My old homeland recently had an election, and to little surprise, Justin Trudeau won re-election and will continue to be the Prime Minister of Canada. Although perhaps there was a little surprise at that. Trudeau’s governing had been marred by political scandals as well as personal ones related to his fondness for dressing in Halloween costumes using “blackface” makeup. Debatable as to a costume choice, but certainly not a good look for a politician leading a party which bases most of its policy on social inclusiveness and tolerant multiculturalism.
Perhaps a little surprising as well, the fact that although he and his Liberal party won the election, Andrew Scheer and the Conservative party got more votes than the Liberals. The Liberals scored 5 916 000 votes, or 33.1% of the total. Scheer’s Conservatives, 6 155 000, or 34.4%. And no, your math skills haven’t taken a hit since you left school – the two don’t add up to 100% since Canada has a couple of other popular parties plus a regional one of some account in Quebec.
Of course, the pattern is familiar to Americans. Let’s remember that in 2016, Donald Trump actually was voted for by 62 980 000 or so folk; Hillary Clinton by 65 845 000. Yet we know who got to go to the White House.
It seems weird at first that if the popular vote was what counted, “liberal” Canada would have a right-wing, Conservative leader and to the south, the “conservative, Christian” USA would be being led by a liberal woman. That’s a bit of a simplification though, as in Canada, the left-wing part of the populace has three parties to choose from, the Clinton-esque Liberals, the Bernie Sanders-inspiring NDP and the AOC-style Green Party. Together, they represented nearly 60% of the Canucks. Still though, it somehow seems wrong, doesn’t it?
The difference is caused by the route to leadership in both countries. In the U.S., the Electoral College is the way the prez gets chosen, and that’s no exact representation of voter preference for two reasons. First, states are disproportionately represented. Even the most sparsely populated states have 3 of the 538. Wyoming, for example, gets 3 Electoral College votes, with its population of 570 000 (about the same number as the city of Memphis). that’s one vote for every 190 000 residents. Fiery California, meanwhile hosts 39.75 million people, but has just 55 votes, or one per 723 000 residents. Hardly fair that, if we believe in “one person, one vote.”
Secondly, the states by and large give their votes in an all-or-nothing fashion to the winner. It makes no difference if the candidate scores 50.1% of the ballots or 99%… they’re going to get all the Electoral votes. Candidates who lose some of the very closely-contested “Swing states” by a narrow margin, but win their states by a landslide get discriminated against. Result – twice this century already, a President not chosen by the majority of American voters.
Canada’s system is not that different. There are some 338 “ridings” and each one “votes” for the Prime Minister based on whoever won the local vote. Again, some politicans (in this year’s case the Conservatives) win some seats by a landslide and lose others by the narrowest margins, but like the American system, a win is a win is a win. Even when it means the candidate with fewer votes gets elected.
I’m not a political science student but it seems to me that a system which results in the candidate with fewer people voting for him or her winning rather regularly is not a good, working system! So I offer a simple solution. America, let the candidate with the most votes be President. It doesn’t matter if he wins Florida by 100 votes and there are hanging chads, or if 88% of Wyomingians pick him, if the grand total doesn’t favor him, he’s not president.
Canada, similar suggestion. First off, have a separate box to fill in for “Prime Minister”. Right now, it’s done by a rather convoluted system where you vote for your local candidate and if they win their riding, they in turn vote for their party leader to be the boss. Vote for your local parliamentarian, yes, but also vote separately for PM. And have the one with most votes win. Simple.
And while we’re at it, another common sense suggestion. Isn’t a politician’s loyalty supposed to be to first, their country, then the local constituents and only after that the party? Seems like much of the time, those priorities are reversed these days, with leaders (and here we’re not only referring to Mr. Trump although it certainly is applicable to him) seemingly bullying their underlings in Congress/Parliament to vote according to the Head Honcho’s wishes, not their own beliefs or constituent choices. Could this not be fixed by having votes on important issues – raising taxes, imposing tariffs, changing laws, impeaching presidents and so on – be done by hidden ballot? Give the politicians a ballot with a Yes/No box to fill in at their seats and have them folded up and put into boxes. Or for the millennials out there, have them swipe their phones left for “yay”, right for “nay.”
This isn’t about Donald Trump, nor Justin Trudeau, specifically. It’s about a system which is supposed to be democracy hardly recognizing the will of the people anymore.