A Plea for Preferential Voting

(This also appeared on my Facebook page)

I’m increasingly concerned that there is an active campaign to block electoral reform in Canada. The Globe and Mail has been promoting a referendum, knowing that referenda on electoral reform in Canada have generally been defeated. Today’s editorial seems to suggest that there’s not much wrong with first-past-the-post voting that a bit of tinkering wouldn’t fix. But I think the problems are much deeper than that. Here is the long version of a letter to the G&M which I drafted today (the one I sent was shorter). I hope we will all take some action on this issue.

To the editor of the Globe and Mail
Your editorial of January 6, arguing that our first-past-the-post (FPTP) electoral system is not badly broken, ignores its main drawback: the problem of vote splitting. Given a choice of three or more candidates, FPTP can result in a winner whom the majority of voters would reject in a head-to-head contest against at least one of the losers. This is the opposite of majority rule.

Vote splitting between the Progressive Conservatives and Reform parties allowed the Chr├ętien Liberals to form majority governments with barely 40% of the popular vote. Vote splitting between the NDP and the Liberals allowed the Harper Conservatives to form a majority government with similarly low support. Fear of splitting the anti-Harper vote led to massive strategic voting in the last election and probably gave the Liberals the appearance of far greater public support than they actually had (again we have a majority government with less than 40% of the popular vote). These are serious problems.

Preferential voting (PV) would go a long way to solving this problem. While not perfect, PV guarantees that a majority of the voters prefer the the winning candidate to all the immediate runners up. It has other virtues. It is easily understood. It can be implemented without changing the remainder of our electoral system: we can still have one member per riding and leave the existing riding boundaries alone. What is more, it would probably lead to less negative rhetoric (because you don’t wish to alienate those who might rank you second) and it might lead to more emphasis on the strength of local candidates (because it would be less risky to vote for an attractive candidate from a less well-known party when you can transfer your vote to your preferred second choice should the first one fail.

Let us not get lost in partisan struggles, massive political changes, or complex reform schemes. PV is a simple, elegant and effective step towards truer democracy. Let’s take it.

Yours sincerely
Andrew Muller

The Express Bus lane – An Open Letter to my Councillor

Arlene Vanderbeek, Ward 13 Councillor
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

Dear Arlene

I am one of your constituents. I am writing to ask you to support continuation and improvement of the experimental transit only right-of-way along King St. along the lines apparently suggested by the staff report. (I say apparently because I could not find the report easily on the City website and it was only yesterday I obtained a link to it, so I have not yet read the report). When I wrote you about this in December you agreed that no action should be taken until all the information was in. I am now asking you carefully to consider the recommendations.

As I understand the Rapid Ready document, the City is committed to intensified public transit as part of its commitment to growth and that the City understands that frequency, reliability and convenience of public transit is critical to its success. The experimental bus lane has shown that an exclusive transit right of way in the most intensively used transit corridor can improve service. The experiment has also indicated ways in which an exclusive transit right-of-way could be better implemented. To end the pilot experiment now without simultaneously undertaking alternative credible and convincing plans to improve transit in the most heavily transit-dependent area of the city is clearly to demonstrate that the City’s commitment to public transit is illusory and that provincial funds should be reallocated to cities that are willing to make use of them.

Yours sincerely
Andrew Muller

Birthday Thoughts

Note: this entry also appeared on my Facebook page
Birthdays beget reflection. It’s more than five years years now since I was officially diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease and almost six since a medically trained friend saw the symptoms and advised me to check it out.

It hasn’t been a picnic. My manual dexterity has declined dramatically. Putting garbage in a bag or bills in a wallet is a real trial. Tying shoelaces and buttoning shirts is a chore. I am the last to get out of the change room or to leave the party, because my coat just doesn’t seem to want to go on. Every three hours or so my right hand starts to tremble uncontrollably and it takes the better part of an hour for the next dose of levodopa to work its magic. Sometimes my legs and arms move in strange ways.

But overall I think I’m doing pretty well. I can do pretty well anything that has been important to me: paddle in the summer, ski in the winter. Drive a car. Walk kilometres at a time ( helped by Nordic walking poles if I want a vigorous workout.) I sing and dance on stage with the Burlington footnotes. Type. Hand-write ( when the tremor is not too bad). Playing the guitar and singing in tune are probably beyond me, but then again they always were. Enjoy a glass (or more) of beer or wine. Attend theatre. Travel to Brazil, Japan, Ireland, Germany and (next year) Turkey with Friendship Force International. My internal plumbing is somewhat clogged but still functional. I spend high quality time with friends and colleagues. Life still has much to offer.

Every day I am conscious of and grateful for the good hand I was dealt in life. I was born with good genes to loving parents of adequate means. I was fortunate in doing well at school. I hit the job market when there were still ample opportunities for young faculty. I met and married a kind and beautiful woman who has stuck with me through my ups and downs for 45 years. I have been blessed with children, grandchildren, cousins and friends. I earned a good salary and now enjoy a secure retirement. After riding the secular housing boom for forty years we have downsized to a comfortable condo with striking views. I could go on.

It is hard to believe that one man should have so much good luck. May I never take it for granted. I wish for the same good fortune and happiness to all of you.. Let’s ring the bells that still can ring.

Who should we remember on Remembrance Day?

Despite my German-sounding name, my only family connection to Germany comes through a pacifist great-grandfalther who emigrated to Wales around 1860. My other 15 great-grandparents were of British stock, so I guess I’m about 94% British and 6% German. Nevertheless the German connection has left me with an interest in Germany and that probably explains my thoughts today as Remembrance Day rolls around.

I’m thinking of the war dead on both sides of WWI and WWII. In 1914-18 Canadian military deaths were about 60,000 or 0.83% of a pre-war population of 7.2 million. German military deaths were about 2 million, about 3% of a population of 65 million – an incidence about 3 and a half times Canada’s. The German army was as conscript army and the men must have been motivated by the same call to patriotic duty that we think of when remembering the Canadian deaths. In 1939-1945 Canadian military deaths were about 45,000, some 0.4% of the pre-war poopulation of 11 million. German war dead were about 5 million, some 7.0% of a pre-war population of around 70 million, an incidence 8 times as great as Canada’s. This was a mixed volunteer/conscript army – by the end of the war the Germans were drafting boys as young as 13 and as old as 60 for the last-ditch defence. While we now properly emphasize the evil of the Nazi regime, it is certain that many if not most Germans fought out of the same kind of patriotic and social motives as we honour in Remembrance Day ceremonies of our own dead.

My point is that both wars caused a sickening number of military deaths, primarily to previously innocent young men on both sides, not to mention the horrendous loss of civilian life and the atrocities of the death camps. They all served with a variety of motives from the noble to the crass. If there were heroes on one side, then there were heroes on the other. Likewise villains.

Let us remember and mourn the losses on both sides and firmly reject the use of Remembrance Day to promote the false and romantic version of our history being promoted by the Harper government.