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Fair Vote Toronto and Toronto Politics

Hello, Fair Vote people.

I just got an announcement by the Fair Vote Canada Toronto chapter of its next AGM, and the agenda with resolutions o be voted on. I am very unimpressed with it and I am sending off this very "inflammatory" message to the whole of Fair Vote land. I hope it will inflame some posteriors to get up and do something about this situation.

background

I was attending meetings of the Toronto chapter of Fair Vote when it was the only chapter in Canada, the founder. I eventually ran for the executive of it, and was on it for one year. I think this was three or four years ago.

I declined to run again for two reasons. One was that not much was going on and the people on the board seemed to want to stop anything from getting done. Worse, the chair at the time wanted to do this "new member recruitment" thing and go out and recruit board members, and have chapter members just vote on a slate. She found herself some new exec candidates who I knew from my experiences around "activist" politics in Toronto were going to be big trouble. She certainly was not interested in my advice about it.

I did make some efforts to keep track of what was going on with this board. However, it was impossible to find out when the meetings were happening. I kept catching up to some members of that board, and they kept saying that they were sending out announcements to all the chapter members of the meetings. I never got them. They would say that this was impossible, then they would find out that I was not on the e-mail list, and promise to get me on, and I would still not be finding out when the meetings were, over and over and over.

The only meeting I attended was the one I organized myself. They seemed to be having some trouble finding a meeting space so I arranged one. However, I found it very disorganized, with nothing much being discussed, no agenda.

These people kept telling me there were some sorts of problems going on, and they would start putting out more news of what they were up to when they had it sorted out by next month or after the next GM. The problem never seemed to get solved.

There was no way to determine exactly what the problem was. However, it was possible to make some good guesses based on the kind of people they had on the board and the kind of hyperpartisan 'activism' that goes on it Toronto. Everything is about taking control of every group or organisation or service around and 'aligning' it with some political network connected to a political party. This is why talk about the lack of political parties in Toronto is such a bad joke.

Eventually I got tired of this and stopped following Fair Vote so much, especially locally. I stopped keeping up membership. I just renewed mine, probably not in time for this Toronto Chapter AGM. I hope that not much of it goes to support this nonsense.

the agenda

So I got the agenda for the AGM a few days ago now. I am most unimpressed. It was revealing, however. The ferment that people have been trying to keep secret is now bursting into the open.

Consider the first resolution. The present constitution reads; "Meetings of the Executive may be held at any time and place to be determined by the Executive, ....There shall be at least four meetings per year of the Executive." They want to amend this to remove all references to holding regular meetings.

When I was on the "executive" of Fair Vote Toronto we met every month and communicated by e-mail about where and when. I have sat on a few other boards and meetings were usually monthly. When it starts to become hard to get a meeting together on a regular basis, an outfit is pretty much dead.

Likewise, when there starts to be efforts to prevent any observation of the executive by the groups wider membership. They have done this for years, and now they want to make it 'official' by deleting the clause: "All official meetings of the Executive shall be open to all members of the Chapter."

In the back ground to this resolution #1, it is stated that the chapter bylaws had allowed all members to attend. It said; "These provisions predate, and are not included in, the Fair Vote Canada Model Bylaws, ... This amendment brings the Chapter bylaw more into conformity with the model bylaw, and with actual practice."

Actual practice, eh? They are now admitting openly that this has been their unspoken practice for years. The FVC model does not forbid the public to come to meetings, it just does not mention it. Although, it seems you have to spend some moolah to attend the national AGM.

One thing I have learned from watching activist groups is that when the meetings suddenly become secret, there is a power struggle going on. When they want to officially make them "in camera", then the struggle is getting heavy.

Now, we have the opposing resolutions, two and three. Two is "Moved by the Executive of the FVC Toronto Chapter: Be it resolved that ....reaffirms the Toronto Chapter's support of Fair Vote Canada's Statement of Purpose and the Mission statement. We reject the use of the Alternative Vote for the election of a representative assembly at any level of government or civil society as being non-proportional."

I wonder what the vote was on the executive committee? It is interesting to note who it was moved by.

Now, motion number three is; "Whereas municipal parties are not permitted in Toronto municipal elections, and Whereas many members of Fair Vote Canada in Toronto believe that, without parties, Instant Runoff Voting would be a more 'fair' voting system for these local elections, and Whereas these members are equally committed to Proportional Representation and the goals of Fair Vote Canada,..."

This is political cretinism. Instant Runoff Voting for council seats is the same thing as Alternative Vote. It is majoritarianism on steroids; as far from the aims of proportionality as you could get.

It was moved by one Joe Murray and seconded by one Jo-Ann Davis. I have to assume that this is the Joe Murray who has been around Fair Vote for awhile, played a prominent role in the referendum, and is on the Ontario council. Jo-Ann Davis is a Catholic school board trustee.

I definitely want to attend this AGM of the Toronto Chapter. I would love to know who is running for the executive positions.

But, holy shit! Isn't the passage; "municipal parties are not permitted in Toronto municipal elections" a laugh! What is going on here is some Toronto style hyperpartisanship. Alternative Vote (AV) is something that is being pushed by the Liberals, or at least a large faction of them. For all the noise about 'nonpartisanship' in FVC, Proportional representation is a leftish thing.

NDP is coming to want PR because it will negate the divisiveness of center left political groups and move politics more to the left. The Liberals want AV because they have a long tradition of holding power by occupying the middle of the political spectrum. AV strongly favors middle of the road candidates, making it very hard for left and right candidates to win unless they get over half the vote on the first round. From these points you also know why the Conservatives like the status quo.

What you are having in the Toronto FVC chapter is a shoot out between operatives for the Libs and Dippers. It seems to be part of a larger struggle that is developing. Both will be trying to stack the meeting with their loyalists.

voting reform and local politics

I used to be keen on getting FVC to promote voting reform in local politics. I have figured out why that is futile.

In Canada you have this 'anti-urbanism' thing. It goes back to earliest colonial days. The family compact then and today intensely dislikes and distrusts democracy and local government. Large cities like Toronto are restricted to the greatest possible degree. We are under control of the province, which has total control over the organic laws of the city. So, how do we think we are going to get voting reform at the local level until you have it at the provincial level?

This leads me to the two big reasons why politics in Toronto is so nasty. One is that political allegiances are not formally acknowledged. This only makes competition between partisan networks much more intense.

The other reason is that the city government does not have any real power. This has the effect of making the public voice very limited. This has the effect of making politics about wheedling concessions from those who have some power. So it is all about trying to get your own people into power, trying to get control of some of the limited sources of funding and power available, in order to gain some resources and protection for your own group and its projects.

The Toronto chapter of FVC did well when it stuck to provincial and national stuff. When it got into local politics it got swallowed up by the usual Toronto crap. The solution is to kick all the political operators out and stick to mobilizing people locally to deal with the national problem of a lack of democracy. You might get the city to lobby Queen's park and Ottawa about voting reform.

They say a problem cannot be solved at the level at which it was created. The problems in Toronto cannot be solved at the local level. The province has control of the city. It will not give it up until there has been reform at the provincial level that favors public interest over elite interest.

a bit about STV

I can say something here about the type of voting system that would be good for the city. Keep in mind that it is the public that must decide this by study group and referendum. And, it will not happen until reform is won at a higher level.

I do not like the idea of STV in provincial and especially federal parliaments. It is something designed for local governments and works well there. It seems to work alright in a small country like Ireland. It would get very cumbersome in a big and diverse country like Canada.

The advantage for Toronto is that it can accommodate formal political parties, but does not require them. It would facilitate development of a formal party structure, which the city needs. The city is of a size where organized parties are needed to broker competing interests in an open and just way, until we can bring about a participatory system.

What now?

I really want to see what happens at that chapter AGM. I probably will not get to vote because I did not renew my membership until just lately. It looks like different factions will try to stack it.

If the AV resolution gets passed, then the national body of Fair Vote should disassociate from the chapter. These jerks can go off and reposition themselves as an Alternate Vote advocacy group, which is what they should have done in the first place. Like many people in Toronto, I get very sick of people who join advocacy groups in order to try to turn them to their own ideology, completely different from the original intent of that group. They cannot win the debate, so they just suppress the contrary.

But if this resolution two carries, I still have a problem. This putting a group inside a black box when threatened with loss of control over it, and trying to hand pick the members, is a dipper way of doing things. The NDP has a strange relationship with more radical left groups. It uses them but frequently has trouble with them, can not control them. This has clearly been a part of the problem on this executive in the past few years.

The thing is, when a community group is tightly controlled by a small, self selected clique, with the members supposed to just give money, write letters, and show up when called, it is always vulnerable to takeover attacks. The controlling clique eventually expends all its energy trying to stay in control. That is happening in this case.

Most people just do not want to deal with this sort of crap. That is why it is so hard to find anyone willing to be part of community advocacy groups, except political cadres and true believer types. To have a really good local group that can get out and do some really effective advocacy for voting reform in central Toronto, we need to get rid of people with this kind of mentality.

That is easier to say than do. You have to have a good ginger group of people who really want to do it. I am certainly not interested in butting heads with these butt-heads unless I have my back covered.

If you can get some good people together, you can demand that the clique open up these meetings, so it can be observed exactly what the dysfunction is. Then some remedial actions can be planned. You might compel a special general meeting, vote out the existing executive, and install a more democratically minded group.

What you need is some people who are not just non partisan, but anti-partisan. Political parties in the winner take all system we have really are crap. Where we need to be moving to is not just proportionality but participatory democracy and a reduced need for parties. It would be a great idea to require members of Fair Vote to renounce membership in any political party before joining.

But until that, the way a local chapter in Toronto would best operate is;

1) Focus on provincial politics. We have a minority again in Ontario so now is a good time. Insist that all political parties support a switch to proportional representation. If not, run against them next election and by that I mean things like follow behind their door canvassers.

2) Toward that, you need to attract plenty of people who are not loose cannons to work for PR. This is hard to do in these days when everybody is so under the economic gun, but it helps a lot if you give people an environment where they feel comfortable and a part of. People tend not to like being treated as inferiors.

So, if there are some people in the Toronto area who like the sound of this, and it is possible to even get this out there past the "don't want to offend the political parties" nonsense, then maybe we could arrange to get together after this AGM and talk it over.

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