Is Fairness Enough?

Canada has evolved over the years, our voting system hasn’t

By PAT CARL

I walk a great deal. It’s my exercise. While walking, I sometimes meet my neighbours.

They are older couples, mothers pushing babies in their prams, students on their way to school, bicyclists and runners. Some are dog walkers and, when encouraged, I pet the dogs and talk with their owners.

The other day, I spoke with one man out walking his dog, with whom I’ve talked before. He asked me how my retirement was going.

“I don’t feel retired,” I said. “I’m busy with a local group getting the word out about the referendum to change our voting system coming up in November, so I’m pretty busy.”

Just as I said this, a woman with her dog came up and stopped. I thought she knew the man I was talking with and was stopping to say hello. Slow on the uptake, I didn’t realize until a bit later that he didn’t know the woman at all.

Maybe the man sensed what was about to happen and that’s why he didn’t even say goodbye as he scurried away. He knew somehow, as I didn’t, that I was about to get an ear-full. It went something like this:

“My friends and I want to know what the question is going to be,” she said. “I get that proportional representation is fairer than first-past-the-post. But that’s not enough for me and my friends. We like things the way they are. Some of my friends are Conservatives, but I’m not. But I agree with them. Just because first-past-the-post isn’t fair, well that’s not enough.”

Fairness isn’t enough.

I admit I got stuck right there, but she continued.

“We think the question should list all the different types of proportional representation and put first-past-the-post on the list too and then everyone votes and whichever type gets the most votes, then that’s what we’ll have. But just saying that proportional representation is fairer than first-past-the-post isn’t enough for me and my friends. Fairness isn’t enough.”

I had difficulty getting a word in edgewise because the discussion was less a conversation than a lecture. Besides, I really don’t think quickly on my feet. That’s one of the reasons I write, so that I can carefully consider my thoughts and consider carefully how I express those thoughts.

Consider this: Canada, like all Western democracies, is governed by the rule of law. In turn, the rule of law governs our voting system, the way we select those who govern the provinces and the country.

As a young colony, Canada inherited the rule of law governing its voting system from Great Britain. Not only did that rule of law include the overarching system informally called first-past-the-post, but it also included legal guidelines that, for all intents and purposes, restricted the vote to wealthy white men,

As a country matures, what is defined as legal changes. Some countries develop values that are fairer. For example, Canadian voters now come from all ethnicities, voters include women as well as men, and, while many of us voters have barely two cents to rub together, lack of wealth no longer prevents us from voting.

I think we can agree that Canada, as a nation, and Canadians, as its citizens, are overall more concerned about values which acknowledge human rights, justice and equality than we were even 100 years ago.

And what is justice and equality but fairness when you boil it down to its essence?

While Canada and Canadians have changed, our voting system hasn’t changed since first-past-the-post was adopted. First-past-the-post does not match what we value as a society because, dare I say it, it isn’t fair.

We teach our children in kindergarten to be fair – to share their toys, to play nice in the sandbox, to give others an equal chance, to listen when others speak. All of these guidelines teach our children to be fair. Why don’t we expect the same of our voting system?

While fairness may not be enough for some people, it’s a damn good start.

Pat Carl is a member of Fair Vote Comox Valley and a Citizen Journalist for The Civic Journalism Project. She may be contacted at pat.carl0808@gmail.com.

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