We’ve Heard from the Government!

In this past week’s election, we saw again why it’s so crucial for the health of our democracy that we bring forward the Charter Challenge for Fair Voting.  Voter turnout fell to about 62% of registered voters (probably only about 55% of eligible voters) - near historical lows - and less than 48% of voters ended up voting for an elected MP, so the parliament we asked for is once again not the parliament that we got. 

Therefore, we’re pleased to share an important update this week from the government’s lawyers on the timeline for the case.  Here’s what to expect:

Federal Government to Submit Evidence (early spring 2022) - The government told us they expect to recruit four experts who will likely file their affidavits in the spring. 

We File Reply Evidence (late spring 2022) - Once we receive the government’s expert affidavits, we will have the opportunity to review them and file additional evidence in response. This will help strengthen our arguments and case.  Thanks to your recent donations and support, we have the resources needed to get through this stage of the work. 

We Draft Our Factum (summer 2022) - Once we have received the government’s evidence and replied to it, our lawyer (Nicolas Rouleau) will draft the factum (the written argument we provide to the courts prior to the hearing).  We will start fundraising for this phase of the case shortly. 

We Go to Court! (late fall 2022) - Sometime later this fall or winter, we expect to work out an agreement with the government when the case will be heard in court.  At this point, we are anticipating that the hearing will take place in late fall 2022. 

Over the next several months, we’re committed to the following. 

  • Continuing to share details from our expert affidavits with you - our donors and supporters. 
  • Organizing a webinar for donors with our lawyer in November. Please save the date: November 17, 2021! 
  • Raising funds to support the next stages of the case (drafting the factum and going to court). 

You are making a difference and driving this case forward.  Thank you again, and we look forward to providing more updates shortly.

Jesse Hitchcock, Springtide & Antony Hodgson, Fair Voting BC

Fundraising Update

A huge thank you to all our supporters and generous matching donor who collectively contributed a grand total of $38,000 over the past three months. We have now surpassed our summer fundraising goal! 

This means we have enough funding to prepare for and conduct the upcoming cross-examination of the federal government expert witnesses. We are expecting an update from the government in the next week and will be able to share news and details on the timeline shortly. 

Thank you again for your incredible generosity and support of the Charter Challenge. We'll be in touch soon with more updates and information from the affidavits. 

Jesse Hitchcock, Springtide & Antony Hodgson, Fair Voting BC

Introducing Prof. Karen Bird - Expert on Discrimination

Dr. Karen Bird is Chair of the Department of Political Science at McMaster University.  Her research focuses on the politics of representation, addressing questions related to ethnic and gender diversity, intersectionality, and the political representation of women, Indigenous groups, and immigrant-origin and ethnic minorities in parliaments around the world.

In her affidavit, she addresses what the impact of Canada’s current First-Past-the-Post voting system is on the representation and participation of women and of minorities, and what would change under other voting systems.  In today’s post, we’ll describe her evidence about the representation of women.

Canada is a “Laggard” in Representing Women

A central shortcoming of Canada’s First-Past-the-Post (FPTP) voting system is that it leaves us a laggard in terms of women’s parliamentary representation, which is deeply problematic for an advanced and egalitarian-minded democracy,” ranking only 52nd in the world in terms of the percentage of women in parliament (at only 29%, this is close to the middle of the pack, “well behind most comparable democracies that have moved much faster towards gender parity in parliament”).

Prof. Bird echoes Prof. Carey’s observation that our single-winner voting system is the primary culprit here, and she explains why: “It is nearly certain that the introduction of multi-member districts, most often seen in voting systems with proportional representation (PR), would raise the share of elected women when compared with the winner take-all single-member contests that exist under Canada’s FPTP voting system, because the former are better at incentivizing party leaders to balance the slate of candidates.” 

Bird adds that it’s clearly the voting system, not the voters, at fault: “There is no evidence of voter bias against women candidates in Canada (i.e., the odds of a woman being elected in a winnable riding are essentially the same as those of a man). This confirms that impediments to increased representation of women in Parliament are primarily institutional rather than cultural in nature.”

Prof. Bird also explains why the low percentage of women in parliament is a problem: “democratic theorists have argued that if a group has few legislative representatives, their preferences risk being overlooked while jeopardizing the legitimacy of the representative system.”  And it’s important to elect more women because “the presence of more female legislators has been shown to alter decision making institutions to make them more deliberative, and strengthen public belief in women’s ability to govern.”

Bird acknowledges that the voting system is not solely to blame for the low numbers of women in parliament, and that the behaviour of parties also play a significant role, but she also explains how electoral rules affect parties’ behaviour.

She says “there are three interrelated reasons why [multi-member districts] impact the share of women elected. First, the cost of nominating women is higher in [single-member districts] because doing so often involves directly displacing men. Second, the incumbency advantage tends to be higher in districts with smaller magnitudes, and because that advantage falls largely to men, it makes their displacement even costlier. Finally, elections with larger district magnitudes are typically characterized by more centralized nomination processes. In a competitive political context, these central bodies are more inclined and more able to encourage and coordinate a balanced list of candidates that can attract broad voter support.”

Finally, she points out that evidence from France suggests that the largest gain in the percentage of women elected should be expected from combining candidate quota requirements with voting system reforms that require parties to put minimum percentages of women candidates in winnable districts.

In short, Prof. Bird’s affidavit shows clearly that women are systematically disadvantaged by the single-member district aspect of our current voting system, and that adopting multi-member districts would significantly reduce the impediments they face to being elected.  These findings will be central to our arguments that our current voting system violates our Section 15 equality rights. 

Jesse Hitchcock, Springtide

Antony Hodgson, Fair Voting BC

FPTP Has No Clear Benefits to Offset Representational Deficits

This is the last blog post with Prof. John Carey’s arguments about proportional voting systems.  So far, we’ve covered his discussion of how our current system distorts outcomes and results in perverse outcomes, inequity of representation and lower voter participation and satisfaction with democracy.

Some people invested in our current system argue that all those negative results are acceptable because, despite them, the result is better governance. Prof. Carey does not agree.  

More Stability?

While Carey does say that the average length of a government is longer under our First Past the Post voting system, this is largely due to governments in countries with proportional voting systems occasionally rearranging their cabinets to bring in different partners, but he also notes that “there appears to be little difference in the frequency of elections between PR and FPTP systems,” which is what most ordinary voters actually care about - i.e., are we going to end up with endless elections?

Carey tackles this question as well, pointing out that our current system frequently tends to produce “minority governments, which are vulnerable to votes of no confidence and typically have shorter government duration” and that it’s straightforward to design proportional voting systems “with low district magnitude and moderate assembly size” that are “more likely to have larger parties and therefore experience levels of government stability close to those under FPTP systems.”  In other words, we shouldn’t imagine that our current system is free of problems, and there are plenty of proportional voting systems we could pick that would deliver strong government stability.

Better Economic Results?  More Accountability?

More importantly, though, Carey presents strong evidence that there are no obvious economic or other advantages attributable to our current voting system that could justify adopting it despite its representational defects.  As he says, “levels of economic growth are similar across PR and FPTP systems, with some evidence that PR systems have an edge. Levels of progressive redistribution and overall economic equality are higher in PR than in FPTP systems.” 

He also argues that “despite the intuitive appeal of theory connecting FPTP to government accountability, scholarly research does not show a clear advantage,” and says that “recent research affirms that FPTP and PR are equally capable of fostering a clear link for voters between parties and responsibility for government decisions, particularly when parties are grouped into distinct policy camps and when district magnitude in PR systems is kept in the low-to-moderate range,” so he finds no support for the claim that our current system leads to more accountability than the proportional alternatives.

In short, Prof. Carey lays out clear evidence of many substantial representational failings of our current system, and no evidence of any countervailing benefits that could justify such infringements on our right to effective representation, which gives us a strong base on which to build our arguments to the court.

Thank you for your continued support. 

Jesse Hitchcock, Springtide & Antony Hodgson, Fair Voting BC

Proportional Voting Improves Representation, Equity, Satisfaction

This is our third blog post summarizing the arguments Prof. John Carey makes in his affidavit on how proportional voting systems contribute to enhancing democracy.  In our previous two posts, we told you how he characterizes inclusive voting as “multi-winner”, as opposed to our current single-winner system, and how he argues that single-winner systems distort outcomes, undermine democracy, and result in idiosyncratic and perverse election outcomes.

Prof. Carey also makes some arguments about diversity, saying that “PR systems on average produce higher levels of women’s representation, and therefore greater gender equity in elected office. They also facilitate higher levels of representation than FPTP for racial, ethnic, religious, and linguistic minority groups. And PR permits representation of greater ideological diversity.”  Dr. Karen Bird makes these arguments in her affidavit and we'll be sharing details soon.

Multi-Winner Systems Make Votes Count, Voters More Satisfied:  

Carey’s next major section addresses voter participation, citizen engagement and satisfaction with democracy.  He notes that “Political scientists have long posited that multi-winner systems promote greater citizen participation -- as voters, but also as volunteers, canvassers, and among civic groups -- than in single-winner systems like FPTP. The logic behind this theory is simple: participation is a time-consuming activity and citizens want to feel that their vote counts.”  With proportional voting, they do feel this way because “both the motivation to cast a ballot, and to vote sincerely (rather than strategically) is stronger in multiple-winner systems than in single-winner systems.”  And the mechanism is simple - in proportional systems, voters can help their preferred candidate or party win seats no matter what share of the vote they have;  all seats are competitive, “which motivates voter engagement and participation”, and he further notes that “the empirical evidence overwhelmingly backs this theory,” resulting in both greater voter turnout and greater satisfaction.

As Carey summarizes, “Voter participation levels are higher in PR than in FPTP systems on average. Citizens in multiple-winner systems, including those who support candidates and parties who do not form government, also exhibit higher levels of aggregate satisfaction with democracy.”

FPTP Distorts Outcomes, Undermines Democracy

In our last message, we introduced you to Prof. John Carey, who has written the main affidavit we’ll be relying on to describe to the court how proportional voting systems better deliver on key democratic goals such as inclusion, fairness, and representation.

Prof. Carey draws a sharp distinction between single-winner and multi-winner systems.  He outlines how multi-winner systems improve the link between voter support and representation, representation of diversity (including by gender, race, ethnicity, and ideology), voter participation and citizen engagement, government stability, and government accountability and policy outcomes.

Distortions in Outcome Undermine Democracy:  

In his section on the link between voter support and representation, Prof. Carey plainly states the problem (emphasis ours): “Most of the scholarship on elections and representation shares a normative premise that the level of support among voters should correspond closely to the level of assembly representation each party wins. By this standard, distortions between voter support and the resulting representation undermine democracy. Under most electoral rules in place around the world, distortions tend to favor voters of the largest parties. This pattern is more pronounced under FPTP than any other widely used system and is plainly evident in Canada’s House of Commons.”  

In other words, our current voting system clearly does not do the main thing that voting systems in democracies are supposed to do, and this undermines Canada’s claim to being a true democracy.

Multi-Winner Systems Can Fix This:  Carey lays the blame for this squarely on the fact that our current voting system uses single-winner districts, and notes that “moving to districts of magnitude 4- 8 is sufficient” to correct most of the distortions created by single-winner systems, while still “allow[ing] representatives to retain close ties to their communities.”

FPTP More Idiosyncratic, Perverse:  Carey also notes that “single-winner systems are vastly more vulnerable than multi-winner systems to idiosyncratic outcomes - for example, cases where a party loses voter share from one election to the next but increases its share of representation, or the reverse,” noting that, in BC, “from 1979 to 1996, the New Democratic Party lost vote share across each of five provincial elections, from 46% to 39%, yet it went from a minority party in opposition in the first three periods of government to a single party majority in the last two periods.”  

He goes on to say that “FPTP also opens the door to even more perverse outcomes in which a party or candidate wins fewer votes than another in that election, yet nevertheless captures a greater share of representation. Such outcomes violate the principle that all votes should count equally.

This content gives us a lot to work with as we draft our arguments to the court.

Thank you for your continued support. More on Prof. Carey’s other arguments shortly!

Jesse Hitchcock, Springtide & Antony Hodgson, Fair Voting BC

Introducing Prof. John Carey - Voting Systems Expert

Dr. John Carey is Associate Dean in Social Sciences at Dartmouth College (Hanover, NH) and former chair of Dartmouth’s Department of Government.  He’s also a co-founder of BrightLineWatch, which monitors threats to democracy in the United States.  Dr. Carey is an internationally-renowned expert in electoral systems and has consulted on the design of voting systems in numerous countries around the world.  His research focuses on how the rules of electoral competition affect the quality of democratic representation.

In his affidavit, he addresses two main issues - (1) describing for the court what the main forms of voting systems are around the world, and (2) outlining the advantages and disadvantages of each, particularly with regard to representation of citizens, political equality of voters, performance of government, and voter participation.

In the next couple of posts, we’ll summarize some of the key observations he makes that we will rely on in our arguments that our current voting system violates our Charter. 

The Big Difference: Single-Winner vs Multiple-Winner Systems

Dr. Carey’s main observation is that “the most salient distinction [to] make among the types of rules used for electing assemblies is between single-winner systems and multiple-winner systems. The distinction here refers to the number of candidates and/or party lists awarded seats within each geographical district. The distinction corresponds closely in practice to single- member district (SMD) systems and multi-member district (MMD) systems.”

He then outlines our current voting system, lists proportional voting systems (he describes the Single Transferable Vote as a ‘cousin’ of list systems), and hybrid systems (in which there are combinations of single- and multi-member districts), and he notes that “a well-documented trend in electoral systems is the adoption or introduction of PR and the move away from single-winner systems, particularly FPTP.”

The rest of Prof. Carey’s affidavit outlines how electoral system design affects correspondence of voter support to representation, representation of diversity (including by gender, race, ethnicity, and ideology), voter participation and citizen engagement, government stability, and government accountability and policy outcomes.  Stay tuned for more on these topics.

Jesse Hitchcock, Springtide & Antony Hodgson, Fair Voting BC

Democracy is What Happens Between Elections!

In our last couple of messages, we’ve shared two of the key points from Prof. Nadia Urbinati’s affidavit - first, that for a voter to be represented in parliament, that voter must have an MP who advocates for positions that the voter supports, and, second, that democratic theorists are increasingly seeing that constituencies should not be viewed primarily as based on location, but on political perspective.

In this last post on Prof. Urbinati’s affidavit, we’ll share a few of her other key points.

Democracy is What Happens Between Elections!  One is that “political theorists now understand democracy not simply as a vote to delegate decision-making to our representatives, but rather as a way of continuously participating in political” society and institutions.  That is, she says that it’s widely understood that democracy requires much, much more than voters simply making a decision on voting day.  Elections in a democracy should produce a parliament that continuously represents voters in ways aligned with their views.  

And if an MP, after being elected, “shows indifference toward our claims” (which is a very common experience for voters who did not vote for their MP), that “would be the equivalent of not fully participating as citizens in the democracy.”

Proper Representation is Key to Legitimacy:  A second key point she makes is that ensuring that all voters have representatives who “share similarities with their constituents, including their visions and ideals” and are “willing advocates for them” is essential for making a democracy legitimate - as she says, “governments must know that they are hearing the voices of all citizens through their representatives.  The idea of us governing [ourselves] through our representatives is crucial, and not of second-rate importance; it is the condition of legitimacy.”

Proportional Voting Better Supports our Democratic Ideals:  Urbinati’s final main point is that these theoretical considerations have strong implications for how we vote:  “In a pluralistic state with various minorities, voices, and social interests, the consensus among democratic theorists” is that proportional voting systems are preferred to our current system “because of their greater inclusiveness, fairness, and representativity.”  As she says, proportional voting “takes more seriously than FPTP the principle underlying universal suffrage: that every individual has the right to a vote that is counted fairly.  The result of counting the vote of each individual fairly under PR results in better support for the democratic principles of equal political opportunity and control than under FPTP”, and it also leads to better laws under PR, since they “are typically more inclusive of various points of view, more consensual, and, therefore, more reflective of the population.”

In summary, Prof. Urbinati’s affidavit provides us with a strong foundation for arguing that our current voting system violates our Charter right to effective representation. 

Jesse Hitchcock, Springtide & Antony Hodgson, Fair Voting BC

More from Prof. Nadia Urbinati’s Affidavit

In our last message, we shared some of the details from the expert affidavits in the Charter Challenge for Fair Voting, starting with Prof. Nadia Urbinati’s understanding of the meaning and importance of democratic representation.  We’ve included some of her key insights about how voting systems impact equity and inclusion below: 

Voter Equality is Fundamental: In addition to her key point that for a voter to truly be represented by an MP, they must see their MP advocating positions the voter supports, Dr. Urbinati emphasizes in her affidavit that a democracy must be fundamentally based on the principle of equality “when it comes to having voters’ voices heard and their positions considered.”

Majority Rule is Not Enough:  She also says that “the distinctiveness of democracy is not that the ‘legislative majority rules’ but rather that each citizen consciously and autonomously shares in the political life of the country” and notes that the renowned political philosopher John Stuart Mill argued that “a good representative government requires proportional representation”, which to him was the only way to “ensure that every voice will be heard.”

Experts Increasingly Recognize Importance of Including All Voices:  Urbinati describes how long it has taken for democratic ideals to be expressed in our political systems, and that we’re not done yet.  For example, she notes that it took well over a hundred years before universal suffrage was the norm across western democracies and that “until recently, the idea that political constituencies should be defined by territorial districts has been all but unquestioned.  But the consensus among democratic theorists over the last two decades has changed” to recognize that the constituencies that matter most to individual voters are probably best described in terms of political perspective, class, ethnicity, age, or gender, which, in our current system, “are represented only insofar as they intersect with the circumstances of location.  Those issues that do not break down geographically are excluded from the benefits of representation.”

We’ll use this evidence to argue that our Charter requires that our voting system be fundamentally based on the principle of including voters, not excluding them. 

We’ll be sharing summaries of all of the expert witnesses and their affidavits in the coming weeks, so keep your eyes on your inbox!  

Thank you for your continued support. More on the other affidavits soon!

Jesse Hitchcock, Springtide

Antony Hodgson, Fair Voting BC

Meet Our First Expert - Prof. Nadia Urbinati

On May 19, we announced a major milestone in the Charter Challenge for Fair Voting - we served the government with our evidence package! 

In that note, we promised to share details on the evidence and expert testimony. Today, we are providing highlights from Dr. Nadia Urbinati’s affidavit. 

Role of Expert Witnesses

Expert witnesses serve the court by impartially providing an objective and unbiased opinion, uninfluenced by who has retained them, and based on their expert knowledge of the field.  In rendering their opinions, they must carefully consider all the evidence on both sides of any question.

Our First Expert Witness - Prof. Nadia Urbinati

Dr. Urbinati is the Kyriakos Tsakopoulos Professor of Political Theory at Columbia University in New York City.  She is a political theorist who specializes in the theory of political representation (she wrote the chapter on Representation in the forthcoming Cambridge Handbook of Constitutional Theory (2021)) and studies the ways in which political systems address key normative democratic goals such as political equality, liberty, justice and political participation.  

In her affidavit, she focuses particularly on the questions of what it means to have a voice in the deliberations of government and the impact that electoral systems have on democracy, representation, accountability and inclusiveness.

In this post, we will briefly describe Dr. Urbinati’s arguments about the place and importance of political representation.  In later posts, we’ll discuss her arguments about what it means to have a voice in the deliberations of government and of the role that electoral systems play in delivering (or impeding) representation.

On Representation

Dr. Urbinati says that representation (having an elected representative) is crucial for citizens to have a voice in the processes of government between elections, and that representation can only be effective if voters see their views being argued for by their representatives.  

Dr. Urbinati goes on to explain, “If I don’t see my representative supporting or promoting my ideas and my claims, I feel unrepresented and the legitimacy of the system of representation is reduced. There is a break between society and parliament. This is true even if I am ‘formally’ represented, exercise my right to vote, and participate in civic life.” 

The implications for our current voting system are pretty obvious - since MPs are elected by only about half the voters on average, the other half of voters are forced to suffer formal ‘representation’ by someone they have not voted for, who they do not support, and who does not support or advocate for the voter’s views. Dr. Urbinati sees this as a significant failing of the First Past the Post system, and our argument to the court will highlight this key fact.

To learn more, please check out Dr. Urbinati’s affidavit here.

Jesse Hitchcock, Springtide

Antony Hodgson, Fair Voting BC

Like and Follow

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Current Status:

- Court date is confirmed! The case will be heard September 25 - 27, 2023.

- The case was filed with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice on October 2019.

- Served government with affidavit and evidence package in May 2021.

- Government affidavits received in late Fall 2022.

How you can help

The main way you can help is to support the case financially. We need to raise another $25,000 to cover the costs of presenting our case in court. You can support the case for as little as a dollar a month.

What to expect

- Fall 2022 - Once evidence and a response from the government is received, Charter Challenge lawyer, Nicolas Rouleau will start preparing for cross-examination and response affidavits.

- Spring 2023 - Once we have received the government’s evidence and replied to it, Charter Challenge lawyer, Nicolas Rouleau, will draft the factum

- At each step, we set a goal based on our estimate of the costs, and ask supporters to contribute to help us reach that goal, and to ensure the case can continue to move forward.