The cats will guard the mouse holes

We’ve had the biscuit when it comes to electoral reform in this country. Prime Ministerial duplicity gave it a hard kick in the teeth in February 2017 when Justin Trudeau broke his promise to make the 2015 election the last one to use the “first past the post” (FPTP) system. Proportional representation got another, possibly fatal, kick when British Columbia voters rejected it last December.  

Here have now been referendums on the subject three times in British Columbia (2005, 2009 and 2018), twice in Prince Edward Island (2005, 2016), and once in Ontario (2007). Just before Christmas, 61% of voters in British Columbia voted to keep FPTP going. Sixty-three percent went that way when Ontario voted eleven years ago.

Speaking of elections, have you read about the Liberal government’s grand idea for meddling in an election under the guise of defending its integrity? If not, read about it now.

The government says it wants to “slow the spread of disinformation tactics online and ensure that Canada’s next general election is free from interference.” That’s a laudable goal. But the organization in charge of it is inextricably linked to the incumbent government apparatus. The cats are guarding the mouse holes.

We now have something called the “Critical Election Incident Public Protocol” which sounds very bafflegabby. Is it a committee, an organization or an agency with staff and an office? No. It’s a protocol. What’s a protocol? I don’t know. It seems to be either a committee, an organization or an agency staffed by some high level civil servants. The Clerk of the Privy Council, three deputy ministers, and the national security and intelligence advisor. These are positions appointed by the Prime Minister, through the Governor General’s office.

Don’t forget that the vast majority of disinformation presented to us during an election campaign is made up by the parties contesting it. Do any of you remember the 1974 federal election? The Conservative leader, Robert Stanfield, proposed a wage and price freeze to combat 10.4% inflation. The Liberal leader, Pierre Trudeau (Justin’s dad), campaigned against the idea and won. In 1975 he brought in wage and price controls. I still haven’t forgiven him.

Of course, this happened in elections before 1975 as well as every election since. Think of the Conservatives fear mongering about niqabs and barbaric cultural practices in 2015. Or the Liberals promising electoral reform in the same campaign.

Stephane Perrault, Canada’s Chief Electoral Officer, is not part of the critical election incident public protocol. He shouldn’t only be part of it. He should be in charge. Sitting governments should not be involved in the electoral process, other than as candidates.

We all saw how Stephen Harper meddled with Elections Canada when he was in power. Then we got Justin Trudeau who campaigned on a promise to bring us proportional representation. He wasn’t the least bit fuzzy about it. He said that 2015 would be the last one fought under first past the post. He lied.

This October we’ll have another FPTP election. And again in 2023 and 2027. It will continue until we elect a government with the political courage to do the right thing. Just because we’ve never done it in the past doesn’t mean we won’t do it one day in the future.

The key is to stop referring the idea out to a referendum. In all of the PR referendums I’ve seen, the alternative to first past the post is always presented in as convoluted a manner as possible. It’s no wonder that when choosing between something they understand and something they don’t, most people choose the familiar.

If PR ever goes to another referendum it should be on a clear question: Are you in favour of proportional representation or do you want to keep an outdated method that only works in a two-party system? When that decision is made, bring in the method that works best: mixed member proportional representation.

I would dearly love to see it happen. One day it might, but I will probably be operating a worm farm before it does.