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One of our members received a copy of this letter sent to the Vancouver Sun newspaper:

—- Original Message —–

From: John Fryer

To: sunletters@vancouversun.com

Sent: Saturday, March 03, 2012 2:14 PM

Subject: Letter to the editor

Dear Editor,

In January 2010 my UVic inbox had an e-mail invite from the Manning Centre for Democracy to a Campaign School. Intrigued,I signed up for the 3 day event. Topics covered included voter identification. Discussion ensued about suppression techniques. Instructors explained voter suppression tactics were borrowed  from those used by the U.S. Republican Party.

Many kinds of suppression calls were canvassed. Another instructor gave detailed explanations of how robo calls worked, techniques for recording messages plus costs involved. He distributed his business card upon request. Instructors made clear that robo calling and voter suppression were perfectly acceptable and a normal part of winning political campaigns.

The denials now expressed by the Prime Minister and his Parliamentary associates thus ring hollow if not something worse. Having attended this Campaign School it’s obvious that for Conservatives voter suppression strategies are standard in their playbook on how to conduct elections. Having thus lowered their standard of election ethics to that of their Republican cousins it is hardly surprising that the result is a so-called majority government that was voted for by 39% of the 61% who managed to get to their proper polling station. A majority government supported by a mere 26 percent of Canadians.

A more compelling case for changing to a system of proportional representation where each and every vote counts is hard to imagine.

Sincerely yours,

John Fryer C.M.

Adjunct Professor,

School of Public Administration,

University of Victoria.

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by Phil Elder

One critique of the Occupy movement claims it is unnecessary because Democracy is very alive and very well in this country … (Letter to the Globe and Mail, November 19). I only wish it were true. In fact, Canadian democracy has big problems. Politics is in disrepute and citizen engagement in politics voter turnout, political party membership and the number volunteering for political campaigns – is way down.

Why, and what can be done about it? These complicated questions deserve a book, but I think that the present electoral system and the Conservative governments disdain for Parliament and the rule of law are major contributors.

1. The first-past-the-post (FPTP) electoral system grotesquely distorts election results in Canada, frustrating the will of the people and thereby discrediting democracy.

With FPTP, all votes for losing candidates are useless. In Albertas 2008 election, the Progressive Conservatives received 52.6 per cent of the votes, but won 87 per cent of the seats. Almost half the voters supported other parties but had to be content with only 13 per cent of the seats.

In New Brunswick in 1987, Frank McKennas provincial Liberals received 60 per cent of the vote, yet won all the seats. That means that 40 per cent of the voters supported parties which were totally excluded from the Legislature. These voters might as well have stayed home.

Under Kim Campbells leadership in the 1993 federal election, her Progressive Conservatives received 16 per cent of the vote, but won only two seats. Yet in the same election, the Reform party with about 19 per cent of the vote won 52 seats, 26 times more, because its support was heavily concentrated in one region, the west. No wonder voter turnout has declined (although bitter partisanship and posturing bluster by politicians have also contributed to our democratic malaise).

There is a remedy for these egregious distortions of the peoples will: change FPTP to some form of proportional representation (PR), so that each partys seat count corresponds more closely to the overall percentage of votes gained. This should greatly increase voter turnout, especially among supporters of smaller parties whose votes today are mostly symbolic, as all votes would be counted when calculating percentages to top up the number of constituency seats won.

2. The Harper government has repeatedly shown disdain for parliamentary tradition and the rule of law. For example, Mr. Harper told Conservative senators to refuse to debate a bill on climate change passed by the House of Commons, so it died. This breach of constitutional tradition showed contempt for elected MPs.

In 2009, Mr. Harper prorogued Parliament in mid-session, which killed all legislative bills in process. Then, he had the gall to accuse the opposition of refusing to pass this legislation. Part of the reason for proroguing was that the Conservatives were threatened with a potential contempt of parliament ruling from the Speaker of the House of Commons because of their refusal to provide documents ordered by the House of Commons concerning the treatment of Afghan detainees.

Consider Hon. Bev Odas decision to reverse the meaning of a CIDA policy recommendation AFTER officials had signed it, so that aid to church-backed aid organization KAIROS and its international relief work would not only be refused but it would seem that CIDA had so recommended. Reversing her earlier testimony at a Commons committee where she had claimed not to know who penned the extra word Oda revealed she had, in fact, directed an unnamed official to add the word not to the recommendation.

Yet the government backed her, even though she had apparently misled the House – traditionally grounds for a minister’s dismissal.

The Harper regime ignored a Commons motion demanding details about the costs of various plans to spend billions of tax dollars on corporate tax cuts, prison expansions and untendered stealth fighter jets. All expenditures are to be introduced into, debated and approved by the House of Commons. How can this be done if estimates are not provided?

Other examples exist, but the remedy seems obvious. Elect a different government. We had our chance (most of these examples preceded the last election), but elected a majority Conservative government anyway. Was the electorate asleep?

In fairness, other parties also have anti-democratic skeletons in the closet. But todays Conservatives consistently choose short-term partisan advantage over democracy, which is especially worrisome. It sometimes seems that were in the United States. Canadians are not alone in failing to perceive a gap between our democratic rhetoric and our politicians behaviour. For proof, see the powerful video pointing out the hypocrisy of American politicians who glorify the Arab Spring demonstrations, yet tell their own police to end the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Why have Canadian voters sloughed off these abuses of democracy? It seems cheap to suggest that we have just become fat and lazy. More probably, the increased pace of life and threats to our economic security have distracted us from our duties of citizenship.

It’s also partly because our educators don’t teach enough political history, so that students dont appreciate what it took to win our democratic system. Another reason is the shortened and increasingly superficial attention span of our communications media which rarely give sustained attention to serious issues. If the medium is the message, it seems that the message is that pretty visuals are worth more than a thousand thoughts.

Perhaps too, Canadians values have gone astray. Our former desire for social and distributive justice, and apparently the rule of law, has been warped by a neo-conservative con job about the glories of competitive individualism. But rugged individuals, untrammelled and free, never existed in the state of nature (or even in the state of Texas). In our original condition, we were a social and instinctively cooperative species. We must never forget this, in spite of the present sovereignty of greed.

So let our educators, and immigration officials, teach our rich democratic tradition and the rule of law and the protests and deep commitment which created them. Let the media stop dumbing things down and feeding a celebrity-obsessed popular culture. Let them resume fair but critical investigation and commentary about our collective project to live together more harmoniously and fairly. And let us all follow the golden rule, as politicians, leaders and citizens.

An edited version of this article appeared on troymedia on Nov. 21.

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

February 24, 2010

GRASSROOTS GROUP CALLS FOR RETURN TO PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION

A grassroots citizens’ group is calling for the provincial Conservatives to put “proportional representation” (PR) at the top of the list when they announce long-awaited electoral reforms in the next few days.  The Alberta Democratic Renewal Project (ADRP) has released a paper that concludes proportional representation would be the “fairest and most democratic” voting system Alberta could implement.

Proportional representation is an electoral formula aimed at achieving a closer match between the percentage of votes that groups of candidates obtain in elections and the percentage of seats they receive in the legislature.

Phil Elder, co-chair of the ADRP, states that under Alberta’s current first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting system, the Conservative government has “had a free ride into power for nearly four decades.” Elder points to the last provincial election where he says the FPTP system allowed the Conservatives, with 52 per cent of the popular vote, to win 87 per cent of the legislature seats.

“When the voices of nearly half the voters in the province have minimal to no representation, something in the electoral system is seriously wrong. We believe that too many parties have been splitting the opposition vote and that perpetual one-party rule and weak oppositions are unhealthy for democracy.  As Tom Flanagan said, ‘a party that can always count on winning is likely to become unresponsive and even corrupt.’ We believe that’s exactly what’s happened in Alberta under our current system.”

Elder, a lawyer and retired professor, suggests that if Alberta’s Liberals, New Democrats, and former Greens were to cooperate and vote strategically in the next election, a one-term coalition government could be formed that could legislate PR.  “Contrary to popular belief, Alberta has been the most adventurous province in terms of electoral system experimentation. As the British Columbia citizens’ assembly noted, not only did Alberta employ preferential voting longer than any other province (from 1926-1959), but it used proportional representation in Calgary and Edmonton during those decades. We believe it’s time to return to a version of that older, more just system.”

Elder also refers to the 2004 Law Reform Commission Report that “speaks volumes about Canada’s dismal voting record.” The report states that “For the past decade or so, Canada has been in the grip of a democratic malaise evidenced by decreasing levels of political trust, declining voter turnout, increasing cynicism toward politicians and traditional forms of political participation, and growing disengagement of young people from politics” (“Voting Counts: Electoral Reform For Canada” PDF, 209 pages).  Elder suggests that enacting proportional representation as Alberta’s number one electoral reform would go a long way to help bring democracy back to the province. “Voters would have more confidence in a system where every vote counts.”

For more information, download the PDF of the Alberta Democratic Renewal Project report on Proportional Representation:

https://drpalberta.files.wordpress.com/2010/02/adrp-proportional-representation.pdf

# # #

_____________________________________________________________________________________________

CONTACT:

Phil Elder

Professor Emeritus, U of C

Co-chair, Alberta Democratic Renewal Project (Calgary)

elder@ucalgary.ca

Phone: 403-283-8085

Alvin Finkel

Professor of History, Athabasca University

Co-chair, Alberta Democratic Renewal Project (Edmonton)

alvinf@athabascau.ca

__________________________________________________________

Nancy Ginzer

Media representative, Alberta Democratic Renewal Project (Calgary)

drpcalgary@shaw.ca

Phone: 403-233-8750

Websites:

www.drproject.ca

http://www.drpcalgary.com

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