I never thought former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau was as smart as his journalist and academic groupies made him out to be. There is a huge difference between an intellectual and being intelligent and Trudeau was the former rather than the latter. Compared to his son, however, Trudeau the Elder was a genius, albeit an evil one.
Since taking over his father’s old role as leader of the Liberal Party Justin Trudeau has had a habit of sticking his foot in his mouth and otherwise talking and acting like a complete moron. This week, however, he outdid himself with his 32 point plan to “restore democracy” in Canada. While some of the points have merit, most, like the goal of greater gender parity are utter foolishness, and the one which we will be concentrating on here is absolute insanity.
Before turning to that point, however, it must be said that it is not democracy that needs to be restored in Canada so much as freedom. Democracy and freedom are not the same thing nor do they necessarily go together. The idea that democracy and freedom go together like a knife and fork is an idea that has strong roots in the American tradition but which Canadians have traditionally rejected since the days of the American Revolution when the Loyalists chose to remain loyal to the Crown rather than jump on the republican bandwagon. Alexis de Tocqueville warned our American friends, after his visit to the United States in the nineteenth century, that democracy can potentially be the basis of the greatest tyranny of all, the “tyranny of the majority” as the history of his own country’s democratic revolution, begun fifteen years after that of the Americans ended, so well illustrates. Far superior to the modern ideal of democracy, is the classical ideal of the mixed constitution, as explained by Aristotle and Polybius, in which the three basic simple forms of government – monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy – are combined and balanced. That, of course, is exactly what our traditional form of government, the Westminster system consisting of the monarchy, Senate, and elected House of Commons embodies, and it is this system that historically and traditionally went together with and safeguarded freedom and justice in Canada.
The point of Trudeau’s plan to “restore democracy” that has attracted the most attention is his announced intention to abolish “first past the post” by the next election. It is this point to which we will now turn to show that when Ezra Levant dubbed Justin Trudeau the “shiny pony” a few years ago, it was an unfair slur on ponies everywhere.
First past the post is an expression borrowed from horse racing for our traditional way of determining the outcome of elections. The House of Commons is made up of the representatives of constituencies or ridings. In each constituency when the general election is called – or if for some reason there is a by-election for that particular riding – many candidates are allowed to run against each other for the right to sit in the House as that area’s representative. They may run as representatives of a party or independents. Sometimes the outcome of the election is a majority in which one candidate receives over half of the votes. Other times the outcome of the election is a plurality in which the vote is so divided that no one candidate receives over half. In this case, the candidate who receives the highest number of votes, wins the election.
So what are the objections to this?
Well, one common objection is that by awarding the election to the person with the highest number of votes the system is going against the wishes of the majority of voters who voted for someone other than the winner. While this objection seems to have merit upon first hearing it, you must realize that in a plurality election this would be the case regardless of which of the candidates is determined to be the winner. Proposed alternatives, such as multiple round elections until a clear majority is achieved or ranking the candidates on the ballot in order of preference rather than picking one would have the effect of making elections more expensive, more complicated, and with more factors for the unscrupulous to manipulate, without really eliminating the objection seeing as the person who wins the final round will still be someone the majority voted against in the first round and a ranked preference ballot can still return a winner who did not receive a majority of first preference votes and who therefore is still technically someone the majority voted against, all in order to fix a system that isn’t really broke, on the grounds of an objection that ultimately reduces to the idea that an election should be determined by its negative outcome, the most votes against, rather than its positive outcome, the most votes for.
Another common objection is that under this system the percentage of seats awarded to a party in the House of Commons is not the same as the percentage of the popular vote that party received. The popular vote is the accumulated vote of all voters in all ridings across the country. A small party, with voters scattered across the country, may win one or no seats, while receiving a comparably larger percentage of the popular vote. The Green Party, for example, won only the seat of its leader Elizabeth May in the 2011 election, although it received just under four percent of the popular vote. In the previous election it won no seats although it received just under seven percent of the popular vote. Supporters of the Green Party and other fringe parties regard this as being unfair and call for a system of proportional representation, in which the makeup of the assembly by party percentage is representative of the popular vote. That proportional representation would have the obvious effect of making the House of Commons even more ideological and partisan than it already is, and that this would not be a good thing, never seems to occur to such people.
What all of this shows is that while we are hardly in need of having the democratic element of our government fixed by a man who like his father is an admirer of Chinese Communist dictatorship, we are in urgent need of having our educational system, especially when it comes to the teaching of civics, repaired. The popular vote is a meaningless abstraction. When an election is called, it is not the ideological or partisan make up of the House of Commons for which people are supposed to be voting. They are supposed to be voting for the representative of their constituency. Thus, it makes no sense for a person to say “I’m not represented in Parliament because my party didn’t win a seat”. You are represented in the House of Commons as someone living in a constituency and not as a supporter of a party or a subscriber to an ideology – and this is a good thing. Your representative is the Member for your riding, whether you voted for him or not. Even though I can’t stand the jackass and his bloody socialist party, I know full well that Pat Martin is my representative in the House of Commons, because he is the Member for the constituency in which I live, as much as I find that fact intolerable.
Our Members of Parliament need this basic civics lesson as well. When a party puts forward a candidate in an election, he is running for the right to represent his constituency in Parliament on behalf of his party. This means that he is supposed to represent his party to his constituency in the election, but his constituency in the House if he wins. In other words, when campaigning for the votes of a riding, he is supposed to explain that he belongs to such and such a party which stands for such and such a platform. When sitting in the House as a Member, he is supposed to speak on behalf of the people who live in his constituency, including those who did not vote for him, work on their behalf, and protect their interests.
Of course the way the system works in practice does not always or perhaps even often resemble the way it is supposed to work but it would be no improvement to remove the reminder, once every so many years, that our politicians are supposed to be working on behalf of their constituency and tell them that they will now be sitting in Parliament only as representatives of their party and ideology. It is sheer madness to think otherwise.
Justin Trudeau, you can stick that in your joint and smoke it.
A Protestant Christian, patriotic Canadian, and a reactionary High Tory with a libertarian streak, at the same time a monarchist, indeed a royal absolutist, and a minarchist.
You can e-mail me at gerrytneal(at)hotmail(dot)ca