In Canada we have been presented with an opportunity to bring some real democracy to our political scene, and it appears to me that we are going to pass on that opportunity.
We have a three party system here with a Quebec only based party and a fringe party – the Greens – making up the MP mix.
We have 22 registered political parties in Canada so how is it that only 5 parties are sharing the MPs?
The answer is as old as the hills really and that is power and money.
We call our system of government parliamentary democracy, which in essence means that we have a parliament that represents the people, but does it? Oh there are facts, figures and percentages quoted often to support the concept that it does, but how often does your MP manage to get anything done on a national level with which you approve or even give consent. I will not deny that on an individual problem they may be able to get help for you from the government,. But that largely depends on the MP and the party to which they belong. I remember when I approached Dr. Wallace who was for years a progressive conservative MP for Oak Bay about a problem he flatly told me there was nothing he could do because he was not a member of the government. That is a perfect example of lack of willingness by an MP to act democratically on any level simply because he was not a member of the government. Point here is that all our members of Parliament claim democracy for Canada when in fact we have probably never had such a state.
What we have had since our inception is a two or three party system of governance which is entirely partisan and self serving for those parties. From this we have developed a very finely tuned system of preserving that status quo.
Before we take a serious look at the voting itself, lets look at the process leading up to that vote.
The ability to have a candidate in every riding depends on the money available to a party to develop the machinery at every constituency level, and today that is only partly through individual donations from people and corporation. After each election EC refunds to five parties a large portion of their expenses thus giving them a huge bank account to run the next election. Is there some logic behind this? Of course not from the people of Canada’s point of view because they are paying for it, but from the parties who have developed this system of huge expenses and refunds it makes perfect sense that in essence the taxpayers should pay for their election expenses.
To illustrate what I mean, in 2011 there were 17 parties which had candidates in the election. Of these only 5 parties received a refund from Elections Canada to the total tune of $33,262,653.00. This money came from EC and who pays for EC? Yes that’s right you do. The remaining 12 parties received nothing and had all exhausted their finances and had to rebuild for 2015.
Then in the actual campaigns themselves at almost every town hall across the country “all candidates meetings” actually means the Cons,. Libs, NDP and Greens (and of course the Bloq in Quebec). For a smaller party to get on the stage is an extreme rarity. Even in 2015 when the conservative party candidate did not bother or was told not to to appear at town halls in Esquimalt BC a communist candidate who attended the meetings was totally refused entry to the stage or to even make a presentation to the attendees. The “rules” of participation are set by the holder of the town hall (ie a church or Chamber of Commerce) and are not governed by EC. There is only one way to change this and that involves the people of each riding to walk out of a meeting that does no offer every candidate the same opportunity to speak as would happen in a democracy, or in fact would be suggested by the “all candidates” designation. Problem is that these small parties have some very people oriented and good ideas and therefore must be excluded in order to protect those who only speak the party line.
Advertising is very expensive and here again the Broadcast Arbiter has stacked the deck to favour those major parties and give them the lions share of the advertising that CBC must carry free during an election. Small parties get on average 5 minutes each split between radio and TV, whereas those parties which can well afford to pay for their own get 80 – 100 minutes of free time. This is of course upside down and only further hinders democracy here in Canada.
What this all means is that some 17 registered political parties in Canada are largely excluded from the election process by design.
If this exclusion continues what difference does it make how the vote is conducted?
However that process is being looked at by both a special committee which is working hard and has done so to their credit all summer. Following a decade of completely dysfunctional committees this one has an opportunity to show Canadians that MPs can actually work together for Canadians. After much nonsense about a referendum from the Conservative party members of the committee they too have finally realised that this subject is important, and have started to actually take part rather than distract from the mandate at hand. Problem is that the whole subject is being conducted on the basis of there only being 3 parties, along with the Bloq and Greens, to be considered. In other words any proposal will simply remix the mix we presently have which is no longer functional as far a democracy is concerned.
For example STV allows for up to 5 candidates to be chosen for a larger constituency, so here in Canada each constituency would have an Lib, Con, NDP, Green and one other member of parliament- if that figure of 5 stands and that is not likely as it would open the door for a small party outside Quebec.. Now that sounds like stalemate to me, and anyone who knows chess knows that is not a great outcome.
MMP allows for party list to be chosen from as a secondary feature but that list would perhaps only be presented by a party with a 5-10% of the vote at the last election…so we are back to a list from 3 parties only as even the Greens did not manage 5% of the vote in 2015.
See how this is like a mathematical loop?
All we will get from this as it is playing out so far is a shuffling of the three party deck.
Seventeen small registered parties thought that sunny days and voting reform would help them to finally have some small level of representation in our Canadian House of Commons, to represent their members views and definitely bring new ideas to a stale establishment stuck in the mold of indifference to the people and acquiescence to the corporate lobbyists.
I fear that once again this chance at a new democracy will be sidelined in favour of partisan party politics and in defence of what those parties have.
I am still wondering why the Minister in charge of all this did not appear in Victoria as advertised but instead went to Saturna Island with a total population topping off at 350. Lack of venue? Maybe but we have a magnificent legislature building here in Victoria which is only used for about 7-10 days in any BC Liberals calendar year and I am sure that could have been a very good venue.