Letter to the Editor – Gary Dale – Problems with Canadian Democracy – February 1, 2010

Letter to the Editor – Gary Dale – Problems with Canadian Democracy – February 1, 2010

The problem with Canada’s democracy is that MPs (and MMPs) like Guy Lauzon are neither responsible to the voters in their riding nor elected by them. That’s because of our outdated first past the post voting system which confuses the party with candidate.

Many voters vote for the party, or more precisely, the party’s leader through their vote for the local candidate. In many cases they know little about the local candidate other than their name and party affiliation. On the other hand, the media is full of information about the party leaders.

This is a far cry form the environment where first past the post grew up. Centuries ago the Capital was a far off place but everyone knew their local candidates. Today our ridings contain tens of thousands of voters most of whom only know the candidates through campaign literature, if they know them at all.

Today’s elections are more about issues and leaders than local candidates. People cast their votes despite the local candidate as often as they cast their vote because of the local candidate.

Moreover, with four or five serious candidates running in each riding, it’s becoming uncommon for the winner to actually get the majority of the votes. Often they simply have the largest plurality, which means that most voters preferred other candidates and/or parties.

First past the post is unable to handle the complexities of modern politics. That’s why most democracies have abandoned it and most of the ones that still use it are trying to replace it.

Unfortunately the opponents of change can exploit the weaknesses of first past the post to prevent it from being replaced. The examples of the recent Ontario and B.C. referendums demonstrate how this works.

Voters aren’t asked whether they want to keep the current system or adopt a better system. Instead they are asked to choose between the status quo and a particular alternative system. The alternative system is then simultaneously attacked and other options are promoted as better choices. This leads people to believe that if they reject the proposed option, there will be another referendum on one of the other options, so the proposal is defeated.

Of course, once the proposed alternative is defeated, no further referendums are planned.

Had the referendum been held under an alternative voting system, for example STV or Alternative Ballot, then all the options would be on the table at once. Proponents of the status quo would have to argue against all of them, levelling the playing field. Moreover, most proponents of change recognize just how bad the current system is so they would generally choose any of the alternatives over keeping the current system. The result would be a victory for change.

All the serious proposals for electoral reform focus on implementing some form of proportionality because it ensures that every vote counts equally. Candidates who can’t attract voter support are a liability in proportional systems. That means that MPs like Guy Lauzon would need to work to earn the support of local voters instead of relying on the party leader to do the campaigning for them.

Gary Dale
West Hill, ON

(Comments and opinions of Editorials, Letters to the Editor, and comments from readers are purely their own and don’t necessarily reflect those of the owners of the Cornwall Free News, their staff, or sponsors.)

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The Watcher
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The Watcher

Of course, proportional representation is how the religious right controls the Israeli legislature, regardless of the wishes of the majority of Israelis, because it is almost impossible for any mainstream party to gain an overall majority. Proportional representation is the main reason Italian governments tend to be so unstable. The current system is not perfect, of course, but no amount of rhetoric can ever persuade the thinking, intelligent voter that proportional representation is any better. If the German Weimar Republic did not have proportional representation, the Nazi Party would never have had any members during the 1920s, as they were… Read more »

Stan
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Stan

Compared to that useless MP we had before, Guy Lauzon was a breath of fresh air for us voters. It took a MAJORITY of the approximately 81,000 elegible voters to elect him and they did!

Gary Dale
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Gary Dale

The Watcher uses the same tired tactics as other defenders of the status quo. He takes a flaw of current system and accuses the new system of having it. It doesn’t take more than a few seconds of thought to realize his arguments don’t hold up. Israel’s religious right has some power because it attracts a lot of votes. However, unlike the American religious right, Israel’s is fragmented into several parties. This leaves other right-wing parties able to play them off against each other, minimizing their influence. In the American case, on the other hand, the Republicans can’t risk alienating… Read more »

Gary Dale
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Gary Dale

There are several variations on PR systems. It’s a principle not a system. However if you look at the United Nation’s list of the best places to live, it’s dominated by nations using PR. The top 10 for 2009 are Norway, Australia, Iceland, Canada, Ireland, Netherlands, Sweden, France, Switzerland, Germany and Japan. Of those, only Canada and France don’t use PR in federal elections, while Australia only uses it in their Senate. Of course, opponents of proportionality like to claim that there are all sorts of problems with this country or that country, but no nation that has adopted a… Read more »

Gary Dale
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Gary Dale

The next 10 on the list are Luxembourg, Finland, United States, Austria, Spain, Denmark, Belgium, Italy, Liechtenstein and New Zealand. Of those, only the United States doesn’t use PR in it’s federal elections. For those who are counting, that’s 16 of the top 20 use PR, plus one that uses PR in its senate elections. Only 2 of the top 20 use first past the post (Australia uses Alternative Vote for its parliamentary elections, while France uses a 2-round voting system – a variation of Alternative Vote). The link between how good a nation is to live in and their… Read more »

Stan
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Stan

It looks like something we would need here in Canada in order to get Stephen, Iggy and Jack to play fair or see their sorry butts get kicked out!