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The Silver Lining

September 11, 2008

I won’t even pretend to know how this election is going to come out.  The polls say the conservatives will win, either a another minority or perhaps even a majority. That is the status before the campaign began at least. Lets say thats true, lets say its another minority.  What does that mean? Does it mean the whole election was a waste of time and money?  That it was a pointeless affair and just shows how worthless the whole system is? No, not really.  Depending on the outcome, it could lead to some dramatic changes if people open there minds a bit and have some vision.

I think there is a shift going on, under the surface, in the elctorate. People want change.  Our poltical system has become stagnant, we are stuck in a Catch-22 of trade-offs between weak leaders (Liberal), and extreme ideals on either side that frighten us (CPC and NDP).  And Canadians see change blowing in the wind down south in the US.  If American voters grasp that change we can no longer complain that we are the reasonable ones and they are partisan-filled politics.  Canadians are seeking a new equilibrium for our system after the collapse of the Progressive Conservatives and Liberal dynasties.  Its very possible that the result of this election won’t fundamentaly change the result but I think if it doesn’t it will lay the groundwork for the next election that will give us real change.

Here’s a scenario:

The Green party could become emblematic of the change that is needed in our system.  They may win one or two seats in this election, even unseating the defense minister, Peter McKay in Nova Scotia.  This would be important for many reasons. First, Peter McKay isn’t just the defense minister, he’s the last leader of the Progressive Conservative party.  He made a signed promise and broke it to join the Alliance at the final PC convention.  PC voters haven’t forgotten that betrayal.  And his defeat would signal the true end of the war between the Alliance and the PCs.  Old PC voters are looking for somewhere to go, and the Conservative Party of Canada isn’t it.

Second, it would shock the nation to have a new, national party in parliament.  It would begin looking dynamic, there would be minority parties that have no illusions of governing. It would restore some excitement to democracy and force people to begin people thinking about how to improve it.  What is the point of the party that has no intention of governing, yet is interested in improving Canada?  (The Bloc don’t fall into this category)

Third, the NDP is currently under this very illusion.  They will not form government for a very long time, if ever, at least not alone.  A significant growth in Green support at the expense of NDP support would  make them open their eyes to this truth.  This may then lead them to the natural conclusion that they have avoided ever since the rise of Jack Layton and his silly insistence that he is ‘running for prime minister of Canada’**.  That is electoral reform towards a proportional system.

If this election turns out to be a deadlock again between fear and reasonableness then voices should grow louder for electoral reform.  This voice should be loudest from the NDP and Greens.  Propotional representation, if done right, could empower smaller parties by given them the voice they should have without drowning parliament in dozens of fringe MPs.  The Greens get about 5-7% of the vote in elections.  5% of 308 MPS is 15 MPs! And they’ve never elected 1!  That is what is wrong with out system.

After this election, if this scenario plays out, this will become only more clear.  The Conservatives will gain another minority.  The Liberals will lose seats, the NDP and Greens will gain, and a return to the safe and tranquil (!) times of majority governments will recede into myth.  Maybe then people will begin to consider that a real reform will get us back to democracy.  A democracy where no one will dare claim they are running for Prime Minister, as if it were president, but where they run to represent the people. Then after the people decide who to elect, we find out who will rule and how they will have to compromise with other parties.  A democracy where all the votes we cast truly matter because somewhere will be there to voice them.  I know the Greens realize this, perhaps this election will make the NDP and even the Liberals realize how much better this would be in the long run.

**A NOTE: I do not mean to deride Jack Layton or the NDP for wanting to form government.  What I mean by ‘silly notion’ is that no MP is running for Prime Minister.  People run to be a member of parliament, connected to a party.  The party rules, led by its prime minsiter.  It may seem pedantic, but we elect individual members and their parties.  We do no elect a President as Americans or the French do.  So it is not only a lack of humbleness to say this but it is incorrect and misleading.  Parliament works through teamwork, and the PrimeMinister is a part of that team.  I think if the leader of a party is not elected in their riding they should not be allowed to sit as prime minister, but then again, our current system is deeply flawed.  In a proportional system it would be possible to have parties select some candidates that have no ridings at all, and perhaps the leader would be an ideal example of this.  But currently, this is merely and illusion we all seem to go along with.

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