Original Kitchener, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday June 7, 2022
This post began as an impromptu Facebook comment, my contribution to an exchange full of doom and gloom over the prospect of four more years with Doug Ford and his team in charge of the lands, the waters, our schools, our hospitals, our cities, our livelihoods. The initial post in the thread, which I encountered early Monday morning, was illustrated with a coffin.
The results of the election last week are certainly discouraging: 57% of us didn’t even bother to vote, setting a new record in general apathy. As a result, support from a mere 18% of the electorate was sufficient for one party to form a majority government, giving them the power to run the province more or less as they see fit for another four years. That’s a recklessly dangerous way to steer any body politic into the future.
People blame the lacklustre leadership of the two parties that split most of the rest of the vote, which combined would have added up to a slightly larger plurality than the winners who took all. There are calls for coalitions, mergers, and for electoral reforms of various kinds, most notably proportional representation.
My problem with proportional representation is that it would further undermine place-based representation by treating political parties as constituencies. This might be an improvement over what we have now in terms of both fairness and prudence, but making a fundamental change to the electoral system is a laborious, time-consuming process. Do we really have time and energy for such an effort, which could, like all previous attempts at electoral reform, ultimately come to nothing? Personally, I’d rather work with systems that exist and resources that are immediately available.
My contribution to that “death of Ontario” discussion on Facebook began with a question: “Does anyone have an idea of what percentage of eligible voters actually belong to these political parties, and are therefore responsible for having chosen those leaders, setting those policies and developing those strategies we’re all finding so frustrating?”
I haven’t been able to find out how many Ontario citizens are formally committed to working under the red, orange and green banners. But I did learn that the champion PC of O blue machine cites 133,000 members, which is just over 1% of the electorate.
The thought occurred to me that perhaps active and responsible party membership, not voter turnout, is where the real apathy lies. And the reason may be that these associations haven’t evolved over time, especially in relation to the actual purposes they serve, or could serve, in the functioning of a liberal democratic order.
It is not just our democracy that is under threat. The real tragedy here is how this particular party configuration was able to sail to another victory, despite their dismal record dealing with the environment: the land we live on, the waters below, the skies above. They have shown themselves to be the antithesis of conservative in the true sense of the word. Clinging to the 1950s notion of highway building as the path to prosperity in 2022 is flagrantly retrogressive, not progressive.
It occurs to me that, given current prospects, and all that’s at stake, the quickest, smartest and most efficient strategy available to the genuinely progressive, conservationist, democratic, liberal-minded and good-hearted would be for us to get our act together, organize, and set our sights on taking over those rickety old hulks of political machinery so we can kick out the jams, and then proceed to fix up the works so these associated conveyances can get us to where we need to go.
To be safe and sure, we might want to start hedging our bets. I’m proposing that, instead of seeking unity in opposition to another fragile unity, each of us join any of the three main political formations, with the understanding that we’re all fighting the same good fight — an army, a navy and an air force, say. We can then work on multiple fronts to find adaptive reuses for these derelict party structures so that they begin to suit 21st century challenges and opportunities.
Let’s call it the triple boot approach, and borrow the ancient Manx motto: Quocunque Jeceris Stabit — “whatever way you throw it, it will stand”.
So what about the fourth option, the fledgling Green Party of Ontario and the 6% of us who voted for candidates running on its platform? Well, we could change the metaphor to a vehicle with four matched wheels, two that steer, and two to stay on track, all moving in the same direction.
But the Green could also serve as the catalyst for change, as the heart and soul of the great awakening that the people of this province, and the land it is such a major part of, need and deserve.
Under proportional representation, 6% would translate to about 7 seats in the legislature at Queen’s Park. But if all or most of the people who voted Green last week joined any of the mainstream political associations, including the triumphant blue machine, they would constitute an overwhelming majority.
The proposition is not as preposterous as it might first appear. Before the Western Reform onslaught on traditional Canadian conservatism rendered them extinct, there were Red Tories, who were admirable, but sadly out of tune with the neo-lib/con ascendancy. There is no going back. But now, as we’re completing the first quarter of the 21st century, there is no good reason why there couldn’t be Green Tories, especially where the time-honoured Progressive Conservative brand remains extant.
In the same way, and at the same time, there could be Green Liberals and Green Democrats. The approaches could be different, but instead of being constantly at odds, as in the antiquated political left versus the right of the 1800s and 1900s, the three polarities of the political order I’m imagining could operate as wholesome checks and balances to one another, and, when things are nicely in alignment, function as varied ways to accomplish the same purpose, like an army, a navy and an air force.