What it means to be “The People” has a fluid definition, but one thing we can all agree on is that “The People” in a democracy do not make up the “1%”. “The People” are the other 99%. Yet “The People” vote against their own interest time after time they vote in favour of supporting the “1%”.  Why?

According to Pew Research Centre, the poorest of the poor in the United States supported Donald trump in numbers even greater than Americans earning more than $150,000 a year who benefit greatly from his policies. Voters in Ontario voted for Doug Ford’s PC government even when most knew that he would attack their best interest as soon as he was in power.  His repeal of Bill 148 is an example.

The bill provided more rights for workers. In summary here is what it was about:

  • Equal pay for equal work. One week’s notice or pay in lieu of notice for employees of temporary help agencies if longer-term assignments end early
  • Fairer scheduling rules
  • A minimum of three weeks’ vacation after five years with the same employer
  • Up to 10 individual days of leave and up to 15 weeks of leave, without the fear of losing their job when an employee or their child has experienced or is threatened with domestic or sexual violence
  • Expanded personal emergency leave to all workplaces regardless of the number of employees
  • Unpaid leave to take care of a critically ill family member
  • Minimum wage up to $15 by January 1, 2019.

All good things from a workers point of view yet repealed as the first act of Ontario’s new Ford government. Mr. Ford calls his government “For the people” and declares that “Ontario is open for business”. That he doesn’t see, the oxymoron that these statements embrace is for another time.

But it begged the question. Why? Why show up in numbers and vote for a government that is against you?

Obscured by all of the other noise of politics, our democracies have been usurped by the partisan parties and system they created and under which they have distorted democracy, to work best for them. It is a fundamental flaw. One that I think needs fixing.

Originally democracy was supposed to be about one person one vote. So having the right to vote is often celebrated and almost sacrosanct feature of living in a democracy. Yet it delivers so little.

The origin of political parties was at one time, just a loose association of elected representatives who were like-minded on major issues of the day.  By the act of forming a party, they could then work together to coordinate their actions, votes and thereby have better success. But like many things do; they also became institutions themselves and realized how much wealth they could generate for themselves and how much power they could exert over the democratic system. All at the expense of the democratic voter.

Our current first-past-the-post system is skewed towards creating majority governments, most of the time. The person who wins the most votes in a particular riding wins the “seat” for their party. This allows for things to happen,  as in Ontario’s last election where the Progressive Conservative (PC)  party got just over 38% of the votes and went on to win a huge majority of seats 76 (of 124). Doug Ford became premier of the province of 15 million people. He did not have a platform, just a couple of slogans and not very interesting ones at that, like –  “Buck a Beer” (not delivered on).  He won because the party in power had been there for 15 years and people wanted change. That’s all it took. The time was right. Hardly an inspiring democracy at work story! Yet so often this is the change: Throwing out one government to replace it with another.  

Some people actually argue that fist past the post this is a better system because majority governments can do basically whatever it desires for the term in office. But that is neither very fair nor democratic or realistic. Study after study has shown that minority governments are more the most effective governments. Premier Ford is fond of saying that he and his government have a “mandate from the people”. But it is only a 38% mandate. The majority of the people that went out to vote in that election wasted their time. They may as well have stayed home.  They got a government that they did not wish for or deserve. This is democracy in action? It’s easy to understand why voters become disillusioned.

So what is fairer? Two common suggestions to replace the first-past-the-post system are reviewed below and they both have similar flaws in that they limit our ability to actually choose a fairer and better democracy.

Ranked ballots

Ranked ballot allows voters to choose the candidates according to their preference (first, second, third, etc). The votes are all counted and if one candidate receives a majority they win. It is used in some municipal elections and works fairly well, as municipal elections do not generally have official party candidates.  But in a party system ranked ballots will always favour a party with a centrist agenda as the second choice of the voters from the Right or the Left.  So consequently most of the political parties will be appealing for centred ground, with the usual personality politics playing the greatest hand. But nothing of substance for the electorate will change. The party that wins takes control and does as it pleases.    

Proportional Representation

Proportional representation is another often suggested alternative to first-past-the-post systems which does offer something that looks better than either first-past-the-post or ranked ballots systems.

There are many different types of proportional representation around the world so there are lots of ways of implementing this system.

In proportional representation, some members of the incoming assembly are voted in, while some other portion of the members “are slated in” based on the proportion of the vote that went to that political party.  It differs from place to place and even within the same place from time to time as to how many seats are contested and how many are granted (slated in) based on popular vote. The problem is that the parties are given power. They select some representatives that will sit in those slated seats and they typically award them to party friends and loyalists who they can count on to represent the best interest of the party, not the electorate. So voters gain something in that the choices they make will be better reflected by the final seat allocation, but the price they pay is that they have less say over who will represent them. The party decides. The party is King and the fundamental problem of giving the voter more leeway is not found or fixed.

So if the party is still in power and holding on to the desire to serve the largesse of its wealthiest backers, how can it change into something, that most people (that is a majority of voters) desire? How can it represent anything but its own self-interest?

Well, the answer is that our democracies are not controlled by the voters but by the parties which fawn over the wealthy. In the United States with the exception of Donald Trump, because he is a billionaire (or so he says, although he has been known to exaggerate!), all Republican contenders for leadership must seek the approval and support of the Koch brothers to get the kind of financial backing that they need in order to be a contender. Of course, the Koch brothers are not the only rich people to influence American politics there are many others and some supporting Democrats as well.  Here in Ontario, the situation is the same. The Progressive Conservative, Liberal, the New Democratic Party and all of the other provincial parties require funding.

The liberal party passed into law – in the later days of their reign, a law where all parties in the province -official parties – are paid by the province for each vote they get. The amount of fundraising the parties can do is thereby limited. This kicked off a round of scrambling over who was officially a party or not since dollars for funding were at stake and it left the voter paying for the parties’ largess.

 Of course, since the Conservatives tend to get more direct funding from more business owners than the Liberals do, this was actually a way of allowing the Liberals to stabilize their own funding to a great extent for their future years in office.  Now that Mr. Ford is premier and the PC party in control he wants to repeal that law thereby crippling his opponents and allowing the party that business backs, his, to be a fundraising machine. And what does any of this have to do with democracy or the electorate? Zilch.

It is party politics that matters, not democracy. The winning party brings in legislation which pleases its biggest backers {A.K.A the wealthy} and begins fundraising to keep winning while disrespecting the opposition in every way they can. The opposition parties disrespect the government in every way they can and promise to be an alternative to the current ‘bad’ governance and to be fair and to treat everybody better if they’re given a chance to win power. This is not to say that some bills don’t get through that are good for the people; it’s just that it very rarely happens.

If we eliminate the political parties from our system and form a consensus government where we all just vote to elect our representatives based on what they have to say for themselves and what they would like to try and do, not only would it save lots of money that now goes to these parties, but the representation would be more of what the people truly want. There are a hundred and twenty four seats any Ontario legislative assembly. That means that 124 seats would be represented by people who are elected by the people of their own riding to do the job that they expect and desire. Naturally some will be more effective at their jobs than others, but all will be pulling for their own riding and their own vision of fairness and democracy. However all will be pulling for the government of the day to be effective!  If it is ineffective then they will have to stand before the voters and explain why? They will be held to account.

Gone will be frontbenchers, backbenchers, party whips and party approval of candidates for election, policy and platform. Gone will be being told to keep on message and be a part of the team.  Gone will be this system that does not allow any true form of representation, from the representative, which is what the process was supposed to be about.

Most politicians that are elected are good people and those that are not have gone down in infamy. Most want to help. But from the day they decide that they might want to run they have to choose which group they belong to. They have to get the approval of that group in order to run and they have to memorize the runes or the touchstones that the next campaign will have and they have to speak joyfully of their leader, of their party and of “the vision”. Once elected, they mostly have a job of a doing whatever they’re told when it comes to voting or risk being tossed from the party. But if they do those things, then they have done a good job and they will be rewarded by being on a committee or a perhaps even given ministerial power and pay. Those on the backbench are left to a very quiet life, except when they are expected to vote as they are told.

Private members bills are a joke as they have almost no chance through unless it is such a simple feel-good statement that nobody could really be opposed to. No matter how good the idea behind the bill they are not allowed to reach out to other representatives ask for their support. The party will review the bill and if it thinks it is good then they may choose to back it. If it’s a bill proposed by a member of the opposing parties and the government thinks it’s really good then they will kill it and if there’s time maybe reintroduce their own bill that does basically the same thing but branded by them.

It is the parties which pervert the democratic cause and lead to voter cynicism!

Unless we fix the real problem they will continue to fix us.

Consensus Governance means no parties.  No Parties. Equal to participate in our Democracy!close-up-finger-hurt-433625

Our Democracy!