122: Ottawa Centre Election Reform

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Julien Lamarche is the President of the NCR Chapter of Fair Vote Canada. I met Julian via Twitter through several online discussions. Julien attended the Ottawa West-Nepean election reform meeting as I did (you can read my post on that meeting here: https://redheartbluesign.wordpress.com/2016/10/02/120-owns-electoral-reform-town-hall/ ). Julien works as a software developer in the private sector. He is also an advocate for safe cycling. You can follow Julien on Twitter at @cyclingzealot.

I was unable to attend the Ottawa Centre Election Reform meeting this month so I have asked Julien to be a (the first) guest contributor to #RedHeartBlueSign and present his observations of the meeting. I have not edited or changed his words some changes were made for formating purposes only.

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The town hall for Catherine McKenna, MP for Ottawa-Centre, followed the recommended format set out by the Ministry of Democratic Institutions. That is, invite the crowd to break down into groups of 5 to 10 people, discuss the following questions and have someone report back. The questions were:

  1. What is your opinion of our current electoral system? What do you think are its flaws? What do you think are its strengths? Do you feel though your vote is fairly translated through our current First-Past-The-Post system?
  1. What specific features are important to you in our electoral system? Local representation, proportionality, simplicity, legitimacy, inclusiveness, effectiveness?
  1. Many Canadians choose not to participate in our democratic process. What do you think can be done to encourage greater participation?
  1. Should it be mandatory to cast a ballot (choosing “none of the above” or spoiling the ballot would be allowed under mandatory voting)?
  1. Should online voting be an option? If so, do you have any specific concerns and do you think there are ways those concerns could be addressed?

There were 10 tables of about 9-10 people for an approximate count of 150 people, though there are some reports of 200 people. The breakdown into subgroups has many advantages over the town hall format where people line up at an open mic:

  1. It allows for many conversations to happen, sharing knowledge & opinions
  1. It encourages more civility in conversation

The only advantage the open mic format has: it permits clarification to be brought to the entire assembly. But that advantage is quickly lost by the vitriol it also brings. I love giving a passionate speech for voter equality, but any format which diminishes the advantage of the loudest person and encourage knowledge sharing gets my vote.

Question 4 & 5 were the quickest to deal with. Along with question 1, they also make for easy straw polls (who wants change? who doesn’t?). Question 3 and 2 were harder to summarize as the reporter of my group. I discuss how question 2 could be further broken down into subquestions here: https://jlam.wordpress.com/2016/10/15/question-2-of-town-halls/

Opponents of reform or of the Liberal party have reported that Catherine McKenna ended the evening “promoting” ranked ballots. This is a gross misrepresentation. She simply asked the crowd if there was a preference for “ranked ballots” to which I and others quickly requested clarification if she meant Alternative Vote (majoritarian, single member ridings) or Single Transferable Vote (proportional, multi member ridings). The difference *really* matters and it’s one that gets lost with the term “ranked ballot”.

If it matters to you though, she did mean Alternative Vote. This voting system also gets called “Preferential Voting”, “Instant Runoff” and unfortunately, “ranked ballots”.

Most importantly, the question was preceded by questions about voting reform and proportionality. In the context of various straw polls on the crowds preference, to call it “promotion” is an exaggeration.

For more information on proportional voting systems, see http://fairvote.ca/proportional-representation/

Thank you for reading this post; to catch all  posts and be notified as new ones come up please follow me on WordPress. I can be found on Twitter @robertdekker & @rdmediaottawa and on Facebook at http://tiny.cc/n5l97.

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