Breaking The Cycle

Catherine Fife, NDP MPP
Catherine Fife, NDP MPP

One seat shy of a majority government after the 2011 Election, returning Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty enticed the undefeatable Conservative Elizabeth Witmer into resigning her provincial parliament seat and triggering a by-election.  Instead of gaining the extra seat needed to regain his majority, the Kitchener-Waterloo riding went handily to Catherine Fife.  During the campaign, Fife asked citizens to deny the Liberals another majority.  That was the first time in my life I heard any Canadian politician publicly take issue with the fallacy that majority rule  under our winner-take-all system is somehow a good thing.

After nearly a decade of a mind numbing Liberal Majority, Ontario voters were more than happy to hand the NDP’s Catherine Fife a resounding win in a riding that had been staunchly blue since Mike Harris devastated the province with his so-called “common sense revolution.”

Premier Kathleen Wynne, Liberal
Premier Kathleen Wynne, Liberal

Barely into the term, Dalton McGuinty stepped down from his position as leader of the Liberal Party and Premier of Ontario. Governing in a minority government is not at all like running the majority governments to which he was accustomed. He was succeeded by Kathleen Wynn, who became Ontario’s first female Premier.

In the year since, Premier Wynne took the job, the Liberal Party has lost a total of 5 seats. From my perspective, that’s a very good thing, because it widens the gap between minority and majority government quite nicely. Minority governments are the closest to democracy you ever get in a winner-take-all system. For years Canadian political propaganda has maintained the fallacy that majority government is a good thing, but voters are starting to appreciate we’ve been sold a bill of goods. The reality is that it’s not a good thing — for us.Sir Winston Churchill

“Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

Sir Winston Churchill, addressing the British House of Commons, November 11, 1947.

Rhetoric vs Reality

They tell us our First Past The Post electoral system is a representative democracy… but is it?

We get to cast a vote, but some of our votes are worth more than others, because some votes elect an MPP, but most of them don’t. Who represents the majority of Ontarians that don’t elect anyone? Most of us have no representation in the Provincial Legislature.

They tell us majority government is efficient, and it is because it’s effectively a dictatorship.  A majority of seats translates to 100% of the power, which means the majority government can pass any law it likes.  The only thing that can stop it is public opinion.

At the Federal level we’ve been lately reminded just how undemocratic a majority government can be.  The Harper Government bundles together large numbers of disparate laws in so-called “Omnibus Bills.”   These massive documents are fast tracked though Parliament at such dizzying speed many of the MPs who vote for them haven’t actually even read them all the way through.  This is not a democratic process, it just gives the appearance of being one.  As a writer, I can’t believe any law that goes through our legislative process intact and becomes Law without so much as a change in punctuation can possibly have received proper scrutiny.

But that is why it’s efficient — because it is undemocratic.

Democracy requires hard work and negotiation, cooperation and consensus.     People have to actually listen to each other.   And it’s not easy to balance everyone’s needs and represent the whole constituency;  getting there takes time and effort.   Democracy is not efficient.

They tell us majority governments make for stability, but that simply isn’t true. While the Majority Party can make any law it likes, when it gets voted out the New Majority Party can change everything back to the way it wants things.  Far from being stable, this creates a policy pendulum swinging back and forth.

Although Ontario is wonderfully multicultural, the Legislative Assembly of Ontario is not. Although two major Ontario political parties are led by women, there are far too few women sitting in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.   Like most Canadian winner take-all legislatures, the seats in the provincial legislature are predominantly filled by old white men.   Which leaves a great many citizens feeling excluded.

Unrepresentative government is unaccountable government.  When a government doesn’t represent all of its citizens, it’s the public good that suffers.

An inequitable electoral system makes for an unaccountable government. When all of our votes don’t count, and those that do don’t count equally, only a few citizens have the power to vote them out.   And that’s not fair.  Or democratic.

what happens next?

There will be a new provincial election in the next year or two.

Tim Hudak (cc by laurelrusswurm)
Tim Hudak, Ontario Progressive Conservative Party Leader

Tim Hudak, the leader of Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Party, has made it abundantly clear he won’t be happy unless he gets a majority.   Consensus doesn’t seem to be a word appearing in his vocabulary.  In the past, Ontario has been governed alternately by Conservative and Liberal Parties. Mr, Hudak doesn’t believe there is a need to work with other parties because he’s certain his turn is coming.

Is it?  Or is it time to break the pattern of unhealthy electoral mood swings?

Kathleen Wynne assumed the Liberal Leadership because, unlike Mr. McGuinty, she understands government by consensus is a good thing.  Andrea Horwath’s NDP is well aware of the inequity inherent in first past the post electoral systems. That’s certainly why NDP policy supports electoral reform to Proportional Representation. 

There is a way to make a meaningful change to how Ontario is governed.  A way to upgrade our inequitable 19th Century electoral system to a stable proportional system that would elect a government to represent all Ontarians.

Proportional Representation is both fair and democratic.  And there is no time like the present for Ms Wynne and Ms. Horwath to come together and give Ontario a solid proportional system fit for the 21st Century.  It can’t come too soon.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath
Andrea Horwath, Ontario NDP Leader

Image Credits

Cathering Fife, Kitchener-Waterloo NDP MPP photograph by laurelrusswurm released under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0) License

Kathleen Wynn photographed by Joseph Morris amd released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0) License

Public Domain photograph of Sir Winston Churchill found in Wikimedia Commons

Tim Hudak  Ontario Progressive Conservative Party Leader, photograph by laurelrusswurm released under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0) License

Andrea Horwath, Ontario New democratic Party Leader,  photographed by Ontario NDP and released under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) License