Whoa!Canada

laurel l. russwurm's political musings

Posts Tagged ‘Canada

Stability

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Why Don’t We Have PR Already?Why No Referendum?Canadians Deserve Better -Proportional Representation - on Canadian Flag backgroundThis is the seventh in the Whoa!Canada: Proportional Representation Series

First Past The Post (FPTP)

Although democracy seems like the best form of political system for citizens, there are different ways to go about it, and as with most things, some are more effective than others. England bestowed our single member plurality winner-take-all electoral system on our young nation in our very first Canadian federal election in 1867, and we’ve been using this First Past The Post (FPTP) voting system ever since.  Canada has seen a lot of innovation since then — from automobiles through air travel to space exploration.  Our lives have changed and improved in a wide variety of ways: indoor plumbing, universal health care, the internet — most things have improved and modernized… but not our electoral system.

Like many Canadians I have come to understand the serious democratic deficit inherent in our 18th century voting system, but I’ve had an opportunity to learn about the alternatives over the past few years. As I’ve mentioned before, I hear many of the same arguments against Proportional Representation used over and over again. One of the most pervasive arguments is the one that insists if we switch to a Proportional system it will necessarily be unstable and have to suffer many more elections than we do now.

So let’s compare the Canadian record of elections with countries that use some form of Proportional Representation.

List PR (Proportional Representation)

Spain adopted List PR in 1977. Between then and now, Spain has had 12 elections, in 1977, 1979, 1982, 1986, 1989, 1993, 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008, 2011, 2015. During the same time period, Canada also had 12 elections: in 1979, 1980, 1984, 1988, 1993, 1997, 2000, 2004, 2006,2008, 2011, 2015.

Canada v Spain - electoral stability

That doesn’t sound any more unstable than FPTP.  How can that be?  Maybe we need a larger sample… so let’s look at countries that have been using Proportional Representation longer.

Italy started using List PR in 1945, and since that time they have had 18 general elections, in 1946, 1948, 1953, 1958, 1963, 1968, 1972, 1976, 1979, 1983, 1987, 1992, 1994, 1996, 2001, 2006, 2008, and 2013

Israel also adopted Proportional Representation in 1945, and since then they’ve had 20 elections in 1949, 1951, 1955, 1959, 1961, 1965, 1969, 1973, 1977, 1981, 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996, 1999, 2003, 2006, 2009, 2013, and 2015

That’s a lot of elections! We wouldn’t want to be running to the polls that often here in Canada, right?

Except… in that same period of time, with our “stable” First Past The Post system, Canada has had even more elections — a whopping 23 since 1945, in 1945, 1949, 1953, 1957, 1958, 1962, 1963, 1965, 1968, 1972, 1974, 1979, 1980, 1984, 1988, 1993, 1997, 2000, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2011, and 2015

The reason I decided to look at Israel, Italy and Spain are because these countries are the ones most often trotted out to “prove” just how bad Proportional Representation is.

But I was still interested in finding a Proportional Representation system that had actually had more elections than Canada.  So next I looked Denmark, a country many Canadians admire because of its’ excellent social safety net. Denmark has used List PR since 1953 (but I’m not sure what they used before that). Since 1945, they have had 25 elections in 1945, 1947, 1950, 1953, 1957, 1960, 1964, 1966, 1968, 1971, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1979, 1981, 1984, 1987, 1988, 1990, 1994, 1998, 2001, 2005, 2011, 2015

Canada-Israel-Italy-Denmark - stability graph

Something else to keep in mind is that all three of these countries use List PR, which I’m pretty sure is the oldest form of Proportional Representation– and certainly the most commonly used. The thing that is important to understand is that List PR is one form of Proportional system that nobody is recommending for Canada.

So maybe we ought to  take a peek at the proportional systems that are recommended for Canada, in countries that have a little more in common with us.

Mixed Member Proportional (MMP)

After List PR, Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) is the most common form of Proportional Representation used at the national level around the world, so it’s not surprising to learn that MMP is the system most often recommended for Canada.

New Zealand replaced their First Past The Post electoral system with Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) in 1996, and since then they have had just 7 elections, in 1996, 1999, 2002, 2005, 2008, 2011, 2014 — the same as Canada.

Canada v New Zealand - electoral stability

Using the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) electoral system since 1945, Germany has had only 18 elections, in 1949, 1951, 1953, 1957, 1965, 1969, 1972, 1976, 1980, 1983, 1987, 1990 (reunited), 1994, 1998, 2002, 2005, 2009, and 2013.

Single Transferable Vote (STV)

The other form of Proportional Representation that has been considered for Canada is the Single Transferable Vote (STV). This system is not as widely used as the others, but it found a lot of favour here in the BC referendum, where more than 58% of BC voters voted to adopt it. As often happens, the government holding the provincial referendum didn’t actually want to change the electoral system that had given it a disproportional amount of power. Their referendum was designed to fail by requiring a super majority of 60% before BC-STV would be adopted. Last night Dennis Pilon remarked on the irony of BC referendum requiring a higher threshold of support to change its provincial electoral system than had been required by the Quebec secession referendum.

Another country considered more politically fractious than Canada is the Republic of Ireland, where they have been using Single Transferable Vote (STV) since 1945. And yet they have had only 20 elections (to Canada’s 22) in 1948, 1951, 1954, 1957, 1961, 1965, 1969, 1973, 1977, 1981, 1982, 1982, 1987, 1989, 1992, 1997, 2002, 2007, 2011 and 2016

Canada-Germany-Ireland stability graph

Admittedly, I have not made a comprehensive study, but it seems clear Canada’s First Past The Post system is less stable than many Proportional Representation systems.

National Stability with Alternative Vote (AV)

While Canada’s Liberal government has promised to replace our existing electoral system, it has not ruled out adoption of the winner-take-all  Alternative Vote (AV), a voting system also known as “Preferential Voting” (PV), “Instant Runoff Voting” (IRV) and lately “ranked ballot.”

Since 1945 Australia has had 27 elections, in 1945, 1946, 1949, 1951, 1954, 1955, 1958, 1961, 1963, 1966, 1969, 1972, 1974, 1975, 1977, 1980, 1983, 1984, 1987, 1990, 1993, 1996, 1998, 2001, 2004, 2007, 2010, and 2013.

FPTP-AV-stability graph

Overall Election Stability

As we can see, Canada’s winner-take-all First Past The Post system has resulted in more elections than many of the least appealing Proportional Representation systems.

The evidence from Australia — the only country in the world to have used Alternative Vote for any length of time — shows the Alternative Vote system is much more unstable than Canada’s FPTP and indeed every  Proportional Representation voting system I’ve looked at here.

This evidence demonstrates the “instability” argument against Proportional Representation is simply not true, and suggests

stability graph-FPTP-LPR-MMP-STV-AV

any electoral system that provides Proportional Representation is likely to result in *fewer* elections than we are used to with First Past The Post.

 

And if stability is an issue, adopting Australia’s Alternative Vote is far more likely to dramatically increase the number of elections we have.

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Why No Referendum?

Why Don’t We Have PR Already?

 

Tom Mulcair on the BDS Motion

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"Let's be clear, the Conservatives are proposing to limit what topics Canadians are allowed to debate. That's not the role of government. This goes against our fundamental freedoms and the NDP will be voting against it." — Tom Mulcair “Let’s be clear, the Conservatives are proposing to limit what topics Canadians are allowed to debate. That’s not the role of government. This goes against our fundamental freedoms and the NDP will be voting against it.”
— Tom Mulcair

Sounds like CBC is waking up ~ read the article Liberals denounce and agree with Tory motion condemning Israel boycotters

Written by Laurel L. Russwurm

February 23, 2016 at 10:36 pm

Happy National Flag of Canada Day!

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Canada Flag Banner

Today is Canada’s annual National Flag of Canada Day, first established in 1996.

 

The flag is the symbol of the nation’s unity, for it, beyond any doubt, represents all the citizens of Canada without distinction of race, language, belief or opinion,”

Maurice Bourget, Speaker of the Senate

Our very own Canadian Flag was first adopted in 1966, making it 51 years old this year (2016).
Watch it being raised for the very first time:

a horizontal border of red graphic maple leaves

Written by Laurel L. Russwurm

February 15, 2016 at 9:10 pm

Perspective on the Syrian refugees

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Refugee Perspective Map by Kyle D. Hastings[Guest Post by Kyle D. Hastings, Okanagan College business student]

I made this map to give people perspective on the Syrian refugees.

The purple country is Turkey.
They took in over 2,000,000 Syrian refugees and spent as estimated 4.5 billion USD.

The green country is Jordan.
They took in an estimated 1,400,000 Syrian refugees.

Last but not least, that tiny red dot, that’s Lebanon. Lebanon is the smallest country in continental Asia.
Lebanon took in over 1,100,000 Syrian refugees.

People want to ban Syrian refugees from Canada, saying, 10,500,000 dollars is too much and 25,000 people is too much.

We have a population of 35,160,000 people, in 2014-2015 we had a surplus of 1,900,000,000 dollars.
Our government has yearly expenditures in the 270,000,000,000 range.

Keep telling yourself we can’t help.

People are letting fear of ISIS try to stop us from helping people.

In this world you can never be 100% safe, but the moment we stop looking after each other is the moment we give up on humanity.

Let’s continue to be a diverse country that accepts and helps people.



The foregoing is a reprint of Kyle’s Facebook post, which has received wide circulation as well as being featured on Huffington Post Canada, and the following is Kyle’s response to questions and concerns that have been raised in response to his thoughtful article..

To anyone wondering, I am aware that large parts of Canada are uninhabited, I posted a population density map in my original facebook post.

“Our government spent over 270 billion dollars in 2014-2015.
The entire government plan to help these refugees is pegged at 1.2 billion dollars over six years.
1,200,000,000/6 years= 200,000,000 a year.

“200,000,000/270,000,000,000=.00074.
That’s 0.074% of the governments yearly federal expenditures.

“That’s much less than a tenth of one percent of their yearly expenditures to help victims of war.  I understand that 1.2 billion is a lot but we must keep perspective on the size of our government. I strongly believe we can help less fortunate Canadians and Syrian refugees at the same time, it shouldn’t be one or the other.

“Aside from just economics and space I think it’s the only humane and Canadian thing to do.

“Turning these people away would go against our values.

“Before anyone freaks out about government debt please keep in mind how government debt works and that it is mainly internal debt.
In case anyone is wondering, government debt is money borrowed from the government through issuing securities, generally to the banks of the people.  The banks work on a fractional reserve system which allows them to essentially hold a fraction of their deposits while utilizing the rest to make loans and gain interest. So the government uses these securities to stimulate the economy at lower interest rates and that’s how our economy works as far as I know. Government debt isn’t a totally bad thing and I can’t see the costs of this plan causing any major economical problems. We also have to remember these people are going to assimilate and they might have a lot to contribute to our country.   If I said anything wrong about economics let me know, it wasn’t my major but that’s my understanding of it!

“Also I know that bringing them here is more expensive than sending more money but they’re having a problem of being severely overcrowded, so we should help out!

“The government of Canada has also issued a Syrian Emergency Relief Fund in which they match donations made by Canadians before Dec 31, to a maximum of 100 Million.
I suggest donating to UNCHR, you can get some great tax credits, 15% of your first 200 dollars to eligible charities, 29% of amount over 200 dollars.
If you or your spouse haven’t claimed donations after 2007 you can get the first time donor credit that is an additional flat 25% of your whole donation.
If I messed up on any of those tax credits let me know.

“There are a lot of people saying let’s look after our own before we help anyone else, but who decides when Canadians are looked after properly though? I don’t think with an attitude like its us or them that it would ever happen. The government spends money on many less wise policies than helping the victims of war.”

— Kyle D. Hastings




I agree with Kyle: there is no reason Canada can’t look after our own AND help these victims of war.  

Personally, I think that the Canadian budget for helping Syrian Refugees ought to correspond to the Canadian budget for waging war in the Middle East.  That would only be fair.  — Laurel Russwurm

Written by Laurel L. Russwurm

November 28, 2015 at 3:45 pm

Mr. Harper Won’t Be Forming Government

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HarperThere is less chance Mr. Harper will form even a minority government than there was Tim Hudak would in Ontario.  The Harper Government’s heavy handed governance in combination with the proliferation of scandals has seen to that.  Even with the media soft pedalling the worst of it, even remaining Conservative supporters have an inkling.

The Harper Government has angered Canadians, including many of their own supporters across the board (from Rex Murphy to veterans). I could make a long list, but the internet is awash in such things.

There is no doubt in my mind we will have a new government tomorrow.

Yay.

 

The only real question is: who will form government?

 

Liberals?

The polls tell us the three biggest parties are neck in neck in neck, but as the election approaches, they all favor Mr. Trudeau.  Is this surprising?  Not when you consider the upholders of the status quo … the corporatocracy, multinationals, the elite, the rich, the 1% … whoever they are —  will only support the two parties that can be trusted to uphold the status quo.  In other words, the Conservative and Liberal parties.

 

When every Canadian on the street knows we are going to heave steve and stop harper, the two media giants that control the mainstream media have come out in favor of the Conservative Government.  Even they say we should Heave Steve… but keep his government.  Seriously.

 

The “political class” on the other hand, much prefer Liberal status quo defenders. They want to return to the Liberal glory days, and hope to re-establish the supremacy of the Liberal brand through the installation of Canada’s answer to George W. Bush, our own second generation political royalty, Justin Trudeau.  Never mind that Justin Trudeau had no track record at all before being anointed.  Before he became Party leader, his only claim to fame was his name.  Whenever the media needed a mild mannered soundbite, they would go to the non-threatening MP who happened to be the son of Pierre Trudeau.  And while it is true Mr. Trudeau has knuckled down and shown his commitment to getting the job throughout the campaign, he has made some serious errors, the most egregious being his steadfast support for  Bill C-51, a law that makes a mockery of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.   When you consider the Charter is probably the single most important thing the Liberal Party has ever done for Canada — the thing every Liberal could point to with pride — it is unsurprising so many life long Liberals chopped up their cards and abandoned ship.

 

Thomas Mulcair, federal NDP LeaderNDP?

The NDP will scrap the so-called Anti-Terror law (formerly known as Bill C-51) and restore the Charter.  The NDP has also firmly committed to Proportional Representation.    These two things are essential if Canada is to have any hope of being a free country.  Don’t vote for anyone who will not commit to both of these.

 

Not taxing big business and the rich has certainly contributed to the fact Canada is the only OECD country still in a recession.  (Mainstream media propaganda has tried to foster the idea this is the second recession on Harper’s watch, but the reality is that we never really got out of the first one.)

 

What has become apparent to those of us online is that most of the Liberal policies effectively continue the Conservative policies of the last decade.  The Modus Operandi if both the LPC and CPC is to “give big business everything.”   As Canada ha signed Trade Agreement after Trade Agreement, the lot of Canadians has increasingly plummeted.  Canada has yet to come out ahead on any of them.  And these secret agreements keep getting worse, with provisions that allow foreign corporations to overrule local governments on issues like protecting the environment.   Maybe a multinational doesn’t care about clean water, but we humans can’t live without it.   The China deal is set to run more than 30 years, and now the TPP doesn’t end, ever.

 

Both Liberals and Conservatives are on board with these agreements, but the NDP promises to scrap TPP.  Yay.

 

And while the NDP is offering some good social programs, they are tippy toeing.  $15 minimum wage sounds great, but if I’m not mistaken, that wouldn’t be applied across the board; but only for FEDERAL employees, and it will be phased in over time.  When $15 an hour isn’t a wage large enough to lift Canadians out of poverty today, that is just too little too late.

 

Then, too, that $15 a day day care sounds good, but it too is going to be phased in, and will only help a limited number of Canadians.

 

The Fear Factor

The problem is that Mr. Harper, (like Mr. Hudak), makes a good boogeyman.  It is easy to scare people into voting for *your* candidate when you can fan the flames of fear.  That’s how strategic voting works.  Has anyone selling strategic voting ever offered to support your candidate instead of their own?

 

Although strategic voting is always sold as the way you have to vote to make sure the boogeyman doesn’t win, if such strategies work, why is there always a worse boogeyman the next time?

Harper Government

There are plenty of good reasons to fear another Harper government, but there just isn’t going to be one.  And everyone knows it, including Mr. Harper.  When I was young, Brian Mulroney’s government was so reviled that after he passed the reins to Kim Campbell, the party was destroyed — reduced from a crushing majority to only TWO seats — by an election.  But compared to Mr. Harper, Brian Mulroney was loved.

 

This is not a campaign on the rocks. This is a campaign in flames.

 

Greens?

Kim Campbell was an unfortunate first female Prime Minister, but we could make up for that by installing Ms. May.  Everyone likes Elizabeth May, even people who would never vote for her want to hear what she has to say.  They say 80% of Canadians wanted to see her in the debates.  But it was worth it to the “big boys” to keep her out anyway, because when Elizabeth may talks, people listen.  Not just because she’s smart, or the best parliamentarian.   People listen because what she says makes sense.  It is, after all, easier to pretend the Green Party only cares about the environment if people don’t ever get to hear from the Green Party.

 

But Elizabeth May is Lizhands down the best of the major party leaders, so you would thing that the Canadians who vote for the leader (which I am told is most of us) would be voting Green.

 

But people don’t vote Green.  Not because they don’t think she would make an excellent Prime Minister, but because they don’t think she could get elected.  And yet, the Green Party runs candidates across the country, so the possibility exists that she could become Prime Minister.  All it will take is for enough eligible voters to vote for enough Green Party Candidates.

 

This year my husband has been running as a Green party Candidate here in Kitchener-Conestoga.  Throughout the campaign I have had the opportunity to meet a great many Green party candidates, and I have been very impressed; the overall calibre of the Green Party Candidates I’ve met has been staggering.  It may be because so many Canadians are engaging in politics like never before, simply because it is starting to come home to us how fragile our democracy is.  Any of the Green Candidates I’ve met would be a credit to their constituents, and I believe many of them are exceptional.

 

Green Party policy is based on a solid bedrock of fiscal conservatism, even as it appears to be pie in the sky stuff.  After all, none of the other major parties even mention poverty as a rule, let along roll out a plan to eliminate it.  The problem isn’t so much that Canadians like poverty, but that people don’t believe eradicating it is possible.  Even though there was a successful Liberal pilot project decades ago that demonstrated it can be done in a way that would make society stronger in many many ways.  But none of the other major parties are selling it, so we think it can’t be possible.  But the truth is, Canada is a rich country that could easily afford to eliminate poverty by implementing a Guaranteed Livable Income.

 

If it was such a good idea, you might wonder why we didn’t adopt Mincome in the 1970’s.  That’s easy: for the same reason so many good things don’t get done in Canada: our unstable uncooperative electoral system.  When your electoral system consists of alternating dictatorships, thinking tends to be very short term. In a winner-take-all electoral system the new king of the castle never implements the old king’s policies, so when the Liberals were voted out mincome was shelved.   And no subsequent Liberal Government even considered revisiting it.

 

What nobody tells us is that the cost of implementing the Guaranteed Livable Income would be a tiny fraction of what we spend waging war.  Maybe the cost of a single helicopter.  But we all have our priorities, right?

 

All it takes is the political will.  

 

So long as we believe we can’t vote for what we want, we will never get what we want.

 

The Real Way to Change

People have the idea that the only way to make sure we don’t elect Mr. Harper is by giving one party a majority government.  That is simply not true.  Although the NDP and Liberal Parties are happy we think this because people who might otherwise vote for what they want will be voting for the big party they think could win.  The truth is that majority government is always the worst possible result for Canadians.

 

But we don’t need to replace a majority government with another majority government.  All we have to do to move Mr. Harper out of 24 Sussex Frive is to unseat enough of the MPs in his party.  There is even much less chance the Marxist-Leninist Party will form even a minority government than the Greens will.  But if the Kitchener Centre ML Candidate defeats Stephen Woodworth, that’s one less Conservative seat in Parliament.  Vote for the person or party that offers what you think is most important.

 

VOTE.

If you haven’t yet, please vote today. (And bring a friend.)  Only you can decide who will best represent you in parliament.  That’s who you should vote for.

 

Here’s hoping we all vote Green.

 

Green Party candidates

 

a horizontal border of red graphic maple leaves

Written by Laurel L. Russwurm

October 18, 2015 at 4:09 pm

Does this Canadian Election Matter?

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IMG_5034

Tractor parade at the Wellesley Apple Butter and Cheese Festival, 2015. Coincidence? I think not.

Last week Canadian farmers drove their  tractors to Ottawa in a protest against the TPP. There are wide-spread fears this agreement will allow Multinationals to be able to dictate laws, suppress citizen rights and dispense with environmental protections if any of these things interfere with the pursuit of profit.

Much of the ground work has been laid for the unprecedented abdication of Canadian sovereignty through many of the laws pushed through by the Harper Government in previous years.

In spite of the fact Canada is undergoing a federal election, the Harper Government has made the unprecedented decision to continue with business as usual   Under the Canadian political system, government is prorogued — stopped — when an election is called.  Any draft legislation which has not completed the process is thrown out. Instead of pursuing new business, the Government has always gone into “caretaker” mode.  After all, there will be a new government after the election; new decisions will be up to the them.   If anyone in the new government is still interested after the election, they have to start over then.

But not now.

This is why it is bizarre — and disturbing — that the Harper Government has continued  with its secret trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, (TPP).  Although we know this exists, whatever it is that is being negotiated is secret.   Still, there have been enough hints of what we might expect that many Canadians are very much concerned, and many are very much opposed.

Instead of behaving the way Canadians rightfully expect, Mr. Harper has chosen to act as though the election doesn’t matter.  As though he is Prime Minister for life.  And in spite of mounting protest against the secret Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, they announce

Canada has successfully concluded negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership

Even now, the content of the agreement is secret, and the New York Times reports that

“Its full 30-chapter text will not be available for perhaps a month, but labor unions, environmentalists and liberal activists are poised to argue that the agreement favors big business over workers and environmental protection.”

Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Deal Is Reached, New York Times

So Canadians will have no facts — beyond the fact the Harper Government has signed it — until long after this election.

Over the years we’ve seen our democratic processes chipped away, but most Canadians have insisted that  because we hold elections (no matter how unfair), Canada is still a democracy.

But it seems Mr. Harper doesn’t think there is any reason to stop what he’s doing just because we are having an election.  [A election he himself called.]   Apparently elections are meaningless to Mr. Harper.  Perhaps he thinks it is in the bag.  After all, he has the money to outspend all the competition in TV ads.   Is that all it takes?

Is this what we have come to?

40% of Canadians didn’t vote last time.

Everyone has theories to explain why more people didn’t than voted conservative.  If we had a “non-of-the-above” option, it would have prevailed.  But we don’t.

I myself think there are many reason why so many eligible Canadian voters don’t vote.  Where I live, I know old order Mennonites don’t vote.  And I know there is a lot of conflict among First Nations about whether or not to vote.  And a lot of young people reject the idea of voting in a system that is so corrupt.  Personally I am inclined to think the biggest demographic are voters who gave up after they realized their vote would never count.  But like everyone else’s theories, that is just a guess.

Frankly, I don’t care why we don’t vote.  We all have our own reasons, and that’s fine.  What I do hope is that many of these Canadians can see their way to voting this time in spite of everything.  As someone whose vote has never counted, I know my vote isn’t likely to count again this time.  But that would change if my vote is joined by some of theirs.

If even half of the 40% who don’t customarily vote would vote, we will see change.

Does this Canadian election matter?

You betcha!  This one is the most important election of my life. Its outcome will have a profound impact on our world, and on our future.

I have spent my life being non-partisan.  Every election I have chosen who to vote for on the issues as I see them.  With a better system my vote might have counted once or twice.   But this year, I am partisan because my husband decided he had to run for the Green Party, and since he is one of the smartest and most honorable men I have ever known in my life, I am supporting him to the best of my ability.  And along the way I seem to agree with most of the Green platform, so that works out.  And while we very much hope you vote Green, what is most important is that you vote.  Vote for the candidate that will best represent your interests.

Vote. Vote for the candidate who will best represent your interests. I hope that's a Green, but vote regardless.

It may be pretty thin, but Canada is still a democracy.  We can still vote.  And if enough of us vote, it will make a difference.  But it’s time to use it, or lose it.

VOTE.

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Why Don’t Canadians Vote?

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Canada is a diverse nation; and there are many reasons for not voting.  This insightful article looks at one demographic.

Nothing lost when indigenous people vote

[guest post by James Wilson.
Originally published in the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 3, 2015
]

In 1960, when former prime minister John Diefenbaker successfully restored the right to vote for First Nations people, he earned the nickname “the man who made us people again” by elders in my northern reserve. That’s why it shocks me, over a half-century later, to still occasionally hear some of our leaders encouraging our people not to vote.

A few have argued for First Nations people to vote is for us to buy into the colonial, racist system that has done us so much harm over the years and removed us from our claims of sovereignty. Simultaneously, they argue the Canadian Constitution protects our rights as First Nations people.

I don’t buy into this confused response because, to me, you can’t denounce the obligations of citizenship without first denouncing the benefits.

My 14-year-old daughter responded to the “Why should First Nations people vote?” question in a straightforward manner. To her, it is about who makes decisions that affect her. “If you want to have no control over the decisions that affect your life, then don’t vote.” To her, conceding control is the furthest thing from sovereignty.

In the Oct. 19 election, there are 45 indigenous candidates running for the federal parties who, like all other candidates, make choices in terms of whom they are going to communicate with. They ask themselves, “Should I door-knock in community A with a population of 1,000 and a voter turnout of 80 per cent or visit community B with 1,000 people and a 40 per cent voter turnout?”

If door-knocking and voter identification are the bread and butter of politics, then the choice to visit community A is easy, as they’ll encounter an engaged voter at almost every door. And, from the perspective of a voter, the community will have a significant advantage, as their concerns will be heard over and over again by candidates.

When my 11-year-old son was asked the same question, his answer was strikingly different than his sister’s. He said we all need to vote because, “It’s part of being treaty.” He’s not far off from the views of his grandfather who, when asked one day why he was wearing a military jacket, said: “I do it to acknowledge and honour those aboriginal people who put their lives on the line to help the British monarchy, as a symbol of the sacred treaty relationship between the Crown and First Nations.”

Sure, there are probably other less important reasons why so many young people have and continue to respond to the call, across so many conflicts, but I believe the base is to honour the treaties. Even when the monarch, according to the late Jacob Bignell, told indigenous soldiers the First World War was not their war and they could be excused from participating, aboriginal soldiers kept their oath.

We need to continue that commitment.

Through the generations, we’ve had many First Nations veterans who have served and fought and died for Canada and for our collective rights, including the right to vote. In my father’s view and mine, we fully plan to honour this sacrifice, as an important part of defending the treaties the Crown and First Nations came together to make.

Political scientist Kiera Ladner, who holds the Canada Research Chair in indigenous politics and governance, says voting can be an expression of your nationhood, not contrition. If we as First Nations are “nations within,” then voting in a federal, provincial or band election would not dissolve your citizenship but enhance it. If someone gave you the opportunity to vote in the upcoming U.S. election, would you vote? Most of us would say, “Yes, what happens in the U.S. has a great influence on me. I won’t stop being Canadian, so why not?”

Also worth noting is if a person has ever voted in a First Nations band election, they have already voted in a Canadian system. In fact, it would be rare to find an individual who felt less Cree or less Ojibwa by voting for their chief and council.

The bottom line in the ground game of politics is this: First Nations people have tremendous power as the fastest-growing segment of Canada’s population. It’s time for mainstream parties to woo our people as voters, candidates and as part of their long-range plan. Equally, now’s the time for First Nations voters to fully exercise the right restored to them some 75 years ago… or risk becoming irrelevant on the political landscape.

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James Wilson is commissioner of the Treaty Relations Commission of Manitoba, a neutral body mandated to encourage discussion, facilitate public understanding and enhance mutual respect between all peoples in Manitoba.

Follow @JamesBWilson_ on Twitter

Written by Laurel L. Russwurm

October 4, 2015 at 9:16 pm

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