About the Voting Reform Movement in Canada
A Full Out Democratic Reconstruction is What is Really Needed.
This piece may be seen as my latest attempt to get the attention of the Fair Vote Canada organization. I have certainly written enough about my adventures in the voting reform movement. So, if I have moved on from the idea of proportional representation (PR) as a solution, I need to explain more deeply what I have moved on to, and what I am still trying to achieve in FVC.
Like much of my writing, this piece is in fact a Swiss army knife intended to do several things. One is to address the members and board of FVC as to what I, and I think some others, tried to talk about at the Zoom AGM last Saturday. It is also meant to be useful to people who are interested in the voting and democracy reform subjects, and in Canadian and Ontario politics.
So, to those it concerns, here are links to some of my previous writings, expounding on my history with FVC and with the proportional representation voting reform idea in general. As well, this is on how my understanding has grown to the realization that any kind of system based on political parties and representatives is not a democracy at all, but an oligarchy. As well, I will take my understanding of what a real democracy is and what needs to be done to achieve it, somewhat further.
I intent to keep writing about democratic reform. My future work will be more about what that is about, and less about the foibles of the ‘voting reform’ crowd. My hope is that I can move some of these people with me.
That is one reason why I think it is worth continuing to try to engage with FVC. There is a great need for more people in Canada to begin looking into real democratic reform. Some of the FVC folks who have started talking about a citizen’s assembly as a way of validating reforms, have, mostly unwittingly, taken the first steps in that direction.
In the whole area of government reform in Canada, FVC is about all there is. This is sorrowful, because the country is now in such a howling need for a comprehensive reconstruction of its outdated institutions. It would likely be easier to broaden FVC’s scope than to try to start something new in the face of the present mentality of hopelessness.
The FVC AGM.
I have attended a lot of Annual General meetings of a lot of organizations over a lot of years. They are usually mere formalities, the business portion over in twenty minutes. Or they can go on for three hours with the participants utterly unable to figure out how to resolve a self made conundrum, and ending up calling a special meeting over it.
The big issue was the arbitrary decision to disqualify half the candidates in order to reduce the number of candidates the voters had to decide from. I was one of those who got ‘reduced’ in this way. However, as the existing election committee tried to justify their action it became clear they also wanted to eliminate people who might not see the aims of the organization in the exact same way as them.
This is somewhat understandable. FVC has been traumatized by attempts by people who really do not agree with voting reform trying to conduct a ‘hostile takeover’, mostly trying to push the “Ranked Ballots” idea. I had a front row seat for that conflict, over a decade ago now.
I decided to rub some noses into it by pointing out to the noses owners that this was all a problem they created for themselves by trying to act in an arbitrary way, against their own rules. They could have simply put up with the unexpected problem and suggested a solution at the next AGM. Some members suggested that a larger number of candidates might not be a problem.
Others suggested that ending self nomination, and requiring each candidate to have a set number of endorsements from other members, might adequately limit the number of candidates and keep the baddies out. Others thought this would also tend to keep dissenting voices, who might have different ideas which should be listened to, would be cut out. I found that some active members of FVC did in fact think that the organization was becoming too doctrinaire.
I am definitely one of these dissenting voices, and I think I would have a hard time getting endorsements to get elected. Nonetheless, I verbally supported that system. One reason is that it would force them to let troublesome people like me canvas the membership for support.
The nabobs of FVC might just run me out of their club for good for airing dirty laundry in this way. If so, then c’est l a vie. I will remain a supporter of proportional representation elections, as far that goes. This despite it becoming very obvious that PR is not going to solve the problems that are coming to a crisis now.
What somewhat disturbs me is the inability of these people to resolve their mini crisis. This was a deadlock between people who seem incapable of compromise, and people who do not seem to know what to do when faced with intransigence. This makes me more pessimistic about what I have some hope of FVC becoming.
As I said, FVC is the only game around when it comes to government reform. However, these are very middle class people with a very ‘soft liberal’ way of thinking. The real attraction of PR for them is that it is a way of preserving the Liberal status quo in Canada.
We are now in the turbulent twenties. We are out of time for gradual and incremental reforms. Change is going to come hard and fast in the next few years.
Thus, here are the points I am trying to get through to FVC.
Canada is not a democracy. A representational system is the way an oligarchy works. PR will lead to a smoother functioning oligarchy, which is nice, but not to a more democratic society.
A proportional voting system is no longer capable of maintaining even a soft oligarchy, with some commitment to social provisions. Plutocracy has learned to neutralize legislative power. Even in the highly developed European proportional systems which FVC people admire so much, Plutocratic Neoliberal policy is being rammed down the public’s throats, regardless of the majority or consensus view.
The only way out of this growing disaster is the abolition of capitalism. We are now living in a period in history where this idea should no longer be seen as particularly radical or controversial. We now have some good models of how a post capitalist economy would work.
In order to achieve and consolidate a post capitalist society, we also need to move beyond the representive system to a real democracy. Models of how to run a modern society in this way are much scarcer. However, in many parts of the world, especially ones which have had PR for a long time, modalities of direct and discursive democracy are being ardently discussed.
The present neoliberal plutocracy is not going to abolish itself by granting democracy and socialism. They will have to be removed from office by massive, well organized popular resistance; a revolution, to put it bluntly. As usual in Canada, we will need some examples from more advanced countries before we try this ourselves.
I do not expect that the comfortable middle Canadians of FVC will play any leading role in these activities. The best way it can help is by broadening its perspective and becoming a resource for those needing information about how to make a discursive democracy work. If FVC were to apply themselves to studying this as intensely as in the past they have examined voting systems, they could be of great value.
The Ontario Problem.
The recent election in Ontario has produced a lot of talk about voting reform. The Ford government, which most of the province’s people despise, was elected with the vote of eighteen percent of those eligible to vote. The voter turnout was forty three percent.
The basic point about this election, which most commentators, including voting reform advocates, miss, is this; few voters saw either opposition party as a serious alternative to the Ford government. Both these parties failed to campaign seriously because they were afraid to oppose the will of the neoliberal plutocracy. This tells how they would have governed if either of them had obtained power.
This also tells how a ‘consensus’ government under a PR system would work in Ontario. As with all minority governments in Canada in this century, and with most governments in Europe, all the main parties are bullied into compliance. They are often thrown some token concessions so they can tell their followers they achieved something.
Many FVC activists are fans of ‘citizen’s assemblies’. I am in favor of a somewhat different type of citizen’s assembly than they have in mind. Free citizens worthy of a real democracy do not go cap in hand to autocratic government asking it to convene a citizen’s assembly; they create one and make the government recognize it.
A citizen’s assembly (CA) needs to become a permanent feature of the government structure in Ontario, as elsewhere. It needs to be chosen in an authentically democratic way. This would inevitably mean, through local assemblies attended by everyone, sending delegates to a provincial assembly.
The CA would function somewhat like the kind of upper house of legislature which is needed everywhere in Canada. It would oversee the creation of a written constitution for Ontario, lack of which is at the heart of much of Ontario’s governance problems. It would override the provincial parliament when necessary, creating standing committees to oversee restructuring in government services which have been allowed to disintegrate, such as health care, education, and transportation.
It would be very helpful to get discussion going about how this would work. Getting it discussed within FVC would be a special challenge. The present board is shown to be dominated by people who have been made very paranoid by their experiences with the AV cooptation attempt, and are terrified that some new group will come along and pull FVC out of its present very narrow focus.
But FVC needs to be jerked out of its tunnel vision. Unless and until some better group can come together, it is what we have. However, to repeat once more, we have run out of time for slow and systematic reform.
We have to get more competent governments into place very quickly.