Our “sunny ways” government is willing to give Elizabeth May (M.P. for Saanich-Gulf Islands) a place on the electoral reform committee but not to give her a vote. Well, shucks, there’s an easy mathematical way around that. Ask her to leave 4% of her brain in storage – after all, 6% of Ms May is equal to 100% of any other M.P. – and then let her vote. It’s a mere matter of mathematics. But first it also requires a little mathematical logic being applied to forming the rest of the committee.
I see a great deal of reason why the makeup of the currently proposed parliamentary committee on electoral reform is anathema (i.e.: thoroughly damned) by the opposition parties. But, I see no reason a proper parliamentary committee shouldn’t be charged with coming up with a proposal for reform. I see no reason that the recommendations of a proper committee shouldn’t be put to parliament as a bill – and fully debated, revised, and voted upon. The Vote is, after all, the keystone of any democracy.
In Canada the Vote is not only enshrined in our mythology but is in the Constitution and is even carved into the stone walls of the House of Commons. The fact that the Vote is literally carved in stone suggests there is a point beyond which a phony majority should not play games with it.
A few years ago, in a small, overlooked, creative non-fiction book called The Carving of Canada – a tale of parliamentary Gothic,* I told how the Vote was carved into stone by our remarkable Parliamentary Sculptor, Eleanor Milne, known to her crew of carvers as “Ti’Elen”.
Now it’s all very well to say that power passes from the people, through the Crown in trust, to the Governor General and on to the men and women who actually exercise the power. But how were we to select these men and women?
The answer lay in the Vote, and in the theory that since all people are equal each person should have one vote.
Again the chisels rattled away and a strange design appeared. At first glance one could have said that ‘Ti’Elen’s mind must have been off in the land of the ancient Aztecs, for there was something ornately rigid and mathematical about the design. But on close observation one could see rivers of water all converging on a central point. Around the perimeter were the faces of people representing men and women of many racial origins, and each face was beside a river path and all paths led to a central point that was a square, or box, with a ballot in it. On the ballot was an “X” indicating an individual vote. The rigid pattern of this carving suggested that ideally every adult must have equal access to the ballot box and that the vote must be used very carefully and precisely. It was not something to be abused or thrown about at random.
The mathematical harmony of the main carving was reflected at the base by a human harmony. There, in a stone that fairly flowed, four children sang in chorus.
Christopher [Fairbrother. One of ‘Ti’Elen’s team] carved all the faces. Into the mouths of the singing children he seemed to carve the words, “O-Ca-na-da”.
This was the “Franchise Stone”. And it came to pass that the vote, or franchise, is not just a symbol but is the single most important tool for the use of people who wish to govern themselves. Without it, how would they control the use of power?
Ah, indeed. How to control the use of power? Obviously, by controlling the Vote. And no effort at control could be more obvious than the over-weighted number (6 of 10) of electoral reform committee votes currently donated to themselves by the Liberals.
But wait, by taking our clue from sculptor ‘T’Elen’s “rigid and mathematical” design we may find a solution.
Forget about the number of parliamentary seats assigned to parties by the current abysmal system and consider the percentage of votes each party actually won in Election 2015. (In good mathematical fashion round the numbers up, or down.) Liberals: 39.5 – 40 %; Conservatives: 31.9 – 32 %; NDP: 19.7 – 20%; Bloc Quebecois: 4.7 – 5%; Green: 3.4 – 3%.
Applying those percentages to a committee of 20 members would give the Liberals 8 seats, the Cons 6, the NDP 4, the B.Q. 1, and, for the Greens, 6/10ths of a seat. Taking into account my opening suggestion, the Green fraction should pose no problem.
Let the parties appoint their own reps to the committee, or draw lots, or accept volunteers but at least the power balance on the committee would be in keeping with how Canadians voted. And sure, a 20 member committee is twice as big as the Libs sunnily propose but it would permit the process to approach fairness. And fairness breeds acceptance.
As for putting any resultant legislation to a referendum, let’s drain that swamp. Referenda are for constitutional change. How we vote is not in the Constitution. (For that matter neither are political parties, something we should ponder when discussing the Senate.) But the Vote itself is there; carved in stone.
* The Carving of Canada, Penumbra Press, 1999,Copyright©Munroe Scott, photos by Ian Scott.