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Sunday, May 31, 2020
Their View / Opinion

We trust the political system less with each passing year

Given the preponderance of poor leadership and a decided lack of good governance, there’s a strong case to be made for arguments our democracy has been reduced to showing up at an election booth every four years.

And even that’s more than a little suspect.

Just out of a federal election, Canadians are even less satisfied with our democratic system. Just 48 per cent of us expressed trust in the current electoral system in a survey in the week after we went to the polls, according to figures released this week by research firm Proof Inc. That’s down from 52 per cent at the start of the year, and 56 per cent the year before.

The percentage of Canadians who trust the current election system to adequately represent the votes of citizens dropped to 44 per cent, down from 51 per cent at the beginning of last year.

Not surprisingly, those numbers are much lower out on the Prairies – home to much talk of Western separation in the aftermath of the Liberal minority win – where trust in the election system is 33 per cent.

Western alienation is one of those cyclical things, an issue right now given the issues with the tar sands and pipelines, but more systemically a creation of the urban/rural divide that continues to grow – it’s visibly represented in the electoral maps, especially where Tory blue is dominant.

Beyond that, some Canadians are becoming aware that politicians and bureaucrats act in their own interests, not on the public’s behalf. In that light, the first-past-the-post system tends to aggravate the perception the electoral system does not reflect the popular will. That’s why Justin Trudeau campaigned on electoral reform the last time around, though he quickly dropped it when back in power, as the current method does favour the governing party.

Likewise, Trudeau’s government weakened controls on accountability through the likes of Bill C-76 (Elections Modernization Act), with the goal of benefitting its position.

The government’s implementation of Bill C-76 ignored the call by all experts, a House Committee, the Chief Electoral Officer, the Commissioner of Canada Elections, and tens of thousands of Canadians for more effective changes to the Canada Elections Act to actually stop fake online election posts and ads, false claims about candidates, and big money interest group ad campaigns, and to protect voters’ privacy, notes Duff Conacher of Democracy Watch.

“Bill C-76 severely weakened the rule that prohibits false claims about candidates, more than doubled the spending limit for wealthy interest groups, and didn’t do enough to stop false, online election ads, false election promises or big money donations,” he argues. “As a result, the fall 2019 federal election was much like the 2016 U.S. presidential election – dishonest, unfair and driven by false claims of wealthy interest groups, party leaders and parties.”

Bill C-76 also increased the advertising spending limit for wealthy, big money third party interest groups by 250 per cent, to $511,700 from about $200,000.

Instead of protecting the integrity of Canada’s elections, the Trudeau Liberals’ actions protected their friends at social media companies, and their own data mining of voters’ private information, Conacher maintains.

“If the Trudeau Liberals actually want to ensure that the next election is fair and democratic, they should introduce a short, simple bill as soon as possible to reverse the bad, weak changes made by Bill C-76 and to strengthen other key rules,” says Conacher. “The bill should prohibit all false claims and false promises, lower donation limits, reverse the increase in interest group ad spending, require all media and social media companies to disclose to the Commissioner of Canada Elections all election-related ads, empower the Commissioner to delete any false post or ad from social media, and extend the privacy law to political parties with penalties high enough to actually discourage violations by social media companies that have tens of billions in annual profits.”

These statistics echo comments from Canadians who are disengaged from politics: “Politicians are concerned for their own interests.” “They don’t really care what people want.”

Canada’s system of democratic representation is faltering if a majority of Canadians do not believe their interests are well represented by their elected representatives.

Canadians believe their elected representatives are not accountable and don’t pay attention to what they think. In fact, only 36 per cent of Canadians are satisfied with how MPs do their jobs. Of particular note, the study found Canadians feel their MPs represent their political party better than they do their constituents.

Ideally, the goings-on will prompt more of us to take note that democracy is under attack, a problem that goes well beyond electioneering and corruption.

The goal should be the reinvention of democracy. Well, really, restoring democracy to its original intent: widespread and decentralized decision-making in the public good rather than the top down, hierarchical structure prevalent today.

Hearing directly from Canadians should prompt politicians to act in our best interests, a different message than the one they hear from well-financed corporate lobbyists on a daily basis. That might even put MPs’ actions more in line with what the public wants, as opposed to the special interests that pull the strings.

Better government is the goal. The current process is unethical, dishonest and secretive, which means politicians are more likely to make decisions that are bad for the average Canadian, while favouring corporate interests. We would be better served by a more open, honest and accountable system. On that front, governments occasionally talk a good game, but never deliver.

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