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None of the above increasingly the way to go

The provincial election just a week away, Ontarians don’t appear overly enthusiastic about going to the polls. That probably bodes well for the incumbents.

Polls this week had the Progressive Conservatives at 36 per cent, hardly a ringing endorsement but enough to win a majority of seats in our first-past-the-post electoral system. The Liberals were in second place with support of 27.1 per cent of those polled, with NDP following with 23.9 per cent. Support for the Green party was at 6.7 per cent, with other parties earning a collective 6.4 per cent.

Some of those opposed to the Ford government, lead primarily by public-sector unions, are talking about strategic voting, positing that PCs will come up the middle when votes are split between the NDP and Liberals. There are also rumblings, as is always the case in recent years, about electoral reform and the need for proportional voting.

The conditions are also ripe for an 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 Direct Democracy party, which is fielding candidates in 28 of the province’s 124 ridings.

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.

“The None of the Above Direct Democracy Party is based on the principle that the citizens of Ontario should hold the power. Elected officials should have the independence to act in the best interest of their constituents, not the best interest of their party,” Ottawa-area candidate Dr. Chris Beauchamp tells the Ottawa Citizen. “On a continuous basis, the people of Ontario should make the decisions on important matters through a referendum process. If elected officials do not keep their promises or are ineffective, they should be removed from power. Finally, Ontario should be led by a responsible government committed to real election reform.”

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, 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 in 2015, 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 it for themselves, to get all they can take – all the talk about serving the people is so 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 …

A little more local for your inbox.

Seven days. One newsletter. Local reporting about people and places you
won't find anywhere else. Stay caught up with The Observer This Week.

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