Tuesday, October 26, 2010

How to Bring Back the Canadian Voter

A recent election in Canada saw Voter Turnout somewhere in the neighbourhood of 40%. This was rightly decried by Ed Holder on twitter as being detrimental to the democratic process. Unfortunately, as I’ve said before on this site over and over again, the Canadian electoral system is broken – voting has become a complicated calculus over whether your vote will tip the scales towards a majority government (which, as we have seen with Jean Charest and the Bill 103-cum-115 fiasco, leads to an unchecked legislature capable of ignoring the voters entirely), whether it will maintain a functional minority (or lead to a severely dysfunctional one which will need prorogation to set right) or whether it’ll even count (let’s face it, a vote for anyone but the Bloc in Bloc country will almost never mean the Bloc candidate will lose). The Canadian Electoral system is barely democratic.

Why is that?

There are two major reasons I’ve harped on in the past. The first is the plurality, first-past-the-post system. This is the most fundamental and easy-to-grasp, and probably the most generally displeasing of the problems with the electoral system. The knowledge that most of the people representing Canadians in the House of Common are doing so with fewer than half the votes from their riding is a tough pill to swallow while simultaneously believing the system is democratic.

The second is the problem of Party Discipline: when our representatives are called on to vote, they do so as liberals, or as conservatives, or NDP members, or Bloc members. They do not do so as representatives of their ridings. This leads to an even greater dissociation of the political process from the voters who enable it.

There are other, more minor issues that tend to disincentivize voters to schlep their way to a ballot-box. These are things like proportional representation (which, admittedly, is related to the plurality issue), the Triple-E Senate (because nominees are ever-so-democratic) and the question of the role of the Governor-General in providing a check against the power of the Prime Minister.

So how do we solve this problem? How do we get people to get passed these problems and get back to voting?

The answer is actually simpler than one might think: change the system. Don’t try to make it seem appealing, instead fix the problems. Now I say this is a simpler answer only in that it does not make a convoluted attempt to coax voters into pretending the system isn’t broken. It is simpler, but it is not easier. It will require work and a clear set of solutions – and so here’s my attempt at laying out a few of them.

Plurality: The problem here is manifold, and so there are several changes which will have to happen to rectify it. My suggestions are the establishment of a Triple-E Senate, a Proportionally Representative Commons and the institution of a system of Run-Off, True-Majority elections.

  • The Triple-E Senate: Elected, Equal and Effective, a reformed Senate with, say, five senators per province, would allow for equal representation across the country and a check on what would be a reformed House of Commons. It would also allow the Senate to become a body which provides a greater check on the House of Commons and, whether Party Discipline is overcome or not, might allow to mitigate its effects, somewhat. That alone would make the political process appear more democratic and representative.
  • Proportionally Representative Commons: This is the idea of a House of Commons which’s ridings represent all Canadians equally, according to their population rather than according to the hodgepodge of criteria that give PEI  & Saskatchewan a relatively greater share of legislative power than the Central Provinces (although this is a relative, rather than absolute measure). This would, of course, diminish the importance of less populous areas in the House of Commons, but this change would be completely mitigated by the equal standing of the Upper House, which would be Triple-E. Proportional Representation should not be enacted without first instituting Senate Reform.
  • Run-Off, True-Majority elections: This measure would prevent any representative from being elected to his post with less than 50% of the vote. The reason for this is fairly straightforward – any elected official would be a genuine representative of the majority opinion of his riding. Party Discipline might still manage to mitigate this move, but it would be a start and would at the very least give a greater appearance of legitimacy to elected representatives.

As for that problem, Party Discipline must be relaxed, significantly. The only way for Canadian Voters to once again trust in their elected officials to represent them is for those representatives to begin, once again, to listen to their constituents. They need to vote the way their constituents want them to.

If these issues are addressed, the results will become apparent very quickly. Those results will, over the course of several elections, eventually lure Canadians back to the ballot-box. Our government would cease to be a cruel elitist joke and Canadians might once-anew become interested in our political process.

My last proposal is one to address my own pet-peeve. The ability of the Prime Minister to negate the power of the House of Commons by proroguing parliament or dissolving it on a whim with a simple phone call to the Governor-General is far powerful for it to be considered even mildly democratic. I have thought long and hard about how to address this problem feasibly, and I believe I have figured it out.

Every 5 years, the Reformed Senate would nominate three or four people for the position of Governor-General and a Council of Premiers would be called. The 10 Provincial Premiers would then vote and the two nominees garnering the most votes would be kept in considerations. The premiers would then take the Question back to their home legislatures, where a vote would be taken. The nominee who garnered the support of 7 legislatures representing at least 50% of the Canadian population would become the new Governor-General and would act in consultation with the Provinces. (N.B. This could also be accomplished through a national consultation after the vetting process of Senate-nomination & a vote of the Council of Premiers, with a direct election from 50% of the population)

The Governor-General would of course have discretion in the exercise of his or her functions, but the position would become one of provincial oversight. If the Prime Minister were to ask, once again, to prorogue Parliament, the Governor-General would have to consider whether or not prorogation would be in the interest of the provinces, or if it would garner the approval of the provinces. This new discretion would apply to all the functions of the Governor-General, including the ability to veto Acts of Parliament which go against the will of the Provinces. The net effect of this would be to allow the Federal and Provincial Governments to act in a more concerted and effective way.

Or I might just be some internet crank who has no idea what I’m doing.