The debate about changing the first-past-the-post voting system is not really a debate. The Liberals have finally joined the NDP and Greens in supporting the idea. A poll conducted by Environics in 2013 showed that the majority (70 per cent) of Canadians – though cautious – also support some form of proportional representation.
The great advantage of the first-past-the-post voting system is that, as long as the party in government is reasonably centrist and respects majority opinion, it can form a strong government. The great fault is that when a party with a mission and only minority support gets a majority of seats, it can change the sytem radically.
That happened in Germany when Hitler took over: He had a mission, but in fact he did not have public permission to transform Germany into a fascist state. He used the powers of the state in new ways to control the people.
It has happened in Canada too. There is no doubt that Mr. Harper feels he has a mission ot fix what he thinks is wrong with Canada. The problem is that he does not respect the majority and he has systematically used the powers of the state to manouvre the country in the direction he wants. Most of what he does is legal under the democratic system we have, but it is not really what Canadians want.
Canadians didn’t want the $110 billion increase in the national debt that he took on. His goal was to financially cripple government and force smaller government on the country and he has done that.
Canadians didn’t want a less fair and more complex tax system. Harper has used a series of tax expenditures to buy votes so he can hold power. Canadians didn’t want to give up on Canada’s fine reputation for Peacekeeping. They didn’t want to be the bad guys in the world climate debates. We got all these and more changes that were part of Mr. Harper’s agenda.
Historically the Senate has been a mechanism to prevent radical changes. It was intended to be a conservative force – the phrase “sober second thought” can be translated “don’t let parliament do anything too dramatic too quickly.” Because the party in power appoints senators, it eventually controls Senate, and Senate no longer serves as a check on the government. This is fine if government values are somewhere close to the values of the government. And most parities in power are dragged toward what the majority wants.
The main defense of the majority has been the government’s respect for the majority and its respect for the traditions of the country. The current government lacks that respect, and it has exploited its temporary control.
This brings us back to electoral reform. Any form of proportional voting would have prevented Mr. Harper from carrying out his private mission. Proportional voting would have given the majority a veto. We would not have had to rely on the good manners and respecfullness of the party in power. We would not have been disappointed to discover we had a government with a mission but without respect for us.