Canada is Ready for Change

The last federal election was a political game changer. The Bloc was destroyed; the NDP rose up seizing the Bloc's support in Quebec, spread out across Canada and replaced the Liberals as the official opposition. The Bloc and Liberal support both collapsed because they didn’t advocate any meaningful political ideas and lost touch with their bases. Both campaigns lacked any real passions or fire.

Was this a transformative election for Canada or will things revert back to the same next time? Nobody is sure. But what is for sure is that more people participated in the election- especially younger people. We can use this moment of involvement as a moment of opportunity to change Canada for the better.

Victor Hugo, a French philosopher famously said, “Nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come.”

It’s time to look at Canada’s archaic institutions, by reforming our Senate, and our system of parliament to bring them into the 21st century. Why has there been little talk of political reform before?

The 1995 Quebec Referendum had a profound impact on the politicians who fought the unity struggle.  Jean Chretien and Paul Martin were in the Liberal government at the time. Jean Charest was the Progressive Conservative Leader at the time, and Joe Clark who wrote the failed Charlottetown Accord succeeded him. For the Reform party the MP who was responsible for their stance on the Quebec Referendum question was Stephen Harper. All these leaders saw the near demise of Canada. After this narrow victory, Stephane Dion was appointed Unity minister and introduced the Clarity Act. It stated that any province that wished to separate must have a clear majority and a clear question.  Look at the past 15 years and all of Canada’s major political leaders were involved in this fight. All of them saw how close Canada was to disintegrating, and all have had zero motivation for serious political reform.

What Canada needs is electoral reform! We need an elected senate. Even the British House of Lords is looking at reform. Why can’t Canada? Without any fear of defeat, many Senators have offered little value to our political system. It’s time for an elected senate. But not a first-past- the-vote Senate that would duplicate the House of Commons. Canada needs to look at proportional or preference balloting for an elected senate. Proportional voting would make every vote equal in Canada, by dividing votes equally amongst Canadian voters not ridings. Preferential balloting would give Canadians more than one choice on Election Day and end strategic voting. Now what’s wrong with our current First-past-the-vote system? Every riding is not equal. Voters in battleground ridings have a greater say in whose elected. On the other hand, voters in “safe ridings” votes count very little because it’s already decided who will win, and its very likely party leaders don’t even visit those ridings.

The 2008 Election saw the Bloc receive 1.3 million votes, Green 900, 000. The Bloc won 49 seats and Green won 0 seats. Why do we have a system rewards a separatist region party and punishes a national federalist party? Our current system rewards regional parties and punishes parties whose support is spread out. Critiques of proportional voting say you won’t have a local MP representing your riding. But look at the 2011 election in Quebec where voters voted for the party or the national leader and didn’t even know the name of their candidate. Ruth Ellen Brosseau, the infamous NDP MP elected from Quebec went to Las Vegas during the election, doesn’t speak French, and five days after she won admitted she never ever been to her riding.

Something must change. The reason why we had the 2011 election was because of issues simmering from the parliamentary crisis in 2008. The Conservatives won 143 seats but it was a minority, and couldn’t gain support from the other parties.  Combined with the Conservatives plan to remove public funding for political parties the other parties threatened to topple the government with a coalition agreement.  The other three parties signed an agreement to topple the government.  The Liberals and NDP agreed to form a coalition government supported by the Bloc Qubecois and together they had 163 seats. Conservative supporters since this is wrong the party with the most seats should form government. But if that holds true, that most means the voters in 163 ridings (which is a majority) will have their votes voided. We need clearer rules. When we have a minority, we needs rules written down in the Constitution, and the country shouldn’t be thrust into chaos because nobody knows what happens next.

Constitutional change is necessary for Canada, it hasn’t happened for a while. But change does have its risks.  We are a soft power in the world. Canada has played a role in resolving conflict worldwide through negotiations and open debate.  But yet we can’t change at home. The 21st century must have a democratic Canada. It can’t be an old 19th or 20th century idea because we lost interest. We need to regain interest in our democratic decisions. We have solved grand problems before. We created a national railway, opened up our borders to immigrants from around the world, and introduced universal healthcare. Surely we can reform our senate by figuring out a way to make it democratic.

John A Macdonald our first Prime Minister said:

"Whatever you do, adhere to the Union. We are a great country, and shall become one of the greatest in the universe if we preserve it; we shall sink into insignificance and adversity if we suffer it to be broken."

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Updated: August 18, 2012

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