutiny of our electoral system is more important than ever, and will ensure that it continues to mirror the values of Canadians and promotes our commitment to democratic institutions.

This article comes from Fair Vote Canada:
URL: http://www.fairvotecanada.org/fvc//

As half of Canada’s provinces move closer to an historic transformation of their electoral systems, Fair Vote Canada (FVC) released the first detailed comparative analysis of the proportional representation (PR) voting systems being proposed for British Columbia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Quebec. At least two of these provinces will hold referendums this year.

“Our assessments run the gamut from very positive to very negative,” said Fair Vote Canada president Wayne Smith. “We focused our analysis on two simple principles: that all voters are equal and every vote should count. We also considered the systems’ likely effect on fair representation for women, minorities, and Aboriginals, and on accountable government, geographic representation, and real voter choice.” The complete 18-page assessment report is available here.

British Columbia: BC voters will decide by referendum on May 17, 2005 whether to adopt the BC-STV system, a form of proportional representation recommended by the BC Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform. Fair Vote Canada recommends a ‘Yes’ vote, rather than continuing with the grossly unfair first-past-the-post voting system. However, FVC also urges British Columbians to consider this the first step in a continuing reform process, and to press for further improvements to increase proportionality and enhance diversity in the legislature.

New Brunswick: Fair Vote Canada believes the mixed member proportional (MMP) system recently proposed by the province’s Commission on Legislative Democracy would perform reasonably well. If presented in a referendum, Fair Vote Canada would encourage a ‘Yes’ vote. However, further improvements are still possible and recommended. Fair Vote Canada supports the Commission's proposal to Premier Lord for a referendum no later than the 2007 provincial election.

Prince Edward Island: Islanders will vote on a proposed MMP system in late 2005. While important decisions on the proposed system have yet to be made, Fair Vote Canada believes that the process is generally on track. The final version of the proposed MMP system, if well designed by the new Commission in a citizen-driven process, could be a major improvement over first-past-the-post voting.

Quebec: Fair Vote Canada is disappointed with the voting system model released in December 2004 by the Minister for the Reform of Democratic Institutions. The MMP framework provides a very good foundation on which to build a fair voting system, but the current proposal must be greatly improved. We urge the Minister to establish a citizen-driven process to improve the proposal, and then allow voters to make the final decision in a referendum, perhaps in the spring of 2006.


New Brunswick Commission on Legislative Democracy

http://www.gnb.ca/0100/index-e.asp

Final Report and Recommendations

The New Brunswick Commission on Legislative Democracy is pleased to provide you with a copy of its Final Report and Recommendations.
Following more than a year of research, consultations, and deliberation the Commission's Final Report contains 89 significant recommendations to create a more citizen-centred democracy in New Brunswick. The report was released publicly today by the Commission and tabled in the Legislative Assembly by Premier Bernard Lord.

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