Sunday, 11 December 2016

When It Comes to Democracy, Who Are Canadians to Talk?

When some of my Canadian Facebook friends seemed outraged that Donald Trump won the American presidency without winning the popular vote, I felt compelled to point out that the Trudeau Liberals only won 39.5% of the popular vote (Oct. 19, 2015) which translated into 54% of the parliamentary seats—which in Canada means 100% of the power.  

Of course, being elected to the single most powerful position on the planet isn’t quite enough to satisfy Trump’s mega-ego, so his team has been pursuing claims that he did in fact win the popular vote, pursuant to Trump’s typical strategy of simply Tweeting that he, in fact, won the popular vote and that the voting was rigged.  Yes, he claims that the election which he won was rigged.  We live in dark comedic times.    


As a Canadian it’s difficult not to notice that Leonard Cohen died the day before Trump was elected.  In the past we could depend upon Cohen, with a single line or maybe two, to give the chaos some hint of meaning, raising us above it all.  On second thought, Leonard did leave us with the proper lines for this occasion:  “There is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.”


Unfair as it is to individual Americans—dare I say, to the majority of individual Americans—the gaping cracks now showing in the USA will force Americans to see themselves as they have seen themselves but dimly in the past.  Donald Trump is a perfect representation of that stereotypical view of Americans as loud, brash, rude, egotistical, self-aggrandizing, arrogant, bullying, and under-educate but rich—and proud of it all.  Americans may now be forced to see themselves in the unflattering light in which much of the world has seen them.

If you have been critical of American incongruity and hypocrisy in the past, get ready.  In the next four years you will be able to compare hypocrisy without outright villainy . . . or maybe not.  What’s been happening lately is like that Woody Allen joke:  you know the one.  Two old ladies are eating in a restaurant, one turns to the other and says, “The food in this restaurant is just terrible.”  To which the second responded, “Yes, and they give such small portions, too!”

On the political scene, lefties and liberals like me used to complain “Gawd!  Aren’t the things that Trump is promising terrible!”  And now, “Isn’t it awful that Trump isn’t going to do the things he promised!”  Oddly enough, the latter is what Tump supporters had been saying since the beginning.

We Canadians should not be smug.  Our diffidence better becomes us.  We are in the midst of our own dark comedy.  Hopefully, it is too early to say “I told you so,” but I did predict in an October post (Are Canadian Elections Democratic?) that the Liberal promise of electoral reform was unlikely to survive the combination of voter apathy and party interests.  According to various press reports, the opposition parties have been pushing to fulfill the Liberals’ election promises, while the Liberal party itself is struggling to delay implementation of its own promises.



In a reversal of modern trends, election reform has been getting more play in the press than online or in social media.  In August of this year, Andrew Coyne published an excellent article countering dire predictions that “proportional representation” in Canada would lead to disaster:  "No, proportional representation would not make Canada a dystopian hellhole."

As Coyne documents, all over the world where democratic countries have used proportional representation (that is, the party’s proportion of the popular vote determines how many seats the party gets in parliament), the end results have worked quite well.  However, as Coyne points out, the two examples which critics of proportional representation invariably cite, Italy and Israel, are not only anomalies, but the status-quo proponents exaggerate the difficulties these countries face, and fail to acknowledge the very specific conditions in these two countries which do not apply to Canada.

At the risk of invoking a conspiracy theory I have to point out that it was/is difficult to find this Coyne article onlne.  Not only was it necessary to use the exact wording of the headline but of the eight hits that came up seven of them were dead links leading a “404” message:  “file or directory not found.”  As I was about to share the one working link with you, dear Reader, I went to my bookmark to discover that the article has disappeared from there as well.  Consequently, if you want to read the article, you will have to visit your local library and check out the “National News” in your local paper for August 19, 2016. Paradoxically, what are accessible online are a few Coyne articles where he seems to be counter-punching against the election-reform process, if not electoral reform itself.

In an effort to create a bit of online buzz the government has launched MyDemocracy.ca which supposedly surveys Canadian attitudes toward electoral reform.  The government survey is a lot like those self-evaluation quizzes popular in days of yore in magazines like Cosmopolitan, Ms and People, designed to answer questions like:  “Are you a good lover?”  “Are you a romantic or a realist?” and “How confident are you?”  (Fine, okay, you caught me.  I’ve done them all, and I’m a confident, romantic mediocre lover.)

I found it hard to imagine how the government survey will in any way advance the cause of electoral reform.  Nor did the questionnaire quite live up to its promise of “being fun”; nonetheless, I would encourage you to try it out yourself.  What I found disconcerting about the survey was that I was being asked to decide if I wanted a parliament with many parties or one that got things done.  I don’t believe electoral reform forces me to choose one or the other; we can have both.  I think a fairer and more reasonable question—not to mention one directly to the point— would be: “Do you think it is fair that the Green Party got 3.5% of the votes in the last federal elections but less than 1% of the seats  (.29% to be exact, meaning one seat)?”



The one issue that the survey raised for me, about which I remain torn, fell under the general theme of “making it easier to vote.”  In past American elections it was always the Democrats who accused Republicans of making it hard to vote.  However, in the last election we heard Trumplicans accusing the Democrats of voter suppression.  Part of me wants everyone to vote, or at least that there be strong voter turnout, but another part of me wants people to vote who are informed and aware of the issues.  Also, I am doubtlessly out of step with the times in being leery of online voting, but a part of me (okay, I’m running out of parts) thinks that maybe it’s a good idea that voting takes a bit of effort.  Certainly, voting about voting (i.e., a referendum on electoral reform) is an issue we should all be willing to give time and effort to—if we care at all about democracy.

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