Whoa!Canada

laurel l. russwurm's political musings

leadership

with 15 comments

Canadian Political Party Logos

If you’ve read this blog before, you may know I’ve never belonged to a political party.

My own preference would be the eventual elimination of political parties altogether.

But parties are entrenched in our current system and are unlikely to go away any time soon.

So why would I sign up as a Liberal Party of Canada supporter?

I’ve known good people across the spectrum of Canadian Political Parties. The very existence of so many political parties speaks to the fact that a mere two parties is woefully inadequate to the task of representing us.

Canadians are quite a diverse bunch ~ one size does not fit all.

Like many Canadians, I want to see Canada redefined into a real democracy that actually seeks to represent all of us. But the only way to achieve that is through meaningful electoral reform. I think we deserve democracy.

“Democracy is a form of government in which all eligible citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. Democracy allows eligible citizens to participate equally—either directly or through elected representatives—in the proposal, development, and creation of laws. It encompasses social, economic and cultural conditions that enable the free and equal practice of political self-determination.”

Wikipedia: Democracy

Canadians have been led to believe that the ability to vote our government out of office makes our electoral system democratic. We’re supposed to have a representative democracy, but our electoral system is so unfair our “representatives” are virtually unaccountable.

Canadian FlagThe majority have learned that casting votes is futile in a system where some votes count more than others, and some count not at all. Since voting is disheartening; it’s hard to get out and vote, knowing the chance of actually being represented is slim to none. In fact, it’s not very democratic at all.

Worse, when we elect a majority government it’s effectively a dictatorship for the length of the term. And like any Winner-Take-All electoral system, ours is adversarial by nature, which guarantees that competition will trump consensus every time.

So candidates win or lose.

And parties win or lose.

But worst of all, citizens win or lose.

That may be a fine way to run a dictatorship, but a democracy? Not at all.

“The idea that someone whom you didn’t vote for, who does not agree with you on the issue you are concerned about can be an effective representative for you is ludicrous. “Representation” is not about removing uncertainty about which phone number to call to report potholes; it is about being connected to someone who shares your politics who can advocate for things you believe in in a legislative context.”

Stuart Parker

getting there

In the Globe and Mail


In the Globe and Mail:
Representative democracy is supposed to provide all citizens with representation in government.
But the reality is that most Canadians are not represented most of the time. The only part of our antiquated inequitable Winner-Take-All electoral system that might be called democratic is our right to vote. But how democratic is it when the majority of Canadians cast votes that don’t count?
In more than 30 years of voting, I’ve yet to elect an MP. Canada needs proportional representation so that all our votes count.

Political parties are the chief beneficiaries of the unfairness in the electoral system that put them in power. It’s no wonder they are unlikely to make a change. As more Canadians have come to understand the unfairness inherent in our electoral system, the support for Proportional Representation has grown. Even though growing numbers of Canadians want to see a change to a more democratic system of Proportional Representation, it hasn’t happened.

If we’re to have any chance of Proportional Representation, it’s important for Canadians to convince Political Parties (and Party Leaders) to support Proportional Representation while they still struggle at a disadvantage.

where will we find electoral reform

The New Democratic Party has long included electoral reform as an important policy plank. Yet there has been no move toward electoral reform since forming a majority government in Nova Scotia, or in Manitoba, where the NDP has formed four consecutive Provincial Governments.

Federally, in 2011 the New Democratic Party became Canada’s Official Opposition Party for the first time in history. While you might think this means adoption of Proportional Representation will naturally follow in the event of a federal win next time, I’m not so sure.

You can see from the party’s recent choice of Party Leader that now it’s all about winning. After reading about the autocratic way Mulcair muzzled NDP MPs, I’m wondering if he was not chosen as the candidate most like Jack Layton, but rather as the one most like Stephen Harper.

Because our adversarial electoral system is all about choosing a boss, the perception is that we need an autocrat, someone capable of running the show, someone comfortable bossing everyone else around. Like a king.

And of course, Winner-Take-All electoral systems favors the ruthless. The man who would be king. Dictator. Führer. Bully. We’ve been sold the idea that Candidates who can work cooperatively are not  “leadership material.”

What is the right kind of leader for a democracy?

Ontario’s Premier Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals were returned to power for the third consecutive term in 2011. But for the first time, their mandate was one seat shy of a majority. Heads turned a few months into the term when the Premier gave a plum position Conservative Elizabeth Witmer, enticing her to vacate the seat she’d held in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario since 1990. In the ensuing by-election, NDP candidate Catharine Fife won Witmer’s vacant seat by asking citizens to deny Mr. McGuinty a majority.

Catherine Fife (NDP) chats with Elizabeth Rowley (Communist) at Fair Vote Canada’s “Politics Underground” during 2012 Democracy Week

After two previous majority wins, Premier Dalton McGuinty resigned, apparently unequal to the task of governing democratically.

feudalism vs. democracy

Although ostensibly democratic, our political system has actually been slipping further into a kind of nouveau feudalism, as the checks and balances we may have had have been eroded and stripped away over time, and power centralized into fewer and fewer hands.

The difference between Winner-Take-All and an electoral system with an outcome of Proportional Representation is apparent in the resulting style of governance. Where Winner-Take-All produces bosses who tell citizens what to do, Proportional Representation encourages consensus, and a government that doesn’t just give the appearance of listening to constituents but actually governs for the public good. But this requires leaders capable of listening and working well with others, rather than simply issuing commands and bullying citizens.

The closest Canada has ever come to this ideal has been with minority governments, without which we would never have produced one of the policies Canadians value most, universal health care.

Today, of course, Canadians are struggling under the majority Conservative government produced by our Winner-Take-All electoral system. More than ever before, backbench MPs themselves have little if any say, and are often effectively prevented from actually representing constituents.

reinventing the Liberal party

Dion addressed a Liberal Party  Electoral Reform Debate

Although both Parties have undergone great upheavals, Canada has been alternately governed by two parties over the course of our history. Yet for the first time since the founding of Canada, the federal Liberal Party has fallen to third place, and so is trying to reinvent itself.

Political parties do that kind of thing when they lose power; some people think Parties exist for ideological reasons, but ideology is simply the “product.” The real reason political parties exist is to get and hold power. If the product doesn’t sell, the party can’t get or hold power, and so it must change.

The most dramatic change the Liberal Party did was to open up voting in their leadership race to anyone who is not a supporter of another political party.

Although I am still unconvinced that Cooperate for Canada is the right way for Canada to go, I decided to sign up as a Liberal Party supporter after meeting and talking to one of the original Cooperate Liberal Leadership candidates, B.C.’s David Merner. David impressed me as an intelligent and grounded individual concerned with actually solving Canada’s problems, but devoid of the self importance Canadians are used to from traditional FPTP Party Leaders. The purpose behind Cooperate is a one time strategic cooperation for the express purpose of implementing electoral reform to a multiple winner system that will have an outcome of Proportional Representation, so I was sorry to see David drop out.  Even so, I have continued to follow the leaderdhip race.  Because so long as Canada has political parties, the public interest will be best served if those parties have the best leaders.

electoral reform

Stéphane Dion close profile

Apparently former Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion suggested electoral reform would be a good start, and to that end, he floated an idea for a system the Liberal Party has since adopted as “Preferential Ballot” to reform our electoral system.

But as it turns out, what the Liberal Party calls “Preferential Ballot” is more accurately known as “Alternative Vote.” At first blush this might seem to be a reasonable interim step toward proportional representation, especially because AV is thought advantageous to centrist parties like the Liberals.

Whether you call the system “Preferential Ballot” or “Alternative Vote,” a closer look reveals it to be another Winner-Take-All system very much like the First Past the Post we’re presemtly saddled with.

Switching to “Liberal Style Preferential Ballot” wouldn’t really change anything much for Canadians, since AV isn’t much different from what we have. Some Liberals have latched onto this system because of the perception that it could return their party to the catbird seat. Yet electoral system scholars paint a very different picture, harking back to the near destruction of the Provincial Liberal Party following adoption of AV out west.

Incredibly, since the Liberal adoption of Preferential Voting, Stéphane Dion has proven himself to be of that rare breed who would rather get it right than pretend infallability. His own genuine concern for the public good led him to continue to investigate electoral reform, and his research brought him to the realization that Proportional Representation would be much better for Canada. He’s since been promoting his own plan for Proportional Representation he calls P3.

Joyce Murray Portrait

voting for a Liberal Leader

The Liberal Leadership Race voting began yesterday. Liberal Party Members and registered Liberal Party Supporters (like myself) can now cast our votes for the next Liberal Party Leader.

The candidates are down to a handful: Deborah Coyne, Martha Hall Findlay, Martin Cauchon, Karen McCrimmon, Justin Trudeau and Joyce Murray.

Joyce Murray is the only remaining Cooperate for Canada candidate.

Justin Trudeau’s famous name catapulted the young geography-drama-teacher-cum-MP into the lead the moment he threw his hat into the ring. He’s personable, good looking, well spoken and the son of a legendary Liberal leader.

Still, It’s hard to know what, if anything, he actually stands for, beyond riding his father’s coat tails. Of all the candidates he’s said the least, presumably so as not to put his foot in it.

The one subject Trudeau has taken a firm stand on is electoral reform. On his website he states in no uncertain terms that:

“I do not support proportional representation because I believe deeply that every Member of Parliament should represent actual Canadians and Canadian communities, not just political parties.”

Justin Trudeau

Trudeau is doggedly hanging onto the Liberal version of AV as the way back to Liberal Glory. He says he’s “listening” but when asked why he brushed off the Canadians asking for Proportional Representation, he said he knew better. Clearly, Justin has inhereited his father’s arrogance along with his mother’s looks. It seems Justin expects Liberals to blindly place their trust in him, policy unseen, not because he’s has a stellar record in the House of Commons… or anywhere else… because he hasn’t. His only real claim to fame is his parentage. But wouldn’t someone planning a career in politics study law, or at the very least, history… but drama?

"Joyce Murray"  and "Your "Vote Should Count" lapel buttons

If the Party chooses the young Trudeau as their leader, it could very well spell the end of the Liberal party as we know it. Although we Canadians try not to speak ill of the dead, and Pierre Trudeau was a Liberal icon, he was not revered by all Canadians.

Our electoral system was just as inequitable in his father’s time, so I’m guessing the advantage his name confers in Liberal circles will become a disavantage out in the wider world. It might be different if he had done something, or stood for something, but he hasn’t.

Further, Justin’s decision to slag Proportional Representation using nonsensical arguments doesn’t win him any points with me.

Joyce MurrayLiberal leadership candidates do their party no favours by trying to fool their membership into thinking Alternate Vote would provide meaningful reform, since it is simply another flavour of Winner-Take-All. Fortunately for the Liberals, those seeking to reclaim power at all costs are just one faction. There are principled Liberal Party members who are eager to restore their party to greatness, but through honesty and fair voting. Liberals For Fair Voting queried all the candidates about Proportional Representation, and even made up a nice little chart that shows clearly where the candidates stand.

my only choice

Since a majority of Canadians support Proportional Representation, the only reasonable Liberal Leadership contender is Joyce Murray. Whether or not she decides to cooperate, she is the only candidate solidly committed to Proportional Representation.

“I’m talking about winning the next election for a purpose. To reform Canada’s ailing electoral system to create a more representative and more collaborative Parliament; to harness all our talents for a sustainable society for the next seven generations.”

— Joyce Murray

As a Liberal Supporter, I will be casting my vote for Joyce Murray today.

With Ms. Murray at the helm pushing for Proportional Representation, I may very well end up casting my first vote for the LPC in 2015.

a horizontal border of red graphic maple leaves


All photographs by laurelrusswurm licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

15 Responses

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  1. The problem is that the NDP has learned that the Liberals cannot be trusted. Thomas Mulcair stated this at end of the NDP convention on Sunday.

    So any hope of cooperation was a chimera.

    Wayne

    Wayne Borean aka The Mad Hatter

    April 15, 2013 at 9:59 am

    • Both the NDP and the Liberal parties chose leaders who will govern autocratically. Until we have Proportional Representation, Canada simply can no longer afford to give any autocratic governing party a majority.

      I don’t trust Thomas Mulcair’s NDP, because it intends to be Canada’s new alternating governing party. I don’t trust Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party, because the last thing we need is a government that will continue Harper’s pro-business anti-public-good agenda with the only real difference being that Liberal cronies will reap the patronage benefits.

      Canada can no longer afford to support any party or representative that is incapable of working cooperatively, or governing through cooperation, collaboration and consensus rather than coersion.

      Laurel L. Russwurm

      April 29, 2013 at 1:49 pm

      • That isn’t correct. The NDP constitution requires the leader to follow the dictates of the party members as to policy. Go read it, it is a fascinating document.

        Wayne

        Wayne Borean aka The Mad Hatter

        April 29, 2013 at 4:49 pm

        • Politicians say lots of things, and even write lots of things down. They still need to be taken with a grain of salt. “The NDP constitution requires the leader to follow the dictates of the party members…” Perhaps you can explain the part where Thomas Mulcair publicly prevented NDP MPs to communicate with Elizabeth May?

          Seems to me, the NDP chose Mr. Mulcair because the Party believed he was the most likely to become the Winner-Who-Takes-All under our winner-take-all electoral system. For every party, including the NDP, Party Policy is what the membership decides is for the good of the party. We need to remember that “the good of the party,” any Party, is not the same as “the public good.”

          Laurel L. Russwurm

          April 29, 2013 at 6:41 pm

          • This is a link to the Constitution of the New Democratic Party of Canada. It effectively binds the hands of the leader on anything the membership has voted for.

            On other things, he has the right to make a call. It is rather like hiring a someone to work for you, with a specific set of instructions, but leaving them the ability to make decisions about matters which you haven’t given them direct orders to cover. If the party orders him to implement a certain set of policies, HE HAS NO CHOICE BUT TO DO SO OR RESIGN. That’s the way the NDP works.

            Which is unlike the Liberals and the Conservatives, who elect a “Leader” and then expect him to set broad policy goals in consultation with his cabinet/shadow cabinet. The NDP is the only Democratic Party in Canada at present.

            Wayne

            Wayne Borean aka The Mad Hatter

            April 29, 2013 at 8:01 pm

            • I wasn’t aware of that, and it’s an interesting distinction.

              Still, it doesn’t change the fact that “the good of the party,” any Party, is not the same as “the public good.”

              Laurel L. Russwurm

              April 29, 2013 at 9:38 pm

              • Agreed, however since the members of the Party are members of the Public far more so than with any other party, and since they are far more democratic in their methods of picking policies, I’m willing to extend them a bit of leeway. For now at least.

                This is why the NDP of today is so different from the NDP of the Broadbent years. A lot of new people joined, and they had different views. The new people moved the party from a position that I could not support, to one that I now could.

                If I had been aware of how their system worked, I might have joined myself at one point, to help them change. As it is, I think that I’m far more valuable as an outsider, taking pot shots at everyone. That’s why I’m not a member of any party.

                Wayne

                Wayne Borean aka The Mad Hatter

                April 29, 2013 at 10:03 pm

  2. Until Canadian politicians are required to swear legally binding contracts to represent the interests of their constituents, I will not vote again. There is little point in electing people who have only loyalty the their party and whoever pays them the most.

    Paul Repstock

    April 29, 2013 at 8:40 am

    • While I most certainly agree with your assessment that our “representatives” are unaccountable, and out system is seriously broken, I don’t believe we have the luxury of walking away any more. Too many of us have done so for too long. Instead of throwing up our hands in disguust — which has effectively given the keys to Canada to the special interests that are driving our nation into the ground — we need to reengage and make meaningful changes so Canada can truly become a democratic nation.

      Every uncast vote contributes to the bad government we currently struggle with.

      If every voter who does not currently vote were to cast their ballot for the same party in the next election, it could yield a very strong majority. Like you, I don’t trust any party, so before doing this, we need a clear public commitment to meaningful change for the public good. They are not going to change their ways to serve us by choice; it will only happen if we make it happen. Changing the electoral system would be a huge start. Instead of walking away, consider working for change. Investigate participation in Fair Vote Canada or any political party of your choice. (I’d suggest steering clear of any of the three parties that are expecting to win it all in 2015…)

      Laurel L. Russwurm

      April 29, 2013 at 1:36 pm

      • Understand me clearly: I do not suffer voter apathy. If anything it would be described as “Voter Rage”.
        I have supported what I hoped might be grassroots movements for positive change, only to be disgusted to find that it was just the same old game.
        I have a vague dream, that if we could gather enough interest to attack the old line machine on a basis of one riding at a time, we might then slowly break their sucking hold on ‘our’ country. Like you, I think that the “Party System” is incompatable with democracy and fair representation. I think that each candidate should only represent his or her riding.
        Ideally, each citizen should be in a position to vote their own preferences on every issue, however, few would be motivated to bother. So all we can do is work to make certain that our representatives are answerable to the majority will of their constituents.

        Paul Repstock

        April 29, 2013 at 11:59 pm

        • Agreed.

          The problem is hpw do we: “work to make certain that our representatives are answerable to the majority will of their constituents”

          The only arrow in our quiver is public opinion and our votes, even though so many of them don’t count, or count enough. Even though our represemtatives thumb their noses at us after they’ve been elected.

          [I think most “voter apathy” is in actuality what you describe. They call it apathy because they can then blame people for giving up on a rigged game. Its win-win for them when we get so enraged we walk away. Then it becomes easier for them to get more control.]

          Laurel L. Russwurm

          April 30, 2013 at 9:09 am

          • >>”[I think most “voter apathy” is in actuality what you describe”<<
            That would be a nice thing to believe.
            I don't see that. But, if it is true, then the obvious solution is to raise awareness in each riding.
            At the individual riding level it would be possible for the voters to "Own their candidate". As I suggested before, a candidate could be bound by a legal agreement with the constituents who vote for him or her.
            The hard part would be finding a person who would run for office and also agree to a very restrictive contract.

            Paul Repstock

            April 30, 2013 at 9:46 am

            • A large part of why I believe that is my own disillusionment with what we have been sold as “democracy.” It is probable that most people don’t think it through, but where is the point in repeating a pointless exercise? Going out and voting is horribly demoralizing when you have little or no hope of actually electing a representative.

              And yes, raising awareness is the hard part. Particularly as the “news media” supports the status quo. That’s why the Internet is so important; it makes grass roots information sharing possible. But it still takes time.

              Our current electoral system is so unaccountable (at least to voters, Parties have no trouble making MPs hew the line) I’m not sure why you think any candidate would agree to any such restrictive contract. Reforming the system to one that provides proportional represention would at least begin to build in some accountability.

              Laurel L. Russwurm

              April 30, 2013 at 11:31 am

              • LOL.>”I’m not sure why you think any candidate would agree to any such restrictive contract”<
                There is the rub my friend.
                However, I'm not talking about the conventional 'Political candidate', the person who is looking for a free ticket to the public trough. The candidate I envision is highly capable and ambitious. Political persuasions are irrelevant and perhaps a negative. This "Candidate" would be Employed by the voters of the electoral area, and paid in addition to the salary granted by political office.
                This is not so different from what happens at present, except that the group making contributions to the candidate would be more broad based and representative of the voters.

                Paul Repstock

                April 30, 2013 at 11:57 am

  3. Food for thought: All politicians in Canada allowed this program to be canceled??
    http://www.dominionpaper.ca/articles/4100

    Paul Repstock

    April 30, 2013 at 1:32 pm


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