October 12, 2015

These Canadian electoral reforms would let us tell politicians what we really think

Tim BallRebel Columnist

Our political system is a hybrid much like our official languages and our laws. We have adopted portions of the systems in England, France and the United States. Unfortunately, we often appear to have selected too many of the bad ones.

Too often it is a compromise, and though initially appealing, compromises usually end up satisfying nobody. You end up with everybody saying, “Well it’s alright but…”

Right now we have a voting system that effectively disenfranchises and fails to provide expression of opinion to some 50 percent of the population.

Consider one major flaw: We do not get to vote for our Prime Minister, the person under our parliamentary system with a great deal of unaccountable power. Instead, we must trust the judgment of politicians in a political party to decide, and they serve the party’s interests, not ours.

These are the legacies of a paternalistic system that assumes we are not capable: "They" know what is good for us. Rebellion against this situation led Americans to revolution and adoption of a republican system. Canada is trying to do it by stealth.

Look at the number of politicians in this election cycle who link themselves with their leader either with the name or photograph on their posters. What happens if you like the local representative but dislike the leader, or vice versa?

The US Founding Fathers also realized that a multi-party system undermines democracy. Most Canadian elections result in votes split among several parties and since we have a “first past the post” system, the one with the most votes wins. The problem is that it almost always results in a leader and a party with representing fewer than 50 percent of the population gaining power.

Some suggest that proportional representation solves that problem. While there are some advantages, this "solution" has two fatal flaws: You lose control of your vote; and extremist parties could take power legitimately. 

We could mandate a compromise in true Canadian fashion, with a three party system to represent the right, centre, and left. This was the situation in Britain after 1900 with the nascent Labour party, the Liberals and the Conservatives. By 1910, the Liberal party effectively disappeared, and they had a two party system for decades. More recently, because they have a parliamentary system, new parties appeared, such as the Liberal Democrats (Lib Dems) and chaos ensued.

In Canada, an official three party system would still result in a party with less than 50 percent of the vote winning, but at least it may approach representing half the population more often.

Personally I tend to prefer minority governments because Lord Acton was correct when he said, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

But none of that addresses the real failure of the system. There is no way for citizens to express what they really think about politics and the politicians, and that is frustrating. Currently, the only way to express anger and disgust with the entire political class is by not voting or destroying the ballot, but that effectively disenfranchises people.

It is ignorant and patronizing to say, as is often the case, "Well, you did not vote, so you gave up your right to an opinion." Wrong! The system did not provide a vehicle for me to exercise and express my opinion.

We need better representation because you must have the right to free speech, but also the right to silence. Similarly, you must have the right to vote or not to vote, but not voting must be quantified as an important commentary in a democracy. It should not represent an abrogation of responsibility, as is the case now. It is an important measure of how the people feel and what they are thinking.

Currently, these people are effectively disenfranchised; their view that the system and the people available are unacceptable requires quantification. Their current choice is take it or leave it. 

Canadians need a specific, simple, quantified measure of our anger. What we need is a line on the ballot that says, “None of the above”. This would likely entice a few more voters out and allow all of us a chance to vent anger and disgust through an officially quantified measure.

If you introduce a mandatory voting law as some suggest, then the option is even more important. The option would make the message loud and clear. Politicians could no longer say they didn’t know or weren’t told. 


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commented 2015-10-13 00:23:55 -0400
Dave, the answer would be . . . .The Bloc
commented 2015-10-12 23:00:39 -0400
Who becomes PM when “None of the above” wins an election?