Wednesday, March 27, 2013

FDA Talking Points Series: Media Election Content

This graph shows the affects of unregulated private media during election periods: narrow and imbalanced election coverage. Over the last 32 days of the 2012 U.S. Presidential Election according the FDA media study involving 7,921 data points, Obama received 54% of the total coverage, Romney 44.75%, and all other presidential candidate 1.25%.
The Foundation for Democratic Advancement (FDA) takes the position that legally required broad and balanced media election content during election periods should take precedence over the freedom of the media to determine its own election content. The position is based on the following premises:
  1. Freedom itself is not democracy. Rather, freedom is a component of democracy which must be balanced with other components such as fairness and equality.

  2. Freedom of the media is limited. Private media is controlled by its owner or ownership group and shareholders, and public media is controlled by the state. The freedom of media itself is contingent on who owns and controls media.

  3. Political elections in a free and democratic society are fundamentally about the voice of the electorate as expressed by their ballots.
From these premises, it follows that the election period should be about informing the electorate of their electoral choices, so that they can make the most informed choice on Election Day. To argue that the freedom of the media should trump a fully informed electorate is to put the interests of the media before interest of the people. To argue that the media should act as an election information filter is inconsistent with a democratic society. The FDA acknowledges that an unregulated media could provide broad and balanced election coverage, but it is not guaranteed nor supported by the FDA's media studies of elections with unregulated media. In addition, the FDA concedes that there is onus on the electorate to get informed within limits. However, the FDA believes it is an unreasonable requirement on the electorate to create their own media companies during election periods if they are dissatisfied with the media content. To elaborate, from the FDA Media Report on the 2012 U.S. Presidential Election:

"Due to the 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and various U.S. Supreme Court decisions on the importance and protection of free political speech, most recently the Citizens United ruling, American public and private media has no legal requirement to provide the electorate with broad, balanced, and complete election coverage and that the onus is not solely on the media to inform the public. The electorate should also make efforts to gather information and form conclusions on its own volition, and even set up their own media companies and new sources if they are not satisfied with the news of the current media. Yet, the FDA believes that during an election period, legislation should mandate broad, balanced, and complete campaign coverage by the media in order for citizens to have a reasonable opportunity to make informed decisions on Election Day. The onus should not be fully on citizens to become media persons or form media companies to generate alternate media content. Democracy and elections are not solely about freedom; fairness and equality are integral parts as well. Freedom left unregulated like in the financial markets will likely lead to self-interested actions which are detrimental to the public good. Similarly, an unregulated media will lead to similar outcomes as this report shows. In democracy and elections a balance must be struck between freedom and the public good."

Presently, in Canada and the United States, there is minimal regulation of private media during election periods. The FDA believes that this is an example of the promotion of media freedom at the expense of democracy, and likely to the exclusive benefit of interest groups such as large, established political parties and their supporters, and the large corporate media companies and their ownership and shareholders.

The FDA supports at minimum a volunteer code of media conduct during election periods which support broad, balanced, and complete coverage of registered candidates and parties, and at maximum a legislated code of media conduct with sufficient enforcement mechanisms to ensure compliance. The Code of Conduct would only apply to registered candidates and parties who have proven voter support of at least 0.5 percent from relevant electoral districts. The intent of this code of conduct is not to limit the freedom of opinion of the media, but to encourage the media in its democratic role of helping to fully inform the electorate of all their electoral choices. Within the parameters of broad, balanced, and complete coverage, media would be permitted to their opinions, so restriction on freedom is minimal. The legal justification for the restriction on freedom is as follows:
  1. Limit on freedom of the media by requiring its content during election period is broad, balanced, and complete of registered candidates and parties. (Complete is used in a general sense and applies to inconsistent and unreasonable gaps in media coverage.)

  2. The negative affect of the limit on freedom is minimal as it only applies to the legislated election period which in Canada is currently 36-days and in the United States is 60-days. In addition, the media still has the right to express its opinions. The impairment only applies to the scope and extent of the content covered.

  3. The positive affect of the limit on freedom is maximal in terms of democracy because it means that the electorate will have a reasonable opportunity to be fully informed of all their electoral choices subject to the 0.5 percent threshold. This maximal affect is reinforced by the legal bias in American and especially Canadian law in which elected officials are viewed as extensions of the people, which then justifies non-substantive rights for citizens (i.e. duty to consult and hold public hearings, but no final say in decisions).

    As an example, California is an exception by giving its residents sovereignty over political affairs or "all political power is inherent in the people" (California Constitution, 1879, Article 2, Section 1).

  4. As mentioned, the overall balance of competing prejudices between competing rights favours the electorate, because they are fundamental to elections and their outcomes.

Do you agree with the FDA position that the media's content ought to be regulated so that it conforms to broad, balanced, and complete criteria? Do you think the freedom of the media is so important to elections that it should never be regulated within extremes? Do you think that the interests of the electorate should supersede the media's interest during election periods? Who benefits from an unregulated media during election periods? Is 0.5 percent of voter support a reasonable threshold for broad, balanced, and complete election coverage?


California State Constitution. (1879). Retrieved from Official California Legislative Information

Garvey, S. (2012). Press Freedom Does Not Necessarily Equate to Democracy. Foundation for Democratic Advancement. Retrieved from

FDA Media Study of the 2012 U.S. Presidential Election. (2012). Foundation for Democratic Advancement. Retrieved from

FDA Media Study of the 2012 Alberta Provincial Election. (20120. Foundation for Democratic Advancement. Retrieved from

Mr. Stephen Garvey, Executive Director Foundation for Democratic Advancement

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

FDA Talking Points Series: First-Past-the-Post and Proportional Represenation

This table shows that proportional representation allows greater representation of public opinion than first-past-the-post. However, the results in the table are limited by the current deficiencies in the U.S. federal electoral finance and media election content laws. In a fair electoral system for all registered candidates and parties, proportional representation would likely give even greater representation of public opinion.
The Foundation for Democratic Advancement (FDA) takes the position that proportional representation (PR) is more consistent with a free and democratic society than first-past-the-post (FPTP). In its electoral matrices, the FDA gives open-list proportional representation a maximum score weight of 2, closed-list proportional representation a maximum score weight of 1, and first-past-the-post a maximum score weight of 0. Therefore according to the FDA matrices and reasons, closed list proportional representation has double the value of first-past-the-post.

The FDA values proportional representation over first-past-the-post for the following reasons:
  1. PR more accurately reflects the voice of the people from electoral districts because most of the votes are counted towards seats won. In FPTP only the votes of the winning candidates are counted towards the seats won
  2. FPTP can allow a minority party to attain majority control of a parliament, and thereby allow extreme policies and laws, and policies and laws which do not necessarily represent the majority of the people.
  3. PR ensures that majority governments are truly reflective of the majority of the people. 
  4. FPTP discourages compromise between parties and broad, balanced approach to government policies by allowing a minority party to attain majority control of a parliament.  In contrast, through the high standard to form government, PR supports compromise between parties and balanced and broad government policies. 
  5. FPTP systems are more susceptible to undemocratic and corrupt practices, because less voters are required to form a minority or majority government than under PR.
Summary of first-past-the-post and proportional representation:

In the first-past-the-post system, the candidates with the most votes in each electoral district win the districts, and therefore only the votes of the winning candidates count towards political representation. The United States' House of Representatives and Senate, and Canadian federal electoral system, as examples, adhere to the first-past-the-post system.

The first-the-past-post system does not give other parties an opportunity at the next seat nor does it base seats on proportion of votes cast.

For examples:

Table 1:

Candidates for Riding A
Total Votes
Seat Winner
Candidate A
Candidate A
Candidate B

Candidate C

Candidates for Riding B
Total Votes
Seat Winner
Candidate D
Candidate D
Candidate E

Candidate F

In proportional representation, candidates win seats based on the proportion to the number of votes cast for them and a formula of vote reduction for each time a party wins a seat, which then allows other parties increased opportunity at winning the next seat. For example, the Sainte-Laguë method, which is used on New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, and Germany, adheres to this calculation: the first round of seat allocation for all parties no reduction; all other seat allocations have the following deduction (Sainte-Laguë method, 2013):

Total number of votes received 
2 x (number of seats allocated) + 1

For example:

Table 2:

Total Votes
Seat 1
Seat 2
Seat 3
Seat 4
Party A
Party A (50,000)
Party B (30,000)
Party C (20,000)
Party A (16,666)
Party B
Party B (30,000)
Party C (20,000)
Party A (16,666)
Party B (10,000)
Party C
Party C (20,000)
Party A (16,666)
Party B (10,000)
Party  C (6,666)
Party D
Party D (5,000)
Party D (5,000)

Party D (5,0000)
Party D (5,000)

Consequently, first-past-the-post is only reflective of the candidate with the most votes in each district; whereas, proportional representation is reflective of the most of the votes cast in each district. Therefore, the political representatives under proportional representation are more reflective of the voice of the electorate than under first-past-the-post (FDA Electoral Fairness Report on Canada, 2013).


Do you agree with the FDA's position on PR and FPTP? What are your reasons? We are interested in what you think. Share your comments in the comments section or email us at

Mr. Stephen Garvey, Executive Director Foundation for Democratic Advancement

Ms. Sarah Rapchuk, Researcher Foundation for Democratic Advancement with background in law. 


Advantages and Disadvantages of FPTP System. (2005). Democracy and Electoral Assistance. Retrieved from

FDA Electoral Fairness Report on the Canada. (2013). Foundation for Democratic Advancement.
Unpublished draft.

Matlosa, K. (2003). Electoral System Reform, Democracy and Stability in the SADC Region. Electoral Region of Southern Africa. Retrieved from

Milner, H. (September 2004). First Past the Post? Progress Report on Electoral Reform Initiatives in Canadian Provinces. Policy Matters, 5(9). Retrieved from

Plurality-Majority Electoral Systems: A Review. (2013). Elections Canada. Retrieved from

Sainte-Laguë method. (2013). In Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved March 15, 2013 from

Misinformation about FPTP and PR:

  • 1. "Candidates in an election stand as individuals not as political parties; even though, the parties endorse each candidate running. This also means that an independent candidate can participate in an election. Voters can then rate the performance of the candidate rather than just the party" (Matlosa, K., 2003; Advantages and Disadvantages of FPTP System, 2013)
FDA: This statement overlooks the fact that FPTP systems may have a strong party structure, including strict party loyalty, which cancels out party candidates running as individuals. 

  • 2. "Advantage: The elected member can win by securing a simple plurality of votes rather than a majority – this leads to minority winners at both the constituency level and national level" (Matlosa, K., 2003).
FDA: A minority party with a majority control of a parliament may result in extreme government policies and policies which do not reflect the majority of the electorate.

  • 3. "Vote counting is simple and speedy under FPTP. Usually within a few hours of the close of polls Canadians know who their new government and opposition will be" (Plurality-Majority Electoral Systems: A Review, 2013).
FDA: With the emergence of computerized voting, all electoral systems can be simple and speedy. Venezuela's electoral system, for example, which is nearly 100 percent automated via computers can have a results in minutes.
  • 4. "In multi-cultural countries the FPTP system encourages broad policies that encompass a majority of the population rather than extreme policies that only benefit a single group" (Advantages and Disadvantages of FPTP System, 2013).
FDA: FPTP by the fact that a minority party can attain majority control supports extreme policies or policies which reflect the minority of the electorate.

  • 5. "A government's responsibility and accountability to the voters at election time is directly established under FPTP. The system guarantees that each voter gets to cast only one “X” in a single-member district – either for or against the government. When the government has been composed (as has almost always been the case in Canada) of one party, it is relatively easy for electors to give credit or to assign blame when they do not have to weigh the competing claims of a number of parties making up a governing coalition. The familiar opposition parties' cry at election time of “Throw the rascals out” is easier to accomplish when there is only one set of rascals and the electorate readily understands who they are" (Plurality-Majority Electoral Systems: A Review, 2013).
FDA: With a minority party able to attain minority and even majority control of government, government in FPTP is less accountable to the electorate than in PR.

  • 6. "Limits the possibility of extremist parties gaining seats unless the extremists have support in a specific geographical region" (Advantages and Disadvantages of FPTP System, 2013).
FDA: FPTP by allowing minority parties to attain majority control encourages extreme parties.

  • 7. "In a Proportional Representation system (PR) the entire country is a single electoral district, so there is no need for electoral boundaries" (Matlosa, K., 2003).
FDA: PR is not necessarily restricted to the entire country. It can be set up in regions, large districts, or quadrants.

  • 8. "Voters elect parties based on ideology and their personal opinions rather than on geographical zoning" (Matlosa, K., 2003).
FDA: PR is not necessarily restricted to the entire country. It can be set up in regions, large districts, or quadrants.

  • 9. "The lack of majority governments creates policy continuity and stability from election to election allowing long-term goals to be achieved since the coalition governments have to cooperate on a regular basis"(Advantages and Disadvantages of FPTP System, 2013).
FDA: PR allows for majority government through either a very popular party or a coalition of parties.

  • 10. "Larger parties may be forced to form coalitions with smaller parties to secure their power; thus, small parties with a small support base hold a disproportionate amount of power" (Advantages and Disadvantages of FPTP System, 2013).
FDA: Larger parties are not forced to form coalitions with smaller parties. Also, larger parties can set the terms of the coalition.

  • 11. "Constant coalition governments make it difficult to remove a particular party from power as there are always a few parties who always form the government"
FDA: PR encourages and supports small and new parties through making most votes count towards winning seats.

  • 12. "The most popular party wins, so the candidate has more loyalty to the party than to the voters – this raises an accountability issue" (Matlosa, K., 2003).
FDA: Depending on the PR system, candidates run for seats in different regions. In addition, the electorate is the source of candidate and party power, and therefore, it is unclear why candidates would give more loyalty to the party over the electorate.

Assumptions about FPTP and PR:

  • 1. "Provides clear choices for voters as system usually consists of a couple dominant parties with general policies ranging along the political spectrum" (Advantages and Disadvantages of FPTP System, 2013).
FDA: It is assumed that FPTP is characterized by dominant parties and policies ranging along the political spectrum.

  • 2. "Majority governments are the norm, with minority coalitions an exception to the rule. This creates a stable political environment with fewer compromises in legislation"(Advantages and Disadvantages of FPTP System, 2013).
  • "In general, Canada's FPTP system has tended to produce single-party majority governments. In the 36 Canadian general elections since 1867, all but eight have brought one party to power with a majority of the Commons seats. This is seen as one of the advantages of FPTP as it implies a greater likelihood of government stability than would be found in a coalition government formed of two or more parties" (Plurality-Majority Electoral Systems: A Review, 2013).
FDA: It is assumed minority governments with majority control creates a stable environment. The reverse may be true through extreme policies and policies not reflective of the majority of people.

  • 3. "Narrowly ideological, possibly even extremist, parties have not fared well under FPTP in Canada. Compared with Israel, whose proportional representation electoral system enables any party with as little as 1.5 percent of the total vote to gain a seat in the Knesset, Canada's FPTP electoral system makes it all but impossible for fringe or extremist parties to elect members to the Commons. The rare exceptions occur when support is sufficiently concentrated to elect a fringe candidate, as was the case with Labour-Progressive (Communist) candidate Fred Rose who was twice elected to the Commons in the 1940s from a Montréal seat" (Plurality-Majority Electoral Systems: A Review, 2013).
FDA: It is assumed that parties with members elected to the House of Commons are not extremist parties. Because minority parties have the ability to form a majority government in Canada, for example, there is the potential for parties with narrow ideologies or extremist party to form the majority government. Depending on your view, the Conservative Party of Canada which presently has a majority control of the Canadian government (with just 39.6 percent of the popular vote in 2011) may be perceived as a party with narrow ideology or extremist party.

  • 4. "Since the system creates a couple dominant parties there usually is a strong opposition voice in the legislature which acts as an important check on the majority’s party" (Advantages and Disadvantages of FPTP System, 2013).
FDA: Minority governments with a majority government results in a weak opposition voice, regardless of how many parties there are.

  • 5. "Voters elect parties rather than individuals based on a list provided at the polling station. The most popular party wins, and the candidates are considered secondary" (Matlosa, K., 2003).
FDA: Although PR encourages more sensitivity to how the electorate votes, it does not necessarily follow that the electorate does not consider the merits of candidates.

  • 6. "Creates coalition governments that depending on the country may result in gridlock and conflicting factions" (Advantages and Disadvantages of FPTP System, 2013).
FDA: Coalition governments do not necessarily result in gridlock and conflicting factions.

  • 7. "Counting all votes allows extremist parties to gain representation in the legislature – this may destabilize or fragment a coalition government" (Advantages and Disadvantages of FPTP System, 2013).
FDA: PR counts most votes in determining seat winners. Through more access to seats and discouragement of majority governments without majority support, extremism is avoided.

Facts about PR and FPTP:

  • 1. "FPTP provides a definite advantage to dominant parties creating a substantial possibility of a dominant party system or a two-party system; thus, FPTP marginalizes smaller parties" (Matlosa, K., 2003).
  • 2. "Marginalization of smaller parties can limit the inclusivity and representation in the legislature. This then impacts the law/decision-making functions of the legislature and affects the legitimacy of the government" (Matlosa, K., 2003).
  • 3. "FPTP system tends to decrease the chance of gender equality and female participation in the political process as political parties still tend to endorse male candidates over female" (Matlosa, K., 2003).
  • 4. "FPTP system excludes minorities from fair representation for the same reason women are excluded – political parties endorse candidates that can appeal to the majority of voters in a region" (Advantages and Disadvantages of FPTP System, 2013).
  • 5. "Creates “regional fiefdoms” where one party wins all the seats in a province or region causing voter apathy, the exclusion of minorities, and a political system that is unresponsive to changing public opinion" (Advantages and Disadvantages of FPTP System, 2013).
  • 6. "Vote-splitting may be a problem where two similar parties or candidates run against each other resulting in a less popular candidate prevailing" (Advantages and Disadvantages of FPTP System, 2013).
  • 7. "Highly dependent on the drawing of electoral boundaries to ensure a fair representation in the legislature – drawing legitimate boundaries is a time and resource intensive process" (Advantages and Disadvantages of FPTP System, 2013).
  • 8. "PR represents more fairly the votes cast to the seats won; thus, small parties can gain access to the legislature" (Advantages and Disadvantages of FPTP System, 2013).
  • 9. "Encourages cooperation among like-minded groups and political parties, so policy and leadership will be clarified" (Advantages and Disadvantages of FPTP System, 2013).
  • 10. "No wasted votes as almost all votes go towards electing a candidate. PR systems tend to have higher voter turnout" (Advantages and Disadvantages of FPTP System, 2013)
  • 11. "Achieves a balanced representation, so minority groups and women are successful in gaining access to the political process as the parties simply place the names on voter lists rather than supplying a single candidate per constituency" (Advantages and Disadvantages of FPTP System, 2013; Milner, H., September 2004).
  • 12. "Parties and candidates have to campaign beyond their stronghold districts as every vote counts. This restricts the establishment of "regional fiefdoms" (Advantages and Disadvantages of FPTP System, 2013).
  • 13. "A balanced representation requires the government to act with greater transparency and be more accountable to the electorate; including, minority groups" (Advantages and Disadvantages of FPTP System, 2013).
  • 14. "The resulting coalition governments do not always have common ground in terms of policies or their support base, so have no motivation to compromise on legislation" (Advantages and Disadvantages of FPTP System, 2013).  

Friday, March 15, 2013

FDA Talking Points Series: 10 Percent Rule

Desjardins' household budget calculator using Canada's 2010 disposable per capita income of $26,572 (Economic Statistics Report, 2012). Note, personal expenditures are listed as a maximum of $221 per month or $2,652 per year.
10 Percent Assumption

As part of its electoral fairness audits, the Foundation for Democratic Advancement (FDA) audits caps on contributions to political candidates and parties, caps on third-party expenditures, and limits on campaign expenditure by looking at per capita net income. The FDA assumes that per capita net income is a fair measure of what citizens can afford to contribute. Net income is the personal income after taxes have been deducted. In addition, the FDA assumes that 10 percent of per capita net income is a reasonable maximum amount to determine caps on contributions to political candidates and parties and third-party expenditures, and limits on campaign expenditures. The FDA bases this assumption on the Desjardin's household budget calculator, in which personal expenditures are a maximum of 10 percent of net income. The budget calculator considers expenditures on such things as savings, housing, and clothing. Below is the Desjardin's budget calculator for Canada based on its 2010 disposable (or net) per capita income of $26,572. 

5 to 10%
(min.: $111,  max.: $221)
(rent, mortgage, taxes, insurance)
25 to 35%
(min.: $554,  max.: $775)
5 to 15%
(min.: $111,  max.: $332)
(hydro, heat, water, telephone, etc.)
5 to 10%
(min.: $111,  max.: $221)
(automobile, public transportation, taxis)
10 to 15%
(min.: $221,  max.: $332)
2 to 7%
(min.: $44,  max.: $155)
Leisure and education
5 to 10%
(min.: $111,  max.: $221)
(insurance, dentist, glasses, medication, etc.)
5 to 10%
(min.: $111,  max.: $221)
5 to 10%
(min.: $111,  max.: $221)

Debt repayment (loans)
5 to 10%
(min.: $111,  max.: $221)
Emergency fund
Put a small amount aside as soon as possible toward your emergency fund and then continue contributing 5 to 10% of your net monthly income to it until you've accumulated 3 months' worth of expenses.
(min.: $111,  max.: $221)

Application of the FDA's 10 percent rule to the Canadian federal electoral system (2013 FDA Electoral Fairness Report on Canada (publish date April 2, 2013)):

Caps on Contributions to Candidates and Parties:

The federal cap on contributions to candidates and parties by citizens and permanent residents is $4,000 over four years. 10 percent of Canadian per capita net income over four years is $10,608. Therefore, federal cap is well within the FDA's reasonable maximum for cap on contributions.

Caps on Candidate Contributions to their Own Campaigns:

The federal cap on contributions by candidates to their own campaigns is $5,500 in an election year. 10 percent of Canadian per capita income over one year is $2,652. Therefore, the federal cap on contributions by candidates to their own campaigns in an election year ($5,500) is in excess of the FDA’s maximum cap of $2,652 in a year, and therefore, it is favouring wealthy candidates.

Limits on Campaign Expenditures:

In each Canadian electoral district, there is an average of 78,758 voters with income. Candidates need 0.881 cents from each elector to attain the maximum legal expenditure limit. The average maximum expenditure limit amounts to $69,385.80. According to FDA consensus and Desjardins' household budget calculator, $2,652 is the maximum available from each elector making the total funds available equal to $208,866,216. On average there are approximately eight candidates per federal riding, ergo, there is $555,232 funds needed to equal the legal expenditure limit. According to these calculations, there are potential excess funds of $208,310,984, and therefore the federal expenditure limit is reasonably attainable in terms of funds by all registered candidates and parties. Whether or not voters want to contribute to all registered candidates and parties is a separate issue.

Using their professional judgment and considering for example campaign advertising expenses and venue expenses, FDA auditors determine that $69,385.80 is a reasonable amount of electoral funds to campaign in a district of 78,758 voters, and with no candidate above $69,385.80 expenditure limit.

Caps on Third-Party Expenditures: 

The federal limits on third-party expenditures are $197,100 for national advertising campaigns, and $3,942 per electoral district. 10 percent of Canadian per capita net income over one year is $2,652. Therefore, the cap on third-party expenditures for a national advertising campaign is $194,448 in excess of the FDA's reasonable maximum cap for third-party expenditures. The cap on third-party expenditures in electoral districts is $1,290 in excess of the FDA's reasonable maximum cap. The FDA acknowledges that $197,100 is a reasonable and likely cost for a national advertising campaign; however, third-party spending for this campaign can affect public opinion in a non-democratic way. Contributions to candidates, parties, and party associations should fund these advertising campaigns, and therefore, eliminate the need for third-party expenditures. Finally, Canadian electoral law does not mandate public subsidies for third-party expenditures, which would help reduce electoral unfairness issues. Currently, the caps on third-party expenditures favor wealthy citizens and corporations and trade unions. 


Is the FDA assumption that 10 percent per capita net income is a fair way to determine reasonable caps on contributions and third-party expenditures, and limits on campaign expenditures? If you think it is not a fair measure, then please write a comment on what measure would be fair. If you agree with the FDA measure, please write a comment telling us why. All comments will be reviewed to improve the FDA's measure of the impact of government processes on a free and democratic society. 


Determine How Much to Allocate to Each Expense. (2013). Desjardins. Retrieved March 14, 2013 from

Economic Statistics Report. (November 2, 2012). BC Stats. Retrieved from

Canada Elections Act. May 31, 2000. Retrieved from Elections Canada


Mr. Stephen Garvey, Foundation for Democratic Advancement, Executive Director

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

When Spending Cuts Impede Basic Human Rights

The United Kingdom's Supreme Court President David Neuberger denounced the government’s latest attack on the judiciary. The U.K. government’s budget announced today will cut back legal aid, arguably a threat to a basic human right; access to justice.

The budget cut will decrease funding to legal aid by 40 percent, and according to the Independent the estimated cut of 270 million pounds will ultimately affect over 585, 000 individuals. The cuts presented today, is in addition to the cuts which have already come into effect. The U.K. government is under the impression the gap in legal aid will be filled by the not-for-profit community or by some other means.

However, the legal cuts which will come into effect in April 2013 will put a toll on the 2,000 firms and 300 charities which rely on legal aid. Of the mentioned firms, a majority focus on family law and housing cases.  The underlining goal, some would argue, of the cuts is to reduce the “aid” given to lawyers. Lawyers, whom some would mention are servants of the public providing legal advice to those persons often in the neglected sectors of society. A study conducted by the Legal Action Group (LAG) found that 82 percent of those surveyed “believed that free advice on common civil legal problems should be available to everyone” (LAG 2010). The study also found that respondents from all social classes seek accessible advice on employment law, given the slow economic turn. Surprisingly the findings in the survey suggest that the gap in debt advice should be filled by the financial services industry to replace the reductions from legal aid.

Of the growing issues; the avoidable delays in litigation would cost the government more in the long run given the suggested budget cuts. Lord Neuberger, states the government’s budget is in violation of the access to justice for all individuals. With the removal of lawyers on the front lines, many of the concerns of ordinary citizens would not have due process. Although the U.K. government has to make difficult choices to compensate for the economic downturn in the United Kingdom, should such difficulties hinder the access to justice?

In terms of democratic society, how important is that all citizens have reasonable access to due legal process? Should the ability to afford legal representation be considered a reasonable limitation on due legal process? 

Mansharn Toor, Foundation for Democratic Advancement Researcher with a background in International Relations.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Canadian Parliamentary Procedures for the Passage of Bills: Focus on Bill C-45

A session of the Canadian Parliament. The Parliament comprises the House of Commons and Senate, and determines the Canadian federal laws.
Omnibus Bill C-45 "Jobs and Growth Act, 2012" is a budget implementation bill comprised of 60 bills in 1 bill and 457 pages. This bill was passed by the House of Commons on December 4, 2012, and passed the Senate on December 14, 2012. Bill C-45 includes the following subject areas: Shipping, Financial Institutions, Fisheries, Trade Act, Bretton Woods and Related Agreements Act, Canada Pension Plan, Indian Act, Judges Act, Canada Labour Code, Amendments to the Merchant Seamen Compensation Act, Hazardous Materials Information Review Act, Navigable Waters Protection Act, Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, and many more subject areas. 

Bill C-45 took under two months (58 days) to pass from the First Reading to Royal Assent: October 18, 2012 to December 14, 2012 (Status of House Business. (March 1, 2013). The federal government has the power to set time limits for the passage of bills. The time allocation allows the government to limit the debate to hours or days for one stage of the legislative process. Time allocation can be decided by all parties, majority of parties, or unilaterally with oral notice (House of Commons Procedure and Practice. (2000)). Based on 2012 and a majority government – a bill takes two weeks to less than a year to pass into law (CBC News, 10 Bills Hurried Through The House in 2012, (July 9, 2012)).

Why was such a lengthy and complex bill allowed to pass instead of first being required to be separated into its 60 bills? Parliamentary norms require that bills have a common thread throughout them to ensure consistency within the bills. However, a majority government can limit time for Members of Parliament and related committees to both comprehend and adequately debate lengthy and complex bills prior to voting on them. There are no rules to disallow more than one bill in a bill. If Members of Parliament do not have reasonable time to comprehend and debate a bill (which affects all of Canadians), then this would favor the individuals proposing the bill, and undermine the debate and amendment processes.

Further, because the federal electoral system is based on "single member plurality" or first-past-the-post, the party or parties with a majority of the parliamentary seats do not have to represent a majority of Canadians. So a party with a majority of the House of Commons but not majority support of the Canadian electorate, can pass bills with or without amendments and which may not have been adequately debated or understood by most members of the House of Commons.

Main Aspects of the Canadian Parliamentary Process for the Passage of Bills: 

Legislation in the form of a bill can be introduced by Cabinet Members, Members of Parliament, Private Members, or a Committee. The Minister of Justice (Cabinet’s bill), or the Legislative Services office (Members’ bill), or the House (Committees' bill) reviews the bill to ensure compliance with parliamentary conventions and the Constitution (House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition. (2009).

Each bill receives three readings in the House of Commons, and then is passed to the Senate for consideration (this process is reversed if the Senate introduces a bill.) Any amendments are discussed through messages between both Houses, and the bill receives Royal Assent only if both Houses agree on the content (House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition. (2009).

There are procedures in place that allows the Senate to consider the bill and form an opinion before the bill passes from the House of Commons. This allows for a speedier passage if the bill is time sensitive (House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition. (2009).

There are no specific rules regarding content of bills. The long title of the bill must accurately represent what the bill contains, and all sub-issues within the bill must be relevant to that title (House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition. (2009).

A bill can contain many parts, divisions, and subdivisions as long as all the ideas are related and relevant to the long title of the bill (House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition. (2009).

Related Processes Which Affect the Passage of Bills in the House of Commons:

According to the Elections Act, the electoral system in Canada is referred as "single member plurality" also known as "first-past-the-post" system. The aforementioned means that the candidate with the majority of votes in a given electoral district (geographically the Canadian territory is divided in electoral districts, also known as ridings) will be elected as a member of the Parliament (MP). There is no need to have 50 percent of the electoral district vote to access to the House of Commons, namely, a candidate with the most votes in an electoral district wins the parliamentary seat for the district (Elections Act, 2000) (Foundation for Democratic Advancement Electoral Fairness Report on Canada, 2013).

The Members of Parliament tow the party line (Maple Leaf Web, June 2007).

To become law a bill must be approved by both the Senate and the House of Commons, and then receive Royal Assent from the Governor General (Compendium, February 2010).

Passage of Bills require a simple majority support by the members of the House of Commons present (House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition. (2009).


CBC News. (July 9, 2012). 10 Bills Hurried Through The House in 2012. Retrieved from:

Compendium. (February 2010). Legislative Process. Retrieved from the Canadian Parliament:

Foundation for Democratic Advancement. (2013). Electoral Fairness Report on the Canadian Federal Electoral System. Report will be published in March, 2013.

House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition. (2009). Retrieved from:

Maple Leaf Web. (June 2007). Weakening of Responsible Government. Retrieved from:

Status of House Business. (March 1, 2013). Retrieved from:

Related Links:

Summary Contents of Bill C-45

Bill C-45 Second Reading Document


Should the Canadian parliamentary process for the passage of bills be reformed for lengthy, complex bills in order to ensure reasonable time for comprehension and debate of these bills by members of the Parliament?

Mr. Stephen Garvey, Foundation for Democratic Advancement, Executive Director

Ms. Sarah Rapchuk, Foundation for Democratic Advancement, Legal Researcher