In an editorial the Globe and Mail says that last month’s federal election “was a reminder of how well our voting system works … [because, unlike in many other jurisdictions, including that of our great and powerful (and democratic) neighbour to the South] … None of the parties is claiming that the vote was “rigged.” No losing candidates are saying they only lost because ballot boxes were stuffed. The official opposition is not crying “Fraud!” and demanding new rules to make it harder to vote. No party’s slogan is “Stop the Steal” … [instead, the Good Grey Globe opines] … Elections Canada is expected to be able to confirm final results some time this week, after last week completing judicial recounts in two close races. Those uncontroversial, boring-as-paint-drying recounts are examples of how and why our system works.”
Part of the reason for the success of our system, the Globe suggests, is that “Federal election ballots are made of paper, marked by hand with a pencil, and tallied by a remarkable technology known as “human beings.” Scrutineers from the political parties can count along with Election Canada’s counters; that appears to be how the mistake in Châteauguay–Lacolle was found … [and] … There are no black-box electronic voting machines. It’s just pencil on paper.” I am reminded of something that was drilled into me as young soldier and junior officer: Simplicity is a virtue; simple things are robust; in the heat of battle robust people and things work best; the simple solution to a problem is most often the better one; and the simple, elegant solution is most often right.
The Globe and Mail‘s editorial boards concludes, and I agree (reluctantly, because I think that there must be a way to make online voting work in the not too distant future) that “Canada’s voting system isn’t perfect. Not all ridings have the same population; some have fewer than 50,000 voters, while others have more than 100,000 … [and] … There are questions, too, about whether first-past-the-post is still best …[but one needs only to loook to Israel, another robust democracy, to see why proportional representation is a foolish alternative favoured almost exclusively by parties that can never attract the support they think they deserve] … And though we are far ahead of the U.S. when it comes to curbing the influence of money in politics, we could still do better, through tighter limits on donations … [but] … it’s hard to fault the way this country tallies its votes – and the way politicians and voters alike respect the legitimacy of the count. Look south, and be thankful.“
And, I am thankful, even though I suspect that Elections Canada is a bit of a dumping ground for bureaucrats who are not quite good enough for, say, management posts in Treasury Board or one of the big spending apartments like Industry, Health or Defence.
But, thankful as I am for the simple, honest system that we have inherited and (through the force of bureaucratic inertia?) left, largely, unchanged for a century or more, I believe that there is one aspect of our political system that is broken. I am certain that liberalism ~ the greatest gift that we (and Australia and America) have from our British political heritage has been sadly and seriously weakened.
The attack on liberalism began in the 1930s when Québec was allowed to institutionalize illiberalism (almost fascism) in its quest to “protect” the French fact in Canada. It became a more serious problem in the 1960s when, confronted by an armed rebellion by a small number of French-Canadian terrorists, the Government of Canada decided that appeasement was the best solution. Appeasement, and the consequential drift away from our liberal heritage accelerated when Pierre Trudeau became prime minister. He was NOT, in any meaningful way, a liberal. He tossed aside two centuries of British liberalism and sought, instead, some bastardization of European social-democratic theory and democratic Marxism. Pierre Trudeau was not an autocrat. He believed in democracy. He believed that the people had a fundamental right to elect their governments. What he did not believe in, what he appeared, to me, to actively fear and oppose was traditional English liberalism.
The “apprehended insurrection” in Québec in 1970 certainly changed Canada in quite fundamental ways, but Pierre Trudeau’s reaction to it probably changed the country in an even greater way. It has always seemed, to me, that Pierre Trudeau could not make a case for Québec’s place in Canada, as a province. He was convinced that Lord Durham was right: Québec is a nation and Canada is another discrete, separate nation and somehow some way must be found to help Québec to reconcile itself to its unfortunate fate, to accepting its place in Canada. His answers included e.g. “fiscal federalism,” which was, after one dusted off the bureaucratic verbiage, nothing but a bribe. Some form of fiscal federalism is a feature of every federal system, it is not unique to Canada. Canada’s system, which includes an equalization formula that is, intentionally, weighted to massively favour Québec and Atlantic Canada, is, however, like the 1982 version of the Constitution, an outcome of the sundry Québec crises of 1960s and ’70s.
There are few if any politicians, none who matter a lot, anyway, who now deny that Québec is a nation, at least the Québecois and Québecoise people are a nation, even if most want to keep it/them as a nation within the Canadian federal state. What has changed, however, it seems to me is the extent to which almost all Canadian politicians are willing too toss aside their own professed liberal values in an attempt to appease Québec’s increasingly ugly illiberal nature. I expect nothing less from Québec’s native sons and from leaders of progressive and illiberal parties, but I hoped and expected that Erin O’Toole would at the very least stand up for the rights fo every Canadian, even those unfortunates who will bet the victims of Québec’s odious Bill 21. I was shocked when Mr O’Toole turned coward and agreed with Messers Trudeau and Singh that the moderator of the election debate was wrong to ask the leader of the Bloc Québecois about that bill. That was a sure sign that even the Conservative Party has thrown its liberal values away in its pursuit of a few seats in Québec.
Liberal Canada is disappearing. We are on track to be just another illiberal democracy, like France or Hungary or Poland. Pity …