Those six faces are not the faces of politicians that I love. Nor, for that matter, are they the faces of politicians that I hate. They are six faces that represent what, to me, is the single most troubling issue facing Canadian politics: our deficit of democracy.
That deficit has once again become blindingly obvious, after Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative Party cruised to victory in Thursday’s Ontario election, capturing 76 of the province’s 124 seats with 40 per cent of the popular vote.
My Facebook feed is currently blowing up with reaction to that victory. Certainly, that reaction has something to do with how polarizing a figure Ford is. But it has more to do with the fact that people are figuring out – and not for the first time – that it’s wrong, and dangerous, for any leader to possess absolute power with less than half of the voters supporting them.
Take this most recent Ontario election. Accounting for the fact that Elections Ontario reported voter turnout at 58 per cent, and you’ve got something like 23 per cent of Ontario residents backing the PC Party. Which means more than three-quarters of Ontarians did not vote for Doug Ford – and yet he’ll be free to do pretty much whatever he wants in the Ontario legislature.
Whether you’re a Ford fan or not (spoiler alert: I’m in the “not” camp), that’s just screwy.
This isn’t a partisan issue. And it’s not an Ontario issue.
These 40 per cent majority governments aren’t a new story in Canadian politics – take my rogues’ gallery above, as Justin Trudeau, Stephen Harper, Gordon Campbell, Glen Clark and Christy Clark are but a handful of national and provincial leaders who’ve cruised to majorities with minority popular votes. Most famously in B.C., there’s the time that Glen Clark’s NDP actually lost the popular vote to Gordon Campbell’s Liberals (39 per cent to 41.8, respectively) but still earned a majority government, albeit a slim one.
And on those rare occasions when a government actually wins the popular vote, the results can still be skewed. Take Gordon Campbell's famous victory in 2001, when he took 77 of 79 seats in the B.C. legislature with slightly shy of 58 per cent of the popular vote - still leaving a full 42 per cent of voters out in the cold.
This is not fair. This is not right. This is not democracy.
Democracy is supposed to mean that the people decide who leads them. Our existing winner-take-all system isn’t allowing that to happen. Over and over and over again, it’s proving that it isn’t effective at representing the will of the people.
Canadians deserve better. We deserve a system of government that reflects what the people actually want. And that’s never going to happen with first-past-the-post.
First-past-the-post, if it’s to work at all, pretty much counts on a two-party system: either you vote for X, or you vote for Y. It doesn't even work all that well with two parties, as we see repeatedly in the U.S. But throw in a third, fourth or fifth party, and it just all gets muddled. Inevitably people approach the ballot box with strategy in mind: I really like X, but I hate Y, so I’m going to vote for Z because Z has a better chance of beating Y. So, in the end, not only do the results not reflect how people voted – but you can’t be certain people even voted the way they really wanted to in the first place. Any system that not only encourages but virtually requires so-called “strategic” voting is a fundamentally flawed system.
Not to mention the fact that first-past-the-post encourages voter apathy. It allows people – especially in ridings where the outcome seems foreordained – to just shrug and say, “What does it matter? My vote doesn’t count anyway” and stay home.
I don’t buy that argument, by the way; all people should vote all the time, regardless. (Anyone who’s heard me harp about this at election time, every single election, will know just how tiresome I can be about this issue.) But, in a proportional representation system, where popular vote matters in the composition of your legislature, people have a genuine incentive to get to the polls and cast their vote for the person of their choice. And, here’s the thing: The more people who actually cast a ballot – and the more that people can see that their individual voice mattered in the final outcome – the more effective democracy is.
Listen up, British Columbians: We’re being given a chance to change all of this, right here, right now.
This fall, we’re being given a chance to go to the polls and vote in favour of a new system that – gasp – will actually allow us to see the wishes of our voters reflected in the makeup of our legislature.
We’ll have a chance to argue the merits of dual-member versus mixed-member versus rural-urban proportional (at the moment, I’m preliminarily inclined to like dual-member, but I’m still mulling the merits of each) – but the critical factor is, we get to improve our democracy.
We came so very close way back in 2005, when 58 per cent of British Columbians voted in favour of electoral reform – still ironically, a much higher percentage than those who actually voted for the government of the way; if the threshold for acceptance had not been set at an unheard-of 60 per cent, it would have passed. Sigh.
Nostalgia aside, let’s look to the future. Let’s grasp this chance to vote for change and join the rest of the Western world in embracing proportional representation.
I honestly feel like change is such a gimme that, decades from now, people are going to look back on our first-past-the-post period and wonder why Canadians allowed tyranny to flourish unchecked for so long.
Don’t listen to the scaremongers about proportional representation.
It’s not complicated. It’s not scary. It’s not radical. It’s been tested and tried. It works.
And it gives more people a voice in how our government should be run.
Why are we even still having this fight?