The Problem with Power in Politics

There is a catch-22 in politics that is difficult for even the most transparent and beloved leaders to shake. As the American Presidential election hits the homestretch, it’s all too easy to forget that just about one year ago, Canada had its very own set of relatively historic elections.

In 2015, left-leaning voters from the New Democrat and Liberal parties sought to remove the Conservative party from power, after a few too many undesirable decisions and a call for change. Among the grand ideals presented by the Liberal Party last year was the call for electoral reform, changes to the system that chooses our government.

The ‘first-past-the-post’ system Canada currently uses doesn’t leave government representative of the true nature of voter distribution, and Liberals rightly called for an overhaul of the election process to make things more fair. Voters were generally moved by this motion, and the Liberal party ended up taking a majority of the seats in the house of Parliament. Having a majority will generally make it much easier to pass legislation to change the electoral laws, and this was a major piece of the Liberal platform.

The Liberals said that they would be introducing legislation seeking to change the electoral process within 18 months of getting into office, one of over 200 promises they have vowed to keep. Now, in many cases, for a number of reasons, it’s nearly impossible to keep ALL the promises you make once a government is actually in power. For instance, the Liberals have been forced to walk back plans to balance our nation’s budget, in large part because Conservatives who were on the way out weren’t particularly honest about the state of the budget for the last few years.

However, electoral reform was a tent-pole feature of the Liberal platform, and walking it back now once you’re in power is a very damaging thing to do. Nobody WANTS to change the system that made them successful, but in this case it is absolutely necessary. I agree with a lot of the policy changes the Liberal government has made over the last year, but this is a big mis-step.

The Liberals took a majority (184/338 = 54 percent) of the seats in Parliament in the last election, but they only received 39.5 percent of the vote across Canada. This isn’t the least representative election that has even taken place, but it’s not exactly something to brag about. The NDP lost a lot of ground from the previous election because many NDP voters were more disenfranchised with the Conservatives than they were motivated by the Liberals, but didn’t want to split the vote and lose, as they did in 2011.

The NDP and Liberals are relatively close in ideology in a number of important ways, but the NDP have policy plans with lots of support too. However, with a system that often relies on strategic voting with more than two parties, the lesser of two similar parties are often stifled politically, to the detriment of the whole system.

Now, I’m not claiming to know what the best electoral process for Canada and Canadians would be. I’m not suggesting the government listen to me and I’m not prescribing any system for Canada. But changing your mind about following through on the promise that ‘2015 be the last federal election held under the first-past-the-post voting system‘ is a terrible idea.

I like a lot of what the Liberals have done for Canada in the last year, and a big part of that is that the government has been relatively transparent about their goals and necessary changes to those goals. But walking back this important piece of policy simply because it might mean that you lose political power when it comes to re-election is simply not a good excuse.

Canada was thirsty for change in 2015 and you rode that wave straight into office, and for the most part, we love how you’ve shown the world so much of what makes Canada great. Just because we’re now a year into the cycle and the reform talk has died down doesn’t mean we aren’t still thirsty for this change.

First-past-the-post is a broken system that doesn’t work that well with multiple parties. Give us ranked ballots, some form of proportional representation, mandatory voting, or take your (hopefully pluripartisan) ‘Parliamentary committee’ and come up with something totally different to ensure Canadians of all colours feel their voices and ideals are heard. All we’re asking is that you find something better than this clearly broken, unrepresentative system. Keep doing that, and fulfilling your other promises like you have been, and we will undoubtedly keep voting for you.


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