The liberals would love to change the electoral system in their favour, because they do not want to have minority governments or governments other than liberal. They obviously do not think they can convince voters fairly, using the system that has been working for the past 100 years and actually just had them elected with a majority government. They want to stack the deck for future elections…and without giving people their say.
It is widely reported that the Trudeau Liberals are backing down on their steamroller approach to what they are pleased to call “electoral reform.” The Bloc Québécois and Green members of the government’s panel on electoral reform will now have voting rights. This means the Liberals, with five members, will hold a minority on the 12-person panel.
Nonetheless I challenge the notion that accepting a more broadly based committee qualifies as “backing down.” It should be read only as less arrogant than what they have been doing on this subject up to now.
The clamour for electoral reform is far less loud and vigorous than professional politicians and their many-handed managers would like you to believe. The system we’ve long had, the dreaded first past the post (FPTP) does not alarm people. It’s not a coffee-shop topic. It is surely not the “undemocratic,” “unrepresentative” and “unfair” system that those with a partisan interest in “fixing” it claim.
In essence, those most offended by the system are those to whom it awards the least success. The Greens, for example, would like to bundle all the dribs and drabs of votes they get in every riding into a single number and claim more seats on that basis.
The other strong motive for change comes from a party that has been successful under FPTP, believing it could even be more successful under some more complex arrangement. Or, and this amounts to the same thing, their main rivals would do worse. They foresee a structural advantage in a changed system. That’s the Trudeau government’s motivation.
None of these “advantages” are of interest or benefit to the broad mass of voters. Discontent with FPTP is mainly a manufactured discontent, advanced by the players in the system, rather than the voters themselves.
So we must discount very greatly the certitudes put forward by the Liberals on how FPTP is regressive,and undemocratic, and — to seal the argument — so not 2015! Furthermore, the argument, such as it is, is self-denying.
In essence, the Liberals are telling Canadians that the system that had the perception and honour to install them as the government in October is not a good system. They are — and this is rich — complaining about the established voting practice that installed the Liberals as a government, and earlier gave them nearly half a century of rule, the natural governing party, recall. Well, isn’t that gratitude?
In trying to sell the specious need to change the system, they chose their spokesperson unwisely. Maryam Monsef, the minister of democratic institutions (an odd, and vaguely menacing appellation), has not been a Churchill on this subject. Her hostility to the idea of a referendum — consulting the people on the people’s right to vote — has been a perfect factory for malapropisms, bad logic, missing middles and muddled messages. She told the Canadian public that “referendums” exclude the “marginalized.” Evidently women, people of colour, the disabled — build your own list — are allergic to voting in a referendum.
Her leader is not much better. Justin Trudeau says that referendums are not a good way to get electoral reform. I suppose he’s right on that, because the few times voters were given a chance in a referendum to actually vote on a new system (British Columbia and Ontario offer good examples), they turned down the opportunity. Maybe, and this is just a suggestion, because the voters thought what was already there was good enough, or what was proposed was worse than what was there.
No system, set up against a hypothetical ideal, is without defect. Reform actually only offers a shift from one imperfect system with its particular deficiencies to another with a different, but most likely equal or greater, set of other deficiencies. But, and here’s the rub, reform offers temporary partisan advantage for those promoting it. You can call this reform if you wish, but is it really just a tactic.
It is simple fear of a referendum that has brought the Liberals to their latest show of compromise. Changing the Commons committee is their version of Anything But A Referendum on electoral reform. They fear the public, if asked, may stick with what they have, believing the much-maligned FPTP is worthy, proven and true. And despite the factitious claims that it is undemocratic — which are, on the face of it, just silly — people trust more what they know and have practised, than a new system set up to award some peculiar advantage to the government of the day and parties that simply can’t win under the current, accepted rules.
Demos means people, and cracy means rule — democracy is built from these terms, If the current government fears going to the people for the people’s views on how the people rule, then we see that this whole enterprise is pure politics under a reform label, and an attempted usurpation of the people’s right to determine how they elect their own government. The sacred act of voting is not the politicians’ to dispose or mutate according to the partisan dispositions of the moment.
Not even because it’s 2016.
Rex Murphy | June 3, 2016 3:59 PM ET