Saturday, October 22, 2016

My Newspaper Column for November, 2016

It looks like the world has dodged a big bullet as a result of the U.S.  not electing Donald Trump on November 8.  I say this with some confidence, because as a political scientist I am aware of the fragility of the world in at least three different spheres: the global economy,  global security , and the fledgling global climate change regime.  Mr. Trump was a threat to all three.

I see that he scheduled his last major policy address to take place in Gettysburg.  I can’t help but think that Little Big Horn would have been more appropriate. Ageing white men are outnumbered and surrounded in the political arena, for the first time anyone can remember.

As a political scientist, my attention is also drawn to another event, closer to home: Justin Trudeau’s musing that, since we now have a popular Liberal government, perhaps the people of Canada don’t really need a new electoral system after all.

I found the prime minister’s statement  disturbing, if not exactly surprising.  After all, it was his talk of “Real Change”, and explicit promises like the one “to make the 2015 election the last First -Past-the -Post election ever” that enabled him to pass Mr. Mulcair on his left and drive straight into the Residence at 24 Sussex .  (Like “ settling 25,000 Syrian refugees before  the end of December”,  and “jump-starting the economy,”  perhaps he said it primarily because it sounded good.)

Well, I can think of several reasons for making Mr. Trudeau keep his promise, starting with basic democratic principle.  It is a basic democratic right to have one’s vote count as much as everyone else’s. Our system favours those parties and individuals who are able to get local pluralities--not  even majorities--and punishes everyone else in terms of representation.  Indigenous peoples, for example, are routinely under-represented in our national elections.   All political parties--even the governing party--tend to be underrepresented in certain regions and overrepresented in others, which has clearly been bad for national unity throughout our history. A monolithically Conservative Alberta and a Liberal Ontario was always a fiction, a dangerous illusion created by our electoral system because it tends to under-state the true diversity of our regions. 

Proportional representation is also conducive to better governance. This is what politicians have trouble believing and often refuse to believe--that being forced to take even more interests into account, even co-operating with other parties and forging compromises with them --could possibly be an improvement, because it reduces their discretion to do whatever they want.  To this day, Bill Vander Zalm and Glen Clark probably both believe that if only they had more rope, they wouldn’t have hanged themselves. I suspect that the opposite is true--that if only they had each been forced to hammer out compromises with other groups so as to represent a true majority of the population, they likely would have been saved from themselves.  And we would have had better government.