On the weekend, thousands of leaders from across Canada gathered in Ottawa for The Federation of Canadian Municipalities annual conference.
While this nationwide gathering celebrates the history and future of local government, what was truly notable was what was missing. During The FPM conference, a plethora of state and federal politicians and First Nations chiefs made their way to Ottawa with the purpose of advancing big government reforms that could only be in favor of unaccountable, socially self-serving elites.
The result of this autocratic politicking is that Canada now has a Parliament that is not representative of the views of its people. As a result, its resident MPs are paid higher salaries and can more easily push through big-government policies that ignore the wishes of the populace. The result of the rule of radical insiders is the direct exclusion of voters.
In fact, since the current Election Act was adopted, the number of Canadian voters who are represented by a single MP has dropped from roughly 26 percent in the 1940s to 7 percent today. This is an alarming trend. The larger a country’s government gets, the less likely it is that citizens will have meaningful, local political representation.
First Nations, immigrants, political newcomers, youth, seniors, and small businesses are denied that chance. Too many Canadians are losing out on the choices that come with directly voting in elections. Instead, voters are forced to abstain.
In fact, as much as five percent of Canadians — or nearly four million people — have never voted for their elected representative. That means they are effectively disenfranchised. Without an elected representative, a representative can’t represent the very people that elect him or her. The more power politicians wield and the less chance of its being widely accessed, the greater the threat to our core democratic principles.
According to a recent Angus Reid Institute poll, nearly half of Canadians agree that it is important for elected representatives to work for the greater good of all Canadians.
Given Canada’s exceptional and entrenched system of Canada’s voting system, the time has come for provinces to agree to move away from first-past-the-post (FPTP). New York and Australia have already moved to proportional representation. And in 1993, British Columbia adopted what is known as the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system. The adoption of MMP by B.C. was met with fierce opposition by local business owners. Small-business owners were concerned that increased bureaucracy, greater government bureaucracy, and increased government interference in local business decisions would ruin the jobs of owners and employees.
Yet, the MMP system has been a tremendous success. It has ushered in balanced representation, more small business, more democracy, and a reduced threat of the imposition of state control.
Voters in Ontario, B.C. and Alberta need to kickstart this campaign by making the same calls that everyone else did when B.C. became MMP a decade ago. They need to make the argument that when it comes to improving democracy, changing the voting system for representative government simply makes sense.
It should be obvious that B.C.’s version of MMP provides the greatest improvements to accountability. For example, in 2015, 42 percent of voters in B.C. decided not to cast a ballot for provincial parliamentarians. That’s not a lot of free expression. This is the place that is responsible for policymaking. It is not a place for elected representatives to simply ignore the wishes of the people.
Simply put, electing representatives who govern to represent the public to themselves is a key principle to Canada’s success. That principle must not be forgotten. The defeat of B.C. in 2015 is an undeniable sign that the idea of local representation must be embraced. It must be passed to support Canadians everywhere.
Phil Brettschneider is an associate professor of political science at the University of Victoria, president of the National Alliance of Elected Officials, and an award-winning columnist for The National Post.