Power vs People

How many votes does it take to get a seat in Parliament?
How many votes does it take to get a seat in Parliament?

It’s hard enough for small parties to get elected under our miserably unfair winner-take-all electoral system.

Although the Trudeau Government won a majority of seats in Parliament on the promise of making every vote count as of 2019, it seems Mr. Trudeau has decided he would rather keep the system so disproportional that Liberal candidates only need 38,000 votes to get elected on average, but the Green Party needed 600,000+ votes to elect a single MP.

But that’s not the only institutional barrier to getting candidates elected in small parties.  The Main Stream Media (or MSM) — that’s the big TV networks and the major newspapers — support the status quo too.  Face it, it is a lot easier for them to give the lion’s share of the media coverage to only two candidates.  In a country where the single biggest advertiser is our government, the MSM knows which side butters their bread.  Nor does it stop there, as the Toronto Star tells us that’s just the tip of the iceberg: there are subsidies and tax breaks galore. (As a recipient of many of those government tax dollars, the Star is, unsurprisingly a big supporter.  Oh, and let’s not forget bail outs.  After doubling his own salary in 2013Postmedia’s Godfrey wants lifeline of tax breaks, bigger government ad spending,and then the poor man was forced to accept nearly a million dollars as a “retention bonus.”   Although the alternative media explains Government bailout of corporate media is not the solution to our crisis there is not a lot of listening going on.  Is it any wonder our MSM supports the status quo?

2017 By-elections

Although there are rules, small parties and independent candidates continue to get short shrift during elections.

The problem we often lose sight of is that when small parties and independent candidates get short shrift, it means voters do too. The reason small parties come to exist because citizens feel unrepresented by the big parties.  But every year it gets harder and harder to elect anyone else.

Voters need need to know who all the candidates who want to represent them in Ottawa are.  They need to know what’s actually on the menu so they don’t have to settle for second best.  But even voters who support the big parties have problems getting the representation they want from the inside.  When a party foists it choice of a candidate on an Electoral District Association it’s called “parachuting in” a candidate.  This top down process deprives the party members at the local level from choosing for themselves who will run in the election under their party.

In spite of Prime Minister Trudeau’s initial “real change” commitment to keeping his hands off the candidate nomination process in his own party, his fingerprints have been all over them pretty much from the start.  And it’s still happening.  You know it’s bad when the local Liberal candidates ends up publicly complaining about it in the MSM, as happened when PM Trudeau decided to impose one of his assistants on Markham—Thornhill.

Even when voters back the candidate they support in the Party they want, they can still find themselves disappointed or even feeling betrayed when the government they wanted turns its back on its commitments.

Big Guns

During a regular federal election, Prime Ministers and Party Leaders have their own campaigns to run, but they carve out some time here and there to drop in on candidates across the country to lend their name brand support to the electoral contest.  During a By-election period, they don’t have their own campaigns to run; which is how both the Prime Minister and Opposition Party Leader wound up in Calgary, stumping for their respective candidates in ridings recently vacated by ex-Prime Minister Stephen Harper and ex-cabinet minister Jason Kenney (newly elected Alberta’s provincial Conservative Party leader).

Guess which party’s candidates are getting the most press?

Fair Representation

Democracy is supposed to give citizens a say in our own governance.

But when we don’t have equal and effective votes, we don’t get fair representation.

When the deck is stacked in favour of the big political parties so only their candidates can get elected, we can’t get fair representation.

When a political system doesn’t work for a majority of the voters, people stop voting so they get no representation.

Or when people are afraid to vote for who they want and vote for someone they don’t want to stop someone they hate from getting elected, there is no longer any hope for fair representation.

Without fair representation, democracy stops being democracy.

Mr. Trudeau has disavowed his promise for electoral reform, but that is not his decision to make.  It’s ours.  So we need to keep pressuring them.  If the Liberals fail to win any of the 5 By-elections, it would certainly be a very clear message to Mr. Trudeau.  And I’ve no doubt it would increase our chance of getting the promised Proportional Representation.

Smart Voting Tips:

  1. If we really want real change, we need to start voting for politicians who will actually deliver it.
  2. We need to vote… even the disenchanted need to vote.  Do you know, more people didn’t vote than voted for the Trudeau Government?  If all the eligible voters who don’t vote would vote, we would see real real change.
  3. The first thing to remember that opinion polls are just the opinions of a tiny sample of people, kind of like the surveys they cite on Family Feud.  Don’t vote for anyone but the candidate you want.
  4. Even votes that don’t count have power.
  5. The more voters who give up in frustration, the easier it is for the defenders of the status quo to keep things from changing.
  6. Unless we start voting for what we want, we will never get it.

Power To The People

Right now there is a shade more than a week left before the 2017 By-elections will be decided on April 3rd.  There aren’t enough by-elections to change the balance of power in Ottawa, so the usual arguments for strategic voting have no power.  Which means vote for what you want.

If there is a By-election in your riding, find out who your choices are.  You can even volunteer for the candidate you like best, and maybe even help her win.

I imagine there are a fair number of Liberal supporters living in Markham—Thornhill who are annoyed to have local candidates cast aside to make way for one of the PM’s friends.  Such shenanigans undermine the local representation Canadians want.  This would be an excellent time for angry Liberals to swing their votes.  

If I were a Markham—Thornhill voter, I’d be volunteering for Caryn Bergmann because she supports the things I do… including Electoral Reform and Climate Action, and I think she will fight for them in Ottawa.  But I’m not, so all I can do is cheer her on from the peanut gallery.

If you are a Markham—Thornhill voter, I urge you to attend Thursday’s All Candidates Debate to get a good look at the choices.  Find out where they stand, decide who will best represent you.

Then vote.

It’s time to take back our democracy.



Canadian Dog Whistle Politics or #ProportionalRepresentation?



For those who don’t know, at the end of Second World War the victorious Allies governments imposed Mixed Member Proportional Representation on West Germany.

They did this specifically to prevent the rise of another Hitler.   Although these powerful government leaders clearly understood this, they chose not to follow the same path for their own nations. Presumably they believed such limitation on their own power wasn’t necessary.   Just as Canada’s current Prime Minister doesn’t feel his power needs limitation.

Here’s the thing: it doesn’t matter if there is a good Prime Minister or a bad one.  It doesn’t matter if there’s a bad government in place or not.

What matters in a representative democracy is that voters secure representation in Parliament.  All Canadians need representation, period.  Just as Canadians need the Charter, in times of good or bad.   Like the Charter, representation provides citizens with security.

Had Harry Truman implemented such a change on the USA, the likelihood of a Trump presidency would be nil.

Had Prime Minister William Lyon MacKenzie King implemented some form of Proportional Representation in Canada, Canadians would not see be seeing a rise in dog whistle politics. My brother wrote about this phenomenon before either of us knew the term.

Winston Churchill knew Proportional Representation was a defence against fascism.

Here’s the thing: fear and dog whistle politics are a powerful tools used over and over again in winner-take-all systems because they work.  One of the things so dreadfully wrong with winner-take-all politics is that the governments we elect are so unaccountable to voters, it isn’t a question of whether they will keep all their promises, it is a question of which promises they will keep.  And, incredibly, we accept that.  We have been conditioned to understand they won’t keep all their promises.  No doubt this is a major reason the young and the idealistic don’t engage in politics: they see it for a sham, and choose to invest their energies elsewhere.

Dog Whistling Islamaphobia

MP Iqra Khalid’s Private Member’s Motion is not the first to reference House of Commons e-petition (e-411).

The Canadian MSM is now reminding us that all the MPs in Parliament — including those Conservative Leadership Candidates seeking to ride a wave of prejudice to 100% power in Parliament — voted in support of Mr. Mulcair’s October Petition.  This was long before 6 Quebec Muslims were murdered at prayer.

Mr. Speaker, following discussions with all parties in the House, I hope you will find consent for the following motion. I move:

That the House join the 69,742 Canadian supporters of House of Commons e-petition (e-411) in condemning all forms of Islamophobia.

The Honourable Thomas Mulcair, Hansard, House of Commons, October 26th, 2016

NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair's Islamaphobia motion received unanimous assent in the House of Commons on Oct. 26, 2016
NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair’s Islamaphobia motion received unanimous assent in the House of Commons on Oct. 26, 2016

So what has happened?  Do these Conservative Leadership Candidates feel a majority of their constituents approve of gunning down Muslims at prayer?

I don’t believe that for a minute.

But our winner-take-all political system allows for the distribution of a disproportional amount of power.

In a winner-take-all system like ours, Ms. Leitch doesn’t need a majority of Conservative Party Members to support Islamaphobia in order to win her party’s leadership crown.  Nor does she even need to attract a majority of voters to become the Prime Minister of Canada.

So long as we continue to use this First Past the Post Electoral System, the right dog whistle can win a 39% (or less) majority.

It doesn’t matter if we have a few women or minority MPs in the House of Commons.

We are staring in the face of the polarization inherent in FPTP.  This whole hullaballoo starkly contrasts what happens when a powerful old white male MP puts forward a Motion condemning Islamaphobia with what happens when a young ethnic woman MP does.

And it is a not pretty picture.

But it happens. And it will keep on happening so long as we retain an electoral system that rewards dog whistle politicians with more than their fair share of power.

Canada needs real Real Change.

It does not have to be this way.  In spite of his totally specious arguments to the contrary, Prime Minister Trudeau’s disavowal of his electoral reform promise not only paves the way for institutional racism, it fuels Islamaphobia.  If Ms. Khalid (and other Liberal MPs) want to change this dreadful FPTP side effect, it is time they told their leader he must restore the Electoral Reform process and show leadership to get Proportional Representation legislation through Parliament by October.

Because if Canada wants to be a healthy multicultural democracy, we must have Proportional Representation.


Sign The Electoral Reform Petition

At this time of writing, Petition e-616 is up to 120,651 signatures. If everyone who has already signed it can convince 2 Canadians to sign it our chance of having Proportional Representation implemented by 2019 will be greatly improved.





A Motion is not a Law

Last year the Canadian Government passed a motion that condemned the BDS movement.  This motion didn’t make it illegal for the United Church of Canada, Quakers, organizations, university students and human rights activists and ordinary people like your Aunt Mabel who boycott  Israeli companies like SodaStream because they operate (or used to?) in illegal settlements on what is supposed to be Palestinian land.

When the Canadian Government passed that motion, it was just a document that said the Government deplores BDS and those who do it.

This year, Liberal back bencher Iqra Khalid’s Motion 103 has raised a ruckus.

Once again it becomes clear Canadians need to improve our civic literacy.  Our politicians have entirely too easy a time manipulating us.

A motion is not a law.   A government motion that condemns X simply says the government thinks X is bad.  It is not a law, but an attempt to lead by example.

Ms. Khalid’s Motion 103 will not make it illegal to criticise Islam.  It does not herald the coming of Sharia law to Canada.  Nor does it make racism illegal.  Canadians will still be able to be racists if they wish to be.  A motion is not a law: only a law can make something illegal.

As a writer, I am a firm believer in free speech.   If you are concerned about Canadian law interfering with our free speech, there is plenty to talk about with our hate speech laws and the law Canadians know as C-51.  But this motion does not do anything to inhibit free speech.  Even if it wanted to it couldn’t.  A motion is not a law.

Motion 103 just says the Government of Canada doesn’t approve of Islamophobia, systemic racism and religious discrimination, and tasks the government with studying it in hopes of finding a soluition.  But you don’t have to take my word for it.  If you’re still worried, you can read it (like every motion or legislation considered by the Canadian Government) online.  But to make it even easier, I’ve reproduced it for you here:

Iqra Khalid – Private Members’ Motion


Motion 103

Systemic racism and religious discrimination

Text of the Motion

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should:

(a) recognize the need to quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear;

(b) condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination and take note of House of Commons’ petition e-411 and the issues raised by it; and

(c) request that the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage undertake a study on how the government could

(i) develop a whole-of-government approach to reducing or eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination including Islamophobia, in Canada, while ensuring a community-centered focus with a holistic response through evidence-based policy-making,

(ii) collect data to contextualize hate crime reports and to conduct needs assessments for impacted communities, and that the Committee should present its findings and recommendations to the House no later than 240 calendar days from the adoption of this motion, provided that in its report, the Committee should make recommendations that the government may use to better reflect the enshrined rights and freedoms in the Constitution Acts, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

This motion does not single out Islam for special consideration, it “condemns Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination.”

After a young man murdered half a dozen Muslim men at prayer in their Quebec City mosque, is it not reasonable to condemn discrimination and hatred toward the Muslim community?  Especially when such flames of extremism have been fanned by politicians?

All citizens are supposed to be protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  Of course, in a democracy that relies on an electoral system that fails to represent its citizens proportionally, citizens can only hope we will get governments that will uphold our Charter protections.

Cross Cultures commemoration of International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (2016)
Cross Cultures commemoration of International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (Kitchener City Hall, 2016)