Wards. The no-good plurality alternative.

Did you know that Vancouver has attempted to change its electoral system five times since 1973? And not once has the system actually changed.

Depending on your temperament, you might think that the matter should be settled by now or that Vancouver is plagued by a persistently bad electoral system that continues to mobilize new critics. At FairVote Canada – Vancouver, we are of the latter temperament and think that the electoral system is just as bad as it was in 1973. Furthermore, in the past 41 years, the only proposed change was to move from at-large voting to a ward system, failed attempts perhaps because voters realized that even a ward system would perpetuate unfair elections.

Vancouver currently runs elections using a plurality at large system, where candidates run to represent citizens from the entire city of Vancouver. Past proposals for reform advocated for the use of wards, where candidates would run to represent the citizens of a particular district within the city, similar to the riding system used in Canada’s federal and provincial elections.

Unfortunately, this system just brings with it all the problems of the first past the post system that are visible at the federal and provincial level. The fundamental problem with any first past the post voting system is the high number of wasted votes, ie, any votes cast for the losing candidates.  This winner-take-all electoral process applies to the current system and would also apply to a ward system.

Examples of this can be seen in the 2011 election for Vancouver City Council. Vision Vancouver received 34% of all votes but won 70% of the available seats. In other words, they received almost twice as much as common sense would suggest they deserve. A ward system would unlikely solve this problem.

On the other hand, proportional voting systems are designed to reduce wasted votes.  By increasing the number of voters who are represented on the council, we would have a council that is more representative of the community. That alone would lead to more democratic governance.

Switching from at-large voting to wards would just be switching from one bad system to another bad system.  If we’re going to change the electoral system, let’s pick one that is more democratic.

Image ©Vancouver City Archives

Scotland, Women, & Proportional Representation

In light of the recent Scottish Independence Referendum, we thought we would evaluate their electoral system given that since 1999, they have elected members to their own Parliament using the MMP voting system while electing its representatives to Westminster using first past the post. This provides a perfect comparison for those of us interested seeing how proportional representation and first past the post might affect electoral outcomes in various ways.

One measure of interest is the number of women elected to Parliament, as it is often argued that PR results in a higher number of female representation. Democratic Audit UK has a series of analyses on this subject, one of which can be found here.  The gist of the article mentioned is that many more women are elected under PR than they were ever elected under FPTP.  This is not only the result of the voting system: it also requires diligent advocacy by a wide range of women’s groups and the cooperation of the political parties themselves.

Given the results, it is clear a proportional voting system enables gender equality while first past the post prevents it. The article most poignantly states,

“…On 6 May 1999, more women were elected to the Scottish Parliament in one day than had been elected to represent Scotland in the House of Commons since 1918.”


Image courtesy of Barry Moss

Proportional Representation in Canada and Abroad

Fair Vote Canada’s Vancouver chapter recently had the chance to sit down with Conor Murphy, the Irish MP for Newry and Armagh. Conor has also been previously elected as an MLA in the Northern Ireland Assembly. The UK Westminster Parliament uses a First Past the Post (FPTP) electoral system similar to that used in Canadian federal elections, whereas elections in Ireland use the Single Transferable Vote system, a form of proportional representation.

Conor’s familiarity with multiple electoral systems allowed him to shed some light on these questions in a practical way. He noted that his impression is that Ireland has no desire to adopt a FPTP system rather than STV. He also graciously discussed the intricacies of how electoral campaigns differed across the two sections and how STV provides voters with greater choice. Conor shared some instances of how constituent representation seemed to be better under STV as well. We’d like to thank Conor again for taking some time to discuss electoral systems with us!

Spencer McKay on Vancouver’s Broken Electoral System

Our very own member at large, Spencer Mckay, submitted a piece the the Georgia Straight explaining the faults of our civic electoral system. The big question: our elections may be free, but are they fair?

Spencer puts it best when he says, “Vancouver can’t afford to be a first-class city with a second-rate democracy.” Read more about why our city’s electoral system is broken on the Georgia Straight by clicking here.

Fair Civic Election Kick Off Success!

Thank you to everyone who was able to make it out to our kick off event at 33 Acres Brewing Company on International Democracy Day! We were so happy to meet some new faces and share our campaign goals with you.

COPE Mayoral candidate, Meena Wong, also made it out to the event to show her support for proportional representation. When asked what her views were on PR, she responded with, “Of course I support PR! It’s about democracy!” We couldn’t agree more.

If you didn’t get a chance to attend our event last night, but would like to learn more about the Fair Civic Elections Campaign, visit our Events page or send us an email. We’d love to hear from you.

Happy International Democracy Day and Fair Civic Election Kick Off Day!

Welcome to the 2014 Fair Civic Elections Campaign! We are so thrilled to be kicking off our campaign on International Democracy Day. Thanks to you and your survey responses, we’ve been working hard to put some of your ideas in action and make an impact this Vancouver civic election period.

It all starts on today, September 15th, International Democracy Day. We’ve unveiled our new website and thrown a very exciting launch party. We’ve got a panel discussion happening out at the University of the Fraser Valley on September 16th for those of you in the Fraser Valley. We’ve also got a great panel discussion MLA Spencer Hebert, Green Party Parks Board candidate, Stuart MacKinnon, and special guest, Irish MP Conor Murphy. These three will be discussing proportional representation and how it has impacted their careers and constituents. To learn more about that event, visit our events page.

We’ve got more exciting exciting things planned through the fall and leading up to the Vancouver Civic Election in November so make sure you keep checking  back for news and information! And if you’d like to know your favourite candidates stance on PR, make sure you stop by our Vancouver Civic Election page to learn more.

What’s the fuss with PR?

You might be asking, what’s all the fuss about PR? Why is proportional representation better than first past the post on a civic level?

The problem is that with slate or party votes in an at-large system, a plurality of voters can easily result in a landslide for one party.

This is very clear in Burnaby, for example, where in the last election the BCA won all the seats on council, and school board, and park board. The reason is that about 50% of voters voted for them whereas the other parties were split. Because of slate voting they got all the seats.

As an example, say we’re electing three councillors. Four voters vote for candidates A, B and C.  Three voters vote for D, E, and F and one votes for G, H, and I.   That’s strict slate voting with a clean split. But this is roughly what happened in Burnaby, the parties are quite clearly differentiated left, right and Green. The outcome is that A, B, and C win all three seats with half the vote.  The other 50% of voters who voted D, E, F, or G, H, I got no representation at all.

In Vancouver it’s a bit more complicated because there are more parties and they tend not to run full slates, and of course not everyone votes strictly by slate.  But you can see on this graph that the results are pretty lopsided. Vision has clearly received a benefit, whereas all other parties have suffered.

The biggest objection is “I didn’t vote by slate, so it’s not a problem”. It’s true not everyone votes by slate, but enough do that it skews the outcome as described above. The slates are there because the parties know they work. Where slates don’t officially exist, this effect still holds because voters tend to group candidates together according to philosophy. Some voters vote for the candidates who represent their own views even if they are not formally aligned in a slate, but that’s not necessarily true for everyone.

Make sense? See the full infographic here or stop by one of our upcoming events. We’d love to chat to you more!

How Vancouver got it wrong in 2011

The chart below shows the result of 2011 Vancouver Civic election. The blue bar represents the percentage of the vote received by each party, and the orange bar represents the percentage of the seats on City Council.

This graph clearly shows the unpredictability of the relationship of votes to seats. In some cases, the seats are higher than the vote and in other cases they are lower.

The NPA only received 2 seats for their 38% of the vote, whereas Vision received 7 seats for their 36% of the vote. COPE, with 11% of the vote did not get a seat on Council, whereas the Green Party got a seat with 4% of the vote.

As a council of 10 members, a proportional result should award a seat for every 10% of the vote.

However, this is far from the case. The reason for all these results is the at-large voting system.

2011 Elections Results

The pie chart shows the under-representation of the NPA which received more of the total vote than Vision, yes only won two seats on Council, whereas Vision won a majority. COPE was shut out of the seats in spite of receiving 11% of the total vote, whereas the Green party won a seat with only 4% of the total vote.

All the vote totals are affected by the number of candidates each party chooses to run in the election.

2011 Election Results Pie Charts

Let’s get our candidates talking!

We are actively planning the Fair Civic Elections 2014 campaign with the goal to Make Every Vote Count in our Civic Elections.

In May, we conducted a survey asking you for your input about how we can make a difference.  In June, we had a Meetup in Vancouver where a number of interested Fair Vote members and supporters discussed some great ideas.

We would like to move forward with our ideas, but we need your help to put them into action. We have a brainstorming and steering committee forming meeting this coming Tuesday, July 15th from 7pm to 9pm at the Mount Pleasant Community Centre in Vancouver. We would love you to join our Meetup and attend the event.

Our friends at Fair Vote BC and Fair Vote Canada – Victoria will also be in attendance and we welcome members of other organizations as well as Fair Vote members and supporters from around the Lower Mainland to join us.

Feel free to take a look at our Campaign Goals and the Civic Pledge we are asking all candidates to sign before you come too.

Don’t forget to join the Meetup! We look forward to seeing you there.


Fair Vote Canada – Vancouver

FVC Vancouver Meetup and pub night!

We had so much fun at our first Meetup! Thank you to the Whip for hosting us. We had a turnout of over 20 people and we spent the evening chatting about politics, the state of our city, and just getting to know other PR supporters in Vancouver!

We’re excited to have more so please tell us what municipality you live in so we can host one closer to you. If you’d like to know about upcoming Meetups, please join here!