RIP Electoral Reform (and Real Democracy in Canada)

The hopes of Canadian electoral reform died peacefully on the afternoon of Feb. 1, 2017. Although many of us remained skeptical that it was dead on arrival all along, it remained propped up on life support until Trudeau’s popularity peaked high enough with his strong response to Donald Trump’s “Muslim ban” that he felt safe enough to order the hit on one of his most direct campaign promises. Am I being too cynical? Perhaps. But no matter how sinister or longstanding the electoral reform conspiracy goes, it does not change the final outcome. This is not a four year setback. Electoral reform will not happen in Canada as long as the two major parties continue to be in power.

Some have said that all the awful going on in the world these days, it is out of touch to mourn for the loss of something so trivial. But on behalf of voters who see electoral reform as a top issue, we would prefer not to be the metaphorical can you kick down the road when the going gets tough. Trudeau talked about the potential a referendum on proportional representation has to divide the country at a time when we need unity. I agree we need unity, but to achieve that we must have a government people believe in and one that help all voters feel heard- not just those we agree with. First Past the Post (FPTP) has long served as a centrifuge by which the political diversity that enriches our country is diluted. In our elections, most votes are wasted on unelected candidates, while 39 per cent of the votes transforms to 55 per cent of the seats and 100 per cent of the power, as was the case with the previous Conservative government and the current Liberals. Many centrists cite this as an appeal of FPTP since it keeps out radical extremists. These scare tactics used to put down proportional representation are simply uniformed.  A threshold on the minimum percentage of votes required to gain a seat could be levied to keep extreme parties out of parliament unless they attract significant support, and even if they do get into parliament, major parties could choose not to put them in their coalition minimizing their influence.  Regardless, democracy is not designed so that politicians can ‘protect’ a wayward citizenry from the top down. Democracy is supposed to be a value neutral system; its purpose is to thoroughly represent the will of the people. While concerns over the likelihood of coalition governments are legitimate, these would only enhance likelihood of parties being forced to compromise and work together, something most Canadians would surely prefer to our polarized system. I would happily watch our parliament ‘suffer’ from a little deadlock if it meant our government would match our political culture. After all, conciliatory minority governments are how we got universal healthcare.

The excuse Trudeau used to 86 the preposterous thought that every vote should be counted equally was even more enraging than the decision in the first place. He blamed us. Even though Canadians voted overwhelmingly for parties that campaigned on ending first past the post, Trudeau wasn’t convinced enough to follow through on his promise. He decided he needed more proof. Why? Is that not the point of an election? You put forward a list of policies you want to enact, and if the public votes for you, you have a mandate to pursue them. Still, he had a multitude of options to test this public support, none of which he seemed interested in pursuing. Polling showed that Canadians’ top two priorities for a new system were proportionality and local representation. In other words, the public wanted Mixed Member Proportionality or Single Transferable Vote. But instead of pursing that directly by, say, having a referendum to determine the national preference, or even asking specifically which system was preferable through a direct survey, Trudeau sent former Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef into the House of Commons to dismiss a multiparty committee report with a calculus flash card and a BuzzFeed survey, turning his promising, young female minister into an international meme. Perhaps the reason Trudeau couldn’t find consensus is because he did everything he could to avoid looking for it.

Over the last 16 months, I learned electoral reform was far more than my personal pet project. Many friends, politically motivated or otherwise, reached out to me about electoral reform. When I was door knocking during the last election, numerous people cited it as a top issue. I went to Minister Monsef’s Winnipeg town hall, where a packed gymnasium of young, old, rural and urban voters put their voices forward, largely citing local representation and proportionality as priorities. The polling, aside from the slanted and useless mydemocracy.ca results, speaks for itself. I truly believe if a non-list proportional representation system had gone to a referendum, it would have passed – which is why it never did.

Trudeau’s sabotage of electoral reform was akin to a first year university student trying to make an argument for his paper, looking at google scholar for three hours trying to find a stat to back it up, not finding anything, then just saying, “Screw it, I’ve got cute hair, the professor likes me” and handing it in anyway. It would have been easier to take, and probably less politically damaging, for Trudeau to have stood up one week after he was elected and just say “we said we liked electoral reform to grab a few left wing votes, but now we have a false majority to protect. You got played, see ya in 2019.” It would have been less insulting to the intelligence of Canadians than the way it played out. Instead, as Andrew Coyne said, the Prime Minister chastised us: “You didn’t step up. You failed to show leadership. You left the hard work of governing to the government,” was the message parlayed to the public.

I alongside many other Canadians watched electoral reform get chewed up by the Liberals and unceremoniously spit out 16 months after the fact. We cannot forget this moment. It is clearer than ever that electoral reform will never happen as long as the two main parties are in charge. The current system benefits them too much. So to my fellow Canadians, I ask you to prove Trudeau wrong when he says you don’t have the appetite for reform. Write your MP, flood the newly-minted Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould’s inbox, or best of all, consider whether or not the party you vote for in 2019 will listen to Canadians when they ask for electoral reform. Because when it comes to ending first past the post, nobody believes you Mr. Trudeau.

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Bernie or Bust: Why the Political Revolution needs Donald Trump

Dear progressives of the United States,
My name is Jakob Sanderson and I have a problem. There is a large part of me that wants Donald Trump to win the presidency in November. I apologize for this, and I understand that this may put me in a class of human mostly populated by racists, islamophobes, fear mongers and the depressingly uninformed. Nonetheless, I believe there is a case to made that true progressives would be better served in the long run by a Trump White House.

To begin, I must make a few things clear. First, being a Canadian, I cannot say with 100% confidence what I would do if I were faced with a ballot that could define my country and way of life, rather than commentating from a distance. This layer of security allows me to take the long view. Second, I do not, by any measure, believe that Donald Trump would make a better President than Hillary Clinton, in fact that distinction is central to my case. Finally, I would never endorse voting for Donald Trump, instead I am asking that progressives, who do not support the establishment politics and centrist policies of Hillary Clinton and those who buoyed her candidacy, do not hold their nose to vote for a candidate they do not support out of fear. Instead, if like me, you do not approve of either nominee from the major parties, vote for a candidate you may approve of such as Gary Johnson or Jill Stein, write in Bernie Sanders, decline your ballot, or stay home. I believe that the political revolution you have been clamouring for can only take root within the establishment of the Democratic Party, and the United States, if you show the world what would happen without your compromise.

THE IDEALIST CASE

This letter is not intended to sway supporters of Hillary Clinton away from her. There is no charge I can bring, no criticism I can levy, that you have not already heard. If you still support her, you have a fundamentally different set of political values for which I cannot judge you for, nor ask you to abandon. This is to those who supported Bernie Sanders because they are tired of establishment and special interest interference in democracy, tired of supporting policies by ‘third way’ democrats that only go 80 per cent as far to the left as you would like. It is to those who have compromised for too long and want to know that one day, they will get the chance to see a candidate who truly represents them on a presidential ticket. It is to those fellow idealists who care more about principle than policy, about movement than platform, that I ask to consider, if in 2016, you may care more about precedent than president.

I have, on numerous occasions, been accused of putting uncompromising idealism ahead of sensible pragmatism. I say that with great pride, because when the minority eschews their ideal goal to avoid the possibility of disaster, our revolution becomes a mere whisper. (And not like in the Tracy Chapman song) It has happened to us over and over, and yet we never learn.

Why?

Perhaps it is because we inevitably outsmart ourselves. You may garner up the courage to shout “Bernie or Bust” outside the Wells Fargo Centre this week, but will not ultimately hold to it by November. You remember McGovern ’72, when for all the joy you got out of the primary triumph, you were sent home that November with only a ‘Kiss My Ass’ Button and the sate of Massachusetts to show for it. You know that the Clinton and Obama presidencies were never quite all you hoped for, but it was better than holding out for a hero and hearing the state of the union address from Bob Dole or John McCain. However, this time it’s different. This is not ’92, when you had suffered through 12 years of new public management. It is not ’08, when eight years of Republican leadership put you and the world through a global financial meltdown. And, for the first time in four decades, we watched a true progressive candidate have a realistic chance at stepping into the White House. Bernie Sanders may not have won, and he will likely never be president, but there will be others that follow in his footsteps, and we must show that we stand by the political revolution that he began. This is the time, not to pick the lesser of two evils, but to stand by your conscience.

Yes, the platform has conceded some ground to Sanders’ policies on health care, and especially the funding of public colleges and universities. Because of this, Hillary Clinton and the DNC elite will promise you that they have your interest at heart, but they do not. They just need your vote in November. None of this is even to delve into the corruption of Clinton in regards to her e-mail scandal, charitable donations or speaking arrangements. The bottom line is that even if she were as trustworthy as they come on all these side-issues, she is a hawkish foreign policy presence, and a member of the New Democrat Coalition which is avowedly fiscally conservative and pro trade.

There is nothing inherently wrong with those stances, but if it does not represent your values, as it does not represent mine, you should not feel duty-bound to vote for it out of fear, as Clinton would compel you to do. If she truly wanted to demonstrate that she is on your side, beyond her promises and speeches, she would have appointed Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders himself, or even Cory Booker or Tom Perez, as her running mate, rather than Tim Kaine, who is another economically conservative party insider (former DNC chair), with many ties to wall street.With no disrespect to Kaine, who by all counts is an excellent man and senator, it is a slap in the face to progressives, that she thinks she can defy our economic values and still take them for granted as votes in November. Further, the 2016 platform is standing by the Trans Pacific Partnership that Bernie Sanders opposed as a pillar of his campaign. The agreement is rejected by a vast majority of Americans on both sides of the aisle, and is only included in the platform as an attempt to not embarrass Barack Obama on his way out.

If your policies match with those of Hillary Clinton, by all means vote for her. But if they do not, then do not compromise when she has refused to. Vote your conscience, for the person who best represents your values. Do not trick yourself into thinking that is Donald Trump, it most certainly is not, and if there is no candidate on the ticket who you approve of then do not vote for any of them. If that cedes Donald Trump the White House, that is the result of your Democratic party not earning your support, not you betraying them. They will soon come to regret that error when they realize what the result of the election will be when you are on the sidelines.

THE LONG VIEW

There are lessons we can point to from across the aisle that our idealistic rebellion this November could pave the way to a brighter future for progressive Democrats. In many ways, I am jealous of the fortitude of our comrades in the base of the GOP. While the Tea Party movement is a horrific step backwards in social progress, i find myself in stoic admiration of the way that the racists, rubes and bible thumpers that make up the fervent base of the American political right has stood their ground against a Republican establishment attempting to guide their party back towards the realm of sanity and electability. Bravo whack jobs, take a bow. Their candidates have slowly climbed the ladder from school boards to state houses to congress and dominated much of the 2016 Republican Primaries and platform. Establishment candidates “Low Energy” Jeb Bush and Scott Walker were unceremoniously bounced from the race before Super Tuesday, left to watch Tea Party messiah and RNC pariah Ted Cruz rack up caucus victories across many traditional Red States. The only man who could defeat him was of course Donald J. Trump. While he is far from a classic Tea Party candidate, he, more than anyone, tapped into the anti-immigration, anti-trade, anti-establishment, ‘America first’ rhetoric that currently dominates the GOP base.

This didn’t happen over night. It was the result of a decade long process of hard-fought down ballot primaries, rebellions against party leadership, and eight years of a Democrat white house. But in absorbing these punches, they have sent the message that merely placing an R and an Elephant beside a policy or candidate is not enough to earn their vote. This year, even despite many in the establishment’s best attempt at the onset, they have a candidate who rose from their populist base, and a platform which represents it. It is the most homophobic in a century, opposes free trade, and most importantly, forms a massive middle finger to the party establishment of the last twenty years. Their grass roots are undoubtedly full of weeds, but they have proved to be strong. Stronger than those of the democrats.

So why spend two paragraphs speaking so glowingly of a movement that I am personally offended by on every level? Because it is proof the grass roots can outgrow the status quo, even in the autocratic bureaucracy that is American party politics. If the gun toting confederates that we so joyfully mock can assemble a powerful political revolution on their side of the aisle, surely we can find within us the resolve to do the same. Because political parties can ultimately be changed by one thing and one thing only, electoral results.

The DNC does not care about you. They will make impassioned pleas for unity as they talk glowingly about Bernie Sanders and his supporters and how welcome you are under their big corporate tent. But do not be fooled. These are the same people who were now proven to be fixing the primaries for Clinton by targeting Sanders’ religion. These are the people who defended a system of super delegates so that party elites can block insurgent candidates riding the will of the public. Sure, DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz has now been forced out, but Hillary Clinton offered her a job as a campaign surrogate and honourary co-chair, citing that Schultz has “always had her back.” That level of smugness and corruption can only be reached by either a blatant disregard for your concerns, the assumption that you aren’t informed enough to find it out, or the acknowledgment that if the other alternative is electing Donald Trump, you really do not have any other choice but to vote for her no matter what she does. The Democratic elite have installed a multi-million dollar defence system to block you out at every level, and they will not stop, because they know that you will ultimately fall in line. It’s like they have you locked in an emotionally abusive relationship. Sure, you will complain, you may threaten to leave, but you will always come running back, and since you do, why would they change? There is only one way, and his name is Donald Trump.

Sure, a Clinton presidency is far preferable to a Trump one in the near term, but let us look at the long view. Even with a Clinton victory, by 2020 you’re probably looking at a Republican White House anyhow. Not since the Truman/Roosevelt Democrats in the 1930s and 40s did one party control the White House for more than 12 years. The Republicans, embarrassed by 3 straight electoral defeats and allowing Trump to hijack their party will be focused and energized in 2020, and will rally around a candidate who has the best chance to usurp Hillary Clinton. Let’s say this then leaves us with eight years of Nikki Haley, Ted Cruz, Susana Martinez or Tom Cotton as commander in chief. By then, the embers have the 2016 political revolution will have been snuffed, its supporters exhausted and middle aged. 2028’s Democrats are more likely to nominate someone on the principle basis of perceived electability out of exasperation at Republican control of the presidency. Now is the time to fight for our revolution because it may be another four decades before the time is right again. Just take a look back at the history of ideological change within the Democratic party.

In the 1968 Democratic nomination process, Populist candidates Eugene McCarthy and Robert F Kennedy, who was assassinated during the campaign, were stifled by then Vice-President Hubert H. Humphrey who won the nomination without competing in a single primary. Riots erupted at that year’s Chicago Convention which carried a fatal cloud over the ultimately unsuccessful Humphrey Campaign. Seeing that the corrupted nomination system disenfranchised their members and possibly cost them the election, the DNC changed their nomination rules to mandate primaries and caucuses in every state. The grass roots that backed McCarthy in ’68 continued their fight in to 1972 when the aforementioned George McGovern was nominated. Only with a loss in the 2016 election will the Democratic Party again realize that it needs to adapt to its flawed system in order to unite the party going forward. And with what is expected to be a close election, if the 43 per cent of Democrats who voted for Bernie Sanders voted third party or declined the presidential portion of their ballot, a massive loss would be assured.

Yes, I know McGovern ’72 was ultimately a disaster for the party, but that was a different time. His hardline anti-war stance that labelled him a Communist sympathizer at the time and cost him many moderate votes would now be seen as a major boon for a Democratic nominee. In fact, McGovern’s platform of ’72, which was remarkably ahead of its time, could easily take the white house in 2016. But in the face of the cold war, the perceived steadiness of Nixon’s white house was seen as a much smaller risk to those outside of McGovern’s base. That’s the biggest reason why this time could be different. No one has ever accused Donald Trump of being steady, and the Democrats will trot out any candidate they can to defeat him after the assured disaster what will be four years of Donald Trump tyranny. If Bernie Sanders supporters abandon the Democratic party this election and allow Donald Trump to ascend to power, The 2020 DNC would surely do everything they could to court the progressive base’s support to correct the wrongs of the 2016 election, and I imagine the result could be an Elizabeth Warren or Cory Booker presidency by 2020.

The DNC will only make that change if they lose, and lose big. After McGovern’s defeat, and the succeeding period of 4 Republican Presidents in the next 20 years, the party took a turn to the centre, with the creation of the New Democrat Coalition, of which the Clintons were vocal members. They realized that a switch to pro-trade economic policies mixed with social liberalism was their best chance at pulling back Reagan Democrats to their side. This time, the party will be forced to flow to the populist anti-trade, anti-establishment themes that populate the base they have ignored, to ensure they get back on the road to electoral success.

Yes, four years of Donald Trump’s tiny fingers on the nuclear code is a fearful proposition, but voting your conscience this fall, and allowing Hillary Clinton and the Democrat establishment to falter is the only way to send a message that will be received in the future. There has been no revolution before tyranny, no light before darkness. Only Donald Trump’s election could make such an impact that the Democratic Parry and the American populous has no choice but to step on board the political revolution. If you continue to compromise you will be forgotten. Instead, stand on the sidelines, and let the country find out what a mess they will put themselves in without you to keep it on the rails. Your vote is your conscience, but it is also your leverage, and you can never get the revolution you want without exploiting it.

Sincerely, Suicidal Young Marxist working at TGIFridays (what centrist twitter calls us Bernie folk)


Read me next time to hear the case for unity in the Democratic Party.