Doug Rutherford

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Electoral reform

In the last year, electoral reform has been a frequent political topic. I think that this is a topic that should receive constant review, rather than the occasional consideration. I will throw in the fact that my ideas of electoral reform probably don’t match of lot of those who use the term.

For example, I personally have nothing against the First Past The Post (FPTP) system. We live in a country with a Westminster style parliament and the purpose of our federal and provincial/territorial elections is to select the candidate who will represent our riding. We don’t elect a prime minister or premier. Selection of that position lies with the party that holds the confidence of the house. In the case of a minority, that party does not necessarily even hold the most seats.

“Parliament” came from English common law, although the word is derived from the French verb “parler,” or to speak. (Upper middle and upper class people in England at the time would have spoken the language of court, Norman French.) It was a body of representatives who spoke among each other to determine laws that would benefit the people… although at the time, that would be upper middle and upper class people only.

From those early bodies came our current parliament, where we elect a person to represent our riding, and hence, our concerns.

The current concern with electoral reform stems largely from the increase in people voting for other than the two main parties, and that confidence in the house or winning a seat both lay in winning a plurality, rather than a majority, of either seats or votes. A rule of thumb commonly used is that a 40% popular vote total should win a majority government in a federal election.

With additional parties in the mix and garnering support, there has been some call to deal with so-called “false majorities” leading to “wasted votes.” For example, 3.45% of the popular vote went to the Green Party, yet this resulted in 1 seat in parliament, or 0.3% of the seats. In contrast, the Liberal Party gained 184 seats, 54.4%, with a popular vote of 39.47%. This has led many to call for Proportional Representation (PR) in one of several models, where seats are distributed on the basis of earning the popular vote.

I strongly disagree with this for three reasons. First, in my own opinion, there is only one type of vote wasted and that is one that is not made in the first place. I understand that many are dissatisfied with the system and the results and don’t feel the desire to vote. However, I have difficulty with the idea that your vote for a candidate that did not win is a “waste.” With every election, as with every hockey game, there will be winners and losers. With a multiparty system, there will be more losers than winners, and more potential for your vote to not be for the winner increased. I tend to view PR as the participation trophy of democracy.

Secondly, where do we cut off the percentage of popular vote that would qualify for a seat? There were 19 political parties in the last election. Should each one that had members receive votes get a seat, or should there be a minimum percentage of popular vote required to qualify? Some countries use a minimum of as high as 10% as a cutoff, meaning no seats would be given to those parties not reaching that percentage of the popular vote. Most use 5%, meaning that neither the Bloc Québécois nor the Green Party would be eligible for seats at all.

My biggest complaint, though, is through how we would have to distribute seats based upon the popular vote. Remember that we are supposed to be electing our representative who will carry the concerns of our riding to government. In a federal election, popular vote can easily be skewed by geography. People in Atlantic Canada may well vote substantially differently from another region. Should their choice for picking their representation be biased based upon the popular vote from another region? Should a preponderance of votes from there be overruled by a preponderance of votes for another party in Quebec or Ontario, where there is a higher population? Using this formula, by the way, would give the Bloc Québécois 16 seats in the commons, rather than the 10 they won.

I also suspect that, given the potential to shift the choice away from individual representation by a full version of PR, essentially changes the very nature of our parliament. Such a change should have to be dealt with using the formula for a major change to the constitution, itself. A shift to this form of election may result in a concerted challenge under the Constitution Act.

That’s not to totally write off electoral reform. There are other voting alternatives, such as preferential ballot. In this case, you would list first, second, third choice, etc., on your ballot and a when a candidate who did not get a clear majority, 2nd place ratings would also be used to determine an eventual winner. I could tolerate this since we would still be voting for our own representative; however, I would wonder how these would be reported. For example, does coverage list the alternative choice votes as well as the first choice ballots in ongoing coverage? Unless someone was winning with some of the margins John Crosby was used to in St. John’s West in the 1980s, it may be very hard to follow.

There is also the concept that this could work to the benefit of a centrist party over left or right wing ones. The line of logic behind that is that it is unlikely that someone who supports a far left party will list their second choice as a far right one. The alternative choice would tend to more support a centrist one, giving the advantage to them over the others. It is a viable worry.

There are other aspects that electoral reform could concern. For example, online voting would probably appeal to a broader range of voters. This might help cases where people may avoid voting due to the problems of mobility, or other aspects that prevent going to a poll. Younger voters may be more inclined to participate using a technology they are familiar with. There are security issues involved but this is mostly a case of details, rather than having the technology available. If you can be protected banking online, why not voting?

My biggest suggestion for electoral reform is the following. Maybe, to avoid your party losing, press them for policies that match the electorate. Insist they work together to achieve results, rather than partisan infighting. Make them recruit good candidates.

And remember, your vote may not win, but it does count…


Canada Post lockout looming

Canada Post has provided a 72-hour notice of lockout to its employees, taking effect on this coming Friday.

That does not necessarily result in a lockout at that time, but Canada Post will be allowed to “take measures that are necessary to respond to the changing business reality.”  The labour dispute, if it comes to fruition, will not be a strike. This is not action by the employees, but rather that of the management of the corporation shutting down mail operations rather than negotiating a settlement with its employees.

Since Canada Post is a crown corporation, a lockout does provide an unfair advantage to the employer. It isn’t really a company per se. With a regular company, locking out the employees for an extended period will eventually result in the business going bankrupt. If you don’t operate, than you make no income and eventually, that ends poorly. The system does provide for some incentive for the employees and employer to eventually come to some agreement. In the case of a crown corporation, this incentive is only on the heads of the employees, and the employer gets to act with impunity.

Therefore, here is my modest suggestion for federal crown corporations. To ensure that services are provided and labour relations function on a fair footing, in case of lockout, where management has opted to close the operations, managers should not be paid until the lockout ends. Suddenly, that equal incentive comes back into play…

Ah, the niqab thing

Once again, another news story comes out where the majority of Canadians believe that members of the public service should not wear a niqab at work. The study states that 64 percent of Canadians call for a ban on “Muslim women from front-line federal public service jobs if they wear Islamic veils.”

Further, 74 percent say they disagree with wearing a niqab during a citizenship ceremony, although two Federal Courts have ruled that such a prohibition is illegal.

My response to this is two words in length: so what? The freedom of religion and expression called for in Section 2 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects the wearing of religious symbols. And, there are some who say the niqab is cultural rather than religious in nature. However, it is called for in some branches of Islam and the differences between Shia and Sunni Muslims is substantially greater than the differences between some Christian sects, such the difference between Catholics and Amish. If you see some Muslin women not wearing one, or a hijab instead, this is a reflection of these differences, not that it isn’t a religious piece of apparel.

Equally important to consider in this is that we have a charter to protect minority rights, not the majority opinion. Further, the fact that we have a court system that actually enforces a charter that states such things as everyone is equal in front of the law is something you should be proud of, regardless of the fact that you may not agree with every one of those decisions.

And, if you’re against public servants wearing a niqab, although there are no federal public servants who do so, ask yourself, “Why?” How does it affect you in any way? Will that public servant process your form more slowly, or not be able to do her job.

If you don’t have a practical, functional answer, other than personal opinion or wanting them to adopt your culture, you’re the problem in this issue, not the woman wearing a niqab.

Remember, we have a proud and long history of not requiring cultural assimilation of immigrants. If we had required it, public servants may only speak Cree…

For sale: one vote (redux)

Note: Clara pointed out that it was difficult to find the reblogged content, so this is another shot at telling the same story.

I wrote this for the Whitehorse municipal election in 2012, but, with 23 candidates for council and 3 for mayor this time around, maybe it could bear repeating. I actually, unlike last time around,

Note that the election this year is October 15th… four days before the federal election.


So here are some hints for those who want to get voted in. Note that this probably applies for all elections. A political campaign is a job interview of sorts and the electorate’s only way to choose the right person for the job is the platform put forward by the candidate. So, when expressing your platform:

1. If you intend to deal with an issue, explain how you intend to fix it in detail. Everyone loves kittens, rainbows and unicorns, but general campaign promises without details are usually best moved to the field with a backhoe to make next year’s crop grow that much better. If you cannot provide details, it means you know nothing about the subject other than what to call it.  Honestly, we have enough elected representatives who know nothing. We don’t need more.

2. Prove you have an understanding of jurisdictional responsibility. Each level of government has its responsibilities. If you’re running for one, don’t make promises about things that come under another level of government. This only indicates that you have no clue about the position you aspire to, and probably indicates your level of qualification for it.

3. If you promise something, be prepared to vote that way when the time comes. There is no excuse for supporting something you said you would not support or vice versa. The common story is “after studying the issue,…” or words to that effect. If it was a promise made in your campaign, it meant that you already studied the issue, or should have. Changing your mind in this manner means you either knew nothing about your stand on the issue, or you simply meant to lie your way into office. Unfortunately, we have too many of those cases, too.

4. Have some idea of how financing works. While governments and businesses run through two completely different models and experience in one has no relevance to the other, the general rules of finance are still the same. You can only spend what comes in. Whether through transfers, taxation or borrowing, this income is the maximum you have to provide vital services. And, unlike a business, you simply can’t close the plant and move to somewhere offering lower operating costs. Explain (in detail, again), how you intend to meet your promises and still afford to provide those services.

5. Be honest. Admit it when you don’t know something. Take responsibility for those times when your ideas don’t work. Sometimes you’re going to have to make unpopular decisions (some of the decisions the current council have been decried for are some I heartily approved of). People aren’t going to be happy with everything you do, but will be far more willing to accept it, grudgingly, if you can show you honestly and sincerely feel this is the best choice. The only way to do this is have a long history of being honest and sincere and it doesn’t take much to indicate that these are characteristics you don’t have.

So, there’s my pitch. These aren’t that much in the way of demands for buying my vote. I know it seems a lot, but you’ll probably find that the same price will purchase far more votes than mine…

Sources and the internet

One of my peeves with the internet is that it allows everyone to be a publisher. This means that the option to put information in front of a large audience, without the potential of having someone responsible for the reputation of that publisher ensuring the veracity of content.  Newspapers and magazines have editors, broadcast news organizations have producers, and their key role is to ensure the reputation, and as a sidebar, legally protect the organization from potential issues based upon the content they produce.

This is not the case with the internet. The content available across the internet is rife with misleading or deliberately false information.

I have seen increasingly frequent social media posts, particularly during this election, relating to political party policy done without any attempt to verify the information or its source.  Fact checking of the information indicates many of these are reposts of information falsified by either the source or the poster. And people don’t seem to want to put the effort into checking out the story, particularly where the posting supports the policy or the message your party wants to present.

The main thing to ask yourself when you see a politically-related social media posting is this. Does the story come from an accredited media source? If not, it probably isn’t true. Here’s this story that’s obviously major news, yet doesn’t appear in a major news media site. No reporter is going to turn down a major story, so this is a really good indication that the source is false.

If nothing else, you can save yourself some embarrassment by checking where you get your information for the social media posts you share. There is a broad range of postings from white supremacist groups going around the internet recently, and some of the people who have shared these would probably be surprised to discover the agenda of many of the sources for their shared posts.

For example, I recently messaged someone I know who is affiliated with a political party to suggest pulling a social media post. The source was a link from a website. The source in question is a white supremacist site, whose web master has posted such wonderful diatribes as a recent one on how Adolph Hitler was “misunderstood.” Incidentally, this posting has not been deleted after several days, even after the poster acknowledged receiving my message about his source.

Granted, if you need a neo-Nazi propaganda site to support the message of your political party, you may want to take a long time to reconsider what you actually support. But, that is a different topic all together…

It’s time to look at the costs

Today, the Yukon Government announced that they will appeal the decision of the Yukon Supreme Court’s Decision to overturn the amended land use plan for the Peel River drainage. The timing is interesting, in that the announcement comes shortly after the legislative session has ended and the house will not sit again for several months.

This was the result of a suit filed to deal with the government’s implementation of their own land use plan for the Peel, overturning the process and decision of the Peel Watershed Planning Commission after five years of consultation and $1.6 million in costs.

The original plan called for protection of 80% of the region. The government, however, unilaterally rejected the plan and presented their own calling for protection of less than 30% of the region.

The Na-Cho Nyak Dun and the Tr’ondek Hwech’in First Nations, along with the Yukon Conservation Society and the Yukon chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, filed a suit arguing the government’s new plan unilaterally ignored the planning process, part of the Yukon First Nations’ Umbrella Final Agreement, and hence, is constitutionally protected.

This is not the Yukon Government’s first foray into clashing with Yukon First Nations over traditional lands. The Ross River Dena Council successfully sued the territorial government in 2012 over requiring consultation for granting staking on traditional lands. The government appealed the Yukon Supreme Court decision to the Supreme Court of Canada, which refused to hear the appeal.

The Kaska Dena Council have also filed similar suit in May of 2014. Ross River also filed another suit over failure to consult over the issue of big game hunting permits in August 2014.

All of these issues seem to stem from the complete failure of the Yukon Government to understand their role vis–à–vis first nation governments in the territory and the proven in law rights and responsibilities of governments on first nations’ traditional territories.

Under the Umbrella Final Agreement, a constitutionally protected agreement, first nations have the right in Yukon to devolve any territorial government power and have that funded from Yukon Government revenue. What this basically means is that a first nations government in Yukon is the constitutional equivalent of the territorial government.

Perhaps, for perspective’s sake, the Yukon Government should look at this from the other side, namely, that the government is the equivalent of a first nation and the premier is the equivalent of a first nation chief.

Until the government governs the territory in this manner, they will continue to throw away taxpayer’s money on suits they have no hope of winning, and for no other logical purpose than to save face. Unfortunately, when it comes to relations with Yukon First Nations, the government has no more face to save.

These trials have cost a substantial amount of tax money, wasted because the government does not understand or want to understand their position in the constitutional milieu. What would be quite fair is for the government to publicly announce how much has be spent since 2011 on law suits filed by first nations. These number should be made public before the appeal is filed…


To whom does your MP answer… if he does at all

It has been nine days since I e-mailed Ryan Leef, MP for the Yukon, regarding direct government intervention in collective bargaining for Crown corporations. To this point, I have not even received a response, despite specifically asking for one.

I have heard others complain that they have contacted him and not received so much as an acknowledgement from his staff that they even received the request. Therefore, if you work for Mr. Leef and have the opportunity to read this blog, please remind him that, within a Westminister government, he works for his constituents. Unfortunately, I have seen little to indicate that he is aware of this.