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Citizens' Assembly members had a hefty reading and study list for the summer of 2004. We thought you might be interested, too, in reading about some of the latest developments to that time in electoral reform:
1. The Law Commission of Canada has published a report entitled Voting Counts: Electoral Reform for Canada that advocates the adoption of an MMP system for election of members to the House of Commons. The Law Commission is made up of five commissioners (one full-time, the others part-time) appointed by the government of Canada to do research, and publish reports, on issues they believe important.
This report argues that the time has come for electoral reform and after a very cursory description (and dismissal) of other electoral systems proposes a version of MMP with 2/3 of the seats in constituencies as present, the rest in provincial lists that would be "flexible", but which in practice would probably work as closed lists.
2. The Richard Commission (on the powers and electoral arrangements of the National Assembly for Wales) reported that the Welsh assembly needs to increase in size, and recommended that it should move from its current AMS (what we call MMP) electoral system to the Single Transferable Vote (STV).
The Commission was set up to examine the experience of the new Welsh Assembly. That body had been created with significantly less powers than the Scottish parliament (created at the same time). The commissioners believe that the Welsh Assembly needs to have its powers and responsibilities changed to more closely mirror other UK parliaments and argue that, to make the system work, the Assembly will need to be a bit larger and change its electoral system.
The report is a long one: Chapter 12 deals with the electoral system and why the commission believes it should be changed.
3. Vancouver electoral commissioner Tom Berger’s report, A City of Neighbourhoods , recommends that the city adopt the single-member plurality (First Past the Post) electoral system for city council elections, but keep the at-large system for electing the Parks Board.
Commissioner Berger notes that the current Vancouver Charter limits (by provincial law) what the city can do, making it impossible for it to adopt any form of proportional representation without the legislature changing the charter. Nevertheless, Commissioner Berger reviewed the arguments for PR and though not convinced they would meet the city’s needs better than moving to a ward system (effectively, FPTP) he does suggest that, of the various PR systems reviewed, STV "might well provide the fairest system of voting".
4. The Independent Commission to review Britain's Experience of PR Voting Systems has produced a comprehensive report entitled Changed Voting Changed Politics: Lessons of Britain's Experience of PR since 1997.
The commission was an independent body established to review the experience of Britain's many new voting systems — in Scotland, Wales, London, and for the European Parliament as well as the Assembly in Northern Ireland.
The Commission’s report concludes:
(i) there is no ideal electoral system, but the experience of new voting systems in the UK helps to undermine some widely-held myths on both sides of the debate;
(ii) there is no evidence that PR is too complicated for voters, or that the resulting coalition governments in Scotland and in Wales are necessarily weak or ineffective; and
(iii) low turnout in all the PR elections held so far contradicts the claims of advocates that PR helps to increase turnout.
5. The Dutch government has produced a discussion paper (Framework Memorandum on a New Electoral System: Towards a Stronger Parliament) suggesting the country adopt a new mixed electoral system which would see half the members electedm in identifiable local multi-member constituencies by the Single NonTransferable Vote (SNTV) — though only if they meet a quota which might mean some district ‘winners’ would not actually get a seat!) and the rest from national party lists (possibly preferential though the real openness of them might be modified in practice by a threshold).
Voters would have two votes – a local vote and a party vote – and candidates would not be allowed to run in both parts of the system.
At an international symposium of electoral system experts held in California (May 13-14) to review the proposal and provide advice, a number of difficulties with this complicated scheme were detailed. There was a general view that the nomination rules and strategies of parties would be critical to how it really worked; most experts seemed to think that, given Dutch political realities and its multi-party system, STV would be preferable to SNTV at the local level.
(This report is not available online.)
6. The Ontario government has introduced a bill in the provincial legislature providing for fixed election dates (first Thursday of October every four years from 2003).
7. Premier Pat Binns of Prince Edward Island announced in late May that he will appoint a commission to come up with a prospective new electoral model for the province, and teach Islanders about the new model. Then it will draft a referendum question and call for a vote on whether to switch to proportional representation.
8. In the Timlin lecture (Doing Democracy Differently: Has Electoral Reform Finally Arrived?) given at the University of Saskatchewan in March, Ken Carty, chief research officer for the Citizens' Assembly, reviewed the recent developments that have given rise to the electoral reform impulses in contemporary Canadian politics.
The lecture argues they are being driven by a concern for politics, and not the traditional concerns of governance. One important consequence of this has been a shift in the way in which reform is being approached, the B.C. Citizens’ Assembly being the most dramatic and significant initiative.
A revised version of the paper will appear in a forthcoming issue (40:3, 2004) of Representation: Journal of Representative Democracy under the title: Canadians and Electoral Reform: An impulse to doing democracy differently. It is not available online.