Guest Commentary

Buzz Hargrove

A Voter’s Lament

I’ve voted in fifty-two elections and still consider myself a democratic socialist. But I’m also a pragmatist; I believe in making my vote count. The more I see of elections in Canada, the more I’m convinced we must change the way our democracy works.

I cast my first ballot in Windsor, Ont. in 1963, for the newly-founded New Democratic Party, and have never missed a vote since – municipal, provincial or federal. That first vote wasn’t inspired by any deep political commitment. I voted NDP because of my mother. She was always a progressive thinker. My father voted Conservative. They did not discuss politics at home.

In my lifetime as a voter I’ve seen governments rise and fall but always believed the system itself was sound. Our elections are basically fair, the results are basically representative of popular will.

Today my thinking has evolved. The more I see the election of majority governments with a minority of the popular vote, the more I’m convinced we must change the system.

We might choose run-off elections as they do in France, Austria and other countries worldwide, where balloting continues till one candidate gets fifty percent of the vote. Or we might opt for proportional representation. I’m comfortable with any check on majority governments, narrowly elected, that rule with impunity.

I opposed prop rep for years. Why would we want more bureaucracy? Why would we want some small party with fifteen seats controlling a parliament or legislature?

Events now persuade me otherwise. I’ll take anything that checks the power of a majority sustained by less than forty percent of the popular vote. Run-offs or proportional representation will force politicians to develop consensus. These reforms mean, at the very least, a governing party must heed the will of the people.

I don’t carry any party card now. I was a New Democrat for forty years, till they expelled me in 2006; I’d suggested our union members strategically vote Liberal, even Bloc Quebecois, to prevent a Conservative government.

I’m still a citizen and voter. I don’t like being managed. Increasingly, we live under a system in which voters sense they are being managed and cleverly manipulated – not represented.

A friend asked me the other day, “How does this end?” And I said, “It doesn’t.” Politics never ends, but is merely a beginning.

Like the old union songs say, every generation must fight over and over again.

(Editor’s note: the author is former president of the Canadian Auto Workers. Mr. Hargrove’s commentary was originally published November 9, 2014)

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