Essential Knowledge Needed to Grow a Democracy part 13
Many grassroots activist have likely been frustrated by me. With all I have written I have not yet mentioned Proportional Representation (PR). To explain, our present system of elections is a First Past the Post (FPTP) system, in other words, whatever candidate gets the most votes in each individual riding, wins. PR, on the other hand takes an overview of the percentages of party popularity in the country as a whole. In PR if the national votes for a party is 16% , under the PR system the party would get 16% of the seats.
The frustration of PR supporters is that one party can win a majority of Parliamentary seats with less than 50% of the popular vote. Most ridings are won by candidates with about 35 percent of the votes in that riding – meaning that up to 65 percent of the votes did not rely get a say.
In the 2008 election the Greens got almost 7% of the national vote but because the votes weren’t concentrated in a few ridings they didn’t win any seats. This means that the unique voice of the Greens didn’t go to Parliament. With that and the chose of 7% of Canadian also got no say. In the 1997 election the battered PC won 20 seats compared to the Reform Party’s 60 seats, with relatively the same number of votes. The difference was that the PC’s votes were not concentrated as the Reform votes were.
I attended a PR meeting in London several years ago and listened to the arguments for PR. The main argument that I saw them having, or rather their complaint with the present system was that they want the voice of their chosen party heard in Parliament. I got up and spoke to the issue of politicians not being the voice of the people and expressed my concern over so much time and energy being spent on getting a PR system when the main problem remains, namely the parties being the problem of the people not having a say. I expressed my concern that parties do not normally act democratic anyway. I sited an example where all the major parties in Parliament forced their members to vote in line with the a party’s decision in consensus. All parties usually force their members to vote for was in variance to what those members’ constituents want. This runs against the most fundamental principle of representative democracy, the relationship of representative taking the expressed consensus of the voters to government. So if you do the math the lack of real voice cancels out any real need for change. My next argument was to those who expressed the desire for their voice to be heard to go beyond PR and instead put their efforts into getting a system of where the public could have their voices heard via referendum. I despaired at the time, there they were, political activists that could not see what I see as the obvious.
This is why I have never jumped on the PR bandwagon. But living is learning. In retrospect I since have learned that we would have done well to have PR in the 1988 election. Mulroney was attempting to bring in the first Free Trade Agreement in and with 43% of the popular vote his party unalterably changed Canada’s future, socially, economically, and legally. 57% of Canadians did not want or vote for Free Trade, yet we were stuck with it because of FPTP. This is my reason for my rage against power and the party system. I cannot adequately state the harm all free trade has brought to Canada’s sovereignty. Although it cannot be substantiated, in 1991 I was on Parliament hill with more than 125,000 other Canadians protesting the NAFTA deal and the rumour went about that the NAFTA was a business constitution which supercedes Canada’s Constitution for her people. The thought that 125,000 people went to have their voices heard and had absolutely no say seemed to substantiate the rumour, but add the information added in my “Essential Information to Grow a Democracy – part 13 -Yes We Have Elections – But Do We Have a Democracy? Add that information and I am more convinced of the rumour than ever. It is also at that march that solidified my beliefs in us not having a say, and the idea of one central issue.
The question remains, knowing this, would I support Proportional Representation today? Yes, I would support PR. But I would not waste my time campaigning for it. Some are likely taking a double take at this comment, after all I have just written. The reason for this is my understanding that in degrees of value and importance, knowledge of a more Direct Democracy is far more important than that of PR, and there are so few people spreading this essential information. Not even grassroots activists seem to grasp the idea, because their pet issues are so vital to them. But the math is simple; there is only one issue that ties all of the publics’ issues together, that is that we as Canadians fundamentally don’t have democracy, we don’t have a say. To me, I listen to the argument of the environmentalists that say, the environment is most important because if our environment goes down the toilet we are all done. I take the issue of freedom being fundamental and most important, but one issue stands heads and shoulders above that. If I am not free I will not worry if my lungs hurt from pollution. I agree with America’s great patriot Patrick Henry who said “Give me liberty, or give me death”.