Democracy Day in Canada – Bruce Hyer

Bruce Hyer
Hyer addresses media at Prince Arthurs Landing - stock image
Hyer addresses media at Prince Arthurs Landing

Democracy -We need it more than ever – Hyer

THUNDER BAY – Politics – This past Sunday (September 15) was Democracy Day in Canada, the kick-off to Canada’s third annual Democracy Week (lasting until September 23). Both of these celebrations are a chance for Canadians and voice their desire for a healthier and fairer democracy. This year, we need it more than ever before in Canada’s history.

Stephen Harper just prorogued Parliament for the third time in order to avoid tough questions on the Senate expense scandal. The RCMP is investigating his former Chief of Staff and three Conservative Senators for improper spending of taxpayer money. In the case of Conservative Senator Mike Duffy, the Prime Minister’s top advisor cut a cheque for $90,000 to make the scandal go away.

The Senate scandal and the latest prorogation are only the latest in a growing list of abuses of our democracy. Just a few of Harper’s other undemocratic offences include:

  • Ramming two huge omnibus budget bills and an omnibus crime bill through the House;
  • Withholding information from the Parliamentary Budget Officer to avoid questions about spending on programs like the F-35;
  • Scrapping the Public Appointments Commission they set up in 2006 (and never used);
  • Proroguing Parliament in 2008 while facing a vote of non-confidence and loss of power, in 2009 to avoid tough questions into the treatment of Afghan detainees, and once more this year in the face of the Senate expense scandal;
  • Violating Access to Information laws to withhold information from the public and muzzling virtually all government communications, including federal scientists; and
  • Using time allocation to limit debate in the House 49 times in the past two years – nearly double the past record.

Not much to celebrate in that list. How did Canada end up in this mess? After all, didn’t the Conservative party receive just 39 per cent of the vote in the last election? From the list above it’s clear they have 100 per cent of the power to do whatever they want, including shutting down Parliament.

Senate of Canada
Senate of Canada Chamber

This is a result of two problems with how we elect MPs.  The first issue is Canada’s flawed first-past-the-post voting system. This electoral system over-represents larger and regional parties, taking away seats from smaller parties. It limits the number of voices in Parliament and the choices available to voters. It has led to a laundry list of abuses. In short, it’s undemocratic.

The second problem is that, since 1970 (when Pierre Trudeau changed the Canada Elections Act), no candidate can run under a party banner unless their national leader signs their nomination papers. The leaders use this to maintain almost total control over their MPs, including how they vote and what they say in the House. For the previous 103 years, MPs worked for their constituents; now they work for their parties, and function mostly as customer sales representatives for their party in their ridings.

Our democracy is clearly on life support at this point, and the cause of the disease is a broken voting system. I’ve long been a vocal advocate for a cure: adding an element of proportionality to our voting system, which would mean parties actually win seats according to the support they have. 39 per cent of the vote should mean 39 per cent of the seats – no more, and no less. It’s a small, simple change that would see every voter properly represented in Parliament.

Canadians should live under legitimate laws written by a majority of elected MPs, representing a true majority of voters – not ruled by one regional-based party of another, each with an ideological agenda supported by a narrow minority, pretending they have majority support.

Unfortunately, it is extraordinarily difficult to get politicians elected using a flawed system to actually change the system they win under. They will do anything to avoid real voting system reform: they will try and ignore the issue, try and confuse the issue, try distraction, or promise change with no intention of actually delivering. With snake oil salesmen like these, it’s up to Canadians themselves to tend to their democracy if they want to see it revived.

This Democracy Week, let’s have a real discussion about the ways that we can bring Canada’s democracy back to health.

Bruce Hyer MP

Thunder Bay Superior North

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