Two things need to change if we are to start shifting Canada back towards real democracy.
We need serious electoral reform to improve the way we vote, and we need to start electing candidates who will stand up to party leaders and demand that constituents are more important than party policy.
But before that, we need to get rid of the farcical fixed-election-date legislation that is completely at odds with our parliamentary system of government.
The illusion of fixed federal election dates brought in by Stephen Harper’s crew – and quickly ignored by that same mass of political entropy when the first subsequent election was called a full year before the supposed fixed date (also proving how silly the idea is) – serves only to help concentrate power in the prime minister’s office.
It reinforces the idea that we elect a prime minister the way Americans elect their president every four years. We elect local representatives – Members of Parliament – who in turn have the power to elect the prime minister from among their ranks.
The leader of the party that wins the most local ridings – the most MPs – tends to become prime minster.
But as Australia’s parliament, similar to ours, recently demonstrated, MPs can turf the prime minster and pick a new one when they become dissatisfied with the incumbent’s performance.
Australian parliamentarians demonstrated that the people they represent, not a dictatorial prime minister, could wield the real power in an effective democracy.
That’s why we need to get rid of fixed election dates which create a perception of greater power for the prime minister, and we need to return more power to individual MPs.
We need to demand that our representatives have freer rein in parliamentary votes, that they are not just in the House of Commons as vote markers for their respective parties.
There are good reasons for the party system, but the benefits fade quickly when the party has more say in how our representative votes on issues than we do.
We need to stop electing MPs to do their party leaders’ bidding, and instead pick ones who will stand up for us.
Right now we may as well be electing fence posts – or seat cushions colour-coded to make each party’s votes easy to count.
We don’t need some convoluted hocus pocus system, like the goofy STV concoction proposed in B.C. – and wisely rejected by referendum – a few years ago.
We need something simple, something that will allow voters to feel like they have more control – and will make elected MPs realize that, in a true democracy, control belongs with the voters. We need None of the Above.
A lot of people don’t bother to vote because they feel they can’t make a difference, because they don’t feel comfortable with any of the choices available to them election day.
They should have a legal and recognized way to express that frustration. Instead of spoiling their ballot – which only looks like they weren’t competent to make a check mark – voters should have the option of None of the Above.
None of the Above can’t win the election, of course, but it will send a message quantifying dissatisfaction that the successful candidate can’t fail to recognize.
A big turnout for None of the Above in a given riding would send a useful message to all parties.
And we need to make it mandatory to vote – or at least to cast a ballot, whether marked or not.