A blog to give a voice to our concern about the continued erosion of our democratic processes not only within the House of Commons and within our electoral system but also throughout our society. Here you will find articles about the current problems within our parliamentary democracy, about actions both good and bad by our elected representatives, about possible solutions, opinions and debate about the state of democracy in Canada, and about our roles/responsibilities as democratic citizens. We invite your thoughtful and polite comments upon our posts and ask those who wish to post longer articles or share ideas on this subject to submit them for inclusion as a guest post.
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Sunday, April 6, 2014

Winning at All Costs.

I think we are all sick of the win at all cost mentality of our political parties and their leaders, this mentality is not restricted to just the Harper Regime, although it is certainly most prevalent with that group of oligarchs, but can be seen with very few exceptions in all parties and both provincial and federal politics. I recently came across a piece from Scott, a recent graduate of the University of Saskatchewan with a degree in Political Studies who puts it like this:-

"Almost all of the political parties in today's system seem to be more concerned with winning an election than with improving our country. It's the reason why in every leadership race, almost every candidate is always introduced as the "Next Prime Minister/Premier/whatever." Yes, if you win you get to implement your policies. But at the same time, for many, it seems like winning is enough.

And when we become so focused on just winning for the sake of winning, or worse winning for the sake of making sure the other team doesn't, we put our blinders on. We can see this in the culture of corruption that has basically claimed the backrooms of the Conservative Party. From robocalls from the CIMS database, to robocalls about Irwin Cotler, to robocalls in Saskatchewan, to Eve Adams using her position to campaign for a nomination in a new riding; we see people making dodgy, and in many cases illegal, decisions for the sake of winning.

If we want to tackle election fraud and fair elections, the first place to look isn't to the voter: It's to the parties. We need to ensure that parties are following the laws that are written down for them; and that even a single rogue campaign worker is punished for daring to step outside those bounds. We need to stop letting parties find 'gray zones' in the laws, and instead insist that all parties remain on the fair footing that we're supposed to offer.

Who cares if it's not technically illegal or only against the spirit, but not the word, of the law? Parties, it seems, will take the shortcuts and moral lowroad to achieve the victory of winning it would seem. Democracy is supposed to foster policy discussion and alternative visions for our country; that is not what we've been getting.”

Exactly, “If we want to tackle election fraud and fair elections, the first place to look isn't to the voter: It's to the parties.”, and yet the Unfair Elections Act completely ignores this truth. In fact it actually goes in the opposite direction by removing any investigative powers from Elections Canada and failing to follow the recommendations of the Chief Electoral Officer to enforce testimony in the case of wrongdoing. Which given that said regime has been busy withholding information on the robocall issue for many months now would seem to be an effort to shut down said efforts to find out the truth. And now it would seem they have succeeded :-

In light of the government’s announcement in the fall that it would introduce comprehensive legislative reform, Elections Canada decided to postpone the general enforcement report until after the next general election,” she said. “This was necessary not only to focus our attention and resources on the announced reform, but also of the difficulty of engaging stakeholders simultaneously on a parallel initiative.” It would seem that Elections Canada is already less than “independent' even before the proposed changes and already under the Harper Regimes control!

Then comes the issue of buying an election by those with deeper pockets than the average voter and by parties who cater to corporate sponsors to raise money to further the agenda of the rich and powerful rather than the wishes of the average citizen. On this issue Scott says this:-

Democracy is a nice idea in theory, a sentiment that is usually applied to communism, but in practice it doesn't always work. This is especially true when you consider the big money that goes into politics.

Democracy cannot work when money plays a more important role than the actual voice of the people. That is not a democracy, it is an oligarchy. Which is why if we ever want a fair election, we must support 100% public funded elections.

There is a question as to whether or not we should even allow parties to raise money at all; though, I do realize that parties do rely on paid employees as well as volunteers. It's a tricky balance, but not impossible to achieve. So, while I'm not saying we should completely stop parties from fundraising, we should explore avenues to restrict what they can use raised funds for. Office and staff expenses, yes. Running a multi-million dollar ad campaign, no.”

Whilst I dont agree with Scott that elections should be totally publicly funded (I think it is simply not possible to institute and monitor such a system) I do think that the limits of what a party or individual can raise during an election should be reduced NOT increased as proposed in the 'lets see how much more we can cheat elections act'. Not only does the increase make the playing field even more tilted towards the affluent voter but some of the changes, in particular that of exempting certain previous detonators contributions from being counted, are totally impossible to monitor and ensure that the rules are followed. As with the elimination of the 'per vote subsidy' this is directly aimed at lesser parties who if they had the resources to put their position in front of the public in the same manner as the big boys would undoubtedly gain a huge upswing in support.

The former auditor general (Sheila Fraser) is also troubled by a provision that would allow political parties to exempt from their campaign spending limits any money spent to raise funds from people who’ve donated at least $20 over the previous five years. She said that amounts to a giant loophole that would allow well-established parties to spend untold millions more during campaigns but would be “unfair” to new parties, which have no history of past donors.
Moreover, she questioned how pitches for donations can be distinguished from pitches for support and how Elections Canada could monitor and verify that the exemption was not being abused, given that the bill does not give the agency the power to audit party books or demand to see their records, invoices or receipts – a power successive chief electoral officers have long sought.”
The other thing that the influence of money in our democratic process cannot be ignored is the ongoing television, and now radio, ads taken out by the Harper Regime, not to tell us anything about what they are doing (they use taxpayers money for that, plugging their non existent 'Action Plan' ) but to make personal attacks upon another parties leader. That they have been doing this for months and over a year ahead of any election shows exactly how devoid of any morals or any respect for democracy they are. Without masses of influx of cash from the rich this sickening reflection of the win at all costs and money can buy anything mindset would not be possible.

As Scott says “Democracy cannot work when money plays a more important role than the actual voice of the people.”

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Lorne said...

Your post, Rural, highlights the myriad problems democracy faces in this country, problems compound by the 'Fair Elections Act. I caught a bit of Evan Solomon's The House yesterday, and one commentator observed that even if the Harperites make one or two token amendments to the bill, it is so flawed that to be fixed, the entire bill would have to be disposed of.

We know, of course, from the legendary intractability of our political overlords, that there is absolutely no chance of that scenario being realized.

Rural said...

And therein lays the biggest problem Lorne, the 'overlords' have no regard whatsoever for democratic process and use their false majority to destroy what little democracy we have left. Their 'consultations' and committee hearings are nothing but window dressing to try and keep the natives from rioting!

Ron Waller said...

I think a big part of the problem is our winner-take-all voting system, First-Past-the-Post.

If we implement ranked ballot voting or proportional representation, this will moderate the debate and force parties to cooperate.

FPP rewards polarizing politics and political opportunism, where democratic voting systems punish these behaviors.

Plus corporations can better lobby and influence FPP single-party dictatorships than multi-party democratic governments (the norm in the developed world.)So real democracy is better for people.

BTW, "per vote subsidy" is a great idea, but not a great name. I prefer "automatic donation" of $3/yr. Easier to justify.

Rural said...

I agree Ron but we are at least two elections away from actually instituting such a system, and that IF a study / referendum is promised and actually takes place by whom ever forms the next government. The people must be consulted about any change, it cannot be brought in by any other means if it is to be accepted by the population.

Ron Waller said...

Considering there have been 4 failed PR referendums, I think now is the time to get prepared and build solid support for change.

I agree the people should be consulted. Canadians should choose which voting system we adopt, not some unelected citizens' assembly.

The best approach would be a 3-way referendum with PR, ranked ballot and FPTP on the ballot. If one isn't chosen with a majority, a runoff vote will be held. That way one is chosen by a majority of voters (real democracy.)

The PR options could also be put on the ballot with the same process: party-list, Mixed-Member Proportional and Single Transferable Vote.

Rural said...

Yes, we need to get a commitment from the various parties to push electoral reform forward BEFORE the next election.

Ron Waller said...

Yes, both the Liberals and NDP have committed to putting together a year-long commission to look into the issue of voting reform, which will likely produce a referendum.

The problems is that if we get stuck with another two-way PR referendum, it will probably lose because of the bad press (the Toronto Star wrote 6 anti-PR op-eds during the Ontario PR referendum process.)

Plus many ranked ballot supporters who think PR goes too far will opt for the status quo thinking they'll get a chance at their kind of reform in the future.

So the important part is understanding the pitfalls beforehand and devising strategies to prevent another failed referendum (which will cement FPTP for good and make the Cons Canada's natural governing party.)