Two governments, two democratic failures
THE SPECTATOR’S VIEW
Today, two failures. One is local. One is national.
One is the Liberal government’s failed commitment to democratic reform — meaning a voting system different than first-past-the-post. Two, Hamilton city council’s failure to find a meaningful solution to ward boundary inequities which means not all citizens in the city have equitable representation.
We bundle these two because they do have a fair bit in common. They’re both potential political wins. Justin Trudeau knows that reforming the way we vote isn’t a top of mind issue for average Canadians. City councillors know average constituents don’t care much about ward boundaries, unless they are affected directly. They both know they can duck these issues without paying a big political price.
Granted, this isn’t apples to apples. Federal democratic reform is a huge issue that could fundamentally change the way we elect governments. Ward boundary modernization is about as local as you can get. But they are both about equity and inclusion.
Many don’t think the first-past-the-post system is broken, or is the best of imperfect options. That is debatable. But one thing that is not is that the status quo is why we have a majority government right now that won 54 per cent of the seats in Parliament while having less than 40 per cent of the popular vote. This government’s predecessor had a majority with an even smaller slice of the popular vote.
But Trudeau may be misjudging how much this will cost him. It is yet another blatantly broken promise. And while the disinterested majority may not care that much, the motivated minority — millennials being a big part of that — care deeply. Trudeau has just turned his back on them having promised he would be a different kind of prime minister.
And city council? By opting to tinker around the edges of this problem — having spent a quarter-million dollars on a consulting report they happily ignored — instead of addressing the undeniable inequity, they have only kicked the problem down the road. Already local activist Matt Jelly promises to take the matter to the Ontario Municipal Board. The disparity is so obvious it is quite possible, even likely, the board will order the city back to the drawing board. That would mean they wasted $250,000, made a bad decision and then had to do it all over again. Not smart.
The problem here is fundamental. Wards with dramatically different populations have the same number of council votes — one. So a few thousand constituents get a vote, and citizens who live in the most populous wards get the same thing and the same representation. At a very basic level, this doesn’t add up. Electoral districts (wards) should reflect relatively balanced representation by population. Council took the easy way out on this issue, and it doesn’t reflect well on them.