What Canadians Need: The Canadian Election Rant (Part 2)
We need to face reality here in Canada, our electoral system is, at its core, quite simply undemocratic, unrepresentative and broken.
It's time to move out of the 19th century and into the 21st. It's time to start modernizing this archaic system of ours. It's time for some true democracy.
I mean, if a party is potentially within reach of a majority government with just 36-40% of public support, as the Conservatives now seem to be, then, clearly, something is fundamentally wrong with our system.
I'll say it right up front, I don't deny it for a minute, I find Harper and the Conservatives to be repulsive. There's no way in hell I want them to win another minority, let alone a majority. On so many different levels, I see them as being the exact opposite of what this country needs right now...
... but that's not what this is all about.
The truth is I find it just as ridiculous, if not quite as harmful for the country, whenever the Liberals win big majorities with just 38-41% of the popular vote.
As they did in these recent elections:
- 2000: Liberal majority (57% of all seats) with just 40.1% of the vote
- 1997: Liberal majority (51.5% of all seats) with an incredibly-low 38.5% of the vote
- 1993: Liberal landslide (60% of all seats) with just 41.3% of the vote
Meanwhile here in B.C., back in 1996, the NDP won a majority with just 39.45% of the vote (2.4% LESS than the Liberals!). I definitely didn't want the Liberals to win, but the truth of the matter is the NDP lost, it simply wasn't democratic for them to take power.
Mandate, What Mandate?
Then there was Brian "Everyone's Least Favorite Prime Minister Ever" Mulroney and the Conservatives with their big win back in 1988, an election fought over the free trade deal with the United States.
After winning a majority in parliament with just 43% of the popular vote, they, rather preposterously, proceeded to tell us that since "the Canadian people had spoken" they now had a mandate to implement the Free Trade Agreement with our neighbors to the south. Only problem is, 57% of Canadians voted for parties that strongly opposed the treaty. Since when does 43% represent a clear mandate or the will of the people? What sort of democracy is that?
In fact, over the past 50 years we've only had two governments that actually represented the majority of the voters in this country: John Diefenbaker's Conservatives, who in 1958 won 53.7% of the vote, and Mulroney's first government, elected with exactly 50% of the vote in 1984.
But it's not just majority governments that are usually quite undemocratic, minorities can be as well. Take the 1979 election when Joe Clark's Conservatives won a minority with less than 36% of the vote, while the Liberals, and this is the the shocking part, won over 40% - four percent more than the Conservatives! - but somehow got less seats.
I could go on and on. The system is a joke!
Ten Percent Disenfranchised
The idea that up to 9 or 10% of Canadians could vote for the Green Party in this election and then find themselves completely unrepresented in parliament should not be something taken lightly. If you want to keep people engaged in politics their votes must count and in our system they often don't.
The Rest Of The West
In almost every other Western democracy, aside from Britain and America, they now use some form of proportional representation (PR). That is, everyone's vote actually counts for something, there are no "wasted votes" and you rarely form a government without the support of coalition partners. All much more democratic features than what we presently have here in this country.
Contrary to what some people would have you believe, coalition governments can actually be a healthy thing for the country, as can minorities.
Opponents of PR point to the chaos of Italian politics and their near-annual toppling of the government as what's wrong with PR. And they're right. Italy's is not the best system, but there are many other forms of PR that do work... and work well.
Most importantly, if we want real democracy in this country, people should be voting for the party they truly support without feeling it might be a "wasted vote".
Currently, if your preferred candidate is running third or fourth in the polls in your riding, you know your vote really won't mean anything.
Clearly, our present system breeds cynicism and often forces people to vote against those they want to lose rather than for those they want to represent them in the House of Commons or the provincial legislature.
I hear it from others all the time and I find myself in the same dilemma every single election: Should I simply vote for the party that most closely represents my positions or should I vote for the candidate that has the best chance of actually winning and keeping the scary guys (i.e. the rightwingers) from winning the seat.
Myself, I've always ended up voting on principle, but I know so many others who, in the end, decide to vote strategically... which is actually a good thing in our present first-past-the-post system or else the scary guys would end up winning a whole lot more seats.
If all votes directly contributed to the number of seats in parliament, everyone knows the Greens and the NDP would undoubtedly win far more seats than they do now.
And in the Greens' case, 9-10% of the population - or more - wouldn't be defrauded of their voice in parliament.
I Have A Dream
I'm staying positive though. I know the day will eventually come when 38% of the vote will simply represent 38% of the seats in parliament - not, potentially, absolute power - a day when 10% of Canadians can vote for a party and actually get a seat or two in return, a day when true democracy finally arrives in Canada. And what a glorious long-overdue day it will be.
Mike Cowie (Oredakedo)
Friday, September 19th , 2008
For Part One of this rant click here: What Canadians Want: The Canadian Election Rant (Part 1)
For more on Canadian politics click here: Politics: Canada
And to read my most recent piece on American politics click here: Red, (Very) White and Clueless: The Tale of Two Americas
Or if you'd prefer another recent Canadian rant click here: Canada The Callous and Cold: Get Omar Khadr Freed Now!
And for another political rant try this: Finally An Apology: The Canadian Native Residential Schools Rant
And for lots more on politics visit the Politics Homepage