Commentary by Fred Maroun in Ottawa
Liberal leader Justin Trudeau promised to replace the first-past-the-post electoral system of Canada during the last federal election campaign a year ago. Now that he is prime minister with a parliamentary majority, there is an expectation from opponents of that electoral system that he will deliver on a promise that he should never have made.
Opponents of the first-past-the-post system advance romantic ideas of better representation of the range of opinions of Canadians to make their case, but romanticism does not make for good policy. Fact is there is already more than adequate representation in Parliament of the diversity of Canadian opinions, and at the same time, groups on the extremes cannot easily dictate to the majority. (Under the current system, the candidate with the most votes is declared elected in every riding.)
In the current debate on electoral reform, the positions taken by the four national parties do not represent any romantic ideas of democracy. They represent nothing but their own best interests.
The Green Party and the NDP, who always elect a smaller percentage of Members of Parliament (MPs) than their shares of the vote, want proportional representation (a system under which the number of MPs would mirror a party’s popular vote).
The Conservatives, who have benefited from the first-past-the-post system and who know that no other system would work better for them, reject any electoral reform.
The Liberals, who know that they would benefit from preferential balloting since it favours middle-of-the-road parties (it is a system under which a voter ranks all candidates by order of preference), are said to support this system, although they have been careful not to admit it publicly.
If partisan interest is ignored, it is abundantly clear that the current system is not only good enough, but that it is the best possible system.
Just ask any immigrant if they prefer the Canadian system or the system used in their country of origin. Our voting system is why many immigrants come here.
Reflecting popular will
When it is convenient to them, politicians tell us that Canada is the best place in the world. We certainly are one of the best places, and that is because we have a political system that is able to govern Canada efficiently through changing times, while remaining representative of the general will of Canadians.
Proportional representation exists in other countries, and it certainly delivers on the promise to elect politicians that represent diverse opinions. However, it does so at a high price.
Smaller parties with narrow interests often become essential in forming government coalitions and are able to dictate their narrow agendas. This phenomenon is very visible in Israel, a country that uses proportional representation, as Haaretz explains in “Ultra-Orthodox Parties Are Back in Power and Israelis Aren’t Thrilled About It”.
The first-past-the-post system does not prevent politicians with minority opinions from being elected, but to be elected, they usually have to work within a party that has broad appeal. For example, the Conservative party includes MPs who wish to ban abortion, even though that is not the policy of the party. Under this system, MPs who hold minority opinions must convince others to support them, which is a good democratic practice. They cannot ram through unpopular changes by being power brokers.
The first-past-the-post system also does not prevent the emergence and the viability of third parties, although it does require them to have broader support than they would need under proportional representation. Five parties are currently represented in the Parliament of Canada, a consistent pattern over the last few decades, including the NDP, the Greens, the Liberals, the Conservatives and the Bloc Québécois.
While it includes minority representation, the fact that the first-past-the-post system usually results in majority governments means that it offers the advantages of political stability and the ability to make tough choices. The Canada-U.S. free trade agreement (later followed by the North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA) is now seen by all political parties as beneficial to Canada, but that agreement would not have occurred under proportional representation since the Conservative party was at that time the only party supporting it.
Preferential balloting could be seen as a reasonable compromise, since it would likely maintain the benefits of majority governments while giving voters the feeling that their votes are more influential than under first-past-the-past. However, there would be a diminished diversity of opinions represented in Parliament. Under preferential balloting, centrist views would gain an advantage since this is typically the second choice of people on either side of an issue. Therefore, less mainstream opinions would have a harder time being heard.
Delivering on election promises is typically good politics, but it is not good politics when the promise itself was foolish. Prime Minister Trudeau should do what is best for Canada, not what is best for his party – keep the electoral system as it is because it is the best in the world.
Fred Maroun is a Canadian of Arab origin who lives in Ottawa. He lived in Lebanon until 1984, including during 10 years of civil war. He writes at Gatestone Institute, The Times of Israel, Jerusalem Online, and Jerusalem Post.
WOULD you believe me if I told you that young Canadians likely had a major impact on the outcome of the 2015 Canadian general election?
Probably not. That’s because we have continually heard over and over that young people are politically disengaged. Few pay attention to politics. Few vote. And there is plenty of evidence that supports these claims. Elections Canada estimates that during the 2011 federal election, only 39% of Canadians aged 18 to 24 showed up at the polls. In 2008, it was 37%, down from 44% two years earlier.
But the 2015 Canadian election may have been the start of a political awakening of a new electoral powerhouse in Canada.
by BJ Siekierski in Ottawa
Will the Liberal government hold a referendum on electoral reform? Is President Obama actually ok with Canada withdrawing its CF-18s from the ISIS mission? And what about Donald Trump?
On Wednesday afternoon at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, Prime Minister Trudeau sat down with Maclean’s Paul Wells, Chatelaine’s Rachel Giese and Alec Castonguay from L’actualité for a town hall, answering questions from them and a number of Canadians on a wide range of subjects.
Below are some of the highlights.
On Obama and the ISIS mission
“I’ve had, as you know, three or four good conversations with President Obama. And I’ve made it very clear that our commitment was to withdraw the six CF-18s. He didn’t ask me to keep those in. Nor would I have kept them in if he asked me. But what he wanted to know, and I was able to reassure him, is that Canada is going to stay a substantive and substantial member of the coalition against ISIS, including military engagement — probably around training — but we’re working with our allies to ensure that we’re doing something useful.”
“A lot of people who make less than $45,000, don’t pay any taxes at all. And we were looking for a tool to help the middle class specifically, because we know there are many, many tools to help — we always need more of them — to help families in distress, in real difficulty. We’ve neglected middle class families, but it’s the middle class that creates the most economic activity in the country.” (French)
On Donald Trump
“I think it’s extremely important that someone in my position doesn’t engage in the electoral processes of another country, so I’m certainly going to be very cautious about engaging in this particular topic, just because I think it’s going to be important for Canadians — for Canadian jobs — for Canadian prosperity, to be able to have a positive relationship with whoever Americans choose as their President.
However, I don’t think it comes as a surprise to anyone that I stand firmly against the politics of division, the politics of fear, the politics of intolerance, of hateful rhetoric … And if we allow politicians to succeed by scaring people, we don’t actually end up any safer. Fear doesn’t make us safer. It makes us weaker.
At this time, when there is reason to be concerned for our security in the world and here at home, we need remain focused on keeping our communities safe, keeping our communities united, instead of trying to build walls and scapegoating communities. I need to talk directly about the Muslim community. They are predominantly — they are the greatest victims of terrorist acts around the world at the present time. And painting ISIS and others with a broad brush that extends to all Muslims, is not just ignorant — it’s irresponsible.”
On holding an electoral reform referendum
“I think we need to engage with Canadians, and I know the question is leading towards: do we need a referendum on that? We’ve committed to consulting broadly, as many Canadians as possible, as many different communities and organizations — including political parties — as possible. And we’re going to move forward with that and we’ll see where it takes us. We’re going to do that in a responsible way.”
On the future of Canada Post
“What I plan on doing is doing something that should’ve been done a long time ago, which is actually speak with Canadians about what they expect from home mail delivery. As we see the world moving on towards greater use of e-mail and courier parcels and packages, there is some legitimate questions to be asked around the service that Canadians expect from Canada Post. What we’ve committed to doing is to do a serious examination of what kind of service they have.
Our commitment during the election campaign was to stop the transfer toward community mailboxes where it is, because there wasn’t adequate consultation … Canadians expect Canada Post to deliver a service, and that’s what we need to make sure that we’re doing. How that service gets delivered is exactly what the review and consultation process that we’re going to engage in will be focused on.”
Re-published in partnership with iPolitics.ca.
By Balwant Sanghera
Canada and India have a lot in common with each other. Both are members of the Commonwealth. Both are well established democracies. Both are peace loving countries. Both India and Canada have the same legislative, executive and judicial structures based on the British model. Both are models of multiculturalism. Furthermore, both of these [...]
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit