January 5, 2001 Halifax Herald
Time for federal election reality check
Time for federal election reality check
After the federal election results were announced, I decided to delay commenting until a good cross-section of media reaction was available. Now that most have weighed in, with mostly exuberant responses, it’s time for a reality check.
Let’s start by listing some of the descriptive terms used by reporters and editors when describing the results. One of the most exaggerated was this one in big, bold print, used in the December 4th issue of MacLean's Magazine: "Majority Rules." Then these beauties were used indiscriminately by others: "By a Landslide," "Stunning win," "Resounding victory," "Great electoral mandate," etc.
I don't know what planet the people who used these terms were on when they analyzed the results, but it couldn't have been the Mother Earth I reside on. If they had been on Mother Earth, in view of the unrepresentative results, these types of headlines would have been more appropriate: "Once again, the will of the majority is denied;" "Despite being rejected by a landslide of electors, Liberals retain absolute control;" "Electors refuse a mandate to any Party."
The election results, if anything, re-emphasized the shortcomings of the archaic electoral system the country labours under. Its very hard to call democratic a system where 41% of those who voted are able to elect a majority government. This means that the 59% majority who rejected the Liberals must suffer the minority's will for at least four years with no means of correcting it. The minority that rules becomes even more minuscule when one examines how all registered electors responded: Didn't vote, 37.0%; Liberal, 25.8%; Alliance, 15.8%; PC, 7.6%; Bloc Québécois, seven percent; NDP, 5.7%; Other, 1.1%.
Based on these figures, the "didn't votes" should be forming the next government because they received an "overwhelming mandate." I'm told that if the method the Americans use in establishing election percentages had been used, the "didn't vote" figure would have been approximately 46%. The result of having an archaic electoral system is that we have in Ottawa today a government "mandated" by less than 25% of the electorate. Is this democracy?
When examining such an election result, it’s not hard to understand why Canadians are more and more turned off with the whole process and are, in growing numbers, refusing to vote. Adding fuel to their turn off is the fact that even if they had given a Party a 50% majority, the dictatorship they elected under the present system is almost completely beyond their control. Watching in frustration a government you elected, figuratively speaking, giving you raw deal for the better part of its so-called "stunning mandate" is enough to turn off even the most dedicated. Apply this to the present minority situation and its nothing short of gut-wrenching.
Probably one of the biggest shortcomings that prevents the democratization of the process is the lack of political alternatives and of ideas in this country today. Add to this the practice of many politicians of stretching the truth well beyond the breaking point and using imaginative manipulation.
In the imaginative department Jean Chrétien proved a master when it came to manipulating facts to assure his re-election. He demonized the Alliance to no end, with the wholehearted assistance of Joe Clark and Alexia McDonough, and even Stockwell Day himself. It was truly amazing and mesmerizing to watch the hidden-agenda card used against the Alliance so effectively by an old pro. This was especially true when one knew that no such thing existed.
Another thing that was truly amazing and mesmerizing was watching Day and his allies walk so willingly into the trap that Chrétien so skillfully set for them. It seemed, from day one of the election campaign, that they were intent on committing political suicide. For a group who claim to be democrats, they displayed many of the traits that dictators nourish: intolerance for the differences of others, musing about how they would cut benefits for the elderly, leaving the impression that they would outlaw abortions instead of just making the users pay for it, religious intrusion, etc.
When analyzing the results, one can't help speculating what the results might have been if Paul Martin had been leading the Liberals. My Crystal Ball tells me that it would have resulted in an absolute disaster for the opposition, including the Bloc. He would have walked away with seats in Atlantic Canada, Quebec, Ontario and a great deal of the West, garnering well over 200. This result would have been far preferable to what we now have, because I believe that Martin and peers are far more amendable to democratizing the process than the present regime is.
In conclusion, one doesn't need a Crystal Ball to appreciate that the opposition must begin the process of renewal now if they are to fashion themselves into a credible alternative. Its time for the so-called right to unite and for both Joe and Stock to depart. New blood without baggage, is needed. If this had been accomplished before the election, with a credible leader at the helm, conservatives would now be set to govern. To round out the process, heed should be given to a suggestion put forward during the election by a prominent New Democrat that the NDP and Liberals unite. Why not? Only a true believer in Party labels could manufacture real differences between them. The new Liberal Party would also be a good resting place for Red Tories.
Daniel N. Paul