History Is Ours!

You know, I didn’t think this would happen…at least, not this quickly. It’s surprising how much things can change in a month.

It can be quite exciting when a party achieves a major victory, and quite depressing when a party has a great fall, and both are a very big deal, and can change everything for that party. So it’s even more exciting when it happens to five parties at the same time.

Any Americans out there might be confused. “You have more than two parties?” they might say. Yes, we do, we have five. The Liberals, the Conservatives, the New Democrats, the Greens, and the Bloc Quebecois, and two Mondays ago, it was an exciting night for all of them.

To begin, the Conservatives. For the first time since the party formed, they gained a majority. The Conservatives have held the government in a minority position since 2006, and two elections later, everything changes. Foreigners might be asking how a minority government is possible. Well it’s complicated, but I’ll just say the Governor General just picks who has the best chance of keeping the confidence of the House of Commons, typically the party with the most seats. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always work. So since the Conservatives formed a government, they fell, in no confidence votes in the house, twice, and twice we the people went to the polls. But now that they have a majority, another no confidence motion and early election is highly unlikely. The only possible way is if several Conservative MPs decide to turn against their party. Which is something I doubt will happen.

So, it’s a huge victory for the Conservatives, but something is bugging me. As I was watching the election night coverage a crucial point stuck out at me. After they determined the Conservatives were going to get the most seats, but before they determined they would get a majority, one of the pundits (I think it was Evan Solomon) said if the Conservatives get 40 per cent of the vote, it is likely they will gain a majority.

…wait…what? That’s right, he said, outright, with a minority of the votes, and by extension, a minority of public support, they can get a majority government, and essentially rule this country until they are forced to call an election in four years. That really sticks in my craw! One of the most important elements of a democracy is majority rule, not majority rule barring a technicality. All the other parties ran campaigns that ran along the lines of “Harper sucks,” and “Stop Harper,” so I doubt all those that didn’t vote for him are happy about this. Of course this is how our system works, so I guess I just have to deal with it…do I?

Moving on, the NDP. They also got a major victory, official opposition. Which is political speak for second place. How is this a major victory? Because after the last election, they got fourth place, they only managed to beat the Greens, who won zero seats back then. So going from fourth to second is a huge victory. But there is a problem, no one in their right mind ever thought this would happen, not even the NDP…at least I don’t think they did. If the NDP actually thought they would get this many seats, they might have come up with a reasonable platform.

The NDP Platform runs along the following lines, increase government services while decreasing taxes. Sorry, George Bush tried the same thing and it didn’t work out too well. Of course Layton says he wants to increase corporate taxes at the same time, which might work…assuming the corporations don’t change their business practices in response. See, the problem is, it sounds nice and we all want to hear that we will get more healthcare professionals and a bigger social safety net while lowering the tax rate. But that’s not the question, the question is, can we? Or more accurately, can we without raising the debt?

Here’s why this is problematic. The role of the official opposition is to critique the work of the government. But when their critique is based on fantasy, it’s impossible to take them seriously, and in order for them to have any impact, they need to be taken seriously.

It’s also impossible to take them seriously when they can’t even be consistent with their message. Let me enlighten you to a specific chain of events, during the leaders debate, Liberal leader, Michael Ignatieff mentioned how the race is really just a race between the Liberals and Conservatives, and Layton interjected by saying how arrogant it is. Saying the Liberals feel entitled to their position. Okay, that might be true, but in the final days of the election, the polls were clear, the NDP had a strong advantage over the Liberals. So the ads that came out were along the lines of: The only way to stop Harper is to vote for the NDP. Which is the same thing Ignatieff was saying about his own party!!! My guess, Layton thinks he can prevent us from noticing by using a Jedi mind trick. But he forgets, that only works on the weak-minded.

But the biggest problem is the timing of this. Somehow, the NDP got more seats, but less power. Once again, going back to the last election, the NDP held the balance of power, which basically means the NDP, plus the Conservatives equal a majority. So they had a much bigger say in what would happen in government. Granted no more than any other party, but the point still stands. Now they have no real power. All they really get by being the official opposition is more time to yell.

Next, the Liberals, the oldest party in Canada, during the ’90s they held three consecutive majority governments, and have always held either government, or official opposition…until now. For the first time in Canadian history, the Liberal Party of Canada has fallen to third place, which there is no official name for. Also, Ignatieff lost his seat, which is a rare occurrence for a major party leader.

The big question here is, why? Why did people lose so much faith in the Liberals? Could it be because Ignatieff taught at Harvard? Because he was out of the country for a few years? Because he called the United States his country, while he lived there? I don’t understand what the hell happened!?

If it is for one of those reasons, well, that’s just stupid. There’s nothing treasonous or unpatriotic about dual-citizenship. If he got a teaching job at Harvard, well that’s pretty prestigious, I’d like to think it would be an honour to have him be our Prime Minister. Now if it’s because he was out of the country…

Yeah, he hit the nail on the head there.

The only logical reason to be against the Liberals, is if you disagree with their policies. But if that’s the case, why did so many vote for them in the past? Okay, some people changed their minds, but I find it incredible that this many people suddenly realized they disagreed with Liberal policy. Almost simultaneously.

Obviously Ignatieff screwed up. He’s the leader, so he has to take the heat…like Dion did during the last election. Back then the reasoning was obvious. Dion was more of a wimp, and was perceived as weak by the Canadian populous. So after he failed to gain government, he stepped down as leader and was replaced by Iggy, a much stronger leader.

I find this hilarious because under Dion, the Liberals lost 26 seats, however Dion kept his own seat. Under Ignatieff, the Liberals lost 43 seats, nearly twice as many, including Iggy’s. Oh, and Dion was a worse leader… Yeah, you know I think the better leader is the one that gets the best, or least worse results.

The party’s obviously in trouble. In the eight years since Jean Chrétien left the party, there have been three party leaders, each retiring after losing an election. The Ontario Progressive Conservative Party have been having a similar problem since Mike Harris left. But what is the solution?

One, might be to merge with the NDP. It has been discussed. It has also been dismissed by members of both parties. The rationale being that the two parties are vastly different, and that is true. One is full of fundamentalist socialists engaging in an overt class war, and the other is full of intellectual elitists bent on gaining more power. Two vastly different parties, but if you take a step back, how different are they really?

Direct from the CBC

That is from the CBC, part of their “Vote Compass” quiz that was used to help people determine who to vote for. It was compiled by a team of political scientists, so they know what they’re talking about. Notice the top left corner, the Liberals, the Greens, the Bloc and the NDP, are all clustered together, and on the other side, miles away from that little group, is the Conservatives. If you are one of the many socially conservative capitalists out there. There is, really, only one party to vote for, but if you are a socially liberal socialist, there are four parties available, which you will likely choose based on the minutiae of your beliefs.

This is overly pragmatic, but the truth is, this division between the upper left cluster has, in a way, allowed the Conservatives to get their majority. It’s called the vote split. You see we, like much of the world, vote using a First-Past-the-Post system. That basically means whoever gets the most votes, wins, even if they don’t get a majority. So in, for example, my former hometown of Sault Ste. Marie, where the Conservative candidate got 41 per cent of the vote, the NDP and Liberal candidates got 56 per cent of the vote, meaning most wanted not-Conservatives. But because the two candidates split the vote 37 and 19 per cent, the Conservatives got the seat. This is replicated in many ridings across the country, and if they were one party, this wouldn’t have been a problem, and the Conservatives would not have gotten a majority.

Of course these are still two different parties, but so were the Reform/Alliance Party and the Progressive Conservative Party, and they merged pretty seamlessly. Though at the time, some were still against it. There are still two senators who refuse to call themselves Conservatives, and insist on being referred to as Progressive Conservatives, even today, years after the merger, and some were against the merger so much, they left the party and formed their own called the Progressive Canadian Party…they haven’t been very successful. So not all will be for it, and good for them. But tactically, the Alliance and PC made a good move. My point is the Liberals and the NDP should merge, not because of their differences, but because of their commonalities, specifically their desire to see Harper deported.

Next, there is the Bloc. A party founded on the idea of contempt for the rest of Canada. The only major party to run in only one province, Quebec, and the core of their ideology is secession. They want Quebec to become an independent nation. A concept that seems to have lost popularity since the last election. At least, that’s what seems to be happening. Losing 43 out of 47 seats is a kick in the nuts for any party. It’s especially painful when it’s the Bloc, because they only run in 75 ridings. Let’s measure this as a percentage. They had 63 per cent of the seats in Quebec before this election, after, they got 6 per cent. So yeah, they tanked. Even leader Gilles Duceppe managed to lose his seat. At least Iggy doesn’t need to feel alone.

So they got slaughtered, mainly by the NDP, and this has been interpreted by most media outlets (and by most I mean the CBC) as a rejection by the Quebec voters of sovereignty. It’s also possible that people are sick of voting for a party that hasn’t really done anything since they were formed 20 years ago, and decided the sovereignty issue is not the most important issue right now. Either is possible.

Honestly though, this surprised me. I didn’t expect a party with such a positive message to lose so drastically. Okay, it’s probably not positive. But it is a message I have agreed with. If they want to leave, let them, and don’t let the door hit their ass on the way out. Perhaps after they leave, we can end this bilingual bullshit. I just don’t understand why the rest of Canada is so resistant to the idea. Is it a matter of pride? Well, grow up! Get over your damn pride! This is the same kind of thing that happened in China with Tibet. The Chinese declared Tibet is part of China, so they took it, by force. We declare that Quebec is part of Canada, so we refuse to let it leave. Independence is, I believe, the right of every individual and nation, and if Quebec wants it, let them have it. What exactly do we have to lose by letting them leave? Tax dollars, sure, but we would also not have to spend money on them. However, if we do let them leave, I think they should remember to bring their share of the national debt with them. There’s a good chance much of that debt was spent on them.

Finally, there’s the Green Party. Often considered a one issue party, they have since tried to branch out, but are still considered by many to be a fringe party. Since 2004 they have run candidates in every riding, apparently in an attempt to gain as many seats as possible. A strength in numbers kind of thing. Unfortunately, it never worked. They never got more than 7 per cent of the vote, and no real support in any riding…until now.

The Greens went from zero seats to 1 seat, which is an increase of infinity per cent! Leader Elizabeth May is sitting in the House of Commons, the first Green to do so, representing all of the country’s environmentalists. They have one seat, so they don’t have much say, but it is still a huge victory. A party that was, until recently considered a fringe party, now has representation in the House of Commons. This is primarily because they are merely using the environment as a jumping off point, offering reasonable solutions to real problems, while keeping their ultimate goal of a sustainable environment within their sight. It’s still a big priority, but it’s not their only priority, and it’s apparent the public knows that. During the last election, the Greens were allowed a seat at the national leaders debate, and Elizabeth May did a good job. It was then they reached their popular vote high of 6.78 per cent. This election, they dropped to 3.91 per cent. Likely, this is a result of May’s being refused a seat at the debates, and now that she has a seat in the house, she has a seat at the next debates. Which means they will likely gain more support. Which means even more MPs in Parliament. This is the dawning of a new major party. Though it will only happen if they can dispel the idea that they are a one-issue party, and their candidates are not helping.

Of course this is only the Sudbury candidate, but I know there are a few out there who would vote Green if they focused on fiscal responsibility and social freedom. Which is what they have campaigned on in the past. It’s what they need to focus on if they want to gain more support. Offer common sense solutions to major problems in Canada. Otherwise, they will lose all that they have gained.

Now, Canada isn’t the only country to have more than two political parties, it’s just in most other jurisdictions it works a lot better. As I said earlier, the fact that the Conservatives got a majority of seats with a minority of votes, and the Liberals and NDP might have to merge to prevent Harper from getting another majority next election, is bothersome. But there is an alternative. If we change the way we vote.

People don’t realize, there are so many different ways we can vote, and the way we vote in North America, which, as I said earlier, is known as First Past the Post, is possibly the worst way to vote. Primarily because in each riding, there can be a majority of voters against the winner. Also, a party with less support than another party will get more seats because their support is concentrated. Then you have the fear of the “wasted vote” which tends to force people to vote for a party they disagree with because the party they actually support has a snowball’s chance in hell of winning, and they really hate a party that might win. This is known as strategic voting. All of these problems are indicative, not of democracy, but of the First-Past-the-Post system we use to vote.

So what other methods are available? Well, theres’ the Instant Runoff (aka. Alternative or Preferential Voting), where candidates are ranked on the ballots numerically, and said ballots are counted in such a way, so that one of the candidates gets a majority of support. First, the voter’s first choice is counted. If no one receives a majority, the person who got last place is disqualified, and all those who voted for that person gets their votes redistributed among their second choices. This continues until someone gets a majority. Ensuring people can vote for the candidate they agree with the most, while preventing their least favourite candidate from winning due to a technicality. It also ends vote splitting and makes strategic voting unnecessary. It’s been successfully used in Australia since 1918, and has allowed the formation of a right-wing coalition between their Liberal Party and the smaller National Party, without causing a vote split and giving seats to the Labour Party. We implement this in Canada, look forward to an official left-wing coalition with no conflict of vote splitting. The Conservatives will likely be bitter, but screw ’em.

Then there is Proportional Representation, where the number of seats will be directly proportional to the number of votes each party receives. This was proposed in Ontario a few years back, in the form of a Mixed-Member-Proportional system. Where some of the seats are selected based on the constituency, and the rest are selected based on the popular vote. I made my feelings on this clear a few years ago, when I just restarted this blog after abandoning my old LiveJournal. In essence, I was for it, and still am. Primarily because the duly elected “fringe parties” would get a say in the legislature (assuming they get the necessary five per cent, which, one should note, is unlikely), and they oftentimes have a point, like the Marijuana Party and the Libertarian Party. Of course they wouldn’t control the legislature, but they would have a say. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Also, the legislature would more accurately reflect the views of the electorate, which is always a good thing.

There is also the Single Transferable Vote, where votes are ranked like in an Instant Runoff, but are distributed a little differently. A vote quota is set for each riding, which is dependent on the number of voters and the number of seats available. If a candidate has passed the quota, they get the seat, and any votes above the quota are distributed among the second choices. If no one passes or reaches the quota, the lowest candidates is eliminated, and their votes are distributed among second choices. In this system, one constituency can elect multiple representatives.

Seems a lot more complicated, and that is the biggest criticism for these systems: they’re hard to understand. The only thing First Past the Post has going for it is it’s simplicity. Which is a very stupid reason if you ask me. Because a system is too hard to understand, but better in every other fucking way, means we shouldn’t use it? That’s insane! Besides, for the average voter, all they need to know is what candidate they want to have the seat the most. I can tell you for certain that I knew who I would have ranked in this election, and I’m sure every voter did. It only gets complicated on the back-end, as the votes are tallied, and there are professionals to deal with that. They’d have to be professional mathematicians, but still.

Of course this added complexity might mean the results might take longer to come in. Is our 24 hour news cycle that important to us? That we are willing to give up a more reasonable democracy for it? Besides, Elections Canada rules are pretty clear that even though the polls on the east coast close a few hours before the west coast. Results cannot be broadcast until all the polls are closed. In fact it’s illegal, even if you do it online.

NB: They asked an office of social media experts, of course they would say it’s a big deal, because they want to think their field actually does have an impact on the world. Ah, to be that young and naive!

Anyway, if Elections Canada doesn’t want the results to come in too early, well, they should make counting the results more difficult. Hence, new voting system.

Another problem, this complexity might increase the cost of the election. That’s certainly an issue, but by how much? As I’ve said before, elections cost $300 million, that’s under $10 per tax payer, even if the cost was doubled, that’s still $20 per tax payer once every few years. Not a huge cost for democracy, people spend more on coffee. So I can say for certain it doesn’t bother me. In fact, I’d say I prefer it.

The worst part of this, I think, is that we won’t be going back to the polls until 2015, I love elections, they are exciting, and they give us the opportunity to hold our government to account, and we shouldn’t have to wait four years to do it. But hopefully this will give us time to develop a more sensible electorate, find a new way of voting, or both. But no matter what happens next election, one thing is for sure, this year’s election will have a permanent place in Canadian history books.

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