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Populism and Electoral Reform in Canada

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Preston Manning told conservatives today that the way to prevent US-style anger and resentment from corrupting Canadian politics is to listen to the people who have real grievances – to give them a voice and engage them in the political process. Notice that giving people a voice and engaging them in the political process was a major argument in favour of proportional representation. Is Manning a supporter of proportional representation?preston-manning

I am reading a piece at the Project Syndicate website called the Anatomy of Populism. The essay brings together much of the best thinking on Trump’s populist appeal and the growth of populist movements in many countries. The consensus seems to be that Manning is right: people who feel left out are vulnerable to demagogues who intensify the divisions in society. It can be seen as disease of democracies: elected politicians have a hard and time-consuming job just governing, but if they are governing then they are simply not there listening to the people they are supposed to represent.

When Mr Trudeau breaking his promise on electoral reform he essentially said he didn’t want to give certain sectors of society a voice. Although he got elected by criss-crossing the country convincing people he was listening, in practice he chose to exclude the voices of some Canadians from the political process.

The result is that groups expressing minority views may try to take over mainstream parties. Harper succeeded in Canada and the Tea Party succeeded in the US. Trudeau’s decision is laying the groundwork for a Canadian Trump. Trump , in my view, is laying the groundwork for what is increasingly being described as an “illiberal democracy.”

An illiberal democracy is a governing system in which, although elections take place, citizens are cut off from knowledge about the activities of those who exercise real power because of the lack of civil liberties.

So Conservative hero Preston Manning is lining up with many of the most thoughtful small “L” liberal thinkers of the day while our Liberal Prime Minister is preparing the ground for a populist revolution. As my mother used to say, “Who’d have thunk it?”




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