Federal Minister of Democratic Institutions, the Honourable Maryam Monsef, introduced a committee on Wednesday to study changes to the first-past-the-post system of how we elect our federal government. This was a key plank of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during the 2015 election campaign. Trudeau even stated that this would be our last election using the first-past-the-post-system. Ongoing review of the health of the democratic institutions of Canada is a good thing. But the Liberal government’s plans are flawed, believing low voter engagement to be caused by how we vote. It is a flawed assumption based on flawed data, and that was apparent just in Monsef’s remarks during the announcement.
In Monsef’s announcement she stated that only six of our 42 federal elections had a party elected to majority power with more than 50 per cent support. A review of the parliamentary website shows this is grossly inaccurate. There were 16 federal elections where a majority government was elected with more than 50 per cent support, or more than one-third. The most recent one was in 1984, which is not a bad feat considering there were three major parties to vote for in that election. In fact 10 of the 16 occurred with more than two parties vying for power. Only in the 1800’s did we have two-party competitions that gave voters a red choice or a blue choice.
Monsef argues that first-past-the-post is broken, that it discounts voter choice for second and third place candidates. That a ballot could be, if the committee chooses, a ranked ballot, or even switch the system to proportional representation.
Those arguments all work if you consider being a Member of Parliament, and possibly part of a sitting government, as a participation medal position. Hopefully those who run for office do not treat it that way. Nor should voters when making their choice. Voting is a competition. Democracy is a competition. It is not a malaise of ribbons for showing up. Having your second choice count is great when shopping for peanut butter and you can’t find the Kraft brand, so you have to go with Skippy. That is when your second choice counts, not when you vote.
People should vote and participate in the democratic process because they want to; because they feel passionate or engaged in a platform or ideal, or with a candidate that they like. One that the voter wants representing them. They should not be forced to vote, and they should only get one vote in the process. That is why first-past-the-post works. One vote, mark a ballot, place it in the box and your opinion is counted. If your choice wins, great; if not, that is too bad.
Once an election is over, the candidates who won, and the government, is to represent all Canadians. And that is where the real issue lies with our democracy.
Governments over recent years have become a reflection of the partisan stripes of the parties that ran, forgetting that once they get the job, they work for us all. The us-and-them mentality of the parties are the issue. This has become more pronounced in the past two decades.
It would be naive to think that political winners didn’t try to settle a few scores once they get into office, that is the low-hanging fruit of politics. Government though, did try to work towards the common good of all Canadians. As we marched into the 21st century though, that changed. The partisanship entered and that caused us to be at the point we are now, ignoring the common good.
To fix this does not require an all party House of Commons committee, as the problem is not with government. It is with the party organizations and structures within. It requires political leadership to be mature to understand that once they win power, they are there for everyone.
To implement proportional representation, or transferable votes, or any other scheme, flies into the face of our democratic traditions in Canada.
Our democracy has evolved from military governor decrees to where it is now. One person, who can vote in secret, for the one candidate and/or party they believe who best represents them. How can any system be more democratic than that?