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 (PART THREE OF A CASE FOR PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION IN CANADA)

Canada’s First-Past-the-Post Voting System is like trying to bail out the Titanic or rearrange its deck chairs

Canada, B.C. and the North Shore of North & West Vancouver are about to endure yet another unfair, inadequate first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting system, where the majority of voters never vote. Some say that why the citizenry don’t vote is a phenomenon occurring not only throughout Canada but the world at large because of a mounting disdain towards too much deceitful, authoritarian political-corporate rule. In the United States, during its last presidential election that ushered into office Donald Trump, it’s estimated that over 100 million voters didn’t bother to vote.

Once again in Canada a faulty democratic form of rule will fail to address the complexity of the many issues that face the country as a whole because it is out of touch with the true will of the majority of Canadian voters. Only electoral reform that seeks the adoption of a more egalitarian Proportional Representation (PR) voting system that levels the playing field will reflect the true will of Canadians and extent of their discontent about so many issues, not only at the federal and provincial levels, but especially at the municipal level where the breakdown of the FPTP voting system and its style of governance is most glaringly obvious and continues to look more like trying to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic; while the politicians, blind to the massive sea of discontent that swirls all around them at the grassroots level, try madly to bail out themselves and their FPTP system from the-self-evident truths that stare them in the face.

However, if the results of Canada’s past FPTP elections are again to be repeated, why the majority of voters will once more choose not to vote at the municipal level, and why its current voting system doesn’t work for the majority of voters, or why candidates and voters alike don’t yet recognize the importance of implementing a fairer, more representative government at the municipal level are questions to be addressed here that will speak to the reason why such indifference, ignorance or disdain in the general society is so rampant.

For if any given political system is meant to clearly demonstrate how a truly democratic model can exist between the way of life of a local people and those outside interests who would lay claim to dramatically change that way of life for their own advantage; it’s at the municipal level where PR’s fundamental differences in style and tone of government and superiority over the FPTP’s system of governance can best be demonstrated. It’s where a viable working political model and the foundational building blocks of any culture are laid that will set a precedent for how government and politics on a larger scale should be, rather than the other way around.

To immediately realize a reasonable facsimile of Proportional Representation at the municipal level of political governance wouldn’t ever officially need to require any kind of alternative complex voting system or complicated division of elected members. A region like the North Shore, already divided as it is into three separate municipalities, could encourage each of the established communities within their boundaries to identify those residents among themselves who would comprise their local community resident association. Then, with the further encouragement and approval of the duly elected mayor and council these resident associations could then be empowered, based upon a process of mutual consensus of agreement, to submit to mayor and council, for their further advisement and approval, the community’s own local official community plan (OCP). This OCP instrument would guide and direct the many issues and common concerns that every community faces, like the: type of housing allowed; traffic flow on neighbourhood streets; variances and building codes that govern height and width allowances that fit into the community’s future vision for itself; the preservation of residential character and its natural environment; to name but a few of the critically important aspects of any OCP.

With such a municipal PR system in place it would mean that an elected mayor and council would simply have to more deliberately dialogue with each community in much more intense, consensual ways; where outside political or corporate interests couldn’t as easiy roll-over a community when it comes to any significant changes to that community without its consent.

This workable concept of a truly democratic PR process at the municipal level once was amply demonstrated in the North Shore District of North Vancouver itself, where, for a few brief years, its local communities once had been able to create their own local community OCP that was respected and acknowledged by mayor and council. Consequently, the numbers who participated in civic affairs and voted in elections was much higher than it is today.

As the title of this op-ed suggests, candidates and voters alike on the North Shore, and especially in the District of North Vancouver, should recall that its municipal government once had in place a unique, budding form of Proportional Representation. Candidates and voters should also note that PR isn’t an end in itself but simply part of a long journey leading towards something far beyond the hard-nosed, bare-knuckled, power relations that dominate so-called democratic governments everywhere in the world. By now, had North Vancouver District’s municipal system allowed this process to organically grow and mature, it could already have further evolved into something beyond even the current notion of a PR system of government. But, unfortunately, instead it virtually became a still birth that all but died in the womb. More about this miscarriage of justice in local government will come a bit later.

If the results of the upcoming election at the municipal level in the District of North Vancouver and elsewhere on the North Shore remain the same as the last several elections, it will mean that those candidates who were successfully in their bid for mayor and council will once more become part of the same power grab philosophy and mentality which doesn’t ever reflect well the sentiments of the majority among the populace, and especially those among women, youth and First Nations. It means that the people once again won’t be fully represented nor will their often conflicted, frustrated and neglected concerns that constantly struggle to be heard about the huge disparities that exist on the North Shore, between those who advocate: constant economic growth and expansion versus slow growth and more stability; endless population expansion versus less population expansion; the perpetuation of more traffic and gridlock strategies versus strategies that create less traffic and gridlock; excessive high-rise, high-density development projects that offer less and less protection and preservation of the North Shore’s cultural and natural history and those that do, and the clash of philosophies between a future way of life based upon the continued misuse and abuse of finite natural and human resources versus those that instead advocate the total use of sustainable natural resources.

These seldom addressed issues continue to be the main underlying causes behind poor voter turnout for elections at whatever level of government caused by the widespread theme in politics of too much constant betrayal, lies, deceit and duplicity constantly expressed by politicians towards the populace that forever turns many, if not most, voters completely off.

Take, for example, the classic example of political betrayal and deceit when, in 2015, Canada’s Prime Minister candidate Justine Trudeau, with the backing of the Liberal Party, declared, “Stephan Harper has broken Ottawa and we need a real plan to fix it”, and vowed to make 2015 the last election under FPTP with the promise of a new voting system that would “make every vote count.” Yet only two years later, once Trudeau was elected into office, he broke his promise and abandoned the Liberal Party’s commitment to PR. Such lessons of untrustworthiness regularly manifested by politicians are the kind of teaching lessons that make a huge impact on the electorate that is difficult, if not impossible, to ever shake off.

The last straw for many Candians was when, only two years after being primarily elected on his sacred promise, Trudeau, in a letter to the Minister of Democratic Institutions, chose to officialy break his key election promise by publically stating, “Changing the electoral system will not be in your mandate.” In spite of so many clear statistics that showed an overwhelming desire by a majority of Canadians who favour the implementation of some kind of PR system, Trudeau, irrationally, instead blamed a lack of consensus on voting reform while adding, “I’m not going to do something that is wrong for Canada just to tick off a box on an electoral reform.” So as municipal, provincial and federal elections of 2018-2019 fast approach, the majority of Canadians who still decide to vote will see their votes utterly wasted.

Such huge lessons of betrayal, lies, deceit and duplicity at ever level of political life in Canada are indelibly etched in voter’s minds and have left their permanent scars. Instead of becoming angry or militant enough do something to change such political realities, too many voters, as in the United States and other countries, instead decide the political process is just too toxic and useless to do anything about and so opt out.

The same doubletalk and propaganda scare techniques exist among those in Canada who now argue against the concept of PR. The propaganda spin of fear they attempt to put on PR is that not only doesn’t it reflect real electoral reform or even a fairer vote at all, but that it will flood society with a lot of extremist racial and ideological hate groups, from nazi’s, communists and socialists to all manner of radical disrupter-types who will game the system for their own ends.

As one notorious example of the unfairnes of a PR voting system, its opponents point to the UK’s 1983 General Election where the Liberal/SDP Alliance in that election received 25.4% of the vote, only slightly fewer than the Labour Party, which received 27.6%, but won only 23 MP seats compared to Labour’s 209 MPs which they contend was manifestly disproportinate.

On the other hand, actor-comedienne John Cleese, in his famous You Tube skit Proportional Representation for Dummies, years ago called attention to the same 1983 Election in the UK, and turned the argument on its head; pointing out that in the FPTP system the Conservatives share of the vote was 42%, Labour’s was 28% and SDP/Liberal Alliance was 26%. Yet the Conservatives ended up winning 397 MPs, while Labor only received 209 MPs and the SDP/Alliance received a mere 23 MPs. Cleese makes the point in his You Tube skit that while it took 33,000 votes to elect a Conservative MP, and 40,000 to elect a Labour MP it took 340,000 votes, or ten times as many, to elect the same SDP/Liberal Alliance MP; a “clearly ludicrously, unfair system”, as Cleese notes.

Cleese goes on to call attention to the fallacies of the propaganda used by those opposed to PR. Instead of leading to instability in government, Cleese says it, more truthfully, leads to greater stability, as has been proven in the vast majority of countries in Western Europe who are mostly run by coalition governments based upon a PR system. For those who charge PR is too complicated a voting system, Cleese humorously adds that any voter who can count up to 3 or to 5 can figure out how to do it, simply by marking their ballot with a first, second, third, fourth or fifth choice from most to least favourable.

The fact is that those who prefer an FPTP-elected one-party system tend to favour a government that desires less rather than more diversity that would prefer to avoid discussions by a wider percentage of the populace with a greater balance of shared opinions and increased compromises over whatever conflicting issues and ideas. Those opposed to PR further charge that coalition governments created by a PR system can only be held together by political protection rackets and so are notoriously weak and inherently unstable.

What the title of this op-ed implies, but few Canadian voters realize, and especially those on the North Shore of B.C., is that not too many years ago, in the1980’s, in the District of North Vancouver there actually existed, intentionally or unwittingly, for a short time, a District-wide concept of quasi grassroots PR of a sort that focused on the official community plans (OCP) of each local community regarding development plans for its future; where residents in communities, without ever being elected, were afforded the opportunity to directly participate in the protection, preservation and planned future growth for themselves and their own tiny piece of the North Shore. But the concept was short-lived and soon was cut off at the knees by the politicians who ultimately weren’t comfortable with sharing the power with all the people.

Yet if the fundamental intent of Proportional Representation is to ensure that: (a) no one politician, political party will ever get 100% of the power; (b) the citizenry can vote for what it wants instead of what it doesn’t want; (c) every individual, resident, neighboourhood and community has an equal vote in what happens to them; (d) every citizen, neighbourhood, community and local government works cooperatively together, and (e) political party’s and politicians are prevented from ignoring or distorting what a community is trying to say to whatever authorities on high who are attempting to accomplish some unwanted change, like high-rise, high-density development; than what the tiny community of Lower Capilano ideally once was attempting to do with its local ‘OCP’ plan represented a real working model of PR.

However, this progressive concept of real democracy at work was terminated once District’s politicians fully realized the obstacles this concept represented to the greed and desires of outside corporate development forces; and so eliminated its progressive concept of grass-roots community planning created by citizen associations, who once so proudly referred to them as their own “local OCP”, and reveled in their ability to effect the protection, preservation or developmental progress of their tiny world as they would have it.

Ruthess, deceitful elected politicians, bureaucrats and developers, unilaterally decided to otherwise cut the citizenry out of the loop, seize back total political power and control and instead create a One Size Fits All OCP that would forever after decide the future course and direction of the North Shore and the way development and everything else would look.

For some this was a political act of betrayal and highhandedness of the worst kind that became the last straw that spelled the end of their grass-roots participation while, for still others, it felt like a death knell for True Democracy. It sent the signal that a major sea change was underway in the political climes on the North Shore that henceforth was going to be more about development and density rather than community building and preservation because the politicians weren’t REALLY interested in knowing what the local residents actually thought or desired about such matters as: traffic, housing, zoning, population expansion or whatever. The politicians already saw the reality of the future as they wanted to see it, as if it was written in stone. They couldn’t see or accept the simple fact that all the today’s and tomorrow’s of forever can always be whatever we humans want them to be.

But when this writer became the founding president of his Lower Capilano Community back in the early 80’s the North Shore was a far different place than it is today. Strong, intelligent, progressive women who held political office were much more in evidence. Then Mayor Marilyn Baker, of North Vancouver District, was making great strides to bring to the North Shore a progressively-exciting style with a unique feminine perspective to municipal government. Mayor Baker amply supported by still other strong, forceful women on council who also brought to bear on the political scene a much different, softer, more humane consciousness that balanced the hardness and brittleness of the dominant Old Boys Network, Corporate Globalization climes of today. It was like a momentary brilliant ray of sunshine before being eclipsed by the gathering massive black storm clouds that since have darkened the North Shore and forced it to go in one direction as if that was the only conceivable direction possible.

It’s high-time to implement some kind of more responsive form of government at all levels on the North Shore, in B.C. and throughout Canada that will trend in the opposite direction of the way too many Justin Trudeau’s, Doug Ford’s and other dissembling political-types who agree with the authoritarian, dictatorial way the FPTP concept of constitutional democracy would continue to take Canada’s future.

 

*(Part 3 of 4 “NORTH SHORE POLITICS & ELECTIONS: ARE THEY AUTOCRATIC OR DEMOCRATIC?)

Jerome Irwin is a freelance writer and author of “The Wild Gentle Ones; A Turtle Island Odyssey” (www.turtle-island-odyssey.com), a three volume account of his travels as a spiritual sojourner, during the 1960’s, 70’s & 80’s, among Native American & First Nation peoples in North America. It encompasses the Indigenous Spiritual Renaissance & Liberation Movements that emerged throughout North America during the civil rights era. Irwin has authored over the years a number of environmental, political, cultural, spiritual articles with a special focus on Native Americans, First Nations, Australian aboriginals, Israeli, Gazan, Palestinian and Syrian peoples. Irwin also is the publisher of The Wild Gentle Press.

One Comment

  1. Almost twenty years ago, BC had a premier who had stayed serious about Pro-Rep after winning office. He appointed three women to draft a referendum about it. They spent all their time arguing about details, and never recommended the results to their political allies. It lost narrowly because nobody was campainging for it. I’d worked my heart out to get that process started, and it changed my mind about trusting people.