Statement: June Macdonald

Why a referendum? Why now? Why?

Many have asked about why a referendum now and why these particular referendum questions. As a member of both national council and the Toronto Chapter executive, I am at ground zero and fully responsible for this event; I supported the unanimous vote of National council in favour of the referendum.

In spite of this I am, like many, concerned that we are doing this since I feel it is potentially putting the organization in jeopardy. Many of our most devoted members are unhappy with this process. For me it was not an easy decision since I have been involved in one way or another in Fair Vote since its inception more than 12 years ago. I have probably invested as much time and money in it as anyone.

I feel some form of proportional representation is critical for the health of my country and that FVC working for a non-proportional system-- even in a limited context -- will detract from that goal. Advocating for PR via Fair Vote has been my passion. So it was not an easy decision to support the referendum and put these options to a vote. But, given the total context of events, I saw no other choice.

So why do this?

Since 2009, Dave Meslin (now leader of RaBit* and also a member of FVC) has consistently argued that advocacy of alternative vote (AV) (ranked ballots in a single member ward) for limited use in cities without parties is compatible with the FVC Statement of Purpose.

He has stated on a number of occasions that he would bring forward a motion to formalize this change.

… I believe that the RaBIT campaign fits harmoniously with the Fair Vote Canada mandate, and I believe that a majority of our membership would agree. To me, there is absolutely no contradiction between the pursuit of proportionality and the pursuit of runoff voting at the local level in existing single-member wards, for a Council that does not have parties.

I plan to put forward a motion at the Toronto FVC AGM that re-affirms our commitment to proportionality, while also expressing support for the RaBIT campaign. [December 10, 2010]

He had intended to bring this motion forward to the 2010/11 Toronto Chapter AGM but since the Statement of Purpose is a national council concern he was told it would have been ruled out of order. At the 2012 Chapter AGM, the membership reaffirmed their support for PR (78%) but a resolution asking the National Council to review their decision and consider a broader approach, allowing local chapters to advocate for a wider range of municipal reforms failed.

At that AGM a slate of five candidates who preferred ranked ballots for Toronto ran for the executive. Three Rabit supporters were elected to the seven-seat Toronto Chapter executive on April 26, 2012.

Since 2009, there have been numerous flash points between AV and PR supporters. AV followers were upset by PR supporters who would describe the AV option as “cosmetic” or a “phony reform” or write comments on blogs about evidence that Rabits did not accept. PR supporters would be upset by criticism of what they felt were valid debating points. They started holding fewer formal meetings to avoid potential public conflicts.

However, once there were two camps within the executive, conflict escalated with neither side able to find common ground. Professional mediation collapsed after one session. The pro PR side felt they needed confirmation of their mandate to advocate for PR in Toronto and sought a special motion from National Council to do so which Council did on August 9, 2012, with none opposed. But a letter to city council on October 10, 2012 drafted by national council and the Chapter co-chairs as mandated by the motion generated substantial controversy that involved not only those within the organization but outside as well. The letter in part said:

Toronto Council is being asked to introduce ranked ballots for City Council elections. Fair Vote Canada does not recommend this system for electing representative assemblies at any level of government.

Toronto's elections can be most improved by making them more fair, diverse, and inclusive thorough proportional representation. Because proportional systems are widely used in cities around the world, including those without political parties, there are well- researched models that can be adapted for Toronto’s use.

The National Council and Toronto Chapter of Fair Vote Canada call for City Council to engage in a transparent, public process to investigate all options thoroughly in order to choose the system that is best for the citizens of Toronto.

The pressure of this ongoing conflict has been destabilizing and upsetting for both sides in the issue. Volunteer time has doubled without moving our agenda forward. Some members have been on the verge of quitting. Several chapter members were sworn at—one paragraph in one email had four profanities directed to one person. The health of several participants has been compromised by the stress, especially in the last six months but the pressure for long time members has been there for more than 3 years. In any corporate entity all this would be a health and safety issue.

Spending volunteer time in constant confrontation is not sustainable.

Why a referendum?

Since this has been an ongoing issue since 2009 and since emotions on both sides have escalated and given all the contextual information available to us, national council felt that it was time to deal with AV in a national referendum in order to determine the wishes of the membership and settle the question.

Why Option B?-- Why AV for cities only?

The pro-AV group does not advocate Alternative vote for other levels of government; as their statements indicate, they all uniformly back PR for upper levels of government. So the question was designed to reflect what Option B supporters have been asking for over the past three years.

This is an important referendum because as Jim Harris said in his recent statement, adoption of AV in Toronto is likely to “set a dangerous precedent”: if established in Canada, AV would become the “go-to” choice for all levels of government.

This is not a simple referendum about alternative vote in cities. In my mind, it will determine whether we will have any chance of a proportional Canada.

Please vote Option A


*(Ranked ballot initiative for Toronto) which is an advocacy group for Alternative Vote (AV), a winner-take-all system similar to our current system First Past the Post (FPTP). AV is also known as Instant runoff voting (IRV) or or ranked ballots in a single ward or constituency.

June Macdonald
National Council, Fair Vote Canada
Toronto Chapter executive

Co-chair, Option A campaign