We Asked the Candidates Seeking the NDP Nomination in Toronto-Danforth About Their Commitment to Fight for Proportional Representation

In 2019, Fair Vote Canada will be focusing its resources on a few target ridings where we can elect MPs who will be vocal champions of proportional representation, and who will push to make PR a condition of supporting a minority government. Toronto Danforth is one of those ridings. We need MPs who will fight for PR.

That’s why we’re inviting you to get involved early with the nomination meetings of the party of your choice. (Page with the positions of the candidates seeking the nomination for the Green Party to follow when that information is available).

Fair Vote Toronto volunteers have met with each of the three candidates seeking the nomination for the NDP. All three were supportive and welcoming. Each was sent a questionnaire. We encourage you to read their answers over at links below.

Here are the Questions We Asked the Candidates
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  1. Outline your position on proportional representation
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  2. How high a priority is achieving proportional representation for you compared to other issues?
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  3. In negotiations to support a minority government, how high a priority is PR compared to achieving other policy concessions?
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  4. How easy do you find it to talk to voters about electoral reform? How confident are you with this issue – and how often do you do it?
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  5. What you are you prepared to do as a candidate in the 2019 election to help make proportional representation an election issue?
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  6. Liberals claim there is “no consensus” on electoral reform. How would you respond to that?
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  7. What do you see as the next step to build political consensus for PR after the October 2019 election?
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  8. What do you see as the next step to build public support for PR?

Brian Dias
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Min Sook Lee

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If you would like to register with the NDP so you can vote in the nomination contest, the deadline to register as a member is April 30. The nomination vote is on May 30. 

Min Sook Lee

Min Sook Lee’s responses to our questionnaire are below. Find out more about Min Sook at https://www.voteminsook.ca/

Outline your position on proportional representation

“In a democratic government, the right of decision belongs to the majority, but the right of representation belongs to all”
Ernest Naville, Swiss political scientist (1865)

Canada is supposed to be a representative democracy. Under the archaic and undemocratic first-past-the-post voting system, that remains an unrealized dream. How can we call our system democratic when half the voters routinely elect no one and the minority rules after almost every election?

A strong critique of the status quo is necessary in order to convince citizens that something better is possible that will reduce the cynicism, apathy and negativity held by voters toward politicians, elections and our understanding of representative democracy. People have had more than enough of broken promises, hidden agendas, corruption, unfair representation and minority rule. We need to make the cause and effect connections between the voting system and voters’ attitudes.

Proportional representation is not a panacea for all our problems but it is a democratic game changer. It will level the playing field so that our votes count equally no matter where we live and which candidate we support. Electoral reform must be first and foremost about the aspirations of the voters, not just those of the political parties, leaders, candidates and elected representatives. The NDP must be seen to unequivocally stand for the basic democratic rights of all voters.

Under the leadership of our former Toronto-Danforth NDP MP Craig Scott, the NDP moved the goal posts significantly in the lead-up to the 2015 federal election. By making proportional representation a key plank in our platform, the Trudeau Liberals were pressured to promise to make 2015 “the last election to use first-past-the-post” and to “make every vote count” beginning in 2019. As we suspected, and as was borne out by the facts, Trudeau only made these promises to syphon votes away from the NDP (and Greens).  (See more below in Q6.)

There are many ways to achieve proportional representation. The NDP supports a Mixed Member Proportional PR system which uses a combination of single member riding seats and regional top-up seats to achieve a proportional result in which the percentage of the popular vote roughly matches the percentage of seats won by each party. Had we been successful in forming government in 2015, we promised to legislate MMP and then follow-up with a referendum after a couple of election cycles to give voters an opportunity to try out the new system. At the same time, I don’t believe that basic democratic rights such as voter equality should not be subject to decisions made in dishonest referendums.  The rules for any referendum must be carefully debated and crafted.

In a minority parliament scenario, the NDP would likely need to be open to discussion on the exact PR system to go forward – just as we were under Nathan Cullen’s guidance in the ERRE electoral reform committee. In terms of my support for MMP, Craig’s various public interventions in op-ed pieces do a good job at explaining the virtues of MMP.

How high a priority is achieving proportional representation for you compared to other issues?

As a national political party, the NDP has many priorities including the economy, environment, human rights and others. To achieve our policy objectives we must form a majority government or have significant influence through a minority or coalition. First-past-the-post remains a huge barrier to achieving our objectives. That barrier must be knocked down.  As such, PR is a game changer and must be one of our top priorities if we are to succeed in building the kind of society we envision.

In negotiations to support a minority government, how high a priority is PR compared to achieving other policy concessions?

I support the view that NDP support for any minority government or involvement in any coalition or cooperative governance arrangement must be contingent on PR being adopted by the coalition partners.

How easy do you find it to talk to voters about electoral reform? How confident are you with this issue – and how often do you do it?

It is a theme that I am growing more comfortable talking about although there are many details that I still need to become more familiar with about voting systems. No matter who becomes the NDP candidate in Toronto-Danforth, I look forward promoting proportional representation in the upcoming election with our team.

What you are you prepared to do as a candidate in the 2019 election to help make proportional representation an election issue?

We must win back the Toronto-Danforth seat. Like Jack Layton, Craig Scott and others, I look forward to injecting this issue into all speeches, written materials and debates.  I am prepared to expose the Trudeau Liberals duplicity in reneging on their 2015 electoral reform promises. The Liberals must pay a price for deceiving voters on this issue.

No matter who gets the nomination for Toronto-Danforth we can count on Craig to help educate and energize our candidate, NDP activists and voters on this issue. Craig has various slide presentations he has used since ending his time as NDP MP and is willing to campaign for PR in Toronto-Danforth and more broadly across Toronto. I look forward to working with Craig in whatever capacity to help make this a reality.

Liberals claim there is “no consensus” on electoral reform. How would you respond to that?

“Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”
Italian proverb cited by Anthony Weldon, 1651

It is true that the Conservative Party of Canada was not prepared to support any changes to the voting system. Neither were many Liberal candidates & MPPs. But there were many Liberals – including MPs – who expressed support for PR or some of its principles before the election. Together with NDP and Green votes, that represented a majority of voters who wanted to see the end of first-past-the-post. The Liberals, with only a couple of exceptions, went into radio silence after the election under instructions from the PMO. Trudeau made an insincere promise and then gagged his caucus once first-past-the-post delivered him a phony majority. There was certainly no support at all – let alone consensus – for the phony Liberal “alternative vote” option which would not “make every vote count”.

We have collectively had the benefit of Craig’s analysis, given his experience with and closeness to this issue. Craig’s view is that the “no consensus” claim is part of a deliberate strategy to thwart proportional representation, which began with the Liberals’ June 2015 press-conference commitment (that re-appeared in their platform) to “make every vote count” and to have a new electoral system in place before 2019 election. They deliberately appropriated Fair Vote Canada’s motto (and indeed the motto used by anyone who understands that ‘make every vote count’ can only refer to PR) to fool many into thinking they were not just open to PR but that they associated PR with the kind of reform the Liberals were talking about.  

Craig warned after the last election that the Liberal back room and PM planned to deceive on this and that the new Minister for Democratic Institutions had to be aware of how she would be pressured not to allow PR (see: “Liberal win offers us a real shot at real reform of our electoral system,” (November 23, 2015, National Post ). He also wrote a Policy Options piece on the strategies that were shaping up for the Liberal government to pull the plug on electoral reform after pretending that the special committee on electoral reform (ERRE) was a genuine exercise (see:  “The ‘noble failure’ approach to electoral reform,” (December 6, 2016, Policy Options). After Craig wrote this second piece, everything he predicted came to a head and the Prime Minister canned the whole exercise far enough ahead of the 2019 election that his advisers obviously hoped people would forget.  

The “no consensus” line is itself a palpable untruth.  Expert and citizen participants in the House of Commons committee process revealed a strong consensus in favour of PR. All the opposition parties endorsed putting to the electorate the choice of a system in which there would be no more than a 5% disproportionality in representation between votes and seats. Of course this was disingenuous on the part of the Conservatives who don’t support PR but they saw it to their advantage to unite with the other opposition parties against Trudeau’s Liberals even though they had no intention of changing the voting system. There only interest was in ensuring a referendum that could be manipulated and used to kill reform for a generation.

Whichever of us prevails and becomes the candidate for Toronto-Danforth, our response will be to point out the breach of promise on electoral reform and the deceitful way in which the government manipulated the process in Parliament – as perhaps the single, clearest example of the current government practicing a policy of deliberately making a promise the Prime Minister did not intend to keep.

What do you see as the next step to build political consensus for PR after the October 2019 election?

While an NDP government should work with all political parties to try and build consensus for a new voting system and implementation plan, we have to be realistic. The Liberals and Conservatives – along with their allies in the plutocracy and media are bitter enemies of democratic voting. They have shown again and again their propensity to say and do anything to thwart reform. As such, the NDP must be prepared to move ahead without the support of those parties if necessary after we win the next election. In the case of a minority government, we must be prepared to make our support contingent on support for some form of proportional representation as per #3 above.

What do you see as the next step to build public support for PR?

I am very open to the idea of a national Citizens’ Assembly charged with the task of developing a made-for-Canada proportional representation model. This would take some of the process out of the hands of self-interested politicians and help build credibility with the voters. Citizens’ Assemblies were used in British Columbia and Ontario in previous electoral reform exercises. In both cases, the Assemblies came back with strong recommendations for proportional representation.

Min Sook Lee

March 29, 2019

Brian Dias

Brian Dias’s responses to our questionnaire are below. Find out more about Brian at https://dias4ndp.nationbuilder.com/

Outline your position on proportional representation

I am front and center with Proportional Representation in my platform. I believe that the First-Past-The-Post electoral system is profoundly undemocratic, where roughly half of the votes cast elect no one. This leads to voter apathy, because people feel as if their vote doesn’t matter. It also leads to false majority governments with less than 50% popular support and wasteful Policy Lurch, such as we are experiencing at this moment with our Provincial Conservative government.

I favour a Mixed Member Proportional Representation system because it would essentially put an end to Strategic Voting.

How high a priority is achieving proportional representation for you compared to other issues?

Electoral Reform is front and center in my platform. A Proportional Representation electoral system will revitalize our democracy.

In negotiations to support a minority government, how high a priority is PR compared to achieving other policy concessions?

Electoral Reform should be a necessary condition for NDP cooperation in a minority government position.

How easy do you find it to talk to voters about electoral reform? How confident are you with this issue – and how often do you do it?

PR is front and center in my platform. I talk about it whenever I have the opportunity. I am confident in my knowledge, enthusiasm, and ability to convey the message of Electoral Reform to Canadian voters.

What you are you prepared to do as a candidate in the 2019 election to help make proportional representation an election issue?

The Federal Liberals broke a core election promise, when they inexplicably abandoned Electoral Reform. I will remind the people of Toronto-Danforth of this betrayal repeatedly. I will expound upon the benefits of Proportional Representation, and express frustration that this reform is long overdue.

Liberals claim there is “no consensus” on electoral reform. How would you respond to that?

We have collectively had the benefit of Craig’s input, given his experience with and closeness to this issue. Craig’s view is that this claim is part of a deliberate strategy to thwart proportional representation, which began with the Liberals’ June 2015 press-conference commitment (that re-appeared in their platform) to “make every vote count” and to have a new electoral system in place before 2019 election. They deliberately appropriated Fair Vote Canada’s motto (and indeed the motto used by anyone who understands that ‘make every vote count’ can only refer to PR) to fool many into thinking they were not just open to PR but that they associated PR with what needed to be the new system.

Craig warned after the last election that the Liberal back room and PM planned to deceive on this and that the new Minister for Democratic Institutions had to be aware of how she would be pressured not to allow PR (see: “Liberal win offers us a real shot at real reform of our electoral system,” (November 23, 2015) National Post ) and then he wrote a Policy Options piece on the strategies that were shaping up for the Liberal government to pull the plug on electoral reform after pretending that the special committee on electoral reform was a genuine exercise (see:  “The ‘noble failure’ approach to electoral reform,” December 6, 2016, Policy Options).

After Craig wrote this second piece, everything he predicted came to a head and the Prime Minister canned the whole exercise far enough ahead of the 2019 election that his advisers obviously hoped people would forget.  The “no consensus” line is itself a palpable untruth. The House of Commons committee process revealed a strong consensus in favour of PR, with all the opposition parties endorsing putting to the electorate the choice of a system in which there would be no more than (if I recall correctly) a 5% disproportionality in representation between votes and seats.

Whichever of us prevails and becomes the candidate for Toronto-Danforth. our response will be to point out the breach of promise on electoral reform and the deceitful way in which the government manipulated the process in Parliament – as perhaps the single, clearest example of the current government practicing a policy of deliberately making a promise the Prime Minister did not intend to keep.

What do you see as the next step to build political consensus for PR after the October 2019 election?

Firmly establish that the implementation of a Proportional Representation Electoral System is one of the necessary conditions for support from the NDP.

What do you see as the next step to build public support for PR?

I am using my public platform , as a Nomination Candidate for the Federal NDP, to advocate for Election Reform with a Proportional Representation electoral system. Other progressive politicians ought to follow suit.

We all need to extol all of the virtues of PR : A revitalized democracy with less voter apathy. Where a person lives and the party they support would no longer be the ONLY factors which determine whether their vote actually counts. No more wasteful policy lurch. More women and visible minorities would be elected for a more accurately representative government. Seats in the House of Commons will reflect the percentage of popular support across Canada for the parties. No more false majority governments.

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