Okay, we’re Canadian, and we like things simple. We’d love to boil life down to the simplicity of Canada’s soon-to-be National Sport. (We used to have another one, but it turns out it was culturally appropriated from some previous arrivees, so our politically-correct establishment will have to turf it out.) Score more points, win it all.
Unfortunately for our desire, the political structure of a nation or a province just cannot be that simple. If it is, it will be too simplistic to be fair or democratic. We are a diverse society and we believe in diverse ideas; we also believe in people’s right to be diverse. So a one-size-is-all-you-get system like Hitler’s National Socialism is the opposite of what we need or want.
So for those of you that want an election to be a power contest where the party with the most points wins, I’m sorry, but it doesn’t work that way.
Because an election is not a hockey game. It is not a contest to see who is the most powerful cadre in the political spectrum. It is a selection process to decide whom the public trusts to run the government for the next little while. Nor is a legislative session a hockey game, although sometimes it gets almost as rough-and-tumble.
I suppose the most obvious difference is that in the Legislature the referee is a member of one of the parties involved. Filling this post takes some mental and moral gymnastics, to be sure. However, many good politicians in the past have managed the job just fine in a variety of weird circumstances, so I’m sure the B. C. Legislature will stumble along somehow.
But the main difference is that the Legislature has more than two parties. If you only have two parties, you need a much more complex system of inequalities to make the electoral process unfair (see: United States).
British Columbia has four potential parties, as I discussed last week. Therefore, it is possible that one party, even with more votes than any of the other parties, may not be able to get a majority of votes in the Legislature. There is nothing wrong, unnatural, or unfair about this, no matter how much complaining certain losers (I do not mean this in the pejorative sense, of course: I mean the people who lost power recently) have been doing in the media lately.
By the Numbers:
If you look at the numbers being tossed around, the Legislature sits at 43 – 41 – 3. That’s number of seats, a rather arbitrary indicator of popular support. If this were some weird kind of hockey game on a triangular rink, the 43s would have won it. However, since an election in a democracy is a choosing process, the tally of votes looks more like 41%-41%-17% (with the last 1% or so going to other candidates). If we make up the Legislature on these results, it is easy to see that being ruled by two parties getting together to make up 58% of the popular vote is more democratic than being ruled by a party with only 41% of the vote, which could have easily happened. It would only have taken a small shift in a couple of electoral boundaries. And don’t think that the Liberals aren’t looking at that exact factor, to be manipulated next time they are in power.
Complete Power is Not Good for People
And it is in a 41% majority government that we see the problem. With our first-past-the-post system, this is the kind of government we usually see, in both provincial and federal politics. And a majority government, as people like Gordon Campbell in B. C. and Stephen Harper federally have demonstrated, can be very dictatorial. If the governing party chooses not to listen to the media and the other voices of the voters between elections, they can do pretty much what they want, and often do.
And the effect of having a ruling party with 40-45% of the people’s support is that quite often you get a large group, perhaps even the majority, that are unhappy with the government’s legislation.
And, surprise, surprise, I’m not going to talk about the Republicans. Over the last century, the Democratic Party and their left-leaning ways have been in power for twice as long as the Republicans. Usually with the support of less than 48% of the voters (Winners have ranged from 43% to 61% of the popular vote).
And the left-leaners have used their minority rule to push through their agenda of social change on a slow and steady basis. I’m not complaining. It’s called “progress,” and the US still lags far behind the rest of the developed world in this respect.
However, the unfortunate result of this lack of a majority is the effect on the losers. The imbalance has created a large segment of disaffected voters, and in the US they are exactly the wrong people to be cast in that role. They are already fearful, xenophobic, tribal and resistant to change. Forcing them to change faster than they are prepared to and ignoring their complaints and fears drives them further and further into their conservatism. The end result is a deeply divided society and a twisted version of democracy, with little chance of change.
And in B. C.?
No matter how much political squirming, media manipulation and plain old arm-twisting goes on (What did Christie Clark and her own appointee, Lt.-Governor Judith Guichon, have to talk about for more than an hour?), the new almost-coalition will probably do as well as the Liberals did, and better than they would have with a lame-duck outright minority. The most disingenuous and self-serving argument that Ms. Clark keeps spouting is her fear that the new ruling group will “change the rules and really bend the rules of democracy in order to make their government work.” This from a party that over the last 16 years has pretty well done what it wanted to manipulate the system so that it could continue to rule.
Face it, Christie is only upset that her time in power is over, afraid that her party will finally discover what a liability she is and turf her out as leader.
What Went On in Her Mind?
I’m much more interested in the reasoning process Judith Guichon went through. She was appointed by the Liberals, the reward for a lifetime of service to the business community of the province. Had the Liberals stuck to their business-friendly guns, it would have been the obvious thing for Ms. Guichon to acquiesce to the Leader’s wish. But she didn’t. Could it be that someone in that group actually has the good of the province in mind? Could someone be appointed to such a high office, and truly follow the intent of its strictures, rather than bow to its practical usefulness to the party in power? One can dream.
Or perhaps it is just that Ms. Guichon realizes she has no right to go against the wishes of almost 60% of the voters of the province, who were united in their desire for Anything But Christie. And a little voice in the back of my head suspects that there might be quite a few people in the Liberal Party that feel the same way. After the lean-to-the-left throne speech, that would include most of the business-friendly right-leaners.
And if you wanted the hockey game to continue, watch what happens when the Green Party gets its wish, and a proper representative democracy ensues, with percentage of popular vote taking more precedence than the artificial criteria of number of players (pardon me, members) elected.
I’m rooting for the new government, if only because now we’re going to have some political news that is actually news for a while. And not a hockey score.