Painful as it may be, it seems the December 21, 2018 CBC headline: 3 strikes and you’re out: Decisive referendum sounds death knell for electoral reform in B.C is hard to argue against.
Activists in BC fell prey to the misunderstanding that defeats activist initiatives everywhere– if it ever was true–that people vote based on rational evaluation of the issues. That naïve assumption is without a remaining breath in a world where ubiquitous social media generated, petty resentments have become the primary, overwhelming criteria for citizen evaluation of issues both small and gigantic.
“It’s too complicated!” This simple resentment was milked by an unseemly coalition of right/left lobbyists who came together to ensure that the province’s first-past-the-post electoral system continued to lock out the possibility of meaningful choice at the polls.
Federally it is hard to say what caused Justin Trudeau to so fickly proclaim that the 2019 ballot would be the last Canadian election under the widely discredited first past the post electoral system that ensures the electorate votes against the candidate they do not want rather than for the candidate/values they would like to see represented in office. The BC electoral reform referendum had already taken place when Trudeau declared his commitment to electoral reform so unabashedly so why did he abruptly change direction after the election? Was he just telling an opportunistic lie during the election? Did he—suddenly—decide the BC electors were right: any form of proportional representation is just too complicated for the simpletons who vote?
It seems to me that Trudeau was not telling an outright lie. He was just being less than honest about what he would allow as an alternative to First Past the Post. Trudeau was clearly in favour of a preferential/ranked/runoff ballot where electors number their preferences. In a runoff election if no candidate gets more than 50% of the vote then the candidate with the least #1 votes is dropped from the count and the second choices of those who voted for him/her are added to the count. The process of eliminating the lowest count and counting their next choice goes on until one candidate attains 50% or more of the vote. This voting system ensures a large consensus of the votes goes to actually electing a member rather than the skewed result from first past the post that, over and over, sees candidates elected to office who represent a small proportion of the electorate. Under first past the post, a riding with five candidates could elect a representative who speaks for 21% of the electorate.
One of the strongest arguments for a ranked/runoff election is that it is much easier to defend against detractors because it is the electoral system that all parties in Canada use to elect their leaders. No party wants its leader to be elected by 21% of the members in a leadership contest with five contestants. A party leader needs to represent the choice of a broad swath of its members. Ranked ballot has flaws as any human institution has. It’s just more doable than other preferential ballot systems, it allows people to vote for who they want and still protect against the possibility that their vote will be wasted electing a candidate they, very definitely, do not want. It preempts the possibility of majority governments elected by a minority of the vote. For instance, the Conservatives took 46 percent of the seats in the House of Commons in 2008 with 38% of the vote. They were elected to 54% of the seats in Parliament while receiving only 40 per cent of the 2011 vote. Liberals “won” similar majorities with much less than 50% of the vote.
The other big advantage of ranked ballot is that it allows people to vote for their first choice while ensuring that candidates that the voter does not want to see in office are not elected by an upside down electoral system preventing meaningful choice at the polls.
There are people who do not want the electorate to be able to express meaningful choice–who imagine remote possibilities where Ranked Ballot does not result in a perfect choice. Most of these arguments hinge on absurd stretches of the imagination to create very unlikely scenarios that seem less than perfect. Ranked ballot is not perfect—it is just a whole lot better than what we have. I can see the advantages in proportional representation votes but, given the success of the anti-proportional representation effort in BC , I cannot imagine it happening in the next twenty years—twenty years that we can ill afford to write off.
The opposition now has a clear strategy for defeating any proportional representation referendum—use social media to foster resentment—‘it’s too complicated’ –they’ll say it over and over and over and they’ll win –over and over. We have to be adroit enough to look at what has not worked in the past and try something new.
Actually not even ranked ballot will be in place for the 2023 election (sooner if the opposition unifies to defeat the government). So what do we do?—nothing? I can hear it all over again—“efforts to unify the progressive vote never work; it’s been done—it didn’t work; there is no hope” and on and on with defeatist nihilism.
OMG, when the Alliance Party and the Progressive Conservatives were dividing the vote and keeping the Liberals in office—they united the party as the “Conservative Party”—no “Progressive” in the party that Peter McKay and Stephen Harper finagled—just the power to impose the dark years of the Harper regime onto an unsuspecting/ill–prepared Canadian electorate.
My divining rod tells me the next federal election is going to offer dastardly choices: Peter Mackay, Harper’s coconspirator in delivering the “Progressive Conservatives” to the ready to dismantle everything good about Canada clutches of Steven Harper vs Trudeau’s allay on the right Chrystia Freeland—the Financial Times correspondent that–once in Trudeau’s cabinet–became the spokes person for right-wing causes around the world. Drawing on her family connections to the rightwing in Ukraine she advocated for the violent overthrow of the Ukrainian government. Applying the same far right perspective she worked for the establishment of the Lima Group to impose Washington’s greed on leftist Latin American governments like Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Hondorus. She is a trusted voice for out of control Canadian mining interests around the world.
Given the bungling Trudeau whose time in office has been peppered with his inclination to look after friends of the family rather than the common good of all Canadians, and the clearly stated US preference for Freeland, there seems little doubt that the big tent choices for Canadians will be between MacKay and Freeland–right-wing interests who have no interest in the common good of our Earth, our country nor our Canadian people.
What will you do? Can we sit by and see our common good ground beneath the wheels of this electoral system that doesn’t allow us meaningful choice? What could you/all of us do when the electoral door has been slammed so securely shut on meaningful choice?
What do I want given that even something as beneficial as preferential/runoff voting will not be in place by the next election?
Well, here it is: I want Jody Wilson-Raybould–the first nations leader who nearly brought down the self serving Liberals/Trudeau over the idea of justice fairly applied to all–to form a (temporary if necessary) coalition of NDP/Greens/other party/ independents to run a Common Good coalition with a Canadian/world vision of social and environmental good.
I see this Common Good coalition running common nomination conventions in which members of all the coalition parties/independents run and send one—common—candidate forward to the election.
Can you imagine the stir this could cause? The discussions held? The social/spiritual/societal/environmental good that would be discussed and strategized over?
Sure it is possible to find faults with this bold proposal but it is the only “doable” scenario that I can see to any kind of hope for a better Canada/world to come out of the next federal election. Candidates could still be NDP, Green, Independent but they would run on values and the value of working together for our common good. Every NDP, Green, Independent that could have been elected would be elected but many more will be elected as well.
Cannot we all see that in this time of a dying atmosphere, the corrosion of the common good and the advance of special interests it is time to end quarreling apart and work together for the good of all—including our beautiful and ailing Earth? Rather than turn away in despair over the failure of electoral reform cannot we-ourselves—invent an electoral alternative that serves our social, environmental, common good?!