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Fair Vote Canada reaffirms commitment to proportional representation
Feb 23, 2011
There are two kinds of voting system. Proportional systems are designed to make every vote count when choosing our representatives. They are based on the philosophy that every one of us is entitled to be represented by people we voted for, and that the interests of each of us will best be looked after when every voice is heard and every stakeholder is at the table when decisions are being made.
Winner-take-all systems, on the other hand, are designed to divide us into winners and losers. Inevitably, there are a few winners and lots of losers. Our current, first-past-the-post (FPTP) system is winner-take-all, and sure enough, under this system most of us lose out—most of us are "represented" by people we voted against, and we end up with a government that most of us voted against.
The Alternative Vote (AV), also known as Instant Runoff Voting (IRV), is a more refined version of first-past-the-post. While it does a better job of recording voter preferences, it still narrows the choices down to a single winner. That's fine when you are electing a party leader or awarding an Oscar, where there can be only one winner, but it just won't do when we are choosing our representatives in a deliberative assembly such as a parliament or a city council.
AV/IRV presents a quandary for the fair voting movement. Is it "a step in the right direction" and "better than what we've got", or is it a distraction and an impediment to the reform we really need—proportional representation?
Context is everything.
In the United States, where the entire society is somewhat dominated by a winner-take-all mentality, IRV would be a huge step forward, and our friends at the Centre for Voting and Democracy (http://fairvote.org) campaign vigorously for IRV reform in the US, as well as promoting proportional representation.
In the United Kingdom, because of a deal arising from the formation of a coalition government, voters are facing a referendum choice between FPTP and AV. Debate is raging in the UK, and the electoral reform movement is being torn apart. Our friends at the Electoral Reform Society (http://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/), who have been promoting proportional representation since 1884, have taken the position that they must seize the bird in the hand, oppose the status quo, and support AV in the referendum.
Fair Vote Canada has always taken the position that AV is phony reform. Although the voter gets to cast her sincere vote without giving up her strategic vote, in fact pretty much the same people get elected. Actually, experience in Australia shows that AV can be even less proportional than FPTP. Turns out vote splitting is how third parties win seats.
In the Canadian context, we are not ready to settle for half measures. There are signs that the major parties are getting ready to endorse the Alternative Vote. Fair Vote Canada would not consider this a commitment to a better democracy, but rather a self-serving tactic to avoid real fair voting reform.
The Alternative Vote will not satisfy the growing demand from Canadian voters for more viable political choices. It will not get rid of safe seats and make Canadian democracy more competitive. It will not change the fact that Canadian governments are chosen by a few swing voters in a few swing ridings.
The Alternative Vote creates the illusion that those who are elected have majority support, but in fact it merely formalizes and entrenches strategic voting. AV will not allow voters to hold political parties accountable. AV will not end phony majority governments and make government accountable to Parliament. AV will not help elect more women and minorities. AV will not make every vote count.
Recently, Fair Vote Canada was asked to endorse a campaign for AV in municipal elections. A number of our members are participating in this campaign in the sincere belief that it is a step forward. We wish them well, but we cannot join them.
While reaffirming that Fair Vote Canada is a broad coalition and that FVC members are free to endorse whatever they want outside our organization, the National Council of Fair Vote Canada has passed the following resolution:
“Whereas the purpose of Fair Vote Canada is to promote equal effective votes and proportional voting systems
and whereas (as stated in greater detail by Fair Vote Canada's Council on August 4, 2009) Instant Runoff Voting, also known as the Alternative Vote, is a winner-take-all system, not a proportional voting system,
therefore be it resolved that Fair Vote Canada, its chapters and caucuses, will not endorse or actively support any campaign for instant runoff voting in single member districts for any election of a representative assembly, including a municipal council.”
Fair Vote Canada continues to stand for equal effective votes and fair representation at every level of government and throughout civil society. We believe that nothing less is good enough for Canadians.
Fair Vote Canada
Note: This is not a change of policy, but a reaffirmation of our existing policy on AV, which is elaborated in more detail in this policy paper: