I suppose we have to accept the fact that we’re entering election season again (again!). After having three opportunities last year to express our democratic preferences, that honour is being extended to us in just three weeks time. Now, this may sound just a trifle cynical, or perhaps just tired, but when I think about which side I should grant my vote to, I am tempted to say: “None of the above”. This, I should emphasise, is not because I am anti-democracy. Far from it. I mean, look at the alternatives: North Korea, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, or the United States! Their populations have had to put up with what is called democracy, but really, really isn’t.
And it’s getting worse. In the U.S., a candidate can win millions of votes more than their opponent, and still lose. In the U.K., the Prime Minister decided that he didn’t like what the Parliament was doing to his reputation, so he unlawfully closed it down. And these are supposed to be beacons of democratic freedom?
Now, here in Canada, I am fully grateful for the degree of political freedoms we enjoy (especially that of free speech and the press). We have a system that seems fair and above board, relatively transparent and with a range of choices from which the discerning voter can pick. In general, we can choose between the centre-right Conservatives and the right of centre Liberals, if we don’t want to get radical and vote for the left of centre NDP or the centre-left Greens. Yes, there is also the Peoples Party of Canada. But it is rather new to the scene, and it just sounds more like the Monty Python and the Life of Brian Peoples Parties, just not as funny.
I know I’m being simplistic, or even sarcastic, but isn’t that how most of us feel at this electoral time of year? Be honest: when you see the various parties issue their electoral platforms, policy statements and sincere and well-costed promises, isn’t your initial reaction: “Yeah, sure!”? Or do you still actually believe that, once in power, all of those promises will actually be fulfilled? Will the Liberals really do as they say, as they did when they promised electoral reform last time? What? They didn’t deliver? Astounding! Will the Conservatives really “put more money back in your pocket”?
The others, both NDP and Greens, have promised to abolish poverty in Canada, if only we will trust them with our vote. Really? No more poverty? Do you think the famous wealthy 1% will go for that, when they’re doing so well with things as they are? I don’t believe that things will actually change politically in this country until we can fix the electoral system. First past the Post is not a democratic system. People get elected when they win about 57% of the vote, yes. But that is 57% of the number of votes actually cast, which may only be 60% of the electorate. So, they are elected with the support of about 30% of the people as a whole. Which means that around 70% are unrepresented. (Figures as rounded off to the nearest I can manage with fingers and toes).
What’s the alternative? Proportional Representation. For some reason, it is not a popular idea in Canada, in spite of the current system almost guaranteeing that the government will be made up of either Liberals or Tories for the rest of our days. Should there be an earthquake in the political world and one of the other parties gets to form a government, the unexpected nature of the result often means that they’re not prepared for the reality of power. Remember Bob Rae and the NDP in Ontario? It can take decades for a party to recover from that kind of “victory”. It takes the rest of us even longer to recover.
People say that PR means a series of minority governments, as if that’s a bad thing. Not necessarily. Governments that have to actually work together to get things done can be remarkably productive. If, that is, they actually work together. Surely it is right and fair that political parties have the same share of the seats in Parliament that they have of the votes of the people? There are Canadians who can say (through gritted teeth and forced bonhomie) that they have never in their lives voted for a winning candidate. It is a fact of life that no Liberal has ever been elected provincially in this riding since Confederation. That is really remarkable.
What can we do in the meantime, before we allow sanity into our voting system? Well, we can gather on October 10 at the Municipal Centre to listen to the candidates, ask questions, see if they actually answer them rather than merely repeating whatever is in their campaign brochure, and try and decide the destination of our vote based on more than traditional party loyalties. That really is a democratic act. Given how long it took for us plebs to be allowed the vote, and how much suffering, imprisonment and even death it took to gain us that right and privilege, it’s the least we can do to honour the journey. It is our individual choice. People may feel that their vote doesn’t count: it certainly won’t, if it isn’t used.