The American President-elect is full of sound and fury, which vents frequently in 140 characters or less. His victory signifies much that should be deeply concerning for anyone who lives in a democratic nation. The President-elect has not even been sworn in and he’s quickly backing away from a significant number of his campaign promises. While part of me is grateful for that — when his promises weren’t dreadful they were ridiculous — another part of me is gobsmacked at how fully dishonourable and untrustworthy he is proving himself to be. Those traits, in addition to his utter lack of any public service experience make him a very dangerous choice as Commander in Chief of America’s vast resources of war and suppression.

Secretary Clinton won the popular vote, but her Republican counterpart will be installed in the Oval Office in January 2017 because of the Electoral College system. This vote-weighting institution was designed when only white men could own property and slavery was a norm to be protected. The first-past-the-post (FPTP) electoral system in Canada has had frighteningly similar results. Parties and prime-ministers have been elected to office because of the way votes were distributed, rather than because they represented the will of the majority.

The social fabric of Canada has rotted under decades of neoliberal rule, contributing to widespread disaffection with government and disenfranchisement across class, ethnicity, gender and sexuality lines. Civic engagement may be up, but voting rates have been below 70% since 1992  because either people believe their votes don’t count, they feel uniformed about the issues, or they do not value their civic responsibilities. More people, especially women, are involved in groups devoted to solving problems that governments continue to neglect.

The government has also contributed to the decline in democratic engagement. Every instance of the systemic corruption that inevitably takes hold in entrenched and privileged institutions erodes public faith in democracy. With such limited access to those hallowed halls, the populace is left to express its political will outside of – and often in opposition to — the direction of established government channels through actions, like vigils, demonstrations and protests, only to come under the scrutiny of police and the ominously named “Government Operations Centre”.

Of course people are going to start to question the validity of democracy, which makes the rise of demagogic figures–like the President-elect–predictable.

Here is our one hope: If it can be predicted, it can be avoided.

Unfortunately, after just a year in office, Prime Minister Trudeau and the Liberal party are backing away from the campaign promise that the election that gave them the keys to power would be the last to use FPTP. The Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef is has discredited the work of the Parliamentary Committee set up to make recommendations. While the Liberals backpedal, the steaming pile of excuses grows. Now they want to send postcards to find out what Canadians think.

I’ll save you the postage. Here’s what this Canadian thinks:

  • The debacle south of the border needs to be seen as a clear and resounding warning to all democracies to clean up their acts.
  • Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, you and our party were voted into office – at least in part – because of your promise to make the electoral system in Canada more fair by eliminating FPTP by the next election.
    • You’ve got the mandate to change the system, so follow through.
  • The electoral reform committee traveled the country and held public meetings to collect data on what type of system Canadians want. The majority of people they heard from favoured some type of proportional representation.
    • As a researcher, I can understand why you might not want to accept the data. But again, as a researcher, I don’t understand why that means you stop doing the work. For heaven’s sake, just get more data.
      • On that note, I can see why you would think that face-to-face hearings might not be the best way to collect the “whole” array of political opinion. They’re definitely not. But what on earth makes you think that postcards are? Canada Posts numbers are real-paper mail has been in decline for quite a while now. Do you ever want to hear from any young people? Like, ever?*
      • The Committee was charged with making recommendations, which it did, complete with dissenting arguments from members of your own party. When Minister Monsef dismissed the work of the committee and dressed it down for not doing its job, it raised a question about word choice: In real life, when somebody makes a recommendation, you can take it or leave it. It’s not a solution. That’s a whole different word that means something else.
      • If you must have a referendum, you already have the mandate so give Canadians a choice between options. Here’s a thought, why not enhance the capacity of Elections Canada to work with the data and consult people, like constitutional lawyers, political scientist, sociologists, historians etc. They can come up with some models, and design a widespread public education campaign so then Canadians are voting on what kind of electoral system they want, rather than giving the government the mandate to change FPTP. Again.

What do the Liberals think they can expect from Canadians if they don’t follow through on this promise?

  • At best, the Liberal government is incompetent.
  • At worst, the promise was disingenuous from the outset.

It is up to this government to prove that it’s not a Trump in Trudeau clothing and earn the trust that Canadians have already extended during the election. If you think democracy matters, please put honour ahead of self-interest, and get to work improving Canada’s deeply flawed electoral and appointment systems. To quote a friend: “Be brave.”

 

*After this post was written, the government launched an online questionnaire called mydemocracy.ca.