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
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.
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?
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.
Recent events on Parliament Hill have revealed a deep problem: far too many Canadians are unfamiliar with our system of government. In our Westminster parliamentary tradition, no one is elected as the government. Unlike the Stanley Cup, government is not a trophy to be handed over at the end of a long contest. Any government must therefore have the confidence of the House of Commons and coalition governments are perfectly legal. The recent political events underline the unfairness of a party with a minority of votes having 100% of the power to set the parliamentary agenda and suggest the need for electoral reform.
In May of 2009, BC voters will get another chance to change their electoral system. Antony Hodgson advocates for the new system of Single Transferrable Vote, arguing that it will have several positive public justice implications.
In the October 10 provincial election, Ontarians have the chance to vote for a new electoral system. This system is similar to the current system but adds more proportionality – the idea that the legislature should reflect the percentages of votes that parties received in the election. You can read more about the benefits of the new system in our brochure.
Recent calls for change to our electoral system has brought proportional representation once again to the forefront. Caitlin Hayward gives an overview of various forms of PR and the history of PR experiments in Canada.