Citizen Action Monitor

Bold gutsy action planning tips: Pt 4 of 4 – How to advocate for voting reform and democracy renewal

No 812 Posted by fw, July 17, 2013

In Part 3, Give the Media What They Want, Dave offered three tips on how to exploit what is potentially your group’s most powerful tool – the media. Dave’s tips:  1) see journalists as colleagues helping to get your story out; 2) how to make a small group seem bigger than it is; and 3) be fearless, gutsy and creative to give the media a dynamite story. To illustrate point three, Dave related three stories – The John Street Count, The Smog Hike and The Pee Wee Herman Picture Show.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Meslin gives very short shrift (about 86 seconds) to his number 4 of his talk entitled, “Embrace Deep Democracy.” It’s too short to merit a post so I’m skipping it entirely. Anyone who wants to listen to what he has to say on this topic can simply skip forward on the video to the start point at about the 20:02-minute mark.

In this post, my Part 4 in my series (number 5 in Meslin’s address), Dave urges activists to always be advocating for democratic reforms so more people can be heard and so we can quicken the pace of social change. He explores three main ideas: 1) why the 2011 federal election failed to give us the results we voted for; 2) why proportional representation is better; and 3) how a system of runoff voting using ranked ballots in municipal elections would ensure the “winner” had a “real” majority and didn’t simply slip through because of vote splitting among competing candidates. As well, runoff voting would ensure more people could run, thus increasing diversity on city council.

Personally speaking, I found Dave’s arguments for an Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) electoral system using Ranked Ballots wanting. Even allowing for the time constraints under which he was operating in his video presentation, his website promoting IRV/Ranked Ballot Initiative is equally short on details. It, too, fails to mention the complexity of IRV, its many variations, the complications of the voting process, ballot design, and ballot counting options. And he neglected to acknowledge the disadvantages as well as advantages of IRV. Dave appears to have let his unbridled enthusiasn for IRV interfere with his obligation to readers to ensure they are responsibly and fully informed. No doubt a sound case can be made for IRV, but Dave has yet to make it. For a more comprehensive treatment of IRV, see Wikipedia’s entry, Instant-runoff voting. I confess I found the Wiki piece overwhelming and can appreciate why Dave opted to keep his account simple.

As an aside, Dave’s attempt to draw analogies between the “market share” of small political parties and market share of small businesses was, in his words, “kind of sloppy” and his point was somewhat muddled.

To watch Dave’s presentation on the Mayfield website, the venue for his lecture, click on the following linked title. Better yet, watch an embedded video of Dave’s 29-minute video below, which includes my transcript with text highlighting of key sections.

Note that the transcript for my Part 4 (Dave’s number 5) starts at about the 21:32-minute mark and continues to the end of the video.

Five Good Ideas: Campaigning for Social Change, Dave Meslin, Maytree, January 17, 2012

TRANSCRIPT (Start at the 21:32-minute mark)

Dave’s Number 5 – Voting Reform and Democratic Renewal. I’m a full-on geek. One of the things I’m really geeky about is voting reform and democratic renewal. We’re very focused usually on who is running for office, who is in office, and what their policies are. I think sometimes we need to take a step back and look at how the system works. We have a great opportunity now because we’re probably not going to have any elections for about three years, maybe less, maybe more.

We’ve got a period of time now where we have three elections within a twelve month period, and we’re going to have a break now. Let’s look at how the system actually works. I’ll give you a few quick examples of why this is important.

If we have democratic systems that don’t give us the results we vote for it makes the rest of our advocacy almost meaningless. People campaigned throughout the whole last federal election trying to convince people to be left of centre, right of centre, in the centre. And in the end most Canadians rejected the Conservatives. The advocacy worked! Everyone who tried to convince people to vote left or centre-left won. They won the election. Amazing! Except that Harper has the majority. Including ten seats in Torontohalf of the seats in Toronto went to the Harper Conservatives, even though most people in every single one of those ridings voted for the other parties. In fact, the Harper Conservatives won most of those seats because the NDP vote went really high. Toronto shifted way to the left in those Scarborough and Etobicoke, North York ridings. And they ate into the Liberal vote. The biggest percent shift in those ridings wasn’t the Tories going up, it was the NDP going up.

So why don’t we fix that system? Two quick ideas here.

First is called proportional representation. And PR is used in most democracies all across the world. All these new democracies emerging from the Arab Spring, none of them are looking at Canada as an example of how to run their democracy. In fact, when they came up with their short list of which options to look at I doubt it [Canada] was even on that. It’s not even a democratic system really. It’s a joke. It doesn’t work. Our elections are almost random. So proportional representation would ensure that every party gets the proportion of seats that they got with their vote. And the reason that this is really important is that the role of small parties isn’t necessary to form power.

In the private sector, small businesses play a huge role in shifting the marketplace by stealing a bit of the market share. So if a small store fifteen years ago, like Earthroots (sic) starts selling a lot of recycled paper then the big companies like Staples have to say “Okay we’re losing a little bit of market share. People want recycled paper let’s get recycled paper.” Those small stores impact the whole market place. Earthroots (sic) will never…sorry, Grassroots will never become a massive supplier. But stores like that affect it because of the market share. If they steal one percent of the market share, that’s a lot of money.

The Green Party has stolen from five to ten percent of the market share. People are voting green. The thing is it’s not translating into dollars so that market signal isn’t being sent. The other parties can essentially ignore the Green Party because even though people are buying that paper it’s not actually taking revenue off of the… Do you understand the metaphor? It’s kind of sloppy. Our system, the free market, works very well in allowing small businesses to shift the market place. We need that to happen in our democracy as well.

And the other thing I want to mention quickly is instant runoff voting using ranked ballots. It’s not a proportional system but it’s for local politics at the city level and I think it would transform our democracy in tons of ways. We all know what’s happening right now at city hall. There’s good reasons for us to look at fixing our system. It would do a few things. Just give me one minute to wrap this up.

Number one, we hear a lot about how city councillors are in for life. Once you’re elected you’re a councillor for life because of name recognition. It’s not true, absolutely not true. Half of [Toronto] city council won their seats with less than fifty percent. Half of those are incumbents. So we’re talking twenty-five percent of city council were in office before, and most of their constituents said “We don’t want you back.” Ten city councillors.

It’s a complete myth that these folks are winning on name recognition. They all got their seats back – those ten – because the opposition vote was split. So if I’m a city councillor with only thirty percent support, seventy percent hate my guts, I’m in big trouble. If you run against me (points to a person in the audience) you’ll get seventy. But if you run against me, and you run against me, and you do, and you do, and you do, and you do, I’m okay. You guys will split the seventy. You all got ten, fifteen, twenty-one, and I win with thirty.

Runoff voting makes sure that people actually have a majority, which means more turnover. We can never increase diversity on city council unless we increase turnover, because most of them are white men. We know that.

The other thing that it does is that it makes campaigning more positive. In a runoff race, if I’m running against this table, under the current system I would benefit by just trashing them. Digging up dirt, saying bad things – “We don’t want women.” Whatever I could find that separates me from you and negatively criticize you because I want people to not like you and like me. And that’s why we have so much negative campaigning.

In a runoff race, that’s a really bad strategy. I’ll win in a runoff by making sure that your supporters like me. So if you drop off first, your supporters will come to me. I can’t trash you. So it would raise the level of debate, the positivity. It would ensure that we have more turnover, which is more diversity.

And one more last thing. It also ensures that more people can run. Because again, under the current system, because of vote splitting, if me and Rudna are running against each other and the real issue of the day is long hair versus kind of short hair, if someone else wants to come into the race who has short hair – let’s say you want to run (point to person in the audience) the short hair people are going to say, “You shouldn’t run. You’ll split the vote. It’s a big mistake. Don’t run.” And I’ve seen this happen in every ward. It’s usually young people. It’s usually women. It’s often women of colour. And they’re stepping aside for someone who has better connections than they do, who’s related to a politician, who’s worked for a politician. And that’s what’s keeping diversity out of city council. People are being told not even to run. And we can never measure that through data and statistics because we don’t know. They’re not even on the ballot.

I’m a little over time. I’m just going to wrap up by saying…by summarizing the five –

  1. Be creative to recruit new energy beyond those who are already engaged
  2. Give your membership the tools they need to be advocates themselves
  3. Transform your view of the media into a symbiotic collaboration
  4. Embrace other opinions and be willing to change your own
  5. Always be advocating for democratic reforms so more people can be heard and so we can quicken the pace of social change.

Thank you.


FAIR USE NOTICE: This blog, Citizen Action Monitor, may contain copyrighted material that may not have been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. I claim no ownership of such materials. Such material, published without profit, is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues. It is published in accordance with the provisions of the 2004 Supreme Court of Canada ruling and its six principle criteria for evaluating fair dealing.

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