Canada’s democracy a convenient fiction

First-past-the-post unchanged

by Kelly Carmichael

Politicians hold up democracy like the gold standard although few would be able to define it. They affirm that expressing your will at the ballot box is key to a functioning democracy. Yet citizens have no power to effect change, despite the fact they fund the infrastructure of government through their tax dollars.

What many do not compute is that all policy decisions find their foundation in the way we allocate power through our electoral system. Winner-take-all majoritarian systems offer an illusion of choice, but are actually designed to keep the commons out. You can vote for a candidate, but your options to effectively elect an MP aligned with your political values is quite slim. In 2015, over 9,000,000 Canadians chose losing candidates.

The other problem with first-past-the-post voting is the system most often returns skewed results. When we say 39% ‘majorities,’ that illustrates the total amount of votes for a winning party, but the inconvenient truth behind that number reveals that half of those voters voted for the winning party in ridings where an opposition candidate won. Many would be surprised to hear that a mere 4.6 million Canadians elected the 184 MPs that hold all the power in our House of Commons.

Providing such a small minority all the power in our government makes accountability very precarious and illusive. For instance, it would appear the government is very busy consulting on a variety of issues: electoral reform, trade, climate change, etc. These exercises provide a slick semblance of transparency and government accountability.

Unfortunately, most of these consultations expose a well orchestrated political theatre and lack the proper mechanisms and outcomes for responding to the evidence or the will of the people.

When you drill down into the consultations set up by the Special Committee on Electoral Reform (ERRE), you find 88% of the experts who expressed an opinion on systems told the government to implement some form of proportional representation (PR). Additionally, 87% of the public who testified at the public hearings asked the government to move to a proportional system. The ERRE’s own online survey found strong support for both the principle of PR and specific proportional systems.

This consultation was the 14th of its kind in Canada. Each one recommended moving to proportional representation. Add this to the fact that 80% of OECD Countries (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) use PR and a body of research spanning 50 years suggests you get better democracy and governance through PR.

Alarmingly, the more the evidence and public sentiment pointed to proportional representation, the more the Liberals seemed to retreat citing they could not find ‘consensus.’

In November of 2016, Justin Trudeau announced that perhaps electoral reform wasn’t as important since now he was Prime Minister. In February of 2017, the Prime Minister sent his newly minted Minister of Democratic Institutions, Karina Gould, out to face the media and tell Canadians the government had chosen to kill the file. A few weeks later, addressing a room of citizens and reporters, Trudeau announced killing electoral reform was his decision to make. Most suspect the decision was made in the shadowy backroom of the PMO.

Trudeau has since admitted that he was, and remains, an advocate of the alternative vote system (AV) – a ranked ballot used in a majoritarian winner-take-all system – which is basically first-past-the-post on steroids, a phony reform that continues to guarantee that up to half of all voters in every riding remain unable to elect the MP they prefer.

The truth was the Liberals could not find consensus for Justin Trudeau’s preferred system so they killed it.

The Liberals are leaving the once condemned first-past-the-post scheme intact along with their own undeserved domination of the House of Commons. j

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