Christopher Majka - Political frustration: In 2011 the electoral pot boils over

by Christopher Majka

"Is it just me and my Facebook friends or is Stephen Harper in deeper doo doo than we know?" wonders Stephen Kimber, a journalism professor at the University of King's College in Halifax, and one of Nova Scotia's most perceptive political commentators.

No Stephen, its not just you. An every-widening circle of Canadians are increasingly frustrated, not only by Stephen Harper and the scandal-ridden, contemptuous, and hyper-partisan vision of Canada promulgated by the Conservative party, but by a dysfunctional political and electoral system. Why?


* Canada's increasingly archaic first-past-the-post electoral system produces injudicious and erratic outcomes, unrepresentative of the political convictions of Canadians. 

* In the 2008 election the Green Party received over 937,000 votes, 6.8% of the electorate, and yet has no Parliamentary representation – effectively orphaning all the Canadians who supported its platform. 

* In 2007 the New Democratic Party received the support of almost twice as many Canadians as the Bloc Québécois (2,515,000 versus 1,380,000), yet the BQ won 49 ridings whereas the NDP were elected in only 37. In a democratic system, shouldn't each citizen's vote and voice be equal?

* Coalition governments are a legitimate and long-established feature of governments in the Westminster tradition. There have been coalition governments in Canada. Great Britain is currently governed by one. Yet, in this election, their very legitimacy is being cast into doubt by the Harper Conservatives.

* Many voters are frustrated by a zero-sum approach to politics. Each party, holed up in its respective political bunker, claims that it alone has the key to economic prosperity, environmental sustainability, and social justice. Tangible progress on climate change has been derailed by arguments about whether a carbon tax or cap and trade system are better solutions, whereas what is required is immediate action.

* The climate change accountability act, which was passed by the House of Commons twice, was also killed twice; in 2008 when Stephen Harper called the election (because it hadn't yet received royal assent), then in 2011 by political tricks by Conservatives in an unelected Senate. When action is urgently required, parliamentarians toil for years on initiatives that can vanish in a puff of partisan smoke. Does this lead to effective governance?

* Stephen Harper prorogued Parliament to evade a vote of confidence in the House of Commons, a ploy unprecedented in Canadian Parliamentary history.

* The Conservative government was found in contempt of Parliament, unprecedented not only in Canada, but in any country in the British Parliamentary tradition.

* Young people in particular have been alienated, opting out in record numbers from participating in an electoral system that appears not to reflect their lives and concerns. In 2008 only 37.4% of them turned out to vote. 

The apparent paralysis of the Canadian political system, and the inability of electoral structures to respond to this situation, has produced ever-poorer governance, an erosion of constitutional democracy, and inaction on a plethora of critical issues. Voter frustration is increasing dramatically, and in 2011 the electoral pot is boiling over. The bickering, the hyper-partisanship, the obvious distortions of truth, the zero-sum calculus of adversarial politics, and an electoral system seemingly incapable of reflecting the political composition of the country, is driving ever increasing numbers of Canadians to seek non-traditional approaches to try and wrestle reasonable political outcomes from a rigid and unresponsive electoral system. Active and engaged citizens who don't believe that political engagement starts and ends with marking an X on a ballot every several years.

These measures include, smart voting, strategic voting, vote-swapping, and initiatives that opt out of the formal political process, seeking instead to build small "p" political movements focused on youth, arts and culture, the environment, and many other concerns.

Project Democracy is one such initiative. We believe that knowledge is power, which is why we strive to make available the best possible electoral information. It's been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. We need to break out of this cycle. Accurate and detailed knowledge paves the way for effective political action. Action that produces meaningful political outcomes. Outcomes that seriously address the many economic, environmental, health-care, social, and cultural challenges – and opportunities – that face our country. 

Smart voting is a poor cousin to political and electoral reform. To a political system that fairly represents all Canadians and their beliefs and aspirations. However, with an increasingly dysfunctional political system, and a hyper-partisan climate that doesn't foster cooperation and consensus, but promulgates aggression and adversity, we have to build a pathway leading to better solutions. Canadians deserve better governance than they are receiving. We have the right to demand it of our political parties. We need to impress this desire on them. We need to take action to make it so. is a step towards a better future.

Visit the Project Democracy website, check the situation in your riding, monitor the 49 Key Contests in the election, contribute to the dialogue on our Facebook site, talk to your friends, email your contacts, and make a contribution. Working together we can make this better future a reality.