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The Optics Ain't Good

In the 2015 election campaign, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau promised a reform of Canada’s electoral -system.

When Canada got its independence from Great Britain in 1867, it inherited the Westminster system of governance. Basically, geographical areas called “constituencies” are delineated. In each constituency, the political parties nominate their candidate to represent the party in the general election. The voters vote. The candidate with the most votes wins the right to represent the constituency in the next Parliament. The candidate’s party gets one more member of Parliament to improve its influence in that Parliament. While there has been some fine-tuning of Westminster since 1867, the structure has remained more or less the same.

The major flaw with this system is that seats allocated to the parties are often askew with the popular vote of Canadians. For example, the 2011 Canadian election produced this result:


The Conservatives got a majority government but did not get a majority vote. They had 14 percentage points more power than the people that supported them. The Liberals were underrepresented in this Parliament, with a disadvantage of 9 percentage points. This disadvantage may have been the reason for Justin Trudeau to promise electoral reform—to make sure it does not happen to the Liberals again.

Quickly into his term, Prime Minister Trudeau set up a commission to study the matter. I submitted a quick summary of my Tiered Democratic Governance(TDG) to this commission. I wasn’t expecting to be called to present my ideas to the commission, but it did put my proposal on its website. I was pleased with that!

I also watched about five hours of the hearings. What I saw was a group of Parliamentarians listening to “experts” from various universities pontificate about possible options for electoral reform. Everyone was wearing nice clothes; everyone was getting paid $500 a day courtesy of the Canadian taxpayer. “The optics ain’t good,” I thought.

Two weeks later, Prime Minister Trudeau shut down the commission. Although this meant breaking a campaign promise for electoral reform, I think he made the right political call. And Canada’s 19th century political structure remains intact.

Electoral systems are so resistant to change for several reasons. First, if one party suspects that it will lose an electoral disadvantage or the other party will gain an electoral advantage, that first party has incentive to oppose the reform. Second, many citizens are distrustful of reform, suspecting the political parties are using reform to further entrench their power base within society. And some citizens just don’t like change. Third, reform takes energy and resources away from other aspects of governance. When there are so many immediate things to fix, it doesn’t look good to be planning something for a decade or two away. Electoral reform is so hard.

The USA has not had any serious electoral reform since the 17th amendment, which was more than 100 years ago. The world’s most vibrant democracy cannot reform itself anymore.

I believe western democracy—especially Westminster-type systems like Canada and the USA with first-past-the-post elections—are unlikely to ever reform themselves. Rather than trying to create public pressure to push these systems into reform, we need to start a new kind of democracy that is totally outside the current democracy.

Tiered Democratic Governance (TDG) is that new democracy. It will start with about 1% of the population recognizing the need for this new TDG way—AND—be willing to invest about 10 hours of volunteer time a month to start building it. The early TDG need builders will not pressure anyone. It can start with a simple conversation with one’s neighbors: “Hey, I just read about a new kind of democracy average people can build. Do you want to help me start it up?”

And the TDG does not need permission from the political world, the media, academia, or the wealthy. Simply start by having the above conversation with a neighbor.

The alternative is hope and wait and pressure the politicians, the media, academia, or the wealthy to reform the system for you. Good luck with that way.

Published on Medium 2021

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Abolishing the Electoral College