Nova Scotia, B.C. groups pair up on court challenge to overturn Canada’s electoral system

A sign points voters to the polling station at St. James Anglican Church on Joseph Howe Drive in Halifax on Monday, Oct. 21, 2019.
A sign points voters to the polling station at St. James Anglican Church on Joseph Howe Drive in Halifax on federal election day, Monday, Oct. 21, 2019. – Ryan Taplin

OTTAWA, Ont. — A Nova Scotia charitable organization wants the courts to force Canada to abandon its winner-take-all electoral system in favour of one that awards seats in Parliament according to the popular vote.

Halifax-based Springtide Collective and Fair Voting B.C. filed an action with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in Toronto earlier this month arguing that Canada’s first-past-the-post system violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms’ guarantee of fair representation.

Springtide executive director Mark Coffin said the case has been in the works since 2017. By August of 2019 the groups had raised enough money to cover the costs of preparing a court application and securing expert testimony.

“This is a civil rights issue like any other civil rights issue. It’s always best when politicians take steps in lawmaking that would protect and enhance our civil rights, but when we don’t get that from our politicians, and in this case, when we see time and time again politicians really not enthusiastically supporting or championing reform to ensure that everybody’s votes count, it’s time for the courts to intervene,” Coffin said.

Coffin added there’s a pattern of behaviour where campaign on electoral reform, then back off when elected. Justin Trudeau’s Liberals promised that 2015 would be the last election under first-past-the-post, but abandoned the idea of electoral reform a year later.

The applicants hope the courts will now take the issue into their own hands.

The case alleges that Canada’s current electoral system does not comply with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as well as subsequent rulings on electoral issues, on multiple grounds. Specifically, the application argues that it violates section 3, by denying Canadians effective representation, meaningful participation, and fair and legitimate elections, and section 15, by discriminating against voters and candidates on the basis of political belief.

“The court has in past rulings decided that every Canadian has the right to effective representation and meaningful participation,” Coffin said. “For many Canadians based on their political beliefs, they’re denied effective representation and meaningful participation in the electoral process. . . .Effective representation in the courts means having a voice in the deliberations of government. When more than half of the people vote for candidates that don’t end up in parliament, they’re certainly not represented.”

This election makes the case, the groups argue: 51 per cent of voters cast ballots for candidates that did not end up in Parliament, there were a quarter-million more Conservative voters than Liberal voters but Liberals took 36 more seats than the Conservatives, and NDP voters outnumbered Bloc voters by two to one nationally, yet the NDP will hold fewer seats than the Bloc. Furthermore, they argue, the disproportionate representation of certain political beliefs are concentrated in different regions of the country in ways that are now adding fuel to the fire around national unity.

The two groups involved in the court challenge have hired experienced Toronto-based constitutional lawyer Nicolas Rouleau to represent them. They’re hoping the case will eventually find its way to the Supreme Court of Canada.

If the courts agree with the claims made in the case, they can go as far as to declare Canada’s current electoral system unconstitutional, and order the government to develop a system that complies with the Charter, the applicants say. SOURCE

Greens and NDP Say Electoral Reform Isn’t Dead

Parties and advocates share their roadmaps for a system change in the future.

SinghMayTrudeauMicrophones.jpg
On electoral reform, the NDP and Greens are here to tell Trudeau: it’s not over. Photo of Jagmeet Singh from Flickr via Canada’s NDP. Photo of Elizabeth May via The Tyee. Photo of Justin Trudeau from Shutterstock.

In fall 2016, Green Party leader Elizabeth May and her colleagues on the House of Commons Special Committee on Electoral Reform spent weeks crisscrossing the country to canvass Canadians’ opinions on changing the way they choose their Members of Parliament.

“We heard from hundreds of thousands of Canadians that they wanted proportional representation,” said May in a recent interview.

In its December 2016 report to Parliament, the committee recommended PR as a replacement for the first-past-the-post system the Liberals promised to end during the 2015 federal election campaign.

However, two months after the report was released, the Trudeau government declared electoral reform dead.

For May, though, the issue is very much alive. She plans to promote proportional representation in the weeks leading up to the Oct. 21 federal election and hopes for a minority government that would advance the issue in the next Parliament.

“In an era where so-called populists like Donald Trump or Doug Ford can get to power, it’s incredibly important that we ensure that no one can get power in Canada with less than the majority of the popular vote yet have 100 per cent of the power,” said May. “We must prevent that from ever happening by getting rid of first-past-the-post now, because it is the only election system, other than preferential voting, that allows that kind of distortion to happen when a party with a minority public support can gain a false majority.”

May said that as part of its 2019 federal election campaign platform the Greens will call for the creation of a national citizens’ assembly to determine the best alternative to the first-past-the-post system.

Fifteen years ago, a similar body in B.C. recommended a single transferable vote system, which received the support of 58 per cent of British Columbians in a 2005 referendum — not enough to meet the 60-per-cent threshold established by the provincial government. A second referendum, held in 2009, essentially reversed the results, with 61 per cent of the province’s residents voting against changing their first-past-the-post electoral system.

“One of the reasons it was so well-received in 2005 was not that every British Columbia voter really felt confident that they understood exactly how a single transferable voting system would work, but that they felt a lot of trust and confidence that the recommendation wasn’t coming from people within political parties that had self-interest at stake but from average voters on a citizens’ assembly,” explained May, the MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands.

May also believes the Liberals’ about-face on electoral reform will hurt them in October.

“A lot of people voted Liberal because they believed Justin Trudeau when he said 2015 would be the last election under first-past-the-post — and I will count myself among those people who believed him,” she said.

If the election results in a minority government, May plans to raise proportional representation as part of the conditions to support either a Liberal or Conservative government.

“We need to make sure that we get rid of first-past-the-post, whether it’s mixed-member proportional or single transferable vote or the rural-urban option that was included in last year’s referendum in B.C. or any other mathematical formulas described as consensus-based systems — and have voting that’s fair,” she explained.

“It’s clear that the system we have now is the worst.”

“Not only do consensus-based systems have higher voter turnout and more women elected, but they also have stronger environmental regulations and better economic performance,” said the Green leader, who added that during her recent Community Matters Tour, in which she held 33 town hall meetings in every province and the Northwest Territories, at least one question regarding PR was raised.

The NDP also supports proportional representation, but the party takes a slightly different approach.

As part of their 2019 election campaign platform, the New Democrats say that if they form the next federal government they will introduce a mixed-member proportional system and establish a citizens’ assembly to determine how it would work for the following election, which would presumably be held in 2023.

A national referendum would be held after that election to allow Canadians to decide if they like the new system or whether they would prefer to return to first-past-the-post. (An NDP government would also lower the voting age to 16.) MORE

Elizabeth May — we don’t have to choose between the economy and the environment

Elizabeth May -- we don't have to choose between the economy and the environment. Image: Victoria Fenner

LISTEN TO THE PODCAST:

When rabble.ca podcast producer Victoria Fenner heard that Green Party Leader Elizabeth May was coming to the small conservative city of Barrie, Ontario, on July 18 for a pre-campaign town hall and rally, she could think of a lot of things to talk to her about.

Barrie is right in the middle of Tory blue country and tough territory for progressives. It’s the biggest city in Simcoe County, located on the traditional territory of the Haudensaunee, Ojibway/Chippewa and Anishnabek First Nations. This territory is covered by the Upper Canada Treaties. Colonization by Europeans began about 400 years ago by French explorers. The first elections here happened way back in 1823 after the British took over and it’s been Conservative country for a very long time. It’s close enough to Toronto that a lot of people commute every day from the south part of the riding. The north part of the county, not so much. But out towards Collingwood, cottagers and skiiers from Toronto contribute a lot of money towards the local economy.

There are very few Red Tories in this county. Remember the Reform Party? That upstart right wing party that shifted politics further right in the late ’80s and the ’90s? The former riding of Simcoe Centre, which was right in the heart of the city of Barrie, was the only place in Canada east of Manitoba that ever elected a Reform Party MP. That’s an indicator of how conservative this area of the country is. The Liberals do come close sometimes but not enough to get them elected. In the 2015 election, the Green Party was the distant fourth party.

The Green Party message is a tough sell in places where people think they have to choose between a stable economy and a healthy environment to live in. But that’s not just here — that kind of dichotomous thinking goes on in so many places. The good news is that this can change with people moving in from other places, and a growing sense that the environment needs to be a bigger priority.

In today’s rabble radio, Victoria Fenner and Elizabeth May talk about that and a wide range of subjects — the disconnect that some people see between economy and environment, the first-past-the-post system, how international trade agreements have affected the health of the planet, and the role of media in fostering an empowered, informed citizenry. SOURCE

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