Wednesday, February 19, 2014

In Canada's Contested Vote Exchange the Biggest Losers Are Democrats

Although Canadians like to think of themselves governed by a modern democratic state, in reality, we are still governed by a colonial form of government that is a vestige of the British Empire.

Our Head of State is a foreign monarch, Queen Elizabeth II; the Prime Minister is chosen by the Crown's representative, the Governor General -- although tradition has is that this title is bestowed upon the winner of the contested vote exchange that takes place during a general election -- and the laws adopted by Parliament do not become law until they are given the Royal Assent from the Governor General.

In theory and in practice, Canada is a constitutional monarchy. This means that Canada has both a written and unwritten constitution that allows for the Prime Minister to exercise, for all intents and purposes, the powers of the ruling monarch.

In fact, within his or her Royal Prerogatives, the Prime Minister has the privilege to form a cabinet of ministers, name the Supreme Court justices, and to place, at his or her discretion, the people who will represent the provinces in the Senate.  Moreover, the Prime Minister Of Canada can even declare war without the consent of Parliament.

Without doubt, this institutional arrangement is authoritarian by design.  When going to the polls, Canadians are effectively tasked with deciding to whom they are going to transfer their collective sovereignty, in other words, the leader of the political party who will rule on their behalf.

This is a far cry from democratic governance in which the people exercise their power to rule themselves.

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Essentially, elections in Canada are all about participating in a contest to determine which political party will win the most seats in Parliament.  The total number of votes cast for each party does not enter into the equation.  An absolute majority of votes is not required.  In fact, it is rare that a political party will receive more than 50% of the popular vote.

A majority government in Canada means that the ruling party has the majority of seats in Parliament.  In practice, each seat goes to the candidate that gathered the most votes in an electoral district.  Considering that we have multi-party elections, more often than not there are more electors who voted against the winning candidate than those who voted for. 

Aggregating the results of the simultaneously-held, electoral district contests produces the over all winner, the political party with the most seats, whose leader will receive the Royal Prerogatives. Generally, 40% of the popular vote will garner 60% of the seats in Parliament, and with this goes 100% of the political power.

Sometimes, the contest produces bizarre results like when a political party that wins 60% of the popular vote obtains all of the available seats, or when the party that wins the most seats received fewer overall votes than the runner up, or when approximately a million people vote for one party but are shut out of Parliament because their candidates did not win any of the plurality contests in the individual electoral districts.

But that's the way is game is played in Canada.  Democratic sensibilities do arise from time to time -- especially after one of the abnormal results comes about -- but the dissatisfaction with the process has never gained enough strength so that the rules of the game are changed.

Indeed lately, fewer and fewer people are participating in the game.  The idea of giving one's vote to any candidate has lost its appeal because most of the votes cast have no effect on the final result.

This makes the game much easier to play from the political parties point of view. 

Instead of spreading their resources over the entire electoral map, they can concentrate their efforts where they are most likely to be rewarded.  Instead of trying to convince undecided voters, they can concentrate of getting the voters who have been identified to vote for their party out to the polls.  Instead of putting forward reasoned arguments for the positions, they can simply slag their opponents, hoping to convince their supporters to stay home and not to exercise their right to vote.

In short, the winning strategy for political parties is to mobilize the vote that can be counted upon and to decrease the probability of opposing votes being cast.  Reducing the number of voters reduces the uncertainty of the results.

Of course, the biggest losers in these regularly staged electoral contests are those who would like to live in a democracy.  Not only are we aware of how the game is played, we are powerless to change it because we are out numbered and are unable to mobilize a critical mass of disaffected voters, who one day soon will become the absolute majority of Canadians.

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