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RaBIT wins golden screw

It is time to open a cause pimps folder on RaBIT. In fact, they have been so egregious that they should be awarded the golden screw for 2012.

To understand what they are about, it is necessary to explain a bit about the voting reform movement. There are links on the top page to explain the topic more thoroughly.

Voting reform

Basically, we have a very undemocratic system in this country, and that starts with the method of electing a legislature. Almost every country in the world uses some form of proportional representation to elect representatives. This means that every vote that is cast goes to elect somebody.

There are different methods of doing this; under a list system, each party puts up a slate of candidates and the party gets seats in proportion to the number of votes it gets, e.g, 30% of the vote gets 30% of the seats. The top 30% of candidates are elected.

In a closed list system, the candidates are elected in their order on the party list. In an open list system, the voters also rank the candidates in order and the party's candidates with the most votes are elected. Sometimes a whole country is treated as one constituency. More often it is divided up into multimember districts. In some jurisdictions, there is a mixed system; some seats elected by plurality as in our system, and others by party vote.

Another system often proposed for Canada, and used in some countries and in many local elections all over the world, is the Single Transferable Vote (STV). There are multiple member districts, but the voters rank the candidates in order of preference. Votes are counted according to a mathematical formula of the number of seats to be filled divided by the total votes cast, equals the quota to win. If not enough first choice candidates are elected to fill the seats, the second choice vote is counted, and so on until the seats are filled. The advantage of this is that it does not require political parties.

resistance to voting reform

Most countries who started out with some other voting system have had a long and hard fight to get a proportional system. Ruling elites tend to like a plurality system if they have to accept democracy at all. It has a strong tendency to create a two party system, which has many drawbacks.

Voters are forced to choose a "lesser evil" instead of what they really want. Smaller parties are shut out. Big parties become very undemocratic and controlled by party officials. Two similar parties rotate in office and their leaders can usually dominate the legislature and act like dictators for their term of office. Hence the term "elected dictatorship" to describe this system.

Proportional systems in practice are vastly more democratic; the legislature reflects what the people voted for, and governments cannot just do what they want. This is why elites hate PR systems, but they have been the norm in most advanced countries for 50 to 100 years. But elitists are still often able to put in place systems which give them the two party elected dictatorship they prefer.

what Alternative Vote is all about

The vehicle of choice for doing this has come to be the Alternative Vote system (AV). It is like STV but with a single candidate. The second choice, third, etc votes are added up until one candidate has 50%. The big advantage for elites is that it prevents smaller parties from even getting a chance. In the kind of plurality system we use, as the public becomes more sophisticated, smaller parties become able to get seats and influence the outcome of elections, creating instability which is what usually forces a turn to a PR system. With AV that will never happen.

Experience in France and Australia show that once an AV system is in place it is very hard to get rid of because no small parties can become strong enough to force change. In France the AV system was imposed in 1958 by a military coup led by DeGaulle, overthrowing a proportional system. Even after a return to democracy in France, and though the public wants it, it has been impossible to restore a proportional system; party bosses of the left and right thwart reform.

Australia is an odd case. It has elected its senate by STV and its parliament by AV since 1919. It must have seemed like a good idea at the time. The results over time have been much like any other majoritarian system; a two party elective dictatorship. Australia now has a strong movement for a proportional system, responding to the achievement of PR in many English speaking countries and strong movements for it in most others, including Canada.

the local dimension

As for local governments, elites have their preferred systems for keeping local democracy from getting out of their control. In most well established PR countries, PR is also used to elect local councils. There is a strong tendency toward executives appointed and answerable to legislatures, and away from elected executives. This prevents "presidentialized" systems in which the executive overwhelms the legislature.

But in plurality countries like us, local governments are also usually under plurality systems or worse. Worse yet, they tend to be imposed from above regardless of the wishes of the voters, as is the case in Toronto. Lately in Toronto there has been a push for a "strong mayor" or presidential system, again to limit democracy. It will not solve the basic problems of local democracy in Toronto; that the city does not have enough revenues or powers to carry out its functions, and that local government was hamstrung by the forced amalgamation of the city 15 years ago.

In many cities, a tactic to limit local democracy has been to impose on it a block voting system, or an "at large" system. In both cases, wards or districts are eliminated. The former means, the voters vote for slates of candidates, and the candidates of one party or another become the council for that term, other parties being shut out. The latter means; all candidates for the local council run across the whole city. The many faults of this include making it hard for candidates to get elected without backing or name recognition.

poisonous politics

Political reform movements have been developing in recent years in Canada. In Toronto, there has been organizing to give the city more autonomy; in fact the powers of a province. This is not a novel idea, many countries give their major cities the same status as states or provinces within a federal system.

In Toronto, any kind of local initiative in the political or even social sphere runs into the hyperpartisan nature of local politics. This is made worse by this idea many people have in Toronto that since political parties cause this conflict, then parties should be banned. They cannot formally ban them, but they make it impolitic for local politicians to formally declare membership in a party. This just drives party organizations underground, and it is still hard for any candidate to win without the backing of a party organization.

The constant complaint of any advocacy group trying to do anything outside of the established party system in Toronto is that they have bullies pushing their way into their organization and trying to take it over. The rule in Toronto seems to be; don't try to convince the public, just shut down any voice contradicting your party line. This kind of thing goes on in other cities too, but it seems to be so bad in Toronto because the people here are exceptionally passive. There is an inability to get it that you can not debate with somebody whose object is to get what they want by intimidation.

the struggle for voting reform

Provincially and Federally, campaigns for proportional voting reform have developed in the past decade. The response of elites to this has been typically dishonest. First, they try to prevent the advocates of voting reform from educating the public about voting systems. Then they pour their disinformation about the topic into people's heads.

In the Ontario referendum on proportional representation, they used exactly what people dislike about the present system to defend it; control by party bosses, undemocratic nominations of candidates, fishy district boundaries, unstable minority governments, etc. In each case, PR is the solution for these problems.

Despite this, Fair Vote Canada, the main organization promoting PR, has succeeded; recent polls show that 70% of the public now understands and supports PR. The NDP has endorsed PR. So, the elites have tried another strategy to head off reform. The idea of Alternative Vote in Canada has originated with the Liberal party. They have promoted this as the solution for the problems with the present system.

Liberals are basically the party of "Old Money" and they are starting to lose control of the country to the "New Money" Conservatives and the NDP is becoming the real opposition. They think getting an AV system will restore the two party system, making them the only alternative to Conservatives. Since the last federal election some Liberals are rethinking this, at least the Federal ones, though obviously not the local ones yet.

the dirty rabbit

Dave Meslin is a well known poverty pimp and self promoter in Toronto, with close connections to the Liberal establishment. Most of his initiatives prior to RaBIT have been to preempt NDP initiatives. Several years ago now, he got himself elected onto the board of the Toronto chapter. At first he wanted to focus the chapter more on local politics, which some of the board agreed with.

Then he started trying to get them to support the RaBIT initiative to use AV in voting. At first he claimed it was really a form of proportional representation. That did not fly with the members of the board, who all actually new something about voting systems. Then he claimed that it would be a short cut to getting PR, without presenting any example of where this actually happened. Then he said that he was only supporting AV for local governments where there are no parties.

Meslin and the other people he has drawn into the "better ballots" and RaBIT orbit, and sometimes got elected with him to the Toronto Fair Vote Chapter, either do not understand or do not care about the principles of voting reform as articulated in the Fair Vote mission statement. Plurality and Majoritarian systems are wrong because they are single member constituency systems, and one person cannot adequately represent all the people of a district. Also, that as many as possible of the votes that are cast should count by electing someone.

One argument the RaBIT crew keeps using is that it is not possible to get PR in municipal politics, so the only choice is between AV and the status quo. Therefore, FVC has to "decide to succeed or fail". If that were the case, it would be better to stay with the status quo, but in countries with a PR voting system at the national level, the councils of major cities are invariably also elected by PR. And the "decide to succeed or fail" riff is part of the standard repertoire used by trained cognitive control agents, encountered over and over by groups who are taking initiatives which power elites do not want. FVC will succeed or fail in getting PR for Toronto depending on whether they have the sense to ignore RaBIT and Meslin and speak directly to the public. If voting reform advocates are utterly incapable of this, then it certainly will be impossible to achieve it in Toronto or anywhere else.

How this attack developed on the local chapter of Fair Vote, in order to neutralize it while an AV system is forced on the city, is better described by Stuart Parker. He also describes very well what Meslin's basic mentality is. Organizations promoting PR must allow proponents of AV within their membership, but the proponents of AV will not allow PR advocates to speak to their membership. It is all about "pitching" the option desired by his backers to the uninformed public. Presenting the public with the facts about voting systems and letting the facts speak for themselves, is antipathic to Meslin and crew.

By facts, of course, I mean a century of experience with proportional and other voting system, and of academic study of the results by political scientists written up in academic journals and popular publications. The superiority of PR systems at all levels of government and with or without the presence of political parties, is very clear. It can only be challenged by demagogic methods.

the battle intensifies

After several years of Meslin and friends disrupting the Toronto FairVote Chapter and using it as a base to promote AV, and the members of the chapter for some reason utterly unable to do anything about it, the national council became aware of the problem. An order came down to remove people from the board who are advocating against FVC principles.

So the chapter held its 2012 annual general meeting. It passed a motion confirming that FVC principles applied to local government as well. Yet they allowed Meslin and his sycophants to run again. Meslin brought in some people from some radical student groups with reputations as breeding grounds for hyperpartisan, "get control by any means" behavior. This time they got three of seven seats. It became impossible for chapter members to find out what was going on now in the executive board, it became very secretive, as happens when a power struggle is going on.

Recently, the provincial government has been considering changing the voting system of Toronto, due to the dysfunctionality of the present council, and lobbying by various interest groups in Toronto. This seems to be now on hold due to the situation with the provincial government. This or course has cranked up the AV versus PR fight a few notches. It is too bad that nobody asks why the basic laws of the city are decided by provincial fiat rather than the vote of Toronto's citizens.

troll bait

During this time, Meslin also infested the discussion list of FVC, which has a large and international participation. However, that discussion list shows a weakness of FVC; many of the leaders have this syndrome of being terrified of appearing "unreasonable". This makes it's internet discussion lists and public forums fertile territory for trolls and cranks. This is mitigated by a large corps of people who are very knowledgable about PR and care deeply about it. This does lead to some long, repetitive, and tiresome debates. Many advocates of PR want to be informed about events and discussion within the PR movement but do not want to listen to this crap, and so they form other e-mail lists, including one for chapter executives. But Meslin can now get at them there, as well.

An organization unwilling to assert its right to not be cognitively bullied by trolls and blatherskites may be effective regardless, but it will collapse when confronted by any serious thought police. RaBIT is well funded by the Liberal party and foundations, and trained in "disrupt and reground" techniques. They are an existential crisis for Fair Vote Canada; if it does not grow the necessary backbone, it is finished as an effective organization.

It does not look good so far, because the national council has ordered a referendum among all FVC members regarding the campaign for voting reform in Toronto. The wording does not seem to be final yet, although from the remarks of Meslin and company they will interpret the result any way they want. What they very much want is to shut down any argument for PR and have only AV or the status quo considered.

The referendum is now exploding the e-mail inboxes of participants in the discussion list. Many are understandably very angry that this referendum is even happening. It has not tumbled out yet exactly how this absurd development came about. It likely comes from an inability to contemplate the only real solution, which is to give the RaBIT bunch the dropkick out the door. From this comes the idea of appeasement, hoping that the AV crowd will lose and then go away.

the dropkick

There is not the slightest chance that will happen. On the basis of the internet discussions, the result of the referendum will mean whatever Meslin decides they mean. Lately many more AV advocates have appeared on the FVC discussion list and the "reasoned debaters" are exhausting themselves responding to them and wondering why they are getting nowhere. Having smelled blood, the bullies will keep pushing until they have what they want.

Meslin's style of "debating" is typical cognitive control agent technique. He will argue point A until he is fully cornered, then he will abruptly drop it and switch to point B, then to point C, and back to point A again, right from the start as if nothing had been said before. He will never concede a point. He is not about convincing people by debate, but about wearing them down, bullying them. In this way he gradually eliminates any one who can expose his misrepresentations, and can own the truth.

We now wait to see whether this bullshit starts a revolt among the membership of FVC, demanding that the only referendum should be about insuring that only people who sincerely accept the principles of PR participate. Opponents of PR who get themselves elected onto executives by deception and intimidation must be unceremoniously removed.

the takeaway

The take away from this for a political activist of any kind is as follows. Given the reality of the kind of world we live in, a kindergarten approach to dealing with other people is destructive. If a person cannot contemplate simply refusing to deal with a bad character, or worse, refuses to accept that bad characters are just that, bad characters, then that person does not belong in public life. Such a person will at best waste other people's time, worse, waste money and resources, worse, cause good characters to be subject to emotional distress, or worst of all, to real danger.

An organization such as Fair Vote needs the capacity to expeditiously remove trolls whenever they try to get the foot into the door. More legalistically minded peopel might need some sort of clause in the by-laws mandating that members must subscribe to the organisations principles and must be acting in good faith. However, that is not really needed, the common law will adequately protect against legal challenges to removing such people.

Enough said