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Friday, August 23, 2019

Change coming in Ontario, but none of the mainstream offerings worthy

The three traditional parties leaving much to be desired – the Liberals must be banished, and the NDP and Tories each have traits that make them unworthy of our trust – Ontarians can’t be blamed for being both uninspired by the election and unsure about where to cast their votes.

Getting rid of Kathleen Wynne and her party appears to be the overwhelming theme.

The current government has far exceeded the three-strike rule when it comes to incompetence, waste and corruption. We’ll vote the bums out, and the new ones will likely bum us out.

The solution? Something akin to the historical revolutionary uprisings that sprinkle our defence of democracy looks good, but we’re perhaps not ready for that just yet. There are rumblings, however, in favour of that option we’d all like to see on the ballot: none of the above.

Don’t like the candidates on offer? Vote NOTA and send them a message. Ontario, in fact, has a None Of The Above party, which is fielding candidates in 42 of the province’s 124 ridings (the closest being Kitchener Centre). It’s primary mandate is what it calls the  three Rs of direct democracy – Referendum, Recall and Real electoral and legislative Reforms that give voters control of politicians and parties. Candidates are accountable to their constituents and there are no central party policies or controls of elected MPPs beyond the binding direct democracy principles.

In that regard, NOTA is part of a worldwide movement of new and independent parties and candidates campaigning for direct democracy and voter empowerment policies. If elected, it pledges to end the partisan system of politics in the province, inviting the best MPPs from other parties to form a cabinet – a more representative form of democracy.

Beyond the NOTA party, None Of The Above as a ballot option would be a way to express dissatisfaction with the status quo.

It’s not a radical concept. In fact, variations of it exist in a dozen countries, including France, Sweden, Finland, Belgium, Ukraine and India. Even one U.S. state, Nevada, has the option, in place since 1976. The option has weathered legal challenges, and although NOTA can’t “win” an election – in the event of a plurality, the victor would be the candidate with the next-highest vote count – it can make a statement. An Associated Press report notes that “in 1998, Democratic U.S. Sen. Harry Reid defeated then Republican Rep. John Ensign by 428 votes, but more than 8,000 voters rejected both men and opted for ‘none.’”

Such measures don’t yet exist in this country, but in Ontario you can decline your ballot. Those slips are supposed to be counted separately, becoming a de facto NOTA vote.

Given that we at times have only the choice between various bad options when we go to the polls, we increasingly stay away. Apathy, they call it. Really, many of us have become detached simply because “they’re all the same” – and we don’t mean that in a good way. None-of-the-above would give us a reason to show up, sending a clear message.

Ideally, a large number of NOTA votes, perhaps even a plurality, would be reason for another election, perhaps in the vein suggested by the upstart political party: candidates who had their chance and were found wanting would be sent on their way.

Conventional wisdom holds that mainstream political parties won’t push for electoral reform because the current system serves them just fine. At the federal level, the Liberals, and occasionally the Conservatives, have formed majority governments while capturing less than 50 per cent of the popular vote – at times much less. Justin Trudeau campaigned on electoral reform, then quickly found a way not to deliver.

This state of affairs is precisely why we need electoral reform, from tweaking the Elections Act to sweeping changes to the way we vote.

Advocates of change call on all the parties to combat voter apathy brought on by unfair election practices, chronic lying by politicians and the current electoral system.

A loss of faith in politics and politicians can be tied to the way business is done in Ottawa and, of course, in the provincial legislatures.

We all know most politicians are in for themselves, to get all they can take – all the talk about serving the people is some much smoke up our collective backsides. Maybe they should just admit that reality: Call the system bloated, self-serving and ill-suited to the needs of most citizens. Tell us you’re in it for yourself. Tell us that money greases the re-election skids, that once in office the only priority is staying there. We know it. You know it. Then put in place a process to minimize the most blatant abuses – yes that would mean handcuffing yourself and putting the cookie jar out in plain view.

Perhaps we should give up the illusion. Maybe this is the crux of recent talk about democratic reforms: devolve the central powers, give voters more options (referenda, proportional voting) so that there’s less focus on the top. We don’t have any real leaders, so we don’t need the infrastructure.

Left to their own devices, today’s crop of politicians will not make changes to benefit the public – oh, they’ll pay lip service to that, but that’s all. Clearly, reform is needed. Politicians and bureaucrats won’t move away from their culture of entitlement, but perhaps if the public lets them know we want none of it …

Ontarians are unlikely ready for such a step. Instead, the focus is on removing a Liberal government that long ago revealed its contempt for the citizens of this province, though it’s taken many of us a long time to recognize that fact. Some strategic voting and another strategic blunder by the Progressive Conservatives may net results we’ve not seen in the better part of three decades.

Steve Kannon
Steve Kannonhttps://www.observerxtra.com
A community newspaper journalist for more than two decades, Steve Kannon is the editor of the Observer.

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