Canadian Politics: on the Road to Failure

We are in the midst of a political crisis, people. 6 weeks ago we spent roughly $300 million on an election that landed us in the same position we were already in. This election represented the lowest turnout of voters since the 1800s. This election left us with virtually the same parliamentary make up as before, with the same Prime Minister. Less than two months after this wasteful display, the losing leaders have decided to form a coalition and attempt to oust Prime Minister Harper from his position. There are three possible outcomes here:1. The coalition will be successful in convincing the Governor General to oust Harper and replace his government with the government of the coalition, with Dion (who is in the midst of losing his leadership of the liberal party) as its head. 2. The coalition will be successful in ousting Harper, but the Governor General will call an election, rather than replace the old government with the coalition government. Costing us another $2-300 million. 3. Somehow they will all figure out how to get along, and actually start governing rather than playing political games. It seems we are headed toward outcome #1. The prospect of a coalition government ousting an elected government and replacing it bothers me. For a number of reasons. Our democracy is already showing signs of failure. Low voter turnout, campaigns based on mud-slinging and attack ads rather than the issues, no strong and charismatic leaders in any of the parties, back-room deals, heightened tension between the West and the East, increased tension between French and English Canada, a divided left-center, extreme divisive partisanship not only in parliament but within the electorate, instability of parliament. . . . I could go on. The point is this: our system is failing us. So what should we do?Let’s break down this failure into its relevant components, and attack each in due course. These are the problems, as I see it:1. Party-based politics2. A divided left3. Voter apathy4. Remaining ties to Britain5. The first-past-the-post electoral systemPARTY BASED POLITICSAs can be seen by the fiasco currently underway in parliament – parties serve parties, not constituents. The existence of political parties in such a large, diverse country as ours, makes it virtually impossible for “parliament” to take place. Discussion is not multi-dimensional. It is not open to individual opinions. MPs repeat party lines, not their own opinions or those of their constituents. Voting behaviour is dictated by party lines, not conscience. MPs vote according to the dominant view of their caucus, not according to the will of their constituents. Politicians who are in disagreement with the consensus of their party risk reprimand if they act upon their view. In a majority government situation, this means that it is practically inevitable that legislation promoted by the ruling party will be passed without obstacle. The governing party holds a majority of the seats, MPs vote according to party lines, hence, bills espoused by that party get passed. This is exactly what causes so much instability in a minority government situation. Minority governments have the potential to be the most cooperative and inclusive of divergent opinions, but they also have the potential to be extremely divisive. We are currently suffering a minority government of the latter form. Harper’s government cannot pass anything through parliament without strong-handing it – the left-center will band together and block any conservative legislation, regardless of its worth. They are bitter. They lost, twice, and they don’t like it. Because of this, Harper has taken a strong-handed approach to legislation. he has turned any bill he desires to have passed into a no-confidence motion so that the opposing parties, trying to avoid another pointless election which they know they will lose anyways, have to either allow it to pass, or halt it and risk the dissolution of government and a subsequent election. This is a dirty trick, but in the given climate, what other option does Harper have to pass legislation that he feels is good for the country? Without taking this strong-handed approach, he would allow Dion and Layton to literally run parliament. Which is exactly what they’re after. They’ve finally had enough of this approach, and voted down his economic plan – a no-confidence vote. They have formed a coalition in hopes that the GG will dissolve government and, rather than wasting millions on another election, replace the current government with a coalition-led parliament. This presents a constitutional crisis for Canadians. – The conventional way to deal with a vote of no-confidence is to dissolve government and call an early election. However, this is not an attractive option at this time. We just had an election 6 weeks ago. An election that was called early due to no-confidence. This election landed us with the same government we already had. In one word, it was pointless. And it doesn’t take a genius to see that having another one now will be any less pointless. – A constitutionally valid, but conventionally controversial, option is that the GG dissolve government and, instead of calling an early election, replace it with the coalition. This is looking to be the route we take. The GG does have the constitutionally sanctioned authority to go with option 2. But she (or he, speaking historically) has always been discouraged by convention to do so. The GG is not an elected official. She is the representative of the British Monarch, and in my opinion, ought to be treated as nothing more than a formality, if allowed to remain in existence at all. To allow her to decide, in the stead of the Canadian people, who is to form our government is preposterous! I don’t care what the constitution actually SAYS, it is a living tree, growing and changing to suit the times. Many constitutional principles are not espoused in words by the written constitution. These principles are what we call “conventions. ” They are deep-rooted principles to guide the political process. If the GG does replace Harper with the coalition government, she violates constitutional convention. But if she calls an early election, she wastes a tonne of money and changes nothing. Harper will again win a minority, and Dion (or whoever they eventually replace him with) and Layton will keep digging their heels in against everything the conservatives try to do, forcing the conservatives to bust out the ol’ “strong-handed” approach that they lament and decry in the public eye. If she does replace Harper with the coalition government, this will further divide the country into the right-left camps. The coalition will divide parliament indefinitely. You’re either with the coalition, or you’re with the conservatives. We will lose the check-n-balance inherent in the opposition. With a liberal-NDP coalition, supported by the Bloc, running the government, the opposition of conservative MPs will become meaningless. A summary of some of the main problems with party-based politics:- Everything is ideological. Whichever party is in power comes at problems from a particular perspective and framework. Each party has it’s own economic model, its own ideology, its own morality. Problems are not solved objectively – they are solved according to party principles, and whichever party has the most seats, gets to have its principles dominate. – MPs are supposed to represent their constituents. Their vote in parliament is supposed to represent the vote of their particular community. Instead, their vote represents their party affiliation, and nothing more. MPs do not represent their constituents, they represent their party. – Voters are not encouraged to pay attention to the issues, instead, they pay attention to the ideological leanings of their “representatives. ” They vote based on whether they call themselves a “liberal,” a “conservative,” or a “social democrat. “- Cooperation is rejected and competition is the norm. Political parties vie for power, in competition with one another, rather than allowing for cooperation and open dialogue. – Party lines divide the entire country. They do not divide politicians alone, they divide the electorate. They pit right against left, rather than allowing different perspectives fair and equal oppourtunity to voice concerns and making decisions within an eclectic and multidimensional framework. – The Bloc: deserves recognition in this aspect. This is a party that is devoted to the interests of only one province in the country. This is a party that grew out of the separatist movement. It’s fine with me if they want to operate at the provincial level, but not federal. Any representative elected in Quebec, regardless of their party affiliation, is going to have Quebec interests at their fore. No other province or ethnicity has its own federal party, they are represented by various parties. The Bloc creates an unequal balance of regional power within parliament. A DIVIDED LEFTIf we must maintain a party based system, we must consolidate the left. The coalition recently formed between the liberals and ndp bases its legitimacy on the fact that those parties collectively represent a larger portion of Canadian voters than the consolidated minority right. However, they received their votes as separate parties, and cannot therefore claim to have received, as a coalition, the majority of votes. There is no telling what the outcome of our most recent election would have been if they had been amalgamated into one larger party. They cannot assume such a situation would wield the same results. The left, if it wishes to vie for power with a consolidated right, must follow suit and consolidate itself. They cannot run in elections separately and then form temporary coalitions when they lose. They either need to band together, or accept that by competing with one another for the left vote, they risk dividing the left thereby giving the united right the upper hand. By remaining divided, they essentially hand power over to the united right. If they cannot accept a right-wing victory, they’re going to have to suck up their pride, put aside their differences with one another, and consolidate. VOTER APATHYThis one is simple. People don’t vote. We’ve recently received the honour of being the most apathetic electorate Canada has ever seen. Only 58. 9% of registered voters turned out this October to cast their ballots. There are numbers more eligible voters who simply did not register. This means, essentially, that only about half (or even less) of our eligible electorate cast a ballot. Statistics for the 2008 general election have not yet been made available at Stats Canada, however, I believe we can assume that the two-decades-long trend among the 18-24 demographic remains. This is a trend towards lower and lower voter turnout in each election. If democracy is to thrive in this country, we need to encourage young voters to. . well. . vote!Democracy literally means “government of the people. ” The “people” represent themselves in one main way – they vote on who they wish to represent their interest in parliament. Without votes, we have no democracy. As the Boomers die off, and our generation takes over, I fear we may witness the end of democracy in this country and see it replaced, as is already happening gradually, with a democratic facade which masks nothing more than a domination of the elite. REMAINING TIES TO BRITAINWe’ve been our own country for over 140 years. Why do we still have the Queen as our formal head of state? Why does the governor general, the Queens representative, still hold the power to call elections, dissolve governments, and replace them if she so decides? I understand that, by convention, the roles of the Queen and her representative are a mere formality – but the fact remains that our written constitution allows these women authority over the affairs of our country, and who is to say that there might come a day when Britain abuses this power? It is time to cut ties. THE FIRST-PAST-THE-POST ELECTORAL SYSTEM. . . needs to be replaced. It does not wield results that truly represent the voting behaviours of the electorate. This system can and does at times elect a Prime Minister who is actually opposed by the majority of voters, enhances regional antagonism, and encourages strategic voting. The actual proportion of the vote-count in a federal election rarely reflects on the seat-count. It is theoretically possible that a party might win 75% of the vote-count, but only 25% of the seat-count. Something seems a little off about that. SO WHAT DO WE DO?How do we save our democracy?I propose a complete reformation of the entire electoral process. I propose:- eliminating political parties and replacing them instead with a system of independent candidates whose mandate is simply to represent the interests of their particular constituents (their district) within the larger context that includes the interests of their general constituents (Canadians as a whole), in which ideological leanings are personal, not partisan, and conscience is their guide, not party affiliation. – a system of proportional representation in which individual MPs must win a 60% majority within their district on top of receiving the most votes in general. Ballots allow for candidates to pick their top 2 choices. In the event that a candidate wins the most votes, but not 60%, the ballots of the bottom parties (everyone but the top 2) have their second-choice votes counted. These are combined with the original vote-count, and whichever of the top 2 candidates receives the most votes at this time wins. Unless a 60% majority is not reached in the first count of the ballots, the second-choice votes are left uncounted. The Prime Minister is elected on a separate ballot. These candidates are not formally affiliated (as in the party system) with other candidates. The MP and PM elections will still take place simultaneously, they will just have separate ballots. I propose mandatory, grade 11 or 12 “Intro to Canadian Politics and Law” courses in all secondary schools to boost the interest of youth in politics and furnish them with the basic knowledge and skills they require to become effective and responsible voters, before they hit voting age. This would be a full-credit course, and would replace the half-credit “civics” course students currently take in grade 10. This course would cover the basics of how our electoral system works, why it is important to vote, the political ideological spectrum, basic macro-economics, the Constitution and Charter, the judicial system, and basic comparisons to other nations’ systems. I propose a ban on “negative” campaign ads. Basically, candidates must advertise THEIR platforms, proposals and ideals. They cannot base their campaigns on smearing their opponents. Ads are to discuss the candidates own goals and visions, not to attack their opponents. I propose proportional equality across electoral districts within each region, and proportional equality of electoral districts between regions. This may require some explanation:- In order to alleviate the issues regarding regionalism, the regions must maintain approximate equality with one another when it comes to the amount of electoral districts. (Eg. It would be unfair for the maritimes to have 50 seats in parliament and the west to have 150) This is to ensure that the interests of one particular region of our vast country are not pushed to the sidelines in preference for the interests of another region- Districts must be relatively uniform when it comes to the number of constituents represented in each. (It would be unfair for, let’s say, the city of Windsor to have the same number of representatives as Amherstburg) Districts should be divided along population lines (X-number of constituents in each district). A city 4X the size of another will have 4X the amount of districts. I propose. . . CHANGE!