Justin Trudeau plans to restore democracy should he win the next election. My first question: Does that mean we are not a democracy now? Don't answer. My second question is this: If the usual meaning of 'restore' is 'to put something back to the way it was', then how does changing everything amount to a restoration?
Among his proposals:
-setting one day's question period aside solely for the purpose of grilling the Prime Minister. (I have nothing to say about that, other than that I like mine medium rare.)
-More free votes. (This from the man who will not allow members of his party to dissent from party policy.)
-— Appoint an equal number of men and women to cabinet and adopt a government-wide appointment policy to ensure gender parity and greater representation of aboriginal people and other minorities. (I'll address this one along with the next point)
-Get rid of first past the post elections. This is the one I want to discuss, along with the above. To be blunt It is a cure worse than any disease.
The article reporting it slants itself heavily in favour of the change. Here is the passage where it discussing the potential for reform: "The current system badly distorts voters' choices, allowing a party to win the majority of seats in the House of Commons with less than 40 per cent of the vote, and delivering wildly different seat counts to parties that win similar shares."
What the article says is true, that is indeed what the system does, but it is only true from the perspective that people are voting for parties in the first place. Let me repeat that: it assumes that we are voting for parties, and not individual members of parliament who represent us. This view is a distortion of the system to begin with.
Our system, in theory, is simple: Each region elects a member to represent them for the purpose of advising the crown on the best way to run the country. Each electoral area is to elect the best advisor they can find: a person, preferably local, and not a hypothetical party embodied by a distant leader. To say that the system distorts the results is to say that the voters were not voting for people in the first place, but parties. Party becomes more important than person and representation: in such a system, the members of parliament do not represent us, but rather represent their leader to us. As I heave said before, this is part of a continuing trend in Canadian politics to concentrate power upon the party leader, giving them a power never intended for the office.
There is also the small but not minor issue of what is to be done with independent candidates. Every election, independents get a small but not unsubstantial percentage of the vote- let's say between one and two percent. By the rules of proportional democracy, they should get one or two percent of the seats- but which independent candidates would that be? They are not a party, they cannot produce a list. Who shall stand for the independents? Under a new system, it may be that we may be shackled to vote solely for the parties, and what began as a distortion of the system , rather than being cured, will be far, far worse.
Here's then even worse part: every proposal I have ever heard to achieve proportional democracy involves voting strictly for parties, and then the party allots the seats they have won to names on a list. Parliament will be filled with people no one specifically voted in, and, therefore, as long as their names remain on the list, no one can specifically vote them out. We'll be stuck with party people, or, to use the correct term, fawning bootlickers. Canada is not well served by yes men, though that is exactly the kind of party member Trudeau seems to desire.
Similarly mandating that cabinet ministers should be of so many men and women, and of this ethnic/racial/gender group. It makes the group more important than the person. A horrible person who checks the right boxes will be preferred over someone who does not. It makes form more important than content. Optics more important than substance.
Together, and with his other changes, these are big changes. This is not a restoration in any way but a destruction of the current system and replacing it with a theory: in short, a revolution. He is talking of replacing a system that by and large works with a theoretical system. Replacing practical systems and replacing them with theories has been tried before, usually to the regret of the people. As Edmund Burke noted in his Reflections on the Revolution in France, as true as an idea may be in theory, that is how false it will prove in practice.
And that, I suppose, is the answer to my question in the title. Change everything? No thanks. Things are bad enough. No need to try and make everything worse. This is not a reform. It is taking what began as a perversion of the system, and carving it in stone.