Opinion: Thank you, Doug Ford, for exposing the lie at the heart of modern Canadian democracy | Rare Techy
I think Doug Ford has done us all a favor. I think we owe him a debt of gratitude.
Canadian democracy has been in a state of advanced decline for so long that no one seems to even notice. Parliament barely meets anymore. The government adopts half of its agenda with one consolidated bill, but there is hardly any time for discussion. Members of Parliament are programmed voting machines. Cabinet ministers are also reduced to running the affairs of the Prime Minister – or rather, the Prime Minister’s staff.
It’s no surprise that people no longer bother to participate or pay much attention. In federal elections, voter turnout has dropped to around 60 percent; to 43 per cent in the last Ontario election; and in Toronto’s recent local elections to a remarkable 29 percent of eligible voters, the lowest figure in the city’s history.
So Mr. Ford’s decision to put the bullet in the old rack is a welcome nod to reality. We have been pretending to be a democracy for a while now. Now Ontario’s premier isn’t going to pretend anymore.
In last week’s surprise announcement – what’s an autocracy without surprises? – the province unveiled legislation that allows the mayors of Toronto and Ottawa to move and pass bylaws with the support of only one-third of their respective city councils. In the case of Toronto, whose city council Mr. Ford had previously halved from 47 to 25 members, that means the mayor, who is also a councillor, would have to collect votes from just eight members.
The government touts it as a “strong mayor” policy, although it only applies in two cities and only to bylaws deemed consistent with “provincial priorities.” It follows a law passed in September that gave mayors the power to veto bylaws passed by the council unless two-thirds of the council voted to overturn them. But while previous legislation allowed a council minority to block a bylaw, at least a majority was needed to pass it. Now it only takes a third.
This has provoked some understandable outrage and incomprehension. What’s the point of even having a council, said more than one commentator, if the mayor and a few of his cronies can rule without the rest? They believed that the basic principle of democracy is that the majority rules. And of course they are right. That’s pretty much the definition of it.
Rule by the people, if it means anything, means rule by the majority of the people. If this is not done – if the minority can rule over the majority – it violates the second basic principle of democracy: everyone gets a voice and every vote counts equally. The principle of majority rule is a direct consequence of the principle of equality.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed though, but that’s not the principle we’re actually governed by – at any level of government. Rather, we are governed under a system that results in a minority in most elections. This is called first after office: since a plurality of votes, not a majority, is sufficient to win a given riding, a plurality, rather than a majority, is usually sufficient to elect most members. Parliament or Provincial Legislature.
This is not a majority rule system. It is an institutionalized system of minority rule. A government elected with the support of 40 percent or less of the electorate still has the power to pass legislation over the objections of nearly two-thirds of voters and their elected representatives. Of course, this was not always the case. When our system was created, there were only two political parties. In order to win the majority of seats, it was necessary to win the majority of votes. But we haven’t had two-party politics for over 100 years.
The reason we still think of our system as a majority system is that we have maintained the formality that every vote in Parliament requires the support of a majority of MPs to pass. But there is no particular reason why we should require it separately. After all, it matters little whether you have the support of the majority of the random people sitting in the room. It depends on who these people represent. It is the illusory idea – once universally true, now almost always false – that most MPs also represent the majority of the people, which gives it power.
And yet, when it is pointed out, it tends to brush off impatiently, as if it were mere arithmetic—as if the rule of the majority were some little technicality that only pedants would fret over. It is strength We are told about our system: it creates stable majority governments! Yes, they are artifacts of a broken electoral system made of a minority of the popular vote. What about it?
I’ll say it again: Mr. Ford has done us a favor. I have often suggested as a thought experiment that we imagine what the reaction would be if it were proposed that the law should be passed with the support of 35 percent of MPs, as opposed to 35 percent as it is now. percent of the public. It would certainly show how insecure the current system is. Surely this would mean that we need a system based on real majority rule, not the illusion of it.
Now Mr. Ford has proposed to do just that. He has clearly expressed what was always implicit. He has exposed the logic behind the first post. He has openly supported minority rule, where inferior men hide behind the facade of a parliamentary majority.