Dear Fair Vote Members,
I am writing to express my grave concerns about the current Fair Vote Canada referendum and its implications for our movement. In detailing my past interactions with the Option B proponents, I hope I can provide needed context for voters and directly confront some of the misinformation being circulated by RaBIT.
I am not a member of the FVC e-mail list and so I am asking a friend to circulate this statement. My name is Stuart Parker; I have been active in the fair voting movement since 1996 when I co- founded a group called the BC Electoral Change Coalition, a coalition of groups backing voting reform comprising the BC Liberal Party (then the official opposition), BC Reform Party (then holding two seats in the legislature), Family Coalition Party, Marxist-Leninist Party and Green Party as well as Western Canada Wilderness Committee, Canadians for Direct Democracy and the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation. I served as Vice President for this group until its dissolution in 2000. From 2005 to 2007, I served as part of the national council of Fair Vote Canada and as a director of Fair Vote Ontario. And from 1999 to 2009, I served as a director of Fair Voting BC and, in that capacity, was a key decision-maker and campaigner for the Yes to STV campaigns in 2005 and 2009.
The contribution to our movement of which I am proudest was my securing an agreement from then-Deputy Mayor Nancy Chiavario for the inclusion of proportional representation in the city's 1996 referendum on its voting system. Despite our having no budget and there being no pro-PR citizens' organizations as we have today, our small campaign managed to secure 36% of the vote for genuine fair voting at the municipal level.
When I moved to Toronto in 2004, the city was opening negotiations with the province with a view to changing its governance structure. And so, when I was elected to FVC's national council the next year, I made it my priority to insure that proportional representation for our city was on the table in the discussions that led to the creation of the City of Toronto Act and the amendment of the Ontario Municipal Elections Act. Working in concert with my fellow national councilors, Linda Sheppard and John Deverell, we produced a report calling for proportional representation for Toronto and networked with other reform-oriented organizations. As part of these efforts, we participated in nearly every hearing and public consultation event on the City of Toronto Act and made formal presentations to the Toronto City Council's Finance Committee and the Ontario Provincial Parliament's Standing Committee on General Government.
One of the things that became clear to us during our work was that Toronto required reforms beyond simple PR in order to become a democratic city. The power of incumbency, we found, was generated not primarily by the voting system but by (a) the prohibition on registered political parties, making it difficult for lower-information voters to discern the policies and ideology of non- incumbent candidates and (b) the city's election finance system that permits incumbents to fundraise for all 48 months of the electoral cycle while prohibiting non-incumbents for fundraising for 38 of those months. For this reason, we considerably expanded the package of reforms we were proposing and were advised by then-FVC-president Wayne Smith that Fair Vote Canada was not comfortable signing-off on so many reforms unrelated to PR.
So, in 2007, we created the organization the Toronto Democracy Initiative and in 2008, issued the following report on civic democracy in Toronto: http://stuartparker.ca/wp- content/uploads/2012/07/tdi_civicdemoc_april08_02.pdf. In 2009, we became aware of an organization called Better Ballots, a non-partisan coalition financed by the MayTree Foundation and led by Dave Meslin with whom I had worked very harmoniously on the 2009 BC referendum for the Yes to STV campaign. Dave and I took different lessons from that campaign, however. I believed that our very poor showing (STV's popularity fell from 58% in 2005 to 36% in 2009) was due to specific errors concerning messaging and staffing choices, something for which I issued a public apology, as well as much less favourable rules for the campaign. Because, I believe, Dave had not been involved in 2005, he came away from the campaign convinced that STV was not a saleable voting system.
Better Ballots was, supposedly, a process simply designed to encourage dialogue around reforms to democratize Toronto. Desmond Cole's organization, which backs granting voting rights to non- citizens, was one of the groups that Better Ballots invited into their coalition. Curiously, no representative of FVC or TDI was asked to sit on the board of Better Ballots. As both an FVC member and TDI director, I approached Dave and asked him if a person who backed fair voting could be seated on his board. Because Better Ballots was essentially a rubber stamp for Dave's efforts, he informed me that no FVC representative would be allowed to sit on the board for this supposedly unbiased public consultation process but that he would consider allowing TDI to sit on the board under one condition: that if it came to a choice between the process backing FPTP or IRV, I would agree, in advance, to support IRV, that when push came to shove and proportional representation were taken off the table, I would back IRV.
This struck me as a strange condition for sitting on a board administering an unbiased public consultation process but I agreed, a choice of which I have since repented. I could see that with strong backing from organized labour, Toronto's blue chip charities and Dave's very impressive contacts, it was vital that someone from the fair voting movement be part of its decision-making process.
Shortly after being appointed to the board, I saw that I had stepped into a dysfunctional organization. Nobody besides Dave and me knew very much about voting systems and he seemed very reluctant to address that problem. No efforts were made at educating our fellow board members about the issues we were debating and, in fact, discussions in the group were orchestrated to prevent it. I appealed to Dave's co-chair, Vivian Dzau, for help but she resigned shortly thereafter.
Things came to a head when it came time to organize a huge public meeting where all the reforms the group was considering (weekend voting, non-citizen voting, STV, IRV, etc.) would be presented to the public and voted-upon. When I saw the list of options that Dave was going to put before the public I could see that there was an agenda to show that IRV was "simple" and other voting system changes were unmanageably complex. More disturbingly still, Dave was insistent that the meeting not educate participants at all about voting systems; they were to hear "pitches" and not get any general information about how their current voting system worked, how other cities' worked or any data that might allow them to make informed choices.
The way it was structured, voters could not learn that, until a decade before, the city had had double-member wards; they were not allowed to hear that a ranked ballot in a ward with two or more representatives is STV. In fact, Dave vehemently insisted that "ranked ballots" and STV were totally different things and that people at the event would be told so and not that STV is one of a number of systems that use ranked ballots. They were also to be told that "double-member wards," "multi-member wards" and "at-large elections" were totally different things and bore no similarity to one another and that they, likewise, could not be talked about at the same time or compared and that STV was a voting system completely unrelated to all three and not one of a number of systems that use multi-member wards. By making it appear that STV advocates were incoherent or factually incorrect when we described our voting system or even simply provided those present with context, Dave hoped IRV would come out as the only thing that made sense.
I held a marathon discussion and mediation with Dave and one other board member to attempt to hammer-out some kind of agreement for the public meeting to educate people about voting systems and not be obviously rigged to favour IRV. After hours of discussion, I gave up and sent an e-mail to the Better Ballots board stating that I wanted to present my concerns to the whole group because it was clear Dave was rigging the process and planned to misinform the public, deliberately creating confusion about STV and other alternatives to IRV, tricks he had clearly learned from observing our opponents in the 2009 referendum.
Upon my expressing my concerns to the Better Ballots board, I was immediately removed from the organization and barred from any future board meetings. It was no surprise to me, then, that the result of the Better Ballots launch was the RaBIT campaign and that misinformation about voting systems has only spread.
In April 2010, I left Toronto and moved to the United States, where I resided for the next two years before moving to Vancouver, where I was recently appointed interim president of the local FVC chapter and elected to our local board at the AGM I called in November. I am very saddened to see that the anti-democratic practices of bullying and misinformation that I witnessed firsthand in Better Ballots have only escalated since RaBIT's launch. I understand that today, FVC-Toronto's executive is essentially running in circles, working to stave-off filibustering and takeover attempts by RaBIT, an organization that, unlike Fair Vote, insulates itself from any member-driven democratic efforts to change its mandate.
The goal of RaBIT is clear. Fair Vote members were speaking out in favour of options like STV, limited vote, cumulative vote and SNTV. It is evident that Dave and his colleagues have determined that the only way IRV can win is for those talking about truly democratic reforms are silenced.
The effort to take over FVC-Toronto is not, in my view, an effort to get FVC to consider a wider range of voting reform options; it is an effort to prevent activists from speaking out credibly for proportional representation when Toronto City Council next debates its voting system. This, in turn, is part of a larger effort to restrict debate so that people do not consider returning to the multi- member wards the city had for decades and only recently abandoned or consider the way driving political parties underground and giving incumbents a 38-month fundraising advantage has led the city to where it is today.
RaBIT silently backs the 38-month fundraising advantage, the party ban and single-member wards not because they are popular or carved in stone but because backing those things allows them to distort the debate, making single-X voting the only culprit for Toronto's democratic malaise and IRV, the only solution.
It is not just the system of IRV that has no place in Fair Vote Canada; RaBIT's campaign of misinformation and bullying must also be rejected. The future of fair voting in Canada depends on it.