|Without reform, electoral choice is no choice at all
August 6, 2000
Last month, I wrote about the dilemma that Stockwell Day presents to voters and managed to elicit some hilariously excited reactions from true believers. For example, in his July 23 letter Brent Rooney disingenuously employs medical data to rail against abortion, conveniently ignoring the fact that his data are beside the point. It’s not the business of government or Rooney to superintend women’s reproductive practices. The right to choose an abortion is a matter of civil rights, and whatever risks a woman chooses to run is up to her.
Does Rooney expect the government to police doctors? Is he oblivious to the barbarous conditions that women had to endure before abortion was legalized? Making abortions illegal won’t make them go away. Just because abortion offends his religious sensibilities, Rooney thinks the practice should be outlawed. Perhaps if he and others of his ilk came out in favour of the abortion pill RU-486, which would make women’s lives a lot easier, I might be willing to take them seriously.
It’s this kind of reactionary thinking that typifies the Renamed Reform party’s evangelical temperament and prevents it from appealing to anyone other than true believers and anti-statist neo-cons. As a recent Angus Reid poll showed, Day’s election made not a dent in Liberal support.
Come the next election, I suspect many Canadians will hold their noses and vote Liberal, not because they like the government, but because they want to keep Day from getting anywhere near 24 Sussex Dr. Such a vote would be unfortunate, because a person should vote according to conscience, not fear.
If nothing else, the Day dilemma reinforces the grossly undemocratic nature of Canada’s first past-the-post electoral system. If every MP had to be elected with a majority, voters wouldn’t have to worry about vote-splitting and could vote their conscience, even if that meant voting for RR.
Those elected could then honestly claim to represent the will of the electorate; the distribution of seats would also more closely approximate the popular vote. Moreover, a government thus elected would likely be a minority, which would help insure us against the kind of corruption and profligate waste for which this too-comfortable, high-handed majority government is well known.
Giving greater voice to the popular will is also on Day’s mind; however, I haven’t seen him comment on run-off elections. He’s interested in supporting citizen-sponsored referendum legislation.
Whenever I hear a populist extol the wisdom of the masses, I remember H.L. Mencken’s famous aphorism: “The doctrine that the cure for the evils of democracy is more democracy is like saying the cure for crime is more crime.”
For the majority of Canadians, the democratic “crime” would be to elect a subversive prime minister. Day has made no secret of his intent to enhance provincial and individual rights at Ottawa’s expense. Look at the way he’s cozying up to Quebec separatists. Put simply, the man is a confederate, whose view of Canada is hostile to our political culture. (I know—Canada was formed as a confederation of three provinces in 1867, but the term is largely vestigial.)
Still, it’s theoretically possible that most Canadians might want a less activist federal government, in which case an RR government might genuinely represent the popular will. On the other hand, the public might just want to change the government without fearing that evangelical Christians might insinuate themselves into the House of Commons via referenda and run roughshod over other peoples’ civil rights.
Day though, doesn’t see things that way, and can’t understand why his morality and that of his party should come under such critical scrutiny. To clear the air, he responded to his critics on July 31 in the Globe and Mail.
Day intended his commentary to be a plea for tolerance and understanding, but he came across as a man struggling to argue himself out of a corner—part plaint, part cognitive dissonance.
“My ‘agenda of respect’ is not just a slogan, but a genuine commitment to treat all Canadians, regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability or any other characteristic with the respect and dignity they deserve,” he wrote. He went on to claim that he has always respected the democratic process, and in 14 years has never improperly attempted to impose his faith when in public office.
For a man esteemed for plain speaking, this was nothing of the sort. What does he mean by “respect and dignity they deserve”? Who determines what people deserve? The qualifier “never improperly” is also opaque.
Perhaps the muddled style is intentional. After all, Day can’t afford to be too reasonable for fear of alienating the party’s “every sperm is sacred” nucleus—the people who put him where he is. In the May 10, 1999, issue of the über-Christian Western Report, Andrew Neufeld, chairman of the Calgary-based Concerned Christian Coalition went supernova over Day’s lack of public zeal:
“‘I told him that a lot of people are saying, “Where is Stockwell? Why has he gone quiet?” And he told me he was staying quiet because of the United Alternative thing,’ Mr. Neufeld says. ‘He actually got livid with me at one point.’ Mr. Neufeld fears that Mr. Day is selling out. ‘It's one thing to say something, and quite another to act on your beliefs,’ he says. ‘I'm still willing to give [Mr. Day] the benefit of the doubt, but I know many people are wondering where his social conscience has gone.’”
Remember: Preston Manning lost the leadership partly because he didn’t do enough to push the evangelical agenda, and an insufficient commitment to “family values” also sunk Tom Long, the National Post’s entry in the race.
Clearly, Day has a vision of Canada that appeals to a certain constituency. In this regard voters do have a clear choice, but is it really a choice? In an ideological war votes are instinctive, not rational.
Moreover, without electoral reform the public will still be at the mercy of elected despots. We need something better than a choice between the devil we know and the god we don’t.