Why we still have a ‘first past the post’ system in Canada

During the 2015 election the Liberals ran on a promise to change the electoral system from a first past the post to a proportional representation system.

Did you ever ask yourself why the Liberals abandoned that promise so quickly?  The 2019 election results provide the answer.

I’m certain the Liberals did a lot of result modeling and quickly realized that the proportional representation system did not favour the Liberal Party.

The table below show how the political parties would have fared in the 2019 election under such a system.


Party % of popular vote First past the post Proportional representation
Liberal 33.06 157 112
Conservative 34.4 121 116
Bloc 7.7 32 26
NDP 15.9 24 53
Greens 6.5 3 22


Both the Conservatives and the Bloc would have ‘lost’ a few seats under a proportional representation system but the big losers would have been the Liberals who would have seen their number of seats reduce from 157 to 112, a loss of 45 seats.

The big winners would have been the NDP (gain of 29 seats) and the Greens (gain of 19 seats).

Whether you like the idea of proportional representation or not it would certainly change the political landscape in Canada.

Mayor Sam Katz’s Irresponsible Comment Quoted at WPA Arbitration Hearing

On January 17th 2012 I wrote a post about Mayor Katz’s irresponsible comments to the media.

An  article by Bartley Kives quoted the mayor as saying  “I can guarantee none of us would do that job for what they  get paid”.  This quote was in reference to Winnipeg police officers.

In my original post I suggested that the comment was inappropriate, especially during a contract negotiation year, and that the mayor’s remark would likely be used by the Winnipeg Police  Association to bolster its argument for a hefty pay increase.  I highly doubt the Mayor would make such a comment in relation to an upcoming negotiation that involved his own personal  money as opposed to public money.

On January 31st  2012 I briefly attended the labour arbitration hearing between the City of Winnipeg and the Winnipeg Police Association.

The day started with Keith Labossiere, the lawyer representing the Winnipeg Police Association, outlining for the panel, the reason why the Association believes its members  should receive an 11.5 % pay increase over two years.   Mr. Labossiere began his presentation by repeating the Mayor’s statement:

I can guarantee none of us would do that job for what they get paid”,  as the lead in for his argument.

Mr. Labossiere then launched into his presentation which gave me a real sense of  deja vu.  Having sat through many arbitrations previously I quickly realized the Association would be relying on the same arguments they have been using at arbitration hearings for the last decade.

I suppose, though, from the Association’s perspective, ‘why would you change your lure as long as the fish keep biting’.  The argument has worked reasonably well in the past.

The arbitration hearings are slated to continue  through  February 3rd 2012,  Millennium Room, Winnipeg Convention Centre and February 6th & 7th 2012,  Ambassador Room, Canad Inns Polo Park.

The hearings run from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. and are open to the public.

Police Staffing Through Election Promises

Election promises at both the civic and provincial level have become the defining vehicle in terms of determining police staffing.

Announcing proposed increases to police funding at election time is not a new thing.  In the mid 1990’s the Filmon government made the first foray into this area by announcing that the Province would provide funding to expand the complement of the Winnipeg Police Service by 24 positions.  This was a purely political decision made at the Provincial level without any prior consultation with the Winnipeg Police Service.  As a matter of fact the Chief of the day was advised on the morning  the announcement was made and asked to attend the announcement to serve as ‘wallpaper’ for the Premier’s announcement.  The Chief of course, not wanting to ‘look a gift horse in the mouth’,  attended and came away with an additional 2 million dollars for the police budget.

Over the years, announcing police funding increases at election time has become the norm.  It has proven to be a sure-fire way to attract votes and win elections.

During the last civic election the Mayor used the same tactic.  Mayor Katz pledged increases to both police and civilian staff and was endorsed by the Winnipeg Police Association (WPA).  Some argued that the WPA  endorsement was contingent on the commitment to increase police and staff positions while others believed the increase in staffing to be contingent on the WPA endorsement.  Others insisted that the two issues were unrelated and the fact that the Mayor announced the staffing increase at the same time as the WPA endorsed the mayor was purely a coincidence.

As the current provincial election campaign gains traction it is interesting to see the bidding war that is developing as the two main contenders attempt to outbid each other (using our money) on the policing and law and order issue.

One of the major problems with politically motivated spending on policing is that additional money (positions) are allocated not by the police service but rather by the politicians to coincide with their current political priorities.

But that’s only partially the politicians fault.  Blame must also be placed with the police executives.

In the absence of a well laid out policing and crime deduction strategy with specific goals and costs attached, politicians jump into the fray and set the agenda.  To a degree they are simply filling a vacuum created by the lack of strategic operational leadership within policing.

As I have said before, what should be happening in terms of policing, crime reduction and police staffing is that politicians should clearly state their goals to police in terms of what they want accomplished, ie a percentage crime reduction across the board or in specific offence categories.

Police executives should devise a plan complete with broad goals, strategies and tactics that would be employed to accomplish the stated goals along with an  outline of specific areas of responsibility within the police service.  Such a plan would be accompanied with a price tag in terms of additional resources that would be required in terms of increase in personnel and other costs.

Once such a plan was developed politicians could decide if that is was they want and whether they want to fund it or not.  If the plan is adopted and funded,  accountability then exists between the police and the elected officials.

Until this happens we will continue to see money spent haphazardly, at election time, based on the political priorities of the day.

Oh What Tangled Webs We Weave….

…when first we practice to  deceive (or  raise the frontage levy)

When not raising property taxes becomes a dogma,  common sense tends to become a rare commodity and politics take over.

If property taxes alone don’t yield enough revenue to pay the bills, but you doggedly stick to the idea of not raising property taxes – something has to give.  What are the options?  The options include raising existing levies (such as the frontage levy), raising or adding  user fees (at libraries,  or swimming pools), or reducing services (arenas).

Picture this:  let’s say the owner of a sports franchise  (for the sake of argument, the Goldeyes) doesn’t want to raise  ticket prices but  still wants to increase revenues.

How can you increase revenue without raising ticket prices?  The answer seems to lie in adding surcharges for the little things that patrons rely on in order to enjoy the experience.   You could charge for vehicle parking.  When patrons walk in the door you raise the price of printed event  programs.  Raise the price of the food and drinks at concessions. Patrons will need to use the washroom, so add a user fee.  You see where this is going.  There are all kinds of things that can be done to raise additional revenue without raising ticket prices.

In other words there are many ways that patrons can be ‘Sammed’.

This is what seems to be happening at city hall.  Councillor Russ Wyatt has brought forward several more examples of how we are being Sammed. According to Wyatt:

In 2007, after much public criticism, the Mayor ended the practice of ‘transfers’ from the water and waste utility of the city into the General Revenue Fund (in other words sewer and water rates were being used to balance the budget).  The Mayor at that time agreed, and likened the practice to the Province raiding Hydro revenues to balance their budget. So he ended the policy.

Now he is attempting to unearth and resurrect the same policy, except he is calling it a ‘dividend’ and not a ‘transfer’.  Don’t be fooled, as it means the same, and confirms that Winnipeger’s are obviously paying too much for their sewer and water rates, now the highest in Canada!

Today this tax/rate grab is equal to $17 million.  The wonders of an 8% dividend policy is that as the water and sewer rates continue to rise (as they are projected to do so), so does the tax/rate grab.

What is even more interesting is that this would never be allowed outside the City of Winnipeg.  Outside the city, municipalities are subject to a little thing called the Public Utilities Board. The PUB would never allow such a rate grab, indeed, they would demand such revenues to be returned to the customer.

At the time of the new Water and Sewer Utility debate, there was great internal discussion of making the utility subject to the PUB.  The issue of loss of control killed this idea.  We now see the benefits to balancing the budget at the expense of w and s rate payers.

Councillor Wyatt then goes on to summarize the impact in terms of the additional revenue flowing into the city and the impact on taxpayers.  He puts it this way:

What does all this mean to the bottom line for tax payers.  The Frontage Levy increase brings in $14 million (and no new money to roads), the dramatic increase in Rec fees hauls in $1 million more (which helps the city ‘market’ out their arenas, now that the Chair of Finance has said Parks and Recreation are NOT a core municipal service–Giving Wpg a monopoly on wisdom compared to every other city in North America), and $17 million more from the Water and Sewer Dividend.

The total is $32 million, or the equivalent of an 8 % Property Tax Increase. Now, I have been the strong advocate over the last few years of a modest tax increase in our budgets.  However eight percent is actually eight times higher than the latest Consumer Price Index for Winnipeg which was projected recently at 0.8%.

I believe these latest developments vindicates my position, as now Winnipeger’s are facing this massive rate/tax/levy increase all at once.  And why?  Last year the Mayor included tens of millions of ‘one time’ money just so he could balance his budget and get past the Civic General Election. Furthermore he continues, without any sense of reason or rational debate, to perpetuate the property tax freeze, now in its 14th year.

I think the Councillor from Transcona has a point!

Increase in the Frontage Levy: Are we being “Sammed”?

Question:  If the government (at any level) passes legislation that requires citizens to pay  money to government  and the people have no choice but to pay it or face consequences, what is that called?

Answer: A tax.

Question:  So when the government passes legislation to increase the amount we already pay, what is that called?

Answer:  A tax increase.

The increase in the frontage levy means we just got “Sammed”.  What is the differenced between being Sammed and being scammed? Just the letter “C”.

His Worship is up to it again. During the election campaign he mocked and ridiculed the idea of increasing taxes.  He suggested that a tax increase of 20-30 dollars per property would cause some Winnipeggers to have to give up their homes.

Did the economic condition for the average Winnipeg homeowner change dramatically in the past 6 months?   It must have because His Worship now thinks that homeowners can absorb a much greater increase and presumably not lose their homes.

Does it really matter what you call it or what the money is intended to be used for?  If it’s money that flows to government, and citizens have to pay, it is a tax by another name.

I’m sure the owner of a small older bungalow on a property with a 50 or 60 foot  frontage, valued at 200 thousand dollars won’t mind that they will be paying more than the owner of a 400 thousand dollar home in a new development built on a narrow lot.  I’m sure they will see that as their civic duty.  Not!

Yes, I believe we just got Sammed – again.

The Effect of Adding 18 Positions to General Patrol

Of the additional 58 police positions promised by the mayor as part of his re-election platform, 18  are destined for General Patrol, commonly referred to within the Service as GP.  GP officers are the uniformed officers assigned to work marked patrol units.  When citizens call 986-6222 or 911,  GP officers are the ones who respond to their calls for service.

Media reports have indicated that the 18 positions being added to GP will produce “another shift” .  The implication of that is rather misleading but up to this point I have not heard either politicians or the Police Service saying anything to correct the misconception or explain the actual effect of adding 18 officers.

Here’s how it works:

The Police Service currently fields a minimum of 27 2-officer patrol units at the start of each shift, 365 days a year.  This means that the day shift starts with 27 units, as does evening shift and midnight shift.  The reason the term ‘minimum’ is used relates directly back to the wording in the Collective Agreement between the Winnipeg Police Service and the City. The minimum number of units the Police Service puts out on the street  forms part of the collective agreement.  The Service can field more than 27 units if personnel are available but it cannot field less.   Starting a shift with less than 27 2-officer units would violate the collective agreement.

So, how many police officers does it take to field one additional 2-officer unit?  The answer is 18.

The 18:1 ratio

Prior to the mid-1990’s the Police Service used a rather loose calculation to determine how many officers were required to field one unit 365 days a year.   The commonly used ratio was in the 14:1 range with an allowance for additional personnel in Divisions 11 (downtown) and 13 (north-end), based on workload.  The problem identified by Uniform Division Commanders operating under the 14:1 ratio was that  they could not field the required number of patrol units unless they drew resources from other areas such as Traffic, Community Constables,   plain clothes units  or called out off duty personnel at overtime rates.

Around 1995 a couple  of newly promoted Superintendents decided to have a look at the ratio being used. This review resulted in a report being submitted to the Executive of the day  recommending that the ratio be changed to 18:1, which it was.

That perhaps makes it easier to understand why the Mayor picked the number 18.

Eighteen additional GP officers translates into 1 additional  patrol unit.

That’s 1 additional unit, not “another shift”.

In a future post I will examine why it takes 18 officers to staff one patrol unit.

Adding 58 Positions Will Reduce Police Overtime


As councillors were falling over themselves to support the addition of 58 positions to the complement of the  Winnipeg Police Service they cited a variety of reasons why they thought it was a good move.

One, that I heard several times and which was even tacitly supported by the Mayor despite the fact he knows or should know it is false, is that the additional positions will reduce overtime.

Intuitively it seems reasonable to assume that as more officers are added, overtime expenditures should go down.

In order to truly appreciate the impact of an additional  58 positions one must consider two things:  under what circumstances is police overtime generated, and how will the 58 new positions be deployed.

Police Overtime 101

Officers assigned to administrative duties, and inside (not on the street) supervisory roles have very limited opportunity to generate overtime.  This is why when you look at the compensation disclosure documents you will see constables drawing higher pay cheques than Patrol Sergeants, Staff Sergeants and in some cases even Inspectors.

Categorization of Overtime

Overtime falls in a numbers of distinct categories:

1. Hold-over of uniform personnel – The Duty Inspector has the authority to extend officers’ shifts to address a backlog of high priority calls waiting in the dispatch queue.

2.  Call Backs – The Collective agreement between the City and the union requires that each of the 3 shifts (day, evening and midnight) start with a minimum deployment of  27  2-officer units.  In situations where a shift is short of staff due either to sick leave, temporary assignment or the like, Sergeants must try to ‘borrow’ officers from another division.  If no other divisions have surplus officers, off duty officers are called out at the overtime rate to work a regular shift.

3.  Report Writing –  In some situations arrests are made close to the end of an officer’s shift.  In circumstances  where either due to necessity or policy, the report must be completed prior to the officer retiring from duty.

4.  Ongoing Investigations –  There are some instances where, due to the nature of the investigation (i.e. homicides), handing off the investigation to other officers at the end of the shift is not feasible.  Additional officers may be assigned to work with by the original officers who are kept on at overtime rates to ensure the continuity of the investigation.

5.  Operational Projects –  Projects where a particular group or a particular activity is being targeted are “gas guzzlers” in terms of overtime consumption.  Officers assigned to projects need to work flexible hours in keeping with the hours being kept by the target(s).  Many projects require 24 hours surveillance for extended periods of time. Mobile surveillance of a single target on a 24 hours a day basis can require up to 14 officers depending on how surveillance conscious the target is.

6.  Court – A substantial percentage of the police overtime budget is consumed by officers attending court on their days off or upon conclusion of their shift.    Despite efforts such as the Court Overtime Reduction Project, court attendance still eats up vast amounts of overtime dollars.


Of the 58 new positions being created, only the 18 being assigned to general patrol will have any impact on reducing overtime.  They may produce minimal savings in relation to reducing hold-overs and call-backs.   Such savings, however, may well be eaten up by additional overtime related to report writing, ongoing investigations and court attendance generated by these same officers.

Twenty positions are destined for an expansion of the Gang Unit.   Specialty units such as Gang Units are normally heavily involved in project work.  These twenty positions will generate substantial additional overtime.

The 20 positions destined for foot patrol, unless they become a pool of officers that can be drawn on by uniform patrol divisions to fill in for shortages (in which case they would totally lose their effectiveness), will generate rather than eliminate overtime.

The Bottom Line

If the Mayor and councillors were  led to believe that the addition of these 58 positions would save overtime dollars, they either failed to ask the right questions or they were misled.