Stephen Harper, his caucus and, more broadly, the Conservative Party of Canada must think that Canadians are complete idiots.
I live in a funny old country. Well, actually, compared to most countries in Europe and Asia it’s a rather new country. But it is a funny country and “funny new country” doesn’t roll as comfortably off the tongue as “funny old country.”
My server statistics tell me that my reader is American, so I feel I need to explain a few things about Canada.
How new is the country? In practice we gained our independence on July 1, 1867. On paper, however, we’re not completely independent. Our head of state doesn’t actually live in Canada. It’s the Queen of England. And when Good Queen Elizabeth journeys forth to that great throne in the sky, he son Charles, or possibly on of Charles’ sons, will take over the Canadian Monarch—and, therefore, head of state job.
When the Queen is not in Canada, she delegates her rights and responsibilities to the Governor General. These days, being a Canadian and residing here are de facto qualifications for that job. Residing here is not a huge hardship because the Governor General gets to live in a huge government-owned mansion that is situated on beautiful, large grounds.
Oh, and if the Governor General does tire of Canada, that’s not a problem either. The job comes with a large travel budget—solely so the Governor General can represent Canadians abroad, of course.
Officially, the Queen appoints the Governor General but, as a sop to her Canadian subjects, she appoints someone only on the advice of the Canadian Prime Minister. In addition to performing ceremonial duties as our acting Head of State, the Governor General also has to sign all legislation before they take effect. Oh, and if the government falls in a non-confidence motion, the Governor General gets to decide whether to call a new election or ask one of the opposition parties if it thinks it can gain the confidence of the House of Commons. Not bad for an appointed position, eh?
(For the benefit of readers from outside the country who are not familiar with Canadian politics: Stephen Harper, Leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, is Prime Minister of Canada. For the detriment of Canadians: Stephen Harper, Leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, is Prime Minister of Canada.)
In the face of any opposition to a proposed government act one or more Conservative Members of Parliament will invariably stand up in the House of Commons, or in front of the media, or both at different times and say, “The Canadian people gave us a strong mandate to do x.” Substitute the issue of the day for x. It doesn’t matter what the issue is. According to the Conservatives, whatever it is, we gave them a strong mandate to do it. Period.
What utter balderdash! (Anyone who knows me knows that I take a very strong stand against the frivolous use of exclamation marks. When I use one you can usually be assured that I feel strongly about whatever preceded the exclamation mark.)
In the last election, the Conservative Party received about 40 percent of the popular vote. That means that 60 percent of the voters cast their ballot for a party other than the Conservatives. And almost 39 percent of eligible voters didn’t bother to go out and vote for any party.
We have a first-past-the-post parliamentary system. We vote for an individual to represent our riding (for the benefit of non-Canadians: “ridings” are what we usually call electoral districts; don’t ask). Whoever receives the most votes in that riding, even if it is not a majority of the votes, gets to represent that riding in the House of Commons in the Parliament of Canada.
There are no runoff elections. If there are five candidates a riding and one gets 20.1 percent of the vote, while the other four each get 19.975 percent of the vote, then the candidate with 20.1 percent of the vote gets to represent that riding in Parliament. The other four get to go home and lick their wounds, or whatever else turns them on. That’s true even if the 79.9 percent of the voters who voted for someone else thought that everyone except the winner would have made a fine, upstanding Member of Parliament, but that the winner has an IQ well below that of pond scum and morals to match.
Under this system, because we have three major national parties, one party that used to be very strong in the only province that it runs in and—who knows—may be strong there again in the future, and a lot of lesser parties (I mean lesser in terms of the number of votes they usually garner, not necessarily in terms of merit, but not necessarily not) it is quite easy for a party to win a majority of the seats in the House of Commons with well below a majority of the popular vote. That’s what happened in the last election. And, for better or worse, under our first-past-the-post parliamentary system, this gives the winning party a mandate to govern. I fully accept that. It is our system of government.
However, it isn’t so much that the Canadian people gave them that mandate. It was our political system that gave it to them. Canadians only give local mandates. And a majority of Canadians wanted someone from a party other than the Conservatives to get that local mandate.
In short, about 60 percent of voters said, “I want someone from a party other than yours to represent me in Parliament.” Furthermore, almost a further 40 percent of eligible voters said, in effect, “I don’t feel strongly enough about your party—or any other party—to go out and vote.” Considering these facts, how the Conservatives can have the temerity (or dishonesty; use whichever noun you prefer) to call that a strong mandate is beyond me.
What’s more, when we vote in a federal election we are asked to place an “X” only beside the name of the person we want to represent us in our riding. We don’t get to vote directly for our Prime Minister unless he or she is running in our riding. And even then we aren’t voting for him or her as Prime Minister, only as our Member of Parliament. A Prime Minister gets to be Prime Minister by virtue of the fact that he or she is leader of the party that forms the government. The general electorate doesn’t get to vote someone into that position.
In addition, the ballot doesn’t ask us why we put an X beside the name of the person we voted for. Therefore, we can’t reliably infer why Canadians voted the way they did.
Some Canadians might vote for a party because they always vote for that party, and their parents always voted for that party, and their grandparents always voted for that party, and … Well, you get the point.
Other Canadians might vote for a party because they agree with most of that party’s policies. But agreeing with most policies isn’t the same as agreeing with all policies. They might disagree with some of the party’s policies, possibly, including the one that the government is now saying that Canadians gave them a strong mandate to enact. It’s just that they think that the good policies quantitatively and/or qualitatively outweigh the bad.
Other Canadians might strongly agree with only one of the party’s positions and strongly disagree with all of the others. But if they consider that one position to be more important by far than all the rest, and only one party holds that position, then those voters might vote for that party in spite of, not because of, the bulk of the party’s policies.
Other Canadians might vote strictly based on the person, not the party. They might consider the party that their chosen candidate belongs to be the worst alternative, but they think that the individual’s integrity and intelligence are sufficient to outweigh party considerations.
The point is, the political system gives a party a mandate to govern, but Canadians do not give that party a specific mandate to implement a particular policy. To say otherwise is either a lie or a sign of idiocy. I don’t know whether it is lying or lunacy that is behind the Conservative Party of Canada’s claims to strong mandates to enact any and every policy. Then again, maybe it’s both.