Monday, December 5, 2016

Considering What Just happened in the US, It should Be Painfully Obvious Why Canada Should Change Its Voting System

It's hard to believe but it's true.  Donald Trump is the President-elect of the United States of America.  A man who has never held a public office in his life now is Commander and Chief of the most potent and lethal military force in history.  Put another way, the fate of planet rests in the apparently small hands of a man many consider to be a narcissistic sociopath. 

Yes, this man now has access to the nuclear codes.  I sincerely hope and pray he doesn't decide to nuke anyone.

So, how did this happen?  Much has been written in the aftermath of Trump's victory.  Most of the analysis concentrates on socio-economic variables centered on gender, class, and race.  But the fact of the matter is that Trump did not win the Presidential election.  He lost the popular vote.  Indeed, Hillary Clinton received approximately 2.5 million more votes than Trump.  What occurred is that the Electoral College awards its votes on a state-by-state basis.  Whoever gets the most votes in the state (with the exception of Maine) gets all of the state's electoral college votes.  Add them up and the President-elect is the one who gets the majority of electoral college votes.  In other words, it is the distribution of votes in the winner-take-all electoral districts that determine the winner of the electoral contest.

Was this election democratic? No! Clearly, the democratic result of the popular vote was overturned by the mechanics of the voting system.  The name of the game in a Presidential election is to win as many states possible that produce the greater number of electoral college votes.  The margin of victory in any given state does not matter.  For example, the fact that Trump did poorly in the most populous states of New York and California did not matter since he won a greater number of smaller states that in the end produced 20% more electoral college votes than what Hillary won.

This is not the first time the candidate who loses the popular vote has gone on to become the American President.  The last time it happened was in the 2000 election when Bush defeated Gore despite not having the support of the majority of American electors.  Electoral results carry consequences like the war in Iraq, which was clearly the result of the lie that claimed that the Iraqis possessed arms of mass destruction that required a US military invasion.  What now lies in store for America and the world at large has given rise to great concern for the safety of the global community.

Certainly, the question that needs to be raised is how can the most powerful nation in the world use such a dubious electoral system to decide who will lead the nation?  Simply put, the problem is that the Americans have never gotten around to modernizing their electoral system, which is, for the most part, a relic of its colonial past as an English settler state.  Winner-take-all electoral districts are still in use in England, the USA, Canada, and Australia.  The rest of the world, however, has moved on to adopt electoral systems that do not produce such aberrant electoral results.

It just so happens that Canada is now in the process of deciding whether to change its voting method.  During the last federal election in Canada, the soon-to-be-elected Prime Minister Trudeau promised that the 2015 election would be the last using the winner-take-all, plurality system called first-past-the-post.  Ironically, Trudeau became Prime Minister as a result of the distortion brought on by the voting system: his Liberal Party only received 39% of the popular vote; but in one region, the Maritimes, he won 61 out of 61 electoral districts with only 56% of the popular vote, thereby giving him a "majority" government, meaning that the electoral system had created a majority when in reality his party only had the support of the minority of the population.

Fabricating majority rule and the reversal of popular vote are only two of the major problems of first-past-the-post.  It also systemically under-represents or denies altogether representation to smaller political parties.  Essentially, the supporters of such parties are effectively disenfranchised.  In the 2004 federal election, for example, the Green Party of Canada received almost one million votes but was denied any representation in Parliament thanks to the electoral system.

Canadians have been aware of these problems for almost one hundred years.  In fact, in the provinces other voting methods have been used, but for many reasons we have never taken these problems serious enough to make a qualitative change to the voting system at the federal level.  Looking at what just happened in the US, we should realize that a hostile take over of one of Canada's traditional governing political parties by a demagogue is wholly possible.  In fact, Germany adopted proportional representation largely to prevent this possibility from ever happening again given the tragic turn of events leading to carnage of the Second World War.

Let's not be smug Canada.  It could happen here.  Do the right thing.  Adopt proportional representation and make Canada Trump proof.


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