Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Imperative of Electoral Reform

It's not just a nice idea. It's more than some feel good proposition. It, electoral reform, may be our society's last best chance of restoring representative democracy.

Justin Trudeau teased us with the promise that 2015 would be the last time Canadians would vote under the first past the post electoral system that has seen a succession of governments that 60 per cent of Canadians didn't support rule us with a majority. Two out of five or something even less than that constitutes a majority.  That's how we would up with Harper. That's how we wound up with Trudeau. Whoever can maintain the most convincing lies until the polls close wins.

I like the way George Monbiot sums up our predicament.

You lost, suck it up: this is how our politics works. If the party you voted for lost the election, you have no meaningful democratic voice for the next five years. You can go through life, in this “representative democracy”, unrepresented in government, while not permitted to represent yourself.

Even if your party is elected, it washes its hands of you when you leave the polling booth. Governments assert a mandate for any policy they can push through parliament. While elections tend to hinge on one or two issues, parties will use their win to claim support for all the positions in their manifestos, and for anything else they decide to do during their term in office.

If you raise objections to their policies, you’re often told, “if you don’t like it, stand for election”. This response is revealing: it suggests that only 650 people out of 66 million have a valid role in national politics, beyond voting once every five years. Political control under this system is so coarse and diffuse that democracy loses all but its crudest meaning.

It is astonishing that we put up with this. The idea that any government could meet the needs of a complex, modern nation by ruling without constant feedback, and actual rather than notional consent, is preposterous.

Electoral reform is perhaps our only remaining way to get ourselves out from under the neoliberal order that forms our political orthodoxy. For that reason alone it is imperative we ditch FPTP and the parties that defend it.

Monbiot argues for periodic referenda along the lines of the Swiss model.

There, the people vote in about ten or a dozen referendums a year, clustered into three or four polling days, challenging federal laws or proposing constitutional amendments. The referendums are triggered when someone can gather enough signatures. These plebiscites foster a strong sense of political ownership: people perceive that government belongs to them. This might explain why, in its survey of 40 nations, the OECD discovered that the Swiss had the highest levels of trust in government. Far from causing voter fatigue, the process stimulates a rich culture of engagement, debate and persuasion. Across the year, around 80% of the electorate vote in referendums.

When I mention the Swiss system, people tend to react with horror. What if, as they often do in Switzerland, people make conservative choices? Well, they are entitled to their conservatism. A true democracy reveals the character of a nation: in Switzerland it is generally conservative. And if you don’t like it, you have the opportunity, through the debates surrounding these plebiscites, to change people’s minds. (There is, however, an argument for preserving some constitutional norms, to prevent majorities from oppressing minorities).

Canada, with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, already affords minority protections. I certainly wouldn't mind turning out to the polls three or four times a year to have a say on how I'm governed.

1 comment:

Northern PoV said...

With you on PR. Not a big fan of direct democracy. Representive democracy under PR with media controlled by people (not corporations) is a better bet.