The Pirate Party welcomes the Liberal and NDP proposed electoral reform, but believes it does not go far enough. We are cautiously optimistic, but wary of broken election promises including those related to electoral reform.
The Liberals have not only consistently voted with the government to chip away at our privacy and rights and freedom; they were also the first ones to introduce the lawful access legislation.
The unprincipled vote for C51 that allows our rights and freedoms to be taken away in a slanted “balancing” towards an ineffective and false sense of security also weighs heavily.
It does makes one wonder whether they will as easily give away our sovereignty in the secretive and farcical trade treaty, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), currently being pushed by special monopolistic interest groups in the U.S.
Giant Loopholes in the (Un)Fair Election Act Must Be Fixed
The Pirate Party believes the current electoral reform act, passed in 2015 by the Conservative party, and officially named the Fair Elections Act, needs to be repealed. It complicated the existing Canada Elections Act and increased bureaucracy and government cost so that the ruling party and financially strong parties could circumvent electoral regulations, which used to safeguard against unequal advantage and the influence of corporate and special interest money.
The amendment to the Canada Elections Act brought by Fair Elections Act allows corporations to influence the leadership election contest within a party and prevents their donations from being tracked or limited. All donations have always been regulated by the Elections Canada before now.
This could allow wealthy individuals or organizations to flood campaign marketing to influence the votes for the leadership election in each of the party. The position of the leader in a party is very important since he/she would become the Prime Minister if their party wins. With our system of Prime Minister and party leaders controlling and dictating how each MPs votes, it will be highly profitable for moneyed interests to support and install corrupt and sympathetic leaders.
Under the current Fair Election Act, parties with financially well-off supporters can run a very long campaign with virtually limitless spending. Third party advertising could be set up to allow limitless political ads beyond Elections Canada’s control before the writ is drop, bringing the ridiculously expensive and prolonged U.S. political campaign ads to Canada.
This is a threat to our democratic balance. We welcome the Liberals’ promise to fix pre-election spending, but believe the third-party advertising loophole and unfair election reform should be repealed entirely.
Equal Advertising Opportunities
All parties or local independent candidates should be given equal free advertising time on major networks, radio stations, public broadcasters, and other major communication and broadcast mediums. This will provide more democratic choices and prevent any party from having an advantage over the others. It will also prevent us from falling into U.S. style duopoly. Even a triopoly is very limiting and leads to complacency and playing only to party bases.
A Fair Deal for Independents
We want to ensure that independent candidates can compete on a more even playing field. Elections should be about which candidate has the platform most acceptable to the voters and not who has the rules stacked in their favour. This was made worse by passing of bill C-23, the (Un)Fair Election Act. Winning the race because you have an inherent advantage over your opponent is neither fair nor honourable.
We propose a new system by which money raised by independent candidates before the end of an election will instead be held in trust by Elections Canada until the next Federal election. If the person runs again as an independent candidate, the money that is held in trust will be returned to them for use in their campaign. If the person decides not to run at all or runs as a candidate under a party banner, the money held in trust will be forfeited to Elections Canada in whole. All interest accrued from money held by Elections Canada in the interim will belong to Elections Canada.
Restore Per-Vote Subsidy and Clarify Misinformation
We will seek to restore the per vote subsidy. There is no greater assurance of democracy than the per-vote subsidy, where a party which garnered a certain percentage of votes will get a subsidy in proportion to the number of votes they get. The smaller parties with very low percentage share of votes don’t get any. But parties that have growing support or a large base of constant supporters will get the subsidy, ensuring all parties have funds to promote and run their party. This prevents parties supported by financially well-off members from having too much of an unfair advantage. This mechanism ensures every Canadian will have the ability to challenge established parties, and moneyed interest does not rule the day like in the U.S.
Of course, it is those who have the wealthiest supporters and illicit corporate donations who claim that the per-vote subsidy hurts democracy. But the reality is that the subsidy is allocated only based on voting numbers. It does not discriminate whether that vote is from someone who can afford to donate more than the others. All votes are equal.
Another bit of misinformation that is being perpetuated is that the “fringe” and non-serious parties will be getting these funds. The reality is a certain percentage of votes have to be met before the parties will get any funds, and the amount paid out at lower margins will not be substantial. The amount they receive is proportional to the number of votes they get, and if a party doesn’t have at least 2% of all the votes, and 5% in local electoral districts, they get nothing. This is above the level of what has traditionally been referred to as fringe parties.
This is far more democratic than the loopholes introduced by the Fair Elections Act that will see the advantage tilted toward richer parties and be outside regulation of Elections Canada.
The subsidy will help a new party, which has growing support, to have the basic funds needed to run their party. Some of these expenses include paying auditors and other administrative tasks required by the Canada Elections act, and the effort and budget required to raise awareness and profiles of the party.
While those who have the most to gain from reducing party choices would like to see the per-vote subsidy forever vanished, The Pirate Party seeks to ensure the per-vote subsidy is restored to increase competition and improve our democratic choices. After all, political parties and campaigns work like open markets. More competition, which leads to more innovation and great ideas to attract supporters.
We should have a mandatory number of debates which are independently organized, where no party can pick and choose which ones to attend. The debates will be scheduled ahead of time and all candidates will be required to be there, barring any legitimate emergency or personal reasons (i.e. The excuse that they are busy campaigning is an invalid excuse).
In these mandatory debates, all leaders of a registered party are allowed to attend, unlike now, when members of some parties are excluded, even if the party has seats in parliament. There should also be mandatory community debates that include all registered and confirmed candidates.
Prime Minister’s Accountability and Accessibility
The Prime Minister should be accessible to a free press at least monthly, not just during Question Period, where they often dodge questions by personally attacking opposing parties. At the required monthly press conferences, the press cannot be handpicked by the Prime Minister’s office or the ruling government.
We The Pirate Party opposes online voting due to security and anonymity concerns. Current polling booths allows for complete anonymity, free from coercion, which online voting cannot guarantee. As a party born of high technology, we see the threat to the integrity of our electoral system that online voting can bring.
We support using tabulating machines to speed up counting of votes in a new proportional representation system. However, use of tabulating machines must be open source, including both their hardware and software. After the initial results are tabulated, an immediate audit should be conducted for each electoral district at a level commensurate with the margin of winning. This will provide both accurate records and a much needed confidence boost to our electoral system.
It is our contention that the low voter turnout is not due to the absence of online voting, but due to the absence of real voices for the average citizen. It is also due to a government that is increasingly out of touch with the public’s interests. Though we disagree with mandatory voting, with or without it, we believe people should have the right to abstain or express their choice of none of the above.
Responsible Proportional System
We believe that the proportional system adopted should be fair to both rural and urban Canadians. There have been various attempts at electoral reform with half-hearted effort and hard-to-reach vote requirements, ensuring their failure.
We will not repeat the mistake of Ontario, whose premiere denied the voters crucial information about the proposed system. Voters who remain uninformed and with no knowledge of what is being proposed express desire for reform, but they are unable to vote for something they don’t understand.
The system that will be implemented should be selected after providing enough time for a very involved and transparent public consultation using our new online tool, which will also be used to make MPs more accountable and answerable for their broken election promises.
Increase Power and Independence of the Electoral Commissioner
The new Elections Act moved the electoral commissioner out of the jurisdiction of Elections Canada and into the partisan Ministry of Justice.
The commissioner answering to a partisanly appointed body also compromises its independence and ability to prosecute a ruling party. The commissioner also cannot compel witnesses to co-operate, thereby compromising their ability to go after evidence and information needed to investigate cases of electoral fraud, such as those from last General Elections. To increase power to prosecute electoral fraud, which is vital to preserving the trust and integrity of our electoral process, we will:
- Make the elections commissioner independent and outside the control of the Ministry of Justice, and put that office back under the purview of Elections Canada.
- Give power to the commissioner to ask a judge to force someone to testify and co-operate in providing facts, or provide documents, to help electoral fraud investigations. Although a judge identified the Conservative CMS database as the likely source of the fraud, the commissioner was not able to compel party staffers or service providers to provide information of who had access to the database, and when it was accessed, to help trace the source of the fraud.
- Give the commissioner auditing power similar to Revenue Canada to compel each party to provide proof, receipts, documents, data and relevant information related to electoral fraud investigation.
- Allow the commissioner to initiate investigations if there is suspicion that an electoral fraud has been committed. We propose giving the commissioner the resources for immediate investigation during election day following a complaint from Canadians of disenfranchisement, fraudulent robocalls, or other act of electoral frauds or disturbances.
- Enforce the audit requirement for all parties or candidates to keep all calls, text messages, and call records made by party staff or volunteers, including third party or automated calling tools, used for calling on behalf of the party.
Create Online Tools to Keep MPs Accountable
What would Trudeau or Muclair do to assure us that they won’t follow the same path as previous leaders? Canada has a long history of broken promises in national election cycles. The Pirate Party proposes a tool to mitigate this problem of broken election promises and lack of transparency and accountability. We propose establishing a system of Constituents-Representative-Interaction-System (CRIS) to ensure MPs can:
- provide consistent information leadership by sharing justification, data, and relevant information about a pending bill and its development with their constituents.
- listen and respond to constituents’ concerns.
- access ideas from grassroots and frontline Canadians, plus feedback from a wide pool of Canadian experts.
- provide mandatory justification and a tally of broken promises and votes that were clearly against his/her constituents wishes. This data would become a permanent record and serve as their “report card” that constituents could easily review during election time. This tool would help voters keep track and easily recall officials’ past wrongdoings.
- Use this portal to make an easily accessible, searchable, free and proactive online access to government information, with close to real-time disclosure of unclassified government data and spendings in electronic format.
- The format for this portal should be open source or libre software and the data easily accessible and the auditable by independent experts and any interested Canadians. This will improve accountability and help expose any wrongdoings and misspending early before the situation worsens and leads to cost overruns, waste or corruption.
The online tool and forum will be administered by a new off-election division of Elections Canada to ensure it is non-partisan, and to authenticate access while protecting the privacy and anonymity of online forum participants.
Elections Canada could also use this to administer a non-binding online poll on various bills before the parliament to show constituent’s sentiments and for MP to respond, and to provide information to ensure their constituents who are interested can get as much information as is necessary to make an informed decision as if they are voting for the bill themselves.
We should explore the possibility of using the online tool for polling to recall an MP. A reasonable threshold could be established. For instance, we could require that for an online recall poll to lead to an actual recall by-election, more than 50% of the constituents must have voted. Among those who have voted, 55% must support recalling their MP.
There will be a cooling period of three weeks for the MP to respond to the concerns and for cooler heads to prevail. After the cool-off period, another online poll could be held, and if a similar benchmark was reached, a recall by election would be held in that electoral district.
While we oppose online voting in a binding general election or by-election, the non-binding recall poll is a pretty safe and inexpensive way to gauge opposition against an MP who might be failing their constituents miserably. A binding recall election in the form of traditional by-election would only follow after clear signs of unwavering wide discontent were demonstrated. This would save money and prevent trivial recall elections.
Such a system would motivate MPs to be more forthcoming with their constituents. The age of “Trust me, I know more than you do,” should be replaced with a more transparent exchange of knowledge. An MP should take more responsibility if their constituents are constantly “misinformed”. This tool would provide more transparency and sharing of information between an MP and their constituents.