Free and fair votes are the basis of any truly democratic system, something people of faith have a long history of promoting. Yet Christians in Canada have been relatively silent on details such as campaign financing, advertising and even the increasing use of electronic campaign tools. If our approach to politics is rooted in love of neighbour, we will recognize that these issues have moral implications and are worthy of periodic review and revision.
News: Democratic Reform
With the Conservatives winning a majority government by virtue of 6,102 votes and only 39.6% of votes cast, talk of electoral reform is surfacing once again. In fact, rallies were held across the country on May 14 calling for electoral reform and some form of proportional representation in Canada.
Meanwhile, a referendum in the United Kingdom – a key component of the coalition agreement between the Conservatives and the Liberal-Democrats – saw Alternative Vote go down to defeat on May 5 with 68% of voters opting in favour of first-past-the-post (FPTP).
A short but fractious parliamentary session ended last week. Rancorous in tone and highlighted by disputes over the democratic rights of Parliament and its committees, the session produced little legislative achievements. However, two examples demonstrate that Canada’s political parties are capable of cooperating effectively when they choose to. A collaborative, consultative approach by parties willing to compromise for the sake of the common good would benefit all Canadians and promote a more vibrant, engaged democracy. The choice is up to parliamentarians themselves.
The government has refused to produce uncensored documents relating to the question of whether Canada is complicit in the torture of Afghan detainees despite the request of the House of Commons. The government claims that it would compromise national security to do so. But national security is no excuse to avoid accountability: accountability is a core principle of both democracy and public justice. Canadians have a right to know what is being done in our name. Representative democracy is no threat to national security.
Earlier this week Chandra and I attended a reception hosted by Equal Voice, in celebration of their Experiences mentorship program. Equal Voice is an organization that works in partnership with women in elected positions at all levels of government to encourage women across Canada to become more involved in politics.
Currently only 21% of elected officials in all levels of government in Canada are women. Just 22% of the Members of Parliament in the House of Commons are women. This ranks Canada 49th out of 189 countries, including under several developing countries. The current Federal Ministry has one of the highest proportions of women of any Cabinet, but still only 11 out of 37 (less than half) are women.
Open debate is essential within Canada’s system of governance and democracy. It is a crucial part of the decision making process and it ensures that the government is held accountable for its actions. However, with the sudden decision to prorogue Parliament amidst much ongoing and unresolved parliamentary business, the government is essentially silencing voices of opposition. What does this say about Canada’s democracy?
In all reports of dissatisfaction with Canadian democracy, Question Period seems to be at or near the top of the list. In the latest issue of the Canadian Parliamentary Review, Frances Ryan takes a critical look at Question Period. She suggests that the lack of effective accountability in Question Period stems from both behavioural and structural problems. But there is a conundrum: without addressing the behavioural issues, it is hard to address the structural problems, since parliamentarians themselves must be at the root of any changes to Question Period structure.
Canadian democracy is broken. Macleans’ columnists Paul Wells and Andrew Coyne don’t beat around the bush with this conclusion. They identify sham elections, an irrelevant parliament, declining democracy within political parties, the triumph of tactics over policy, and the lack of decorum in politics as the symptoms of our democratic distress.
But the two columnists with notoriously different world views agree not only on the diagnosis, but on some possible cures.
On May 12, BC voters have the option of choosing a new electoral system: Single Transferable Vote. STV is a more proportional system that respects voter preferences while also providing local representation. CPJ encourages our BC members and supporters to vote in favour of STV. CPJ’s interest in electoral reform grows out of our strong belief in justly accommodating diversity and respecting the reality of pluralism. Our legislatures should reflect the true diversity of opinion found in the country.
While Canadians responded with fear and outrage to the possibility of a coalition government, many other countries are used to coalition governments. Experience from Germany and the Netherlands suggests that coalition governments can work well, offering stability and good governance. They represent accommodation of multiple viewpoints, and offer a positive platform for governance that does not restrict the role of other parties to opposing the government. Lessons from Europe could provide useful alternatives for the Canadian system, offering a more collaborative, transparent approach.