September 8, 1995 Halifax Herald
When reporting political events, the news media occasionally uses some very imaginative and misleading headlines. For example: "It's John Coady, in a landslide" (Mayoralty winner in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality election) How a person can be considered to have won an election by a landslide with only 31 per cent of the votes, is a mystery to me! In my judgment, a landslide occurs when a person receives 60% or more of the vote.
Here are two other dillies: "Tories sweep Ontario" and "Tories receive clear mandate in Ontario" A minority of voters elected the Tories so how, in a democracy, can the win be seen as a clear mandate? Perhaps this quote from a letter written to MacLean's by Klaus E. Rieckhoff of North Vancouver, BC, commenting on the Tory sweep of seats (not votes) in Ontario, best articulates the absurdity of our so-called democracy. "A clear majority of Ontario voters did not wish to be governed by Mike Harris, yet he has complete control of the legislature...This all-too-common nonsense in Canada is called democracy. It is the result of three factors: an electoral system designed for a two-party state, a parliamentary tradition that puts the elected representatives' loyalty to the party line ahead of the interests of their constituents and, last but not least, a confused electorate that continues to tolerate this."
Over the last three decades, electors, voting in federal and provincial elections, have rarely given to any political party a clear majority mandate. If one were to do an in-depth study for the period, it probably would be found that the times a party received a majority mandate could be counted on the fingers of one hand. Yet we see governments elected under these circumstances governing and proceeding as if they had a clear mandate from the people to do so.
Perhaps the most disturbing thing about our present system of government is this: By the dubious authority of having received a majority of seats in a legislative house, from a minority of electors, political parties have instituted across this country tremendous social changes and introduced into our lives a multitude of programs, which the majority of us in all probability did not seek or want.
The before mentioned highlights the dictatorial tendency of the present system. In a true democracy, the majority rules and sets the agenda. In a country like Canada where the minority mostly rules and sets the agenda, true democracy is not practised. In order to see this turned around, we have to find a way to reform or replace our archaic system of government. This will probably have to be accomplished without the voluntary co-operation of the old-line political parties. Simply because it provides them with the means to rule the country with dictatorial powers, the parties are not gung-ho to change the system. Barring an age of enlightenment dawning within the ranks of the thinkers of the mainstream parties, they are not the source from where the system's reform will be voluntarily launched.
As a matter of fact the main obstacle to achieving a higher level of democratic government in Canada is the stranglehold that the parties have over the empowerment process. They have, over a long period of time, developed the mechanics of the system in their favour to such an extent that we, the people, are practically left out in the cold.
And, to insure that their supremacy is sustained, the parties have these things in place: They have the right to raise funds in order to elect a person whom they deem to be politically correct. They can, with impunity, disdain to implement what is considered to be one of the most essential ingredients of a true democracy, a procedure for the people to recall an elected representative. They have the power to chastise and discipline an elected member who dares to follow the wishes of his/her electors. Their leader can refuse to sign nomination papers for an individual who has displeased them etc.
Altogether, the powers that the parties have assumed unto themselves present a formidable obstacle for a democrat to overcome.
Because of the before mentioned, the implementation of real democratic practices in our government process is still a distant, but not impossible, dream. In my opinion, these are the three major changes that need to be made in order to see the dream partially realized: Where there are more than two candidates running for a seat and none receive a majority vote, a runoff election between the two receiving the most votes must take place. Persons elected must abide by the will of constituents, and not their party. The power of recall for the people must be part of the system.
The vast majority of Canadians have a growing desire to live in a country where they control the political agenda. In the face of this reality, how can political parties much longer prevail in sustaining the status quo?
Daniel N. Paul