tulips, photo by Chris Aikman

Democracy

"Western democracy is in crisis: more people vote in 'reality TV' shows than in some major elections; genuine debate is sterilized by over-large majorities, by Cabinet's stifling of parliamentary debate, by spin doctors, and by undemocratic lobbying. The left/right spectrum (which many assume to be part of the fixed order of reality, but which was in fact inherited merely from the French Revolution) compels parties, commentators and voters into an inappropriate 'package deal' mentality where it is assumed that once you decide on one issue you are committed to a particular position on lots of others as well."
- Thomas Wright in The Last Word

Democracy is not simply about voting, but that's a good place to start. In history as taught in school, we learned about the long struggle for representative government. Why do we have the persistent feeling that our governments today no longer represent the very citizens who elected them?

Under the electoral system in place in Canada and the United Kingdom, the elected government usually does not reflect the ideas of all voters, nor even a majority of them, but merely the largest minority from a given region. In a country as large and diverse as Canada, the largest minority in (say) Quebec rarely has the same viewpoint as the largest minority in Alberta, for example. The result is that regional tensions are exacerbated; this led to a near-death experience for the country in 1995 . Can our country even survive with a system that exaggerates regional differences?

The one-person, one vote, first-past-the-post system assumes that one person on the ballot will represent your own views identically. Are there any two people on the planet whose views are identical? Not only does this ballot contain very little true information, but most of the information collected is thrown away. This is because most ballots produce no result at all in the electoral outcome. If you voted for the "loser", the information on your ballot is lost. If you voted for the "winner", your vote only made a difference if the election was very close.

We live in an information age. Why then do we tolerate an archaic electoral system that handles voter information so poorly? Our electoral system fails almost every test you can devise for it. The number of elected members of any party is not proportional to the number of votes that party receives. The elected representatives do not reflect the population demographic. Women form half the population, but comprise only 22% of our elected representatives in Canada. In this regard, Canada recently ranked 48th in the world; the United States ranked 73rd, and both countries have recently moved down the list.

Although Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom all believe we have deep democratic traditions, we are in fact anomalies in the world because of our regressive electoral systems. Almost all other nations have moved to one form or another of proportional representation.

Democratic Issues in Canada:

The American voting system presents its own set of dangers. Can these questions be answered? Ultimately, we need to strive toward some degree of participatory democracy at the global level, a system that gives everyone a direct voice to global decisions.

"Although tyranny, because it needs no consent, may suceesfully rule over
foreign peoples, it can stay in power only if it destroys,
first of all, the national institutions of its own people."

- Hannah Arendt, in The Origins of Totalitarianism

"When the government fears the people, there is liberty;
when the people fear the government, there is tyranny"

- Thomas Jefferson
"The price of freedom is eternal vigilence" - Thomas Jefferson

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