What’s on Althia Raj’s mind: Critical to Canadians’ political future is a fair, representative democracy

I’m not a member of Parliament, but I can play one. We’re likely headed to an election soon, I believe, and the process to set one up is a key part of our parliamentary…

What's on Althia Raj's mind: Critical to Canadians' political future is a fair, representative democracy

I’m not a member of Parliament, but I can play one.

We’re likely headed to an election soon, I believe, and the process to set one up is a key part of our parliamentary system.

For starters, the electoral map is the most important part of this set of guidelines — where we’ll sit as a country. Each Canadian province gets a prescribed number of seats, divided equally among all of them. In addition, each MP gets a specific total number of votes, or “mandate.” All MPs are elected by population, based on the last census.

How are members of Parliament selected? The majority of votes are cast at a riding level, but citizens in larger cities can also vote for MPs in their ridings. The top two candidates at the end of a local voting process have a chance to move on to a new round of voting, something that often contributes to what’s known as “spoilage,” where voters in cities make their choice of candidates contingent on where they live. Spoilage happens because too many citizens choose the wrong candidate.

For years, the issues surrounding this sort of redistricting were considered virtually impossible. But technology has changed that. Now, almost anyone can gather a vast amount of information about their neighbors and colleagues and create their own polling aggregator.

All this could create serious problems for Canada if it were ever to re-constitute its electoral map, but it should.

We simply need to open a new window for legislators. If we’re doing it this way, then the best of the candidates should be rewarded with their very own “bonus” or “crucial” seat.

By creating multiple constituencies, we also could actually increase the number of parliamentarians for our representative government. That means that Canada could be about to get even bigger.

If we split the country’s population into hundreds of new constituencies, we could at least answer the question of whether the benefits of using its existing parliamentarians outweigh the cost and difficulty of truly extending democracy within each of its borders.

Think of it as a sort of smart ‘screw you’ to all the entrenched incumbents in our political system. To state the obvious, those current legislators are not much-loved. They have seen their assigned districts held by other candidates over the course of their representation. At this point, many recognize that any future MP for the area would more likely be recruited to run for a different party than for his or her current constituency.

As is, Canada’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau, holds about 10 percent of the votes in each of his House of Commons seats, which number about 100. If the prime minister resigned or was removed from his seat, Canadian voters would get to decide for themselves whether that seat was worth fighting for.

While the prime minister is a strong symbol of the modern ‘institutionalists,’ the average Canadian cares very little about what office they hold.

At present, we’ve put the power of parliament in the hands of a man who won his seat by only a few hundred votes in a long contest that stretched across several provinces. Trudeau would have a very difficult time saying that he has served a greater public good serving a lesser office. The prime minister seems to have abandoned his democratic mandate in favor of whatever he can get out of our economic and political system.

Whatever party wins power this fall, it’s not going to get better. That is the crux of the problem. The voters, and elected officials alike, would be foolish to think there’s a better way.

It would make sense to hand our problems to the same group of people who have not sought solutions to them. In fact, most Canadians do not like their options for governing Canada very much, either.

That’s why a system that rewards candidates’ best attributes is so important. It would show that most Canadians would consider our system to be working well.

Political scientists have long envisioned a future democracy with proportional representation. It is a system that’s been practiced for a long time in European countries, such as Belgium and The Netherlands. There is a very large number of people in Canada who wish to live under a proportional-representation system. Any new parliamentary act would be, literally, a vote for change.

Althia Raj is a political analyst in Toronto.

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