proportional representation

Democratic Reform and Cross-political issues in Canada

By: James Di Fiore

Canada appears to be changing, segmented between traditionalists, progressives and radicals. This opinion is nothing new, but the evidence has finally caught up to the theory, especially in politics and social issues. Sprinkled in the middle are Canadians unfettered by ideology and partisanship, but they are surrounded by a growing number of ideologues who are being prodded and influenced by media hell bent on making money by evoking emotion instead of dispensing facts.

These new sects of extremists (the opinionated kind, not the violent kind), are still far less in numbers than the reasonable folks but they shout at a much higher volume, creating the false idea that they are speaking for the majority. But this is Canada, where the majority of people remain apathetic and frustrated with the system as a whole.

So, born out of apathy comes new ideas by Canadians who are beginning to wake up from their political slumber. Some of their ideas are gaining traction and discussions are finally taking place. For example, many Canadians are starting to talk more about our connection to the British monarchy, openly stating their disdain for what they see as an out of date relationship. An easy way to break open that conversation is to ask how Canadians feel about the prospect of Prince Charles on our currency. Traditionalists are just as eager to talk about our history and the vital role the Brits played in our progress as a nation. Both have valid arguments, but the real caveat is the stark differences not in philosophy but age. If you are a younger Canadian you are far more likely to want to disown our British stepparents, but if you are a senior you can’t fathom the idea of breaking ties. Age is actually the number one barometer in different political opinions, and the slight erosion of apathy among younger people is making the conversation a more interesting one.

There are also good arguments for changing the Senate procedures, creating term limits and even abolishing the upper house. Provincial powers are currently being tested both by federal legislation and pressure from municipal governments who feel burdened by legislation irrelevant to their riding. Conservatives are finding it difficult to balance their long held notion of abolishing the senate with the current conservative government’s partisan appointments to the upper house. A widespread opinion that appears to also be gaining traction is the eventual implementation of an elected senate. In either case we are years away from any significant changes now that our country is in a constant state of political campaigning. Time will tell what kind of ideas will eventually surface and if those ideas are from the people or government officials.

Interestingly, questions are now being raised among a wide spectrum of Canadians pertaining to personal liberty and privacy. The Ron Paul candidacy in the American GOP primary has forced the conversation. Americans and Canadians alike are finding common views with people who are politically opposite, fostering a new discussion between Canadians who do not normally debate the issues gracefully. The most glaring examples of this common ground are foreign policy and the war on drugs, two subjects that are yielding universal support and capturing the conversation among Americans. This kind of cooperation is leading some Canadians towards reopening the debate on proportional representation as ideas and philosophies become more complex and less ideological. The terrain is strange in Canada. As apathy shrinks, ideology grows. There is a debate as to whether or not they are related, but the end result means Canada’s political class is shifting.

As Canadian parties adjust to their new placement in popularity, Canadian people are becoming more savvy in who to follow, creating a potential new shift in the landscape and a continuation of a newly awoken Canadian electorate.

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Elizabeth May Too Politically Green to be Leader

Exclusion from debates a self fulfilling prophecy for Greens

By: James Di Fiore

Imagine if Elizabeth May were a far right leader who espoused ideas like eliminating the corporate tax altogether, privatizing daycare centers and making abortion illegal. Imagine she had the support of nearly 1 million voters in the last election but still did not hold a seat in Parliament.

Now, if you can, try to imagine all of her current boosters rallying to allow her air time during the televised, federal debates. Can’t do it, can you? Don’t feel bad, most of May’s supporters are left leaning, which is fine on the surface, but scratch away and you’ll find a facet of the electorate as important as voter apathy; complete and utter hypocrisy born from an ideological bent dressed up as a fight for democracy.

This new cause celebre is the latest example of Canada’s continuous erosion of political consistency, spotlighting a hyper partisan yet fractured electorate in the run up to the fourth election the nation has seen in the past 7 years. Say this to May’s boosters and you will be met with the disingenuous claim that they would fight the good fight even if Ann Coulter were the shafted leader of a seatless party. ‘We want proportional representation,’ they claim, and have no qualms over pretending the system is already changed before actually trying to change it. In other words, they insist on circumnavigating the process while simultaneously stating the process is unfair. How’s that for double speak?

This is an issue of process, not fairness. Proportional representation is a fight worth having, but allowing May to debate before winning that fight would be an act of collective civil disobedience rather than an exercise in democratic fairness. Indeed, this fight begins and ends with Elections Canada, an organization ripe for criticism by all federal parties, especially the current government who believe Elections Canada are out to get them. But the Greens, who sat on their hands since the 2008 election when they should have been trying to work cooperatively with the other federal parties to evolve our Canadian system, now expect to be given special treatment as they describe their exclusion as “arbitrary” and an “outrage”. Outrageous is an apt description for May’s claim that Canadians will be deprived of real democracy, implying that the debates are the best way for Canadians to make an educated choice in the election. Assuming this is true, it speaks volumes of May’s leadership when one considers her inclusion last time around garnered exactly zero seats in Parliament. And while a million voters are nothing to sneeze at, the actual number could be much lower if some Green supporters are now tired of a disorganized party with fractured support and no official voice in Ottawa. If May had been active in the pursuit of proportional representation she would be coming off more credible. As it stands, her old antics of flailing her political limbs and screaming ‘democracy now!’ is getting old…and obvious.

But hey, let’s not let something as arbitrary as ‘the system’ get in the way of a good publicity stunt. If support for the Greens decreases this time around then May’s days as leader will be numbered, and whoever replaces her will have to decide what’s more important: a chance to participate in televised debates, or spending the next few years championing the very system they need to justify their participation. Choose the latter and they will not only increase their political capital for the next election, but possibly save their party in the process.