An election post-mortem

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Pontiac Perspective by Peter Gauthier


Pontiac Perspective by Peter Gauthier

The results of the recent federal election illustrate some issues with our democratic system, our politicians, and the electorate. First is the relatively low turnout – approximately 62%. Some of this may be due the COVID pandemic and long lineups at some polls, but it brings up the question of why so many Canadians do not participate in our most significant democratic act.
The next item of concern is the campaign tactics of the major parties. Too much effort was spent on attacking the character of opponents rather than presenting policies to tackle the serious issues government must deal with. Very little was said about first nations issues, refugees, pollution, health care – especially elder care, and even proper representation in an elected parliament.
This last issue can be illustrated by the following statistics. The Liberal Party won 47% of the seats but only 32.6% of the popular vote. The Conservative Party won 35.2% of the seats with 33.7% of the vote. The NDP won 7.4% of the seats but 17.8% of the votes.  Our parliament is supposed to represent the political voices of all voters. But the first-past-the-post system of determining representatives combined with a tradition of strong party loyalty distorts parliamentary representation in favour of the major parties.  Interestingly, the Liberals and Prime Minister Trudeau made this an issue during the 2015 election, even going so far as to state that the 42nd general election (2015) would be the last one under the first-past-the-post system.
One further point about the election; it returned a minority government. In our system of governance, the government must maintain a majority on major bills and confidence votes. This could mean another election within a relatively short period. Other democratic states solve this problem by forming coalitions. But there is a significant campaigning issue that isn’t followed in Canada: election rhetoric cannot contain personal attacks on the credibility of an opposing candidate. It would be virtually impossible to form a coalition with someone whose credibility you have questioned.
Thus, we should expect our political candidates to follow the rules of civil discourse for political arguments. Such rules would include the maxim of quantity (appropriate length and depth), quality (truth), relation (relevance to the issues), and manner (clarity). The discourse should be conducted within the cooperative principle (the speaker’s contribution to the debate is such as is required by a genuine exchange of ideas on the issues under debate). These rules of discourse should apply to digital rhetoric as well as the more usual public debate.
Selecting representatives to parliament is our most powerful exercise in democracy. If parliament is to be a reflection of the will of the people, this election has shown drastic changes are needed. Our society is a complex mosaic and parliament must reflect this in the methods of electing representatives, forming governments and public discourse that includes digital media.