‘Freedom Convoy’ Protests Reveal A Bigger Problem With Canadian Democracy

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THE CONVERSATION

This article originally appeared on The Conversation, an independent, nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts. Disclosure information is available on the original site.

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Author: Jeff Berryman, Emeritus University Professor and Professor of Law, University of Windsor

The “freedom convoy” protests across the country have revealed that many Canadians are angry with the government and increasingly distrust of certain democratic institutions. While the protesters’ actions may not represent what the majority of Canadians think about vaccination mandates, there’s reason to believe their negative views of the government aren’t unique.

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A recent Angus Reid Institute poll asked respondents if Canada could be accurately described as having a “good system of government” — 45% said it could not. The poll also found that no region of the country had a majority of residents who felt the federal government cared about issues important to them.

None of this is surprising in a country where alienation from the West is still a concern and where opinions are divided on the actions of the federal government to fight climate change.

A common refrain from politicians is that Canada is a democracy where everyone has the right to vote, so if you don’t like what the government is doing, then you can vote to have them removed from office. It is implicit in this answer that everyone has an equal opportunity to determine who forms the government. But the refrain is also at odds with our current democratic process.

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For some time, what has united a majority of Canadians is that they do not like the vision of the government in power, regardless of their political colors. What is needed to release the tensions of growing divisions is a recalibration of our basic democratic institution.

Canada has had 12 elections since 1984, when Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservatives were the last party to win the support of a majority of voters.

In the 11 elections since 1984, a majority of Canadians — mostly over 60% — have not supported the government in power. What voters cannot agree on is which vision they prefer.

These figures have not escaped the country’s political leaders. They gave up seeking a real majority of voters and designed their policies – often very cynically, like transportation subsidies for urban voters or gun freedom for rural voters – to appeal only to to what they see as their electoral base, believing that base can give them a chance to form a government.

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Conservative leadership candidate Pierre Poilievre’s endorsement of the “freedom convoy” is the latest example of the “call your base” strategy. It’s not how many people you can attract to your party. It is more important to focus on the constituency in which voters reside.

For example, I live in the electoral district of Windsor West. Herb Gray held the Liberal Party constituency from 1962 to 2002 – sometimes with 73% of the popular vote, but most of the time around 55%. In a 2002 by-election, Brian Masse won for the NDP with 42% and still represents the riding. In my riding, if you’re a Conservative or Green voter, you might as well stay home.

Of the 12 federal elections held over the past 37 years, five have resulted in minority governments. Obviously, we don’t know the electoral stability that proponents of the first-past-the-post system have always touted as a strength of the current electoral process.

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How then do we recalibrate our core democratic system to ensure that everyone’s vote counts, that political leaders have an incentive to woo every voter and craft policy aligned with that goal, and to ensure that those who feel alienated are heard?

The answer lies in moving to some form of proportional representation electoral system. This idea is not new, but today more than ever there is a need to revitalize our democracy and pave the way for unity.

Among these alternative systems, New Zealand’s Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system has many advantages.

Canadians cannot leave electoral reform to traditional politicians

— and the current Liberal government has already reneged on its promise to eliminate the first-past-the-post system. The New Zealand system would require changes to make it suitable for Canada, but some form of proportional representation is the best way to ensure that every vote counts and that we really get the government we deserve.

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In New Zealand, everyone has two votes: one for the candidate who will represent their constituency and one for the party of their choice. Constituency candidates are elected by first past the post, but the composition of parliament is also based on the share of the popular vote nationwide. Thus, if a party obtains 35% of the votes cast, but only holds 25% of the seats in parliament, it is allocated additional seats drawn from a list of candidates presented by its party.

There are currently 75 voters and 45 list members in New Zealand. These lists widened the diversity of candidates, bringing additional strength to a representative democracy. Maori MPs in New Zealand have fallen from 5% to 20% (Maori make up 15% of the population) and Pacific Islanders (7% of the population) to 7% from 1%. Gender parity has largely been achieved (48% of MPs are women and 11% are from the LGBTQ+ community).

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In practice, the New Zealand proportional system has resulted in several forms of government. There have been real minority governments where one party won only 42% of the popular vote and was in power with 45% of the seats. There have been real majority governments – the one currently elected in 2020 is one of them.

But more often there have been true coalition governments where parties have agreed on particular political elements, including holding ministerial portfolios, signed an agreement and governed accordingly. Their legitimacy comes from the fact that in coalition they represent a real majority of voters.

Most New Zealand voters cast their two votes for the same party, but split votes do occur.

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If this system were introduced in Canada I might want to vote NDP for my riding MP but give more votes to the green party because I’m a big believer in climate change and that’s where I’d give my party vote . For a Conservative voter in Windsor West, under a proportional voting system, their party’s vote has the same value as anyone else in the country. This would deter parties from appealing only to their “base” with policies that alienate the majority of the electorate.

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Jeff Berryman does not work for, consult, own stock, or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond his academic appointment.

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This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Disclosure information is available on the original site. Read the original article: https://theconversation.com/the-freedom-convoy-protests-point-to-ab https://theconversation.com/the-freedom-con

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