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Moral Transgression and Anti-Intellectualism: the Trudeau Government’s Abandonment of Voter Reform

February 03, 2017

“Moral transgression” is an accurate term for the Trudeau government’s abandonment of voter reform.  I will explain why.  My explanation excludes legal and political issues and concentrates on ethical ones.  I will return to the political issues briefly after I make my case.

“Moral transgression” is a serious charge.  Is it justified?

Begin with Trudeau’s repeated promise during the last election (and for months afterward) that 2015 would be the last federal election held under the First Past the Post (FPP) voting system.

Trudeau repeatedly stressed that FPP was not very democratic.  He stated on numerous occasions that Preferential Balloting (PB) was a more democratic system than FPP.  

Trudeau was right; PB is more democratic than FPP. 

Note that the expression “more democratic” is not a subjective term. 

We can actually measure—not “guess” or “suppose” or “desire”—but measure, in a mathematical, objective sense of “measure”, just how democratic a voting system’s results are.  

According to measurements, Proportional Representation (PR) produces more democratic results than either PB or FPP.  

Not surprisingly, there is a large consensus among the experts on voting systems that PR is more democratic than either PB or FPP.  

The key to the charge of a moral transgression by the Trudeau government is this.  The federal government, in general, has a moral duty to the citizens to strengthen the democratic nature of elections. 

This moral duty exists whether or not the average Canadian happens to know about it or even cares about it.  

This moral duty exists for any federal government, regardless of political stripe.  It binds all governments and is not simply an element of the Liberals’ election platform to embrace or reject as they will.  

This moral duty is not something that a particular politician either chooses to promise or not to promise. 

To regard the government’s moral duty as simply a promise is to misunderstand the very nature of a government’s moral duty.  Canadians have a right that their government strive to make the country as democratic as possible. 

There is an objective manner in which our elections could be democratically strengthened: shift from FPP to some form of PR. 

There are a number of versions of PR.  The committee on electoral reform presented several versions of PR to the Trudeau government.  The Trudeau government could have implemented a version of PR in time for the next election, keeping Trudeau’s promise, but more importantly, fulfilling a moral duty. 

By abandoning electoral reform after receiving expert testimony and the committee’s report, the Trudeau Liberals have consciously violated their duty to strengthen the democratic process of voting in our country.  This is a deliberate ethical failure. 

Moreover, the Trudeau government had both the power to affect an increase in democratization and the knowledge of which direction to pursue.  They were, and still are, in a position to give more power to the citizens.  The moral transgression continues. 

Yes, the citizens still have democratic power with the current FPP, but a change to PR would have given the citizenry more power—and once again, the citizens have a right to that furtherance of power and the government has a duty to provide it. 

By abandoning voter reform, by consciously violating their duty, the Trudeau Liberals placed their party interests first—to keep themselves in power—essentially denying more democratic power to the rightful owners of it, the citizens. 

Here are a few further reflections on this moral transgression by the government. 

This duty to provide the power to the citizens, I stated, was independent of what the citizens happen to desire or think and what politicians happen to promise or not promise.  We all value the right of free speech, but rarely, if ever, does it show up on polls as the number one topic on Canadians’ minds.  Does anyone say that free speech isn’t important as a result of that or that it is not a right?  Do we say that it is part of the Liberal platform to promise to uphold freedom of speech?  

No.  Upholding free speech is a moral duty on the part of the government—regardless of that government’s political stripe. 

Now, to say that “the jury is out on which voting system to use” or “there is no consensus”  or “there is no clear way forward” is analogous to being a climate change denier.  

There is debate over climate change.  The fake debate is between deniers and those who hold that it is real.  

The true debate is within the group of those who hold that climate change is real. 

The true debate is over precisely how large the impact of human activity is and exactly how fast the climate is changing due to it.  It is a narrow, technical, scientific debate, not a broad, simplistic folksy issue of mere opinion. 

The Trudeau Liberals claim that there is no consensus among Canadians as to which voting system they want.  That is irrelevant.  That is an attempt to foster a fake debate between various systems at large, like debating FPP versus Proportional Representation.  

The real debate here is over which form of Proportional Representation is the most democratic one.  This is a narrow, technical debate as well.  It is not a matter of mere opinion. 

By resorting to claims of “no consensus”, the Trudeau government is taking an anti-intellectual tactic from the climate change denier's strategic handbook. 

Anti-intellectualism is not monopolized by Trump and his supporters.  We have it here in Canada.  Recall how former Minister of Democratic Institutions Maryam Monsef openly mocked the mathematics of measuring the democratic strength of voting systems. 

Trudeau the former teacher also indulges in anti-intellectualism.  Trudeau has claimed that PR will cause a rise in fringe parties—possibly even dangerous ones.  Hence, he says, it is politically prudent to avoid it and so we will remain with the status quo. 

This is simply not true and the government has heard experts testify to this.  PR systems can be constructed such that fringe parties would have to receive substantial numbers of votes in order to be elected.  If they do get large blocks of votes then they are not fringe parties anymore. That is democracy. 

The point is that generating concerns over a proliferation of fringe parties with minute fractions of the vote gaining undue and large amounts of influence over mainstream parties under a PR system is fear mongering.  It is another example of anti-intellectualism. 

I attended several town hall meetings regarding electoral reform.  These were run by the Liberals, one of which was run by Minister Monsef.  When concerns over the complexity of a PR system were raised, there was little attempt to explain the system.  But more importantly, the public’s confusion of the complexity of counting the electorate’s vote in PR with the relative simplicity of an individual’s casting a vote in PR was not clarified.  In fact it was often encouraged to confuse vote counting with vote casting.  (Mark Holland, Liberal MP for Ajax, was a notable exception.  He tried to clarify the issues.) 

Elections Canada does the vote counting.  You do the vote casting.  There is a big difference. 

Fearing the complexity of vote counting in PR is akin to saying that I do not use laptops or drive cars because I don’t understand how one is constructed.  How many of us drive and use computers without any idea as to how to fix or build one? 

It would appear that the Trudeau government, like the previous Harper government and like the current Trump administration, happily trades on peoples’ ignorance when it suites their purposes. 

Let us not forget the arresting imagery of Charles Dickens’, when the ghost of Christmas Present lifts his robe to reveal two children: a boy and a girl -- ignorance and want.  Beware them both, we are warned, but most of all, beware the boy.  Any government that would deliberately turn its back on an objective, scientifically-grounded way of fulfilling its moral duty to increase democratic power in our country, and then cover its tracks by attempting to generate a fake debate over voting systems and resort to fear mongering is guilty of not just one, but several moral infractions without a doubt.  


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Smitha505      May 22, 2017 at 01:46
Write more, thats all I have to say. Literally, it seems as though you relied on the video to make your point. You obviously know what youre talking about, why throw away your intelligence on just posting videos to your site when you could be giving us something enlightening to read? dfcefdbkfaeeedda
Johnb448      May 22, 2017 at 01:45
The principle isn't to artificially turn out to be effective, eagegkdakbaa
Johne366      May 22, 2017 at 01:45
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Mary      February 03, 2017 at 18:15
Excellent analysis!