Show of Contempt for the Polity

At the end of the 44th General Election campaign, a reporter asked Justin Trudeau whether, if elected, he would re-look at the question of electoral reform. Trudeau said he remains open to getting rid of the first-past-the-post method of counting votes, even though it's not a priority since there's no consensus on the issue, and no one had even raised it with him in the campaign until then.

He made clear though that he considered a "ranked ballot," which the Liberal Party has long favoured, as the only alternative, claiming it makes elections less divisive. He continues to oppose proportional representation (PR), he said, because it gives more weight to smaller parties "that are perhaps fringe parties."

This is the same argument he gave in 2017 when he tried to justify refusing to implement recommendations of the All-Party Special Committee on Electoral Reform for making the way votes are counted more representative in the allotment of seats in the House of Commons. At the time he claimed "extremist voices" who do not join one of the three "big tent" parties posed the greatest threat to Canada's democracy.

"If we were to make a change or risk a change that would augment individual voices -- that would augment extremist voices and activist voices that don't get to sit within a party that figures out what's best for the whole future of the country, like the three existing parties do -- I think we would be entering a period of instability and uncertainty." He added that would "be putting at risk the very thing that makes us luckier than anyone on the planet."

He did not explain who is the "us" he was referring to, but it was clear it could only mean the privileged minority that come to power through the party system and operate like a cartel to ensure the people and their concerns are kept out.

He raised the alarm about "extremist" voices ending up holding the balance of power under PR if they manage to get 10, 15, 20 seats. He said "the strength of our democracy is we have to pull people together into big parties that have all the diversity of Canada, and who learn to get along ... And that's why we have a system that works so well."

Some former members of his own cabinet and party, who are no longer there, in view of events that took place in previous parliaments, have plenty of experience about how "the big tent" failed to listen to their views. They were defamed, isolated and even thrown out because diverse views are only tolerated so long as they do not conflict with those of the Prime Minister and his entourage. In fact, membership in the entourage is not at all inclusive but exclusive to the extreme.

In the last week of the 2021 campaign CBC Windsor ran a story on what they called "fringe and splinter" party candidates. Ostensibly about candidates of the Christian Heritage, Marxist-Leninist and Green parties in area ridings, it pushed a variation of the same line. The story was heavy on commentary from a local political science professor who is CBC's local go-to "expert" when it comes to elections. She also happens to be a senior fellow at the Fraser Institute and has authored papers arguing against the adoption of PR when that was under consideration in BC. In her writings the professor warns that "smaller or even fringe parties in PR systems are able to wield a disproportionate amount of power at the expense of the preferences of the majority of voters who did not cast a vote for such parties." For good measure she adds that moving to PR would likely increase both government spending and deficits.

In the CBC story this commentator raised what was made out to be an observation of a voter trend. In reality, it seemed more like advice she was offering. She said while people may gravitate ideologically to a fringe party, when it comes time to vote they may stick with one of the mainstreams "so as not to split the vote."

That "news" story, variations of which are heard at every election, is one of the methods aimed at convincing the electorate not to vote for small party or independent candidates. They are endlessly repeated so as to be accepted without question as conventional wisdom. In fact its aim is to ensure that what are called major parties -- already favoured with every manner of privilege through state funding, patently unfair electoral laws and free promotion in the media -- can continue functioning unimpeded as a cartel that blocks the people from coming to power, or even being elected so their voices are heard and their concerns raised in Parliament.

No threat to the unrepresentative party system called a representative government is to be permitted. Discussion of the direction of Canada's foreign policy, its integration into the U.S. war machine and support for U.S. wars, its membership in NATO and NORAD, the billions spent on war preparations and paying the rich in a myriad of ways, how any of this benefits the Canadian people and, more importantly, who decides, are all considered taboos which must not be broken.

The fight for renewal of the political process to empower Canadians directly, instead of bringing parties to power, is an important one that must continue to go forward. Political forums which bring people together to exchange experiences and discuss how to make an advance are very necessary.

This article was published in

Volume 51 Number 10 - October 10, 2021

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