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 That’s because of our outdated first past the post voting system which confuses the party with candidate.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.
West Hill, ON
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