Generally we accept that millions of people risked their lives defending personal freedoms during World War II. Sacrifices were immense and misery and hardship lasted for years after global war ended in 1945.
Throughout most of my life, I believed those military actions had secured stable democracies in the Western world. But, in recent times, I concluded that government by the people for the people is more myth than reality in Canada and in the politically troubled country south of here.
Canadians have not gone as far down the de-democratization road as Americans, particularly those living in red states. To protect partisan interests, the most powerful chamber of the U.S. Congress is amazingly non-proportional. Ten Senators (80% Republican) of the five least populated states represent fewer than four million people. Ten Senators from the five most populated represent almost 125 million.
Ontario Conservatives gained 40% of the vote in 2022 but took 67% of the seats in the provincial legislature. In 2020, with less than half the votes, John Horgan’s NDP Government harvested two-thirds of the MLAs.
Canada’s parliament and provincial legislatures could convert to proportional representation but that has been resolutely opposed by economic and political elites who enjoy rewards provided by the status quo.
Aggravating the situation where a vote for one group has vastly different value than a vote for another is that almost all authority within a political party is exercised by a few individuals in the leader’s circle. To that small group, demanding loyalty and imposing discipline on subordinates is an essential job.
We cannot talk about our governments being representative democracies when a majority of the proxies we elect rank interests of their parties and their sponsors above interests of their electors. Reality is that major political groups are pyramidal structures steeper than those encountered by athletes aspiring to be professionals.
Mainstream parties have many committed members but the policy influence they exercise is infinitesimal compared to party managers. That is fine with the few at the top level and, sadly, seems not to bother the multitude at the base. Nor does it bother the average citizen.
A 2020 study by Yale political scientists reported that democracy is not sufficiently robust to deter undemocratic behaviour by elected politicians. According to Milan Svolik, professor of political science at Yale and co-author of the study:
Our findings show that U.S. voters, regardless of their party affiliation, are willing to forgive undemocratic behavior to achieve their partisan ends and policy goals.
Researchers found that only a small fraction of voters prioritized democratic principles and the tendency to do so has been declining. They noted:
…perplexing recurrence of a number of democratic defects, especially at the state and local level. Several distortions of the democratic process long abandoned by most democracies — like gerrymandering or the partisan administration and adjudication of elections — remain constitutional in the United States. And even those that are indisputably unconstitutional — like voter disenfranchisement — resurface with unsettling regularity.
Our waning fondness for democracy is demonstrated by voter turnouts. In British Columbia, 54% of registered voters cast a ballot in the 2020 provincial election. Turnout for the 2022 Ontario election was only 43%. Indicators of our commitment to democracy are troubling. Trendlines help us understand where we are right now but allow us to predict where we will be in the future.
When trends point toward an undesirable condition, we ought to be seeking new paths. Unfortunately, decision makers resist change and use the power of the state to defend predatory capitalism and protect entrenched interests of the ruling class.
The mass of the population is left feeling powerless. That is because they are powerless.