Why democracy is so far out of reach

As a voter who holds views that (to describe it politely) often put one in a minority camp, it’s easy to understand Don Hepburn’s frustrations with what we (politely) describe as democracy in Canada.

As a voter who holds views that (to describe it politely) often put one in a minority camp, it’s easy to understand Don Hepburn’s frustrations with what we (politely) describe as democracy in Canada. Minority views get very little consideration at the government level, except of course, when that minority happens to hold a majority of seats.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper crows that “Conservative values” are the same as “Canadian values” since his Conservative Party holds a majority in Parliament.

But we know that simply is not true. A majority of Canadians voted for anything other than “Conservative values” in the past election — it’s just that our flawed electoral system rewarded the Tories with a majority of seats.

Just the same, Harper has the power to spit on democratic principles with his so-called omnibus budget bills, and condemn anyone who can’t accept the bad seed he mixes with the good seed in his giant grab bag.

When we moan about poor voter turnout at elections, an honest thinker has to acknowledge the futility of voting in elections that all but nullify the citizenship of the minority view.

I’ve showed up for every election held since I came of age, but did so in the knowledge that principles I hold dear will never be reflected in the outcome. In Canadian government, the collective minority view (which almost always adds up to more voters than those who supported the winning candidates) gets no attention whatever.

So why bother voting at all?

That’s the question Hepburn and other members of the non-profit group Fair Vote Canada want to address.

Here’s an example of how Canadian federal elections are anything but democratic:

If the Parti Quebecois gets just six per cent of the national vote, they are rewarded with 40 seats in Parliament. The Green Party needs 12 per cent of the national vote to elect just one member. That’s according to a calculator on the Fair Vote website.

Now, we know that Green Party Leader Elizabeth May didn’t get anything near 12 per cent of the national vote, but there she is, occupying the farthest seat in Parliament.

That’s an anomaly I was able to exploit in the Fair Vote calculator, to make a point. But you don’t need to be a Green Party supporter to understand how unfair and undemocratic our current electoral system can be.

You just need to be one slight step left of centre in Alberta to understand that point, acutely.

It’s thought that “big tent” parties — which the current version of the Alberta Tories are trying to be — have already made the minority view considerations needed to expand their tent into majority status.

That’s a nice thought, but a proportional electoral system forces party leaders to be more open and honest about who’s the best bed partner in a coalition. If parties can agree in enough areas to form a proportional coalition, at least everyone knows those areas are supported by a majority of voters.

You can’t say that about the mishmash packed into Harper’s omnibus bill.

Changing Canada’s electoral system would be harder than pushing a giant rock up a hill. It’s more like pushing a huge pile of gravel up a hill, while trying to keep it all together.

If people like Hepburn can keep pointing out that what we have in Canada isn’t exactly democracy, then it’s worth it to still keep voting — if only to let him know some people think he’s right.

Greg Neiman is a former editor at the Advocate. Follow his blog at readersadvocate.blogspot.com.