Trudeau must follow through on electoral reform
In the aftermath of a disappointing win for a candidate who couldn’t be less presidential if he tried and who didn’t capture the majority of votes, we must examine our own country’s attempts at making our voting system more representative of the popular vote.
Justin Trudeau promised Canadians that 2015 would be the last election in which the First Past the Post method of voting would be used. Canadians like me were ecstatic. My vote has rarely counted and for the last twelve years, my views and values have not been adequately represented in our legislative assemblies.
In May of this year, the federal Liberals announced that they would create an all-party committee to study electoral reform; they also encouraged MPs to hold town halls about this over the summer and early fall. The Minister of Democratic Institutions, Maryam Monsef, held 22 Democratic Reform Tour stops from coast to coast and dozens of citizen-organized town halls on the issue were held. Now, they have just announced that every Canadian household will receive a postcard in the mail to find out how people feel about the way they elect MPs.
When you receive your postcard in early December, you need to tell your elected representatives, as the majority of Canadians speaking at these forums already have, that some form of Proportional Representation (PR) is what you expect. Here’s why:
In a representative democracy, every vote should count. In the last federal election in 2015 over 9 million Canadians voted for losing candidates, and therefore their votes didn’t count.
Of the 17 majority governments we have elected federally since the First World War, only four of them have had at least 50 per cent of the vote. In the last two elections in 2011 and 2015, we elected majority governments that had only 39 per cent of the vote.
Although Liberals, Conservatives, NDP, and Greens have support across Canada, regional imbalances emerge under our present system making our country look regionally divided.
The discrepancy between seats and votes means that Canada’s demographic diversity, including women, is not fully reflected in the House.
Our present system creates short-term thinking and forces parties to focus their policy decisions on the four-year electoral cycle. This hampers governments from doing the best thing for taxpayers if they know that it will be unpopular. It also hampers long-term planning.
Eighty-eight per cent of the academics, experts and community groups who appeared before the Electoral Reform Committee as witnesses with an opinion on the voting system spoke for PR.
I have done what I can to convince my elected representatives to consider some Canadianmade form of PR so that before I die, my vote can count.
In 2013 when I lived in MP Scott Simms riding, I made a special effort to speak to him about our broken democracy and asked him to please consider supporting a Canadian-made form of PR.
This past spring, I spoke to my present MP, Mr. Ken McDonald, on this same issue.
This summer when the MP town halls were announced, I wrote to my MP and asked him to please notify me when he hosted a town hall on this issue.
This past October when they were in St. John’s, I asked the members of the all-party committee on electoral reform to please recommend some form of PR.
Now, I am asking my neighbours and friends and all those Canadians who will receive a postcard in the mail in December, to please tell your elected representatives that you expect the government to fulfill its promise to make every vote count. I’m counting on you.
In the next fiscal year the federal government plans to decrease the Canada Health Transfer (CHT) or the amount of money it gives to the provinces each year to spend on health care from six per cent to three per cent.
Our current federal allocation is $528 million and we can ill-afford any reduction at a time when health-care costs are rising, our financial situation is terrible and our economy is in a downturn.
A statement from the department of health and community services says the federal government is now funding just over 17 per cent of the department’s approximate $3 billion budget. We may lose $15.5 million in healthcare funding in 2017-18 alone, if the reduction in what’s known as the CHT escalator is not reversed, the statement read.
It added that roughly 35 to 40 per cent of the provincial budget is spent on health care.
It is scandalous that the federal government is reducing critical funding to a province that probably has the oldest and sickest population in Canada. The cuts are also being done on a per capita basis which means that Newfoundland and Labrador with its sparse population may suffer most.
Other areas of our economy are already being short-changed, as less money is allocated for other departments and programs and directed to health.
Saving health-care dollars should never be about cutting back on services to patients, but a radicalization in the way we spend those dollars is badly needed. We are spending way too much on duplication and administration.
Steve Kent, PC health critic says, “There are hundreds of millions of dollars that can be saved by consolidating administration within the health-care system”. Kent, who served as health minister in the government of Paul Davis, planned to consolidate the office functions of the regional health authorities such as purchasing, payroll, finance, information technology, communications and human resources under a “shared services organization” which would eradicate duplication and save money.
“We have within the healthcare system in Newfoundland and Labrador six information technology departments with six different departments doing the same thing”, a situation he described as “irresponsible.”
He also denounced the number of communications people “26 at last count” employed within the system as “outrageous”, and if given the chance he would give some the chop.
“There are three positions in the department of health and community services, there are positions in each of the regional health authorities, the bulk of which are employed by Eastern Health and there’s communications staff at The Newfoundland and Labrador Centre for Health Information, so within the health-care system in Newfoundland and Labrador, there are six communications departments. That’s not sensible.”
(The website of The Newfoundland and Labrador Centre for Health Information describes it as a provincial Crown corporation “…responsible for developing and implementing the province’s confidential and secure electronic health record (EHR). It also receives funding from the not-for-profit group Canada Health Infoway, which funds EHRs across Canada.”)
Kent also favors a national pharmacare plan which may be the ultimate efficiency in purchasing prescription drugs. One single, national buyer, the federal government, would use its massive bargaining power to purchase cheaper but equally effective generic drugs from the pharmaceutical companies and also use its considerable clout to decrease prices on brand names.
A March 2015 study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal estimates pharmacare would likely save Canadians $7.3 billion a year in reduced spending on prescription drugs and this province, according to Debbie Forward, president, Registered Nurses’ Union, Newfoundland and Labrador, $200 million annually. There’s a lot of patient-oriented services we could deliver with that $200 mil-
We cannot continue to spend massive amounts of money on health care and be satisfied with a mediocre system or worse.
Kent is also critical of a system which sometimes intimidates workers to the point of near emasculation. Frightened people never act as powerhouses for change.
“Lots of the answers to how to make the health-care system more effective and more efficient lie with the employees working in the system every day,” he said.
“I’ve seen examples of middle managers being stifled by bureaucracy and therefore unable to provide the leadership that’s needed. There’s leadership needed at all levels of the system to drive change and employees need to be meaningfully engaged because they have lots of the answers and their voice is not always heard and often they’re afraid to speak out and speak up for fear of reprisal.”
Like NDP Health Critic Lorraine Michael, Kent is anxious to see more community-based primary health care — the team approach taken by various professionals in both the prevention and treatment of illness. It is less costly and more efficient than the hospital-based mentality which now sees us clogging emergency rooms and doctors’ offices for the most minor of ailments.
We cannot continue to spend massive amounts of money on health care and be satisfied with a mediocre system or worse. The province’s health minister, John Haggie, a physician, needs a firm plan and then be prepared to deliver on it. Eliminating duplication, redundancies in administration and under-performing clock-watchers at every level of the system would be a good start.
When it’s time for Fire Prevention Week, fire departments around the province open their doors in hopes of teaching the public the best practices for avoiding fires and keeping themselves safe. Plenty of times, community groups make trips to their local fire hall to get a close look at how things operate. On Oct. 23, the Upper Island Cove CLB Company put on their Halloween costumes and headed to the Spaniard’s Bay Fire Department. There they were shown what they should do in case of an emergency and even tried on some firefighting gear.