Protecting Canadian Democracy? Or Breaking Promises?

Good Sunday Morning,

“We’re going to watch Donald Trump rip apart everything that Barack Obama has put in place,” Kelly Carmichael, the executive director of Fair Vote Canada, was quoted in the The Walrus just after the US election. “That doesn’t happen with a proportional system. We watched the same thing happen here. The Liberals came in and they’re undoing what the Conservatives had done, and the Conservatives undid what the Liberals had done. It’s just incredibly ineffective policy making, and when you look at proportional countries you see continuity. There aren’t massive swings. You can vote people in and out, but a two percent difference in the vote doesn’t mean a wholesale change in government, which is what you see under winner-take-all politics.” As the article points out, "electoral reform is no longer just about improving our democratic interactions. It’s also a way to inoculate our political institutions against the virus that Trump’s election has unleashed—a virus that’s already crossed the border to us."

Elizabeth_Calls_on_Trudeau.jpgThis week the Liberal government has decided not to vaccinate our democracy against that virus; a reckless gamble at best and a capitulating return to old style, cynical politics at worst. "The Prime Minister and his Minister of Democratic Institutions broke their clearest election promise:" Elizabeth wrote in her weekly parliamentary review.  "To end First-Past-the-Post and install a new electoral system for 2019 that would ensure ‘every vote counts.’ I’ve written about Prime Minister’s Trudeau reckless, cynical decision here.

"The Prime Minster claims there is no consensus. This is false. The Special Committee on Electoral Reform reached an unprecedented majority decision which was backed by the vast majority of expert testimony and public input that recommended a move to a proportional system. The Liberals own flawed survey, that did not ask which system Canadians preferred, indicated Canadians overwhelmingly want parties to work together cooperatively in government – one of the hallmarks of proportional systems. The Prime Minister had a clear path forward to reform, but in the words of his former Minister, he ‘took a pass.’

"Well I’m not giving up and I hope you won’t either. The Prime Minister has made a terrible decision. But it can be reversed. We must continue to show him that there is a clear consensus, that Canadians want proportional representation. Call his office. Write him letters, and write letters to your local paper. Make your voice heard. I will continue to fight for a fair voting system and I’ll be using my voice inside the House and out, to relay the disappointment of those Canadians who took him at his word."

Danny Hay is one of those Canadians. He serves as CEO of our Fredericton EDA and shared these thoughts on a recent Facebook thread: "The Liberals explicitly promised electoral reform. Then they spent almost a year and a half setting up hoops for us to jump through, leading us on to believe they would stick to their established promise if only we played their games well enough. And when we tired out from the hoops and could not escape the twisted words they forced into our mouths via that ridiculous survey, they backed off, and shoved the blame onto us for not being engaged, rather than onto them for being manipulative and cynical. They are the majority government, possessing all the power to do as they please, while all we can do is plead or yell or bargain... but all without any power, just the hope that those with power will actually listen to those of us without, and keep their word, and not make us beg only to dismiss us. They lied to us. They stepped on our dignity.

"They denied us (the 61% of Canadians who did not vote Liberal in 2015) our share of power. And they blame *us* for not satisfying their nebulous whims. This is the stuff of abuse, and it is absolutely vile. I've seen so many people in my riding put so much time and energy into the ER campaign, and I am so incredibly proud of them for having done so, and so sad that their efforts were dismissed so callously. They do not deserve any blame. They deserve praise for their efforts, no matter the results. I simply can't stomach framing this tragedy as any failure on the parts of the victims who tried so hard."

happy_conservatives.jpgAs misinformation bordering on "Alternative Facts" is spread through leaks and backhanded apologies from Liberal MPs, it's hard to imagine that Justin Trudeau and his closest advisors strategized to have him continuously raise expectations only to make him look like an opportunistic, self serving fool in the end. It's not just that he reneged on his promise but the way it was done, allowing deception to shift Trudeau's brand from 'Real-Change' to 'Betrayal'. In brazen denial of the facts it was like they decided to rip the band-aid off quickly, cynically counting on the spinning news cycle to wash the sting away.  It smacks of an internal struggle that pitted the vision of real change, against the best political practices of the past. What the Liberal machine doesn't seem to realize is that the mood of the voters is changing. It has changed. Trump and Bernie Sanders are the proof. And it's changing all over the world. It's in this setting that the fight between plutocratic autocracy and real democracy is reaching a feverish pitch. And the plutocrats are pulling out all the stops to win.

But the promise of real change is still the political currency of the day. People may not understand the complexities of what goes on behind the scenes but they know they're getting screwed. It reminds me of the time I went canvassing in the last election and practically had the door slammed in my face. "They're all liars" the woman screamed. "All of the politicians ... Liars!!!" Building expectations and then breaking that trust is more destructive to democracy than never raising expectations in the first place. And Rona Ambrose vacationing on a billionaire's yacht during Trudeau criticism further erodes that public trust. Growing cynicism feeds into the strategies that David Frum (yes for all you old As It Happens fans, that's Barbara's son) explores in this extensive essay he wrote for The Atlantic. Although not directly referencing Canadian politics it presents a chilling (and revealing) picture of events unfolding south of the border.

Civil unrest will not be a problem for the Trump presidency. It will be a resource," Frum writes. "Trump will likely want not to repress it, but to publicize it—and the conservative entertainment-outrage complex will eagerly assist him. Immigration protesters marching with Mexican flags; Black Lives Matter demonstrators bearing anti-police slogans—these are the images of the opposition that Trump will wish his supporters to see. The more offensively the protesters behave, the more pleased Trump will be. Calculated outrage is an old political trick, but nobody in the history of American politics has deployed it as aggressively, as repeatedly, or with such success as Donald Trump. If there is harsh law enforcement by the Trump administration, it will benefit the president not to the extent that it quashes unrest, but to the extent that it inflames more of it, ratifying the apocalyptic vision that haunted his speech at the convention."

machinegun.jpgRecognizing the full implications of the Trump presidency makes the Liberal's decision to gamble with Canada's democracy so frightening. By placing all their chips on the hopes of winning another false majority they leave Canada vulnerable to extreme political swings. Even before Trudeau traded authenticity for deceit, Ipsos reported that the current front runner in the conservative leadership race would give the Trudeau Liberals a run for their money. The article supports a surprising observation that a supporter in the Cowichan valley shared with me just yesterday. It reports that "Two in ten (22%) current NDP voters appear poised to change their vote to Conservative if O’Leary wins the leadership race." Currently polling at twice the popularity of his nearest rival, Kevin O'Leary has shown enough bad judgement (or Trump-like cunning) to post a video of himself firing a machine-gun at a range in Miami (of all places) precisely during the funeral for Quebec mosque shooting victims.

If this TV star and businessman wins the leadership of the Conservative Party, the Conservatives could mount a serious challenge to Justin Trudeau and the governing Liberals in the next general election. Polls also show that many Canadian conservatives support the demagoguery of the new American president. And he understands that lying is the message. It's not the lie itself that is the threat. It's by making lies so blatant that the public gets used to them, even expects them, that they assert power over truth itself.

Is it any wonder that Elizabeth stands firm on the side of democratic principles, never willing to give up: "Citizen engagement and faith in the system are essential ingredients for our survival." Elizabeth writes in the National Observer. "
I speak not of a figurative survival. I speak in real terms of real survival. Rapid decarbonization is essential in order for human civilization to survive. We cannot risk feeding cynicism.

electoral-reform-20161201.jpg"The promise to make every vote count, to ensure that 2015 would be the last election held under first-past-the-post, was clear. It was not open to interpretation. There was never a condition set that consultations would be required to ascertain the will of the body politic." Elizabeth continues. "That was the stuff of the 2015 election in which 63 per cent of those who voted supported candidates (whether Liberal, NDP or Green) calling for an end to our perverse voting system. Our promising (pun intended) prime minister must take stock. This is a moment for urgent course correction. Do not feed the wrong wolf. Too much is at stake."

As Elizabeth reiterated on CBC's The House yesterday, she is not ready to give up. And neither can we. Elizabeth's voice remains firmly committed to pulling this back from the brink and we can amplify that voice. Signing this petition, letters to the editor, talk shows, and participating in the national day of protest (Find your local event here: are very important. But so is spreading the word by talking to your friends and family, sharing on Facebook and twitter, driving the message out that our current system is broken and vulnerable as it offers complete power to minority governments. Trump rules with a mandate from 46% of American voters but here in Canada we continue to hand complete power to a party with only 39% support.

rob_stewart4withtext.jpgOn a personal note I would like to close by taking a moment to pay tribute to a close friend. I never met Rob Stewart but in his second film he introduced my partner Laura and I to the evil twin of climate change; ocean acidification. Rob is part of that special family, which includes Elizabeth May, who have dedicated their lives to saving our civilization from itself. In this TEDx talk he asks: "What if we got it right?" What if indeed. Rob passed away last week, surrounded by his friends that he loved so much.

Have a wonderful Sunday,

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