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
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
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.
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
We have reached a significant milestone in the Charter Challenge for Fair Voting - we have served the government with our evidence package. This evidence supports our fight for a voting system that gives Canadians fair and equal representation in our democratic systems.
The evidence package includes four expert affidavits from leading researchers in political science and political theory addressing the key elements of our case:
- Prof. Nadia Urbinati (Columbia University) - the relationship between voting and political representation
- Prof. John Carey (Dartmouth College) - comparing voting systems
- Prof. Karen Bird (McMaster University) - representation of women and visible minorities
- Prof. Lawrence LeDuc (University of Toronto) - voter participation, history of proportional voting in Canada and previous reform efforts
In the next few weeks, we’ll introduce you to these experts and provide highlights from their affidavits. We will also share original analyses from Byron Weber Becker (University of Waterloo) and Antony Hodgson (Fair Voting BC). Several voters from various political perspectives have also submitted affidavits outlining how the current voting system leaves them feeling disenfranchised.
For those of you who are keen to dig in right away, we have posted the affidavits here.
The federal government will review our evidence and select their own expert witnesses. Following, both sides will have a chance to cross-examine any of the witnesses and we will have an opportunity to file any additional evidence necessary to address the government’s submission. At that point, each side will prepare its factum (the written argument we will submit to the court) and agree on a time to go to court.
Supporting the Challenge
Over 900 of you have helped us reach this major milestone – thank you! Our next stage of work - cross-examination will likely cost about $35,000, and we’ll be sharing more details about our goals and timelines in our upcoming emails. Please support our next steps by donating monthly.
As always, anyone who gives $25 or more in a year will receive a charitable donation tax receipt for their contributions.
Thank you for your continued support. More to come soon!
Jesse Hitchcock, Springtide
Antony Hodgson, Fair Voting BC
We are pleased to share an update on the Charter Challenge case. I’ll start this Charter Challenge update with a bit of housekeeping. As you likely know, Mark Coffin has moved on as the Executive Director of Springtide and the Board of Directors has formed a working group to focus solely on the Charter Challenge. That’s where I come in! Along with Antony at Fair Voting BC, I'll be the conduit between our legal team, the working group and our donors and supporters. You can learn more about me here -- It’s very nice to e-meet you all and to kick off the fall with a positive update!
There have been many exciting developments in the Charter Challenge since we last shared an update! In August we introduced our first expert witness, Columbia University Professor Nadia Urbinati, whose affidavit outlines how first-past-the-post hinders the ability of Canadians to have a meaningful voice in government. As we speak, we have several additional experts preparing their affidavits and we can’t wait to share them with you. Their testimony explores the ways in which our voting system fails to deliver representation, how it discriminates against women and visible minorities, and why politicians are in an inherent conflict of interest regarding change. We are on schedule to file these affidavits later this fall.
In the meantime, the Challenge is garnering some media attention. University of Toronto Professor David Beatty shared his thoughts and perspective in the Globe and Mail on September 21st. He stated that “[the] case is a classic example of how Charter challenges can make government more democratic. It is a powerful way of making sure politicians do their jobs.” and he offered the suggestion that Prime Minister Trudeau “fast-track” the Challenge to the Supreme Court. Also of note, he indicated that “the challenge to the Canada Election Act should be big news. Its chances of winning are very good.” Prof. Beatty’s piece sparked even more dialogue with a rebuttal in the National Post. These are all indicators that the electoral reform conversation is alive and well in Canada, and we’ll need all of your voices to amplify the Challenge as we move forward.
Our goal is to file all of the evidence by the end of this year, and we’ll be introducing the remaining expert witnesses at that time. Following the filing, the timing largely depends on the courts and the response-time of the government. We’ll keep you updated by hosting another webinar with Nicolas to share more details and answer questions. Of course, we’ll require support from you and other donors to continue advancing the case. We’ll have more details about the level of support required in our next update.
We have some exciting milestones coming up, and we’re looking forward to your continued support and enthusiasm for the Challenge. You can expect regular quarterly updates from us going forward, with the occasional off-cycle update when we have important news to share.
Jesse Hitchcock & Antony Hodgson
On behalf of Springtide and Fair Voting BC
PS: Many of you continue to support the case as monthly donors - thank you! You can join them and contribute to the case for as little as a dollar a month here. All monthly donations are held to support future stages of work on the case. Current donors can adjust their monthly donation amount by emailing [email protected].
Thanks to the supporters of this case, a year ago this week we met a key fundraising goal for the Charter Challenge for Fair Voting. We’re checking in today with an update on the progress we’ve made since then.
For immediate release: October 9th, 2019
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