Resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Electoral dysfunction

Roy MacGregor rocks my world. But the Globe and Mail's columnists are (still) behind the subscriber wall, so (again) I'll cut just enough so as to not to enrage the copyright gods:

Is there a doctor in the House? The Peace Tower has gone limp; democracy is drooping.

In an attempt to show a bit more "edge," hoping to reach out to a younger audience, Fair Vote Canada is today launching a two-minute video on its website [starring Don Ferguson of the Royal Canadian Air Farce] that wonderfully parodies the well-known erectile dysfunction advertising campaigns.


Whether anything changes in time for the next election beyond this one is anyone's guess. Yes, as any politician knocking on doors these days is finding out, or any journalist tapping shoulders in Tim Hortons will tell you, the one absolute of this current campaign is a widespread sense among the voters that the system is "broke."

Earlier this week, more than 60 well-known Canadians -- including former politicians, current academics, authors and the cast of Air Farce -- joined with Fair Vote Canada in denouncing the current debate format and demanding that electoral reform be the focus of at least a portion of the remaining debates.

So many Canadians are just walking away from political participation that Fair Vote Canada says it has reached "crisis" proportions. In Iraq, 70 per cent of voters risked their lives to vote; in Canada, the turnout on Jan. 23 is likely to be the lowest on record, even if risk amounts to an icy driveway.

"There's such a deep visceral anger out there," says Larry Gordon, executive director of Fair Vote Canada and author of the Dr. Ferguson video. "People are convinced the system is broke."

Fair Vote has spent considerable time breaking down past results to show just how fractured it is.

"Did you know," Gordon asks, "that more people voted for the Conservatives in Ontario last election than the combined total for British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan? It's true. But that translated into only 24 seats in Ontario versus 61 in the western provinces. [Preston] Manning and [Stephen] Harper are always chastised for not having that breakthrough in Ontario -- but, in fact, there are Conservatives voting in large numbers in Ontario."

More dramatic is how the Canadian system of "first past the post" skews representation in Quebec. The Bloc Québécois received 1.7 million votes in 2004, which translated into 54 seats in a 308-seat Parliament. The New Democratic Party, on the other hand, received far more votes -- 2.1 million -- and yet ended up with only 19 seats.

As for the little Green Party, it received more votes in total than the Liberal Party got throughout the Atlantic provinces. The East put 22 Liberals in Parliament. The Greens got not a single seat.

"These are not flukes," says Gordon. "These are not anomalies. This is the way it is. We are not getting what we voted for at the ballot box." The notion behind the "electoral dysfunction" video is that a little satire might bring the discussion to "a whole new group" -- disenchanted young voters.

"We have reams of reports," says Gordon. "We have all the facts and studies. But young people tell us, 'You guys are a little stodgy.' We know this topic can be an eye-glazer. We know this is not a sound-bite issue."

One of the problems, he thinks, is the phrase "proportional representation" itself.

"It's a bad label. It misses our core principle, which is voter equality -- a belief that every ballot has equal value and should have equal effect in determining fair representation." Change will come, Gordon believes, only when continuing minority governments and rising regional tensions force the issue. And it will have to come, he equally believes, from the people.

"Politicians elected under the current political systems have tremendous conflict of interest," Gordon says. "Politicians tend to fall in love with the system that puts them in." People, on the other hand, are increasingly demanding change to a system they no longer have faith in.

"It's up to us," he says.

"We can't just roll our eyes and shrug our shoulders and walk away saying, 'It makes my head hurt.'"
The whole thing is here.


kurichina said...

Do you know who actually coined the term "electile dysfunction"? I first heard it from Pierre Ducasse. I thought at the time that he had made it up.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

He probably did make it up; it sure sounds like the sort of thing that multiple people would come up with simultaneously.