As an organizer of Saturday’s Rally for Electoral Reform in Whitehorse, which took place in conjunction with similar rallies across the country, I would like to thank Richard Mostyn for his inspiring editorial on May 13, thoughtfully titled Suck it up, Sunshine.
I call it inspiring in all honesty, because, Mostyn, you represent the type of viewpoint which does nothing to deter me from my beliefs in the change needed in our current democratic system.
Rather, it encourages me to keep fighting, because there are obviously more people who need to be convinced of the importance of electoral reform, and others who do believe in it, but will need continued motivation in the face of criticisms of this sort.
Yes, Mostyn, you are correct in your belief I am a lefty (or would you rather use the term ‘pinko?’ I like that one too). But you are wrong in your belief it is only the political left that seeks to change the system.
John Ostashek, for example (Yukon Party government leader, 1992-1996), was part of Yukon Citizens for Electoral Reform before his passing in 2007.
Similarly, if you assert the Green are not left, then another example of a nonleftist involved in this issue is Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party, who spoke at the Ottawa rally on Saturday.
Furthermore, you are wrong in saying that this is an issue that has only come up since the May 2 election. There are groups that have been advocating for years for electoral reform, under Liberal governments as well as Conservative.
Fair Vote Canada, for example, was formed in 2000, in the time of “Jean Chretien’s string of majorities.”
What is different this time, I believe, is the role that the internet and social media have begun to play in gathering, informing and connecting citizens from across the country on the issue.
Not only can people become much more quickly involved in the issue through tools such as Twitter and Facebook, but they can also share information about the issue from numerous sources across the networks that develop, and have much simpler forums to discuss and debate the issue that does not require that all people be in the same physical space.
What is also different now, and one of the reasons that electoral reform may be currently gaining in prominence, is that youth are playing a major role in the discussion.
The organizers of the National Day of Action for Electoral Reform were mostly university students, myself included, many of whom were involved in the VoteMobs which took place prior to the election.
Like electoral reform, VoteMobs were multipartisan (and I can tell you that the VoteMob at McGill University, which I participated in, included students from across the political spectrum), and had the goal of not only encouraging our fellow youth to get out and vote, but to make sure our politicians know there is a large group of future leaders who have different concerns and expectations when it comes to political policy and legislation.
Unfortunately, despite the VoteMobs and the widespread encouragement for people to go out and vote on May 2, voter turnout was just 61.4 per cent, only slightly above its historical low of 59.1 per cent in the 2008 election.
This push for electoral reform is partly an extension of the VoteMob movement, because myself and others recognize that in order to motivate even more people to take part in elections, it must be clear that each vote will actually make a difference. The current system does not allow for this, and it makes it much more difficult to convince nonvoters to participate if the fact of the matter is their individual vote will only really effect change if they are voting in a closely contested riding, and for a party that is actually popular enough in that riding to be one of the top contenders.
Furthermore, our current system does not force our political parties to really co-operate when shaping policy and legislation, co-operation that would allow for full consideration of the diversity of beliefs, needs and opinions that is present within Canada.
Whether this co-operation comes in the form of formal coalitions (which really shouldn’t be as scary as Stephen Harper and the right-wing media made them out to be - after all, they’ve been working with relative success in any number of other countries, such as France, Germany and Norway), or simply within minority situations - which would likely become the norm in Canada, where parties recognize they must appeal to one another’s values and priorities in order to get anything passed, and so actually consult one another and collaborate on issues that will ultimately affect the entire population.
A recent article in the Globe and Mail - my favourite source of radical left-wing news - titled Partisanship Rears Its Ugly Head (April 28) spoke of a report by Samara Canada that showed MPs from all parties feel constrained by the political party system, particularly when it comes to whipped votes and the need to toe the party line rather than represent opinions of their constituents. Electoral reform would mean that because of the necessity of co-operation between parties, individual members could stand true to their own beliefs if they differ from the party, and would feel more free to join together with members of other parties who hold a similar position on a particular issue.
This would mean Conservatives who actually care about the environment and climate change (and I’ve had a really positive discussion about this issue with one of the prominent McGill Conservatives, so I know they are out there) could discuss these matters with those with similar concerns, rather than hoping that Stephen Harper will actually wake up to reality one day soon and do something about the issue himself.
The fact of the matter is that democracy in Canada is broken. The first-past-the-post system may have seemed like the best way to conduct democracy when Parliament first began in this country, but it is clear there are better alternatives that exist and are successful in other countries.
Mostyn, we are not simply whining and complaining because we don’t like the results of this past election. We are presenting a viable alternative that would strengthen our democratic system so that people do not lose faith in it, and so our politicians will not take us for granted. We do this because we love Canada and care about every single person in this country and their ability to have a say in the decisions that will shape its future.
And as for sucking it up? We’re lefties (supposedly), we’ve been doing that for years. We know that we don’t always get our way, and if the majority of the population doesn’t agree with us, then that’s OK - we understand how democracy works.
The difference is that the majority of the population does agree with us this time.
As lefties, we’re used to fighting the hard fight to make good things happen. The only difference is that this time, we’re not just fighting for ourselves Ã we’re fighting for all the 60 per cent of voters who did not elect this current government, and the nearly 40 per cent of possible voters who stayed home because this current system does not appeal to them enough for them to cast a ballot.
No one likes a bully, Mostyn, and I’m personally not prepared to have him take my lunch money (or my tuition money, or my rent money or the money I’d like to spend donating to worthy causes) and pay for a set of big new fighter jets to go out and wage war, or subsidize the tarsands, which are destroying the health of surrounding communities and ecosystems. At the very least, I won’t give up without a fight.
This call for electoral reform may be the current cause, but trust me Mostyn, I’m only getting warmed up.
Bring it on Harper - I’ll keep fighting you the whole way.