“We are committed to ensuring that 2015 will be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system,” said Liberal leader Justin Trudeau during the last federal election campaign. A commitment that was reiterated after the Liberal Party formed a majority government and Trudeau became prime minister.
Trudeau charged his minister of democratic institutions, Maryam Monsef, with finding a consensus that would allow for an alternative system. Trudeau, it was said, favoured a ranked ballot in which voters would somehow rank the candidates so that votes for candidates who don’t cross a threshold would be redistributed to the voter’s second choice.
Conventional wisdom had it that Trudeau favoured a ranked ballot on the theory that the Liberals would be many voters’ second choice thus almost guaranteeing Liberal majority governments in the future.
Meanwhile the New Democratic Party and the Green Party favoured some sort of proportional representation so that parties would hold the number of seats in Parliament reflective of their share of the popular vote. The theory being that the NDP and Greens would see their share of seats increased in a system of proportional representation.
And the Conservative Party, it seems, was OK with first-past-the post, the system in which the candidate receiving a plurality of votes in a riding wins the seat and the party with the most seats is given the opportunity of forming government.
Monsef – who was moved out of the democratic institutions portfolio in last month’s cabinet shuffle – did not find that elusive consensus, and it was left to her successor, Karina Gould, to announce that the search for an alternative to first-past-the-post was over. Despite Trudeau’s oft-stated commitment, the first-past-the-post system will endure for the next election and, likely, well into the future.
But, most Canadians, it seems, are fine with first-past-the-post.
Count me among them. I’m reminded of Winston Churchill’s famous quote from 1947, when he said, “No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”
That’s the way I think of first-past-the-post. It’s probably the worst form of democracy “except for all those others.”
A ranked ballot system that would permanently favour one party doesn’t seem like a democratic ideal, and I fear that proportional representation would not serve us well.
I say that because I pay a lot of attention to Israeli politics, and the system there is proportional representation, a system that encourages many small, often single-issue parties rather than the kind of big-tent type parties that have to appeal to a broad electorate.
Because the parties are small, it is virtually impossible for any party to win a majority of seats in the Knesset. Coalition governments are always the rule. In the 2015 Israeli election, Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud was first among the many parties with 23.4 per cent of the vote, and he was able to form a coalition by making deals with the small parties. Thus, we see the two religious parties, which together received just over 10 per cent of the vote, able to impose haredi Orthodox control on many aspects of Israeli society – from who may marry and divorce, to what kind of prayer services may be undertaken at the Western Wall, and much more.
And, when Netanyahu sought to strengthen his weak coalition, Avigdor Liberman – leader of a party that received just five per cent of the vote – was able to demand and receive control of the Defense Ministry, Israel’s most important department.
I’m relieved we won’t be seeing small parties in Canada wheeling and dealing and taking control of important ministries.
Rabbi Simes passed away
We were deeply saddened to learn that Rabbi Yehuda Simes z”l, a beloved educator in Ottawa’s Jewish community, passed away on February 7.
Confined to a wheel chair since he was critically injured in a highway accident in 2007, Rabbi Simes was an inspiring figure to all who met him – whether in person or online via his “Rolling Rabbi” blog.
Our condolences are extended to Shaindel Simes and to their children. A full-length tribute to Rabbi Simes is planned for the next issue of the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin.