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Giving Thanks for Canadian Democracy
03/11/2004

Independent of the outcome in the United States, the way they have conducted their election reminds me that I'm very glad to be living in Canada instead of down south. It really does seem that our democracy is functioning better up here. Consider:

7 minute lineups, not 7 hour lineups: I'm sure there were thousands and thousands of precincts where there were no line-ups yesterday, but simply the fact that we heard of many cases with long lineups is bad news. I don't see how you could ask people to wait that long, and I can't see it as anything other than a malfunction. There is a length of line that starts detering people from voting, and I don't think that length has to be very long. Cases we've heard about with multi-hour lines are horrible stories.

No lawyers looking for reasons to stop me from voting: I don't know if I have ever been asked for ID when voting, much less had a team of people scrutinizing my papers looking for reasons to challenge my right to vote. In Canada we seem to give the voter the benefit of the doubt, and this seems to make the most sense. The idea of a plot to influence the result through multiple voting seems somewhat far-fetched.

Simple ballots, quickly counted, with a paper trail: No butterfly ballots, no hanging chads, etc. Usually just a simple mark on a piece of paper, followed by either hand or machine counting. The results are known fast and with little doubt. And, while concerns about electronic vote tampering may be unfounded, why bother risking it when it is so easy to have paper evidence?

Impartially designed ridings rather than gerrymandered fiefdoms: This isn't such an important factor in the presidential election, but it does impact American politics. The short story is that there is some collusion between Republicans and Democrats to arrange most congressional distrincts in a way that produces easy Republican and easy Democratic wins. That leaves only a few close seats. The problem is that these gerrymandered safe seats naturally produce extreme representatives. In a safe Republican district, for example, to get elected all you need to do is to win the party's nomination, and the nomination process is not driven by "electability" but by what pleases the core supporters. This produces a polarized Congress, rather than a moderate one.

That's not to say that the Canadian system is perfect. There are complaints, but seem to be relatively few and far between.

There are some who argue that the West has too little representation in Ottawa. The last issue of the Western Standard tried to suggest that the western provinces are under-represented in Ottawa. The truth is that by my calculations the west as a whole had 29.9% of the population in the January 1, 2004 population estimates and 29.9% of the seats in the new Parliament. BC is under-represented for sure, but just slightly less than Ontario is under-represented. Alberta and the rest of the west are fine. That's not to negate arguments on this issue -- I support initiatives to make seats much closer in population.

Another complaint is about our first-past-the-post, winner-takes-all system in each riding. Again, this is reason to be concerned, but movements are slowly starting to address this. This is also a problem that the United States shares with us.

The other complaint out of the west is that they think people in Ontario are dumb-asses. But that's not a systemic problem!

The purpose of this posting isn't to complain about the outcome in the United States yesterday -- that's their issue -- nor is it to gloat or say that Canada is perfect -- it's not. I just want us to recognize that we have something that works well that we ought to protect. And, if genuine opportunities come along to improve it, we should carefully consider them.


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