Alberta and Canada: When Democracy Gets Sacrificed

We live in a quasi-democracy.  And it is eroding.  The October 21st unreformed election was simply not fair for at least half of those who voted.  The reality:  One Liberal MP for every 37,681 votes for the party; One Conservative MP for every 50,873 votes; One NDP MP for every 118,717 votes; One Green one MP for every 387,453 votes.    And that ignores the distortion caused by those who, because of the Trudeau government’s broken electoral reform promise, felt compelled to vote for a party they did not want to be the government.  Why did they do that?  Choose from the following list of how the First Past the Post (FPP) system of voting distorts the real voting intentions of millions of Canadians:

  • How many voted Conservative just to dump Trudeau as a result of his tarnished performance?
  • How many voted Liberal to ensure Sheer did not win and give us a return to a Harper like extreme right government?
  • How many wanted to but did not vote NDP to ensure Sheer did not win?
  • How many wanted to but did not vote Green to ensure Sheer did not win?

This raises serious questions about what the election results would have been if Canadians were free to vote the way they wanted.  How much less would the Liberal and Conservative votes have been?  10%?  15%?  After the so-called free democratic election where many people did not feel free to vote for who they really supported, we have no idea what Canadians really wanted.

This brings up the post-election use of the word ‘mandate’.  With the support of 33% or 34% of those who voted, the claims of both Andrew Sheer and Justin Trudeau to have a ‘mandate’ were preposterous and stunning power grabs.  Neither seemed to understand that the broken electoral reform promise likely meant that their real support was less than 30%.  Perhaps as low as 25%.  Both showed a wishful understanding of democracy.  In a parliamentary system the government needs to have the support of the majority of members in the House of Commons.  Neither Mr. Sheer nor Mr. Trudeau were close to a majority of votes, nor did either have a majority of seats.   They clearly had no mandate for the ideas and proposals they campaigned on.  65% of Canadians voted against both of them.

During the election Mr. Trudeau explained that he did not proceed with electoral reform because in his view it would be bad for Canada.  It would he suggested create a multiparty Parliament and unstable governments.  The reality is that the FPP electoral system is really only good for the Liberals and Conservatives.  Both Harper and Trudeau have reaped the benefits of FPP which allowed them to ignore the 60+% of the people who did not support them.  A Proportional Representation (PR) voting system would force the government it produced to listen to the diverse views of Canadians.   FPP is clearly a winner for the Liberals and Conservatives.  This time, as in 2015, the beneficiaries of the lack of electoral reform clearly was the Trudeau Liberals.  Of course, electoral reform did not happen. 

The other winners with FPP are the very wealthy and the corporations they own, like SNC Lavalin, big oil, big pharma, and other huge corporations with their powerful political funding ability and massive legal and lobbying resources.  Majority governments are what allows debate of scandals like SNC Lavalin to be avoided.  The last thing they want is to see minority governments that will be more difficult for them to control.  They do not want to have strong environmental or social policies.  They want to keep the lower taxes, higher profits, undisturbed tax havens, weak regulation.  They will continue to back the FPP and campaign against electoral reform.    

But the most serious result of the Trudeau government’s decision to stick to FPP was the national unity impact.  If the national FPP election results were grotesque, these results in Alberta were ominous.  Of 34 seats the Conservatives got 33 and the NDP 1.  69% of Albertans voted Conservative giving them 97% of the seats!   632,000 Albertans were rendered non-existent or marginally-existent by the choice of the Trudeau government to stick with FPP.  What would the make-up of Alberta’s caucus in the House of Commons look like if a reformed PR voting system had closely reflected the real wishes of Albertans?  23 Conservatives; 5 Liberals; 4 NDP and possibly 1 Green. 

Alberta Voted     
Vote by Party1,416,313288,283241,91657,11245,052
% of Vote69.1%15.0%11.8%2.8%2.2%
# of Seats330100
PR Result23.5541?0

Using the FPP system, the votes of 632,633 Albertans were largely ignored resulting in only one seat in Parliament rather than the 9 or 10 their numbers reflected.  30.9% of the voters had their votes count for almost nothing.  Instead we are left with the result that we now have an extreme right government in Alberta whose leader claims, in his own words, to be a “Canadian Patriot” while he fans hatred for the rest of the country in his province and the west, cuts taxes and government programs and engages in a witch hunt with environmental groups. 

Saskatchewan’s Results

 LibPCNDPGreen7 Other PartiesPPCTotal
% of vote11.6%64.3%19.5%2.5%0.3%1.8%100%
Seats by PR2930014
Seats by FPP01400014

The results of the election in Saskatchewan are similarly distorted.  If the vote was counted using a reformed PR electoral system, instead of 14 seats the Conservatives would have won 9 seats with 2 Liberal colleagues and 3 New Democrats.  The votes of 202,038 Saskatchewan voters were rendered useless and ignored.  The failure of the Trudeau government to implement electoral reform has fueled the fires of national disunity. 

FPP Violates the Constitution?

The failure to reform the voting system effectively marginalized or rendered ineffective the votes of 834,671 people in Alberta and Saskatchewan, and more than 3,000,000 voters across the country.  But Section 3 of the Constitution says:

  • Sec 3:  Right to vote and meaningful participation:  “3.  Every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly and to be qualified for membership therein.”

Does this include the right to have your vote count?  Does FPP constitute a violation of the constitution? 

Section 15 Deals with the right to equal treatment under the law:   

15. (1) Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.”

Is the privileged position of Liberal and Conservative voters under FPP a form of discrimination?  It is not that long ago that discrimination against black people, indigenous people and women were accepted as ‘normal’ and acceptable by the great majority of Canadians.  These forms of discrimination are still major problems with which we struggle in our society. 

Several organizations including the Springtide Collective of Nova Scotia and Fair Voting BC believe so, and are planning to challenge the issue in the courts.  They have raised funds to initiate the challenge from over 800 donors from every province across Canada.  Clearly, the Parliamentary committee hearings on electoral reform, which heard from many expert witnesses, raised the issue of ignoring millions of voters and rendering their votes useless.  The decision to stick with FPP for the benefit of two parties was made in spite of the weight of testimony backing change. 

Will the government do what is in the best interests of voters and all the people in Canada?  It was recommended by the majority of expert witnesses heard by the Parliamentary Committee.  Or will it protect its privileged position in the hopes of once again turning a minority of votes into a majority of seats and the ability to run roughshod over parliament?

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