On Canadian Electoral Reform

My Father-in-Law, a native Calgarian marooned in Mississauga, spent several minutes at the dinner table last Sunday complaining about the lack of Western Canada representation in the new federal cabinet. His disappointment was palpable. When my wife suggested that it might be time for a change to the voting system he was quick to agree. However, as we debated the various versions of proportional representation it became increasingly difficult to reconcile the benefits of one over the other. Dad became quarrelsome and then confused. He decided that it wasn’t worth the effort, lost interest in the topic, and began instead to speak of different ideas on how the PMO could connect with the West. So much for the electoral change discussion in our home. I think we are representative of most Canadian households.

The debate around electoral reform lies in the hands of two main camps. First Past The Post (FPTP) is the current process used in Canadian federal elections. Proportional Representation (PR) is usually proposed as an alternative and is in place in several countries.

PR is an attempt to achieve a more accurate correlation between the voters and their government.  Proponents of reform argue that FPTP does not offer an accurate reflection of the wishes of the individual voters because, depending on where they live, their votes may not impact the outcome. Advocates for PR point out that the current system allows a Quebec focused party to win a disproportionate number of seats in parliament, unduly influencing the rest of the country.  FPTP also allows one party to hold every seat in a region and eclipse the voice of the minority. Examples are the Liberals in the Maritimes after 2015 and the Conservatives in the Western Provinces after 2019. Finally, they argue that PR should result in greater parliamentary diversity and it would provide more opportunities for alternative points of view to gain a voice. 

Supporters for the existing FPTP system argue that because it more often results in a majority government, it offers the best chance for political stability with consistent, long term domestic and foreign policies. With FPTP, it is less likely that a minority party wielding the balance of power can have lasting control which is fitting since, by definition, a minority party does not represent the wishes of the majority of the population. FPTP allows local independent candidates to have a voice because a strong contender can win a seat without being unduly impacted by a vote sharing or re-assignment scheme.  Local constituencies know their representatives better and have a direct impact on the choice of candidates who will stand for election. Lastly, defenders argue that FPTP is simple and easy to understand.

When I started this assignment, I expected to argue on behalf of PR as it seemed to be more equitable. However, I had done sparse reading about it and my information had been gleaned almost entirely through social media and short TV news clips.  Now, in light of more information, I have realized that neither solution is ideal. I find myself defending the retention of the FPTP electoral system because I believe that the two most important aspects of Canadian politics are legislative stability and the engagement of as large as possible a portion of the voting public in the political process.

I contend that Canadians generally prefer stability and the status quo. 45 years in business has taught me that change and uncertainty are regarded with suspicion and unease. It’s clear that this inclination translates from business to all aspects of everyday life, including politics.  This aversion to uncertainty is manifested by the fact that over the past 120 years, Canadians, after expressing dissatisfaction with a party or leader, have settled for a less than perfect choice rather than continue with the upheaval of a dysfunctional minority government and non-stop electioneering. 

Because PR promotes the inclusion of smaller parties and greater variety, it would almost always result in minority governments and more frequent elections.  Voters could anticipate several regional opposition parties less able to form an effective opposition. This could encourage political backroom dealing as parties trade favours and compromise their election platforms to win support in the Commons.

Under FPTP, policies based on the election platform of a winning majority party could be more readily implemented. The government could pursue its announced objectives without being held ransom by a party holding the balance of power. In addition, FPTP results in a strong official opposition party, likely to have the ability to hold the governing party’s feet to the fire. 

As to the issue of voter engagement, electoral reform is an attractive idea until you realize how confusing some of the PR choices can be. People like simplicity and they don’t like change. Apathy is common in our political environment. In Canadian federal elections, fewer than 70% of voters make the effort to participate. In 2019, that number was 66%. The current election process is to select one of 5 or 6 names on a ballot and the election results are easy to follow and understand. In a PR system, voters would be asked to make multiple selections, a sort of first choice, second choice and so on. Then, it would be left to a complicated calculation and/or backroom decisions to identify the winner. This process could result in no direct relationship between an elected representative and their constituency. A more complicated PR voting system would likely result in fewer voters. 

Some of the issues raised by pro-reform supporters could be resolved under FPTP.  Diversity could be addressed by political parties selecting candidates to stand for election under their banner that more accurately reflect the communities and the party planks they seek to represent.  Regional differences such as those in the Maritimes, Quebec and the Prairies will always exist in a country the size of Canada. While PR may provide more parliamentary seats for the minorities in those regions, they would only have the power to affect change if and when they could act in concert in a minority government situation. Few such parties have platforms that would suggest they could do so. Instead, Canada could better move forward if the major parties address the gaps and deficiencies within their own platforms so as to reach out to these disaffected voters.

Finally, we must remember that the question has been asked and answered by the voters themselves. Canadians have rejected change four times over the past 13 years. British Columbia voters went to the polls in 2018, for the third time since 2005 and when presented with three different PR options, most BC provincial ridings voted to retain the existing FPTP system. The overall result was a resounding 61% plurality. Similarly, in 2007, an Ontario referendum resulted in nearly identical results. 63% of voters chose to retain the existing FPTP system. Only 5 ridings voted in favour of PR. While those referendums were about provincial elections I’m confident that the results would be the same in a federal plebiscite. 

So, it seems clear that neither the FPTP or PR systems solve the country’s problems. We can’t afford to initiate such a change if there is no strong constituency mandate to do so. Electoral changes might inspire the enthusiastic few but may alienate the indifferent many.  Minority governments who spend their time running for office every year or two would have little time for governing and lawmaking. Election related costs would skyrocket. It’s time to put the question to bed and take up a different discussion.

With thanks to: http://www.cbc.ca, samaracanada.com, theglobeandmail.com

 

A Piece for Peace

I picked it up for a song, a few dollars spent on a whim to solve a problem that had caused enough irritation warrant the effort. The other night, my wife had, again, complained that she could not sleep while I worked beside her in bed. The bedroom lights were “too bright” and the clack of my laptop keyboard was “too loud”. My response that the work needed to be done was met by an icy request to “take it elsewhere”. Further protestations fell on deaf ears and so, to keep the peace. I shut down my laptop, doused the nightstand lamp and rolled over to the edge of the bed.

The next day, while idling my way through an on-line catalogue, I noticed some gizmos, these flexible USB lights.  I have to admit, I’m a bit of a gadget nut and pieces like this always appeal to me, especially at such a ‘Low, Low Price!’ They arrived quickly, via messenger, in a brown, too-large box adorned with the well known Amazon Smile. Inside, a plastic bag held five cellophane envelopes containing lights, identical but for colour. I only need one but they come as a set and are cheaply made. I suspect I’ll use them all before long. 

I select an envelope and draw from it my prize. The LED light is narrow, six inches long and black in colour, except for a silver USB connector at one end and a soft-white lens cover on the other. I see that the center segment of its stalk is malleable and I twist it about until satisfied that it will serve its purpose.  I plug the silver USB into my laptop port and, Presto! I have light! There isn’t much that is more important to our daily activities than light, whether by raising a window blind or the flip of a switch.

I bend the stalk to set the lighted end over my laptop keys, canted in just such a way so as to avoid casting glare on the screen.  The small LED brightens the room a little more than I had expected and I peek at my sleeping spouse to see if she has been disturbed. There is no reaction and I begin work on my next task, confident that once again peace shall reign in the household and pleased that such an inexpensive piece has solved my problem so well.  

I pause for a moment, my fingers hovering over the laptop keys, and reconsider that last thought.  When I ponder my spouse’s repeated grousing that her sleep is being disturbed every night because of the room’s brightness and the sound of my typing, how is it that I decided to address only one of these complaints with the purchase of the USB light? Surely, I could have solved both issues by taking my work elsewhere, perhaps the dining room, which has the added advantage of its proximity to late night snacks, or even to the little alcove with its mini desk that I claim as both a home office and refuge.  Better yet, I could have chosen to work earlier in the day, so as to spend a little quiet time with her at the end of the evening, although that happens with much less frequency these days.  

In any event, I didn’t, and here we are, lying as far apart as the bed will allow. As I recline beside her slumbering form, bathed in the blue-glow of a muted TV, my typing sounds excessively loud. I tense for a moment as I wait to see if my wife reacts. I don’t want to get into yet another dust-up. Perhaps I should get out of bed and move to the other room. It would be the generous thing to do and yet, I don’t really want to. It’s my bed, too. I like working in the sack late in the evening. It’s comfortable and cozy and warm and besides, the rest of the house would be night-time cool by now. 

Maybe she will sleep on. If not, I’ll have to come up with another solution. Possibly another piece of kit to help keep the peace. I wonder if I’ll find earplugs among tomorrow’s  Lightning Deals on Amazon.

“Say What?”

Soft rain carried on tender breeze
Caressed her innocent face.
Sylvan sachet on morning air,
A welcoming fragrant embrace.

The pathway lay in mellow shade
Beneath that cool and verdant rank.
We made our way through shielding trees
And reached the nearby river bank.

She went to climb a crooked oak,
But lying nearby on the lea
She found a gem that caught her eye
And picked it up and ran to me.

A newborn chick, lost, alone,
Lay gently on her sleeve of grey.
“I’ll take it home and keep it safe
Until It's ready to fly away”

Of course she knew I couldn’t agree
We found the nest and left it be.
She was still a bit and then she asked,
“Can we get a kitten?”

A New Acquaintance

Not long after I moved to town, my car needed a service. I took a stroll down to the garage at the end of the street. It was a two door affair with a cracked office window. Both doors were up but only one of the bays was holding a vehicle. I stepped in through the other doorway, looked at the tools resting neatly on the workbench and cork board behind it. The floor was clean and recently swept.

“Hi,” I addressed a pair of scuffed work boots sticking out from under the car. One boot was untied, the lace trailing away across the concrete floor like a line trolling for trout.

“OK, hold on,” a high, thin voice floated up from under the car.

After a minute he rolled out and stood up, wiping his hands on a rag. His coveralls were threadbare but had clearly been clean that morning. He was tall and fit, weighing maybe 150 lbs. Sandy hair flew long from under the ball cap, curling over his ears. His fingers were yellowed by nicotine and his hands and wrists looked strong.

It was his face that caught my attention. It was marred by a long red scar that ran from the hairline at the top of his left ear, across his nose and finished under the outer corner of his right eye. He saw me looking and one hand moved in reflex to shield it.

“Can I help you?” He was curt but that voice would have a hard time in a crowd. His pale blue eyes met mine briefly and then danced away as he ducked his head to look at his hands. The shadow of the brim of his cap fell across his face.

“I’m just checking to see if you’d have time and to ask what you’d charge to do an oil change and rotate my tires.”

He looked over my shoulder. “What sort of car do you have?”

“6 year old Camry,” I said, “six cylinder.”

“Well, I’m a little busy.” He sounded less than interested. Maybe he had jobs lined up for a couple of days and didn’t think mine was worth the interruption.

“OK, well, any suggestions where I should take it?”

“I didn’t say I wouldn’t do it!” He shook his head in frustration, busily rubbing his bicep and then both hands flew back to the scar. His right hand stayed to tug and fiddle with his left ear, his elbow high, casting a shadow across most of his face. I wondered if his tone was more about nerves than impatience. He seemed uncomfortable with a new contact and I guessed that I wasn’t the only one to get this sort of reaction.

“Oh. well, could I bring it in tomorrow morning then? Would it be done by end of day?”

His eyes skittered to mine and then away as he ducked his head again. “I guess. I open at 8.”

“If you’re too busy…” I let it hang.

He became agitated. “No, no, I can do it,” His eyes rose to meet mine, “I charge $45 an hour plus parts and fluids,” he became a little defensive, his voice rising a bit, “I give all your old parts back to you.”

“That’s fine. It’s good to find a place so close to home,” I said quietly, trying to soften the conversation. I knew it was a good rate. “I’ll bring it by in the morning.”

He paused, as if surprised. He wiped his hands again, suddenly sticking one out to shake. “I’m Marvin,” he said, “I’ll show you where to park the car and leave the keys. Then we can go into the office and I’ll take some details.” ©

——–

Ed and Wilbur

One of my sister's horses. This was just after she rescued it and it was heavily in foal at the time.

“You certainly look relaxed, Ed”

“Oh yeah, I am.  I’ve gotta thank someone for leaving that gate open. Was that you? I owe you one. I didn’t know the neighbours were growing weed in their backyard.”

“I think most yards have weeds. Some more than others…”

“No, not weeds, Wilbur. I thought I’d died and gone to horse heaven. I sort of floated back here from the Addison place.”

“Well, you look as if you’re about to fall over.”

“Nope, feeling great! Are there any more oats? Or apples? How about carrots? Maybe you could mix up some warm mash. Boy, its really bright here by the door. Think I’ll go stand in the corner, my knees area little wobbly. What’s that sound? Do you hear buzzing?”

“I don’t hear anything. Are you sure you’re feeling alright?”

“Fine. I’m fine. Just close the door will you. I’m just going to close my eyes for a bit.”

“I’d better have a look at that gate latch.”

The Art Gallery

I bought three art prints today after spending the afternoon at the gallery. I had been meaning to go since I returned from Vancouver 16 months ago but I never got around to it. While out west, I visited every gallery and museum in B.C. There’s a lot of Salish and Inuit art in Vancouver and Victoria, which I can take or leave. I’m a big fan of early twentieth century Canadian painting, especially work done by Emily Carr and Tom Thompson and work by or in the style of The Group of Seven.

The prints are not large, approximately 30 x 22 cm. Now I’ll have to find frames, which will likely cost me more than the prints. I’ll spend some time on-line tomorrow to try to learn what sort of frame is best and then more web time to find a shop, hopefully in my neighbourhood. I already have a particular wall selected for them.

All three of these are representations of oils by Carr. She spent most of her career on the BC coast and she’s better known for her watercolours but I’ve never appreciated that medium. It’s usually too pale and washed out for my taste. I prefer oils. They’re usually more vibrant and full of colour. I learned today that she often mixed her oil paint with gasoline in order to allow the paint to flow more freely on the canvas.

I don’t know much about art. I go to a gallery and look around until something catches my eye and then I read the wall plaque or the guide to learn more about it. I can’t tell what is artistically “good” and what isn’t. I just know when I like something. I deal with it in much the same way as I do wine.

I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the gallery. There were rooms I zipped right through and others that deserved some dawdling. There was a visiting exhibit of Jean-Michel Basquiat that I took the time to go through and there was a second special exhibit of photography that I didn’t get to before closing. The gallery can be a confusing place with dozens of interconnecting salons and it’s easy to get turned around or find yourself back where you started.

I don’t buy art very often. My apartment walls are still bare although I have a few things that I could have hung if I’d gotten around to it. Now I’ll have to, so watch for snaps on my Shots page. Maybe I’ll hang the rest of my pictures at the same time. I should probably pick up some boxes too. If this is like every other place I’ve lived in, when I finally complete my decorating, I’ll end up moving. ©

——–

Cherish

 

I stood at the window in the front room, looking across the street. Mrs. Pauley was standing on her front step, her chin in the air as she tried find the sweet spot to read the paper though her bifocals. She always looks funny when she does that, I thought, like she’s looking down her nose at whatever she’s holding. She said something to the old guy and he shook his head. She turned to the cops, fishing a tissue from her sleeve and lifting her glasses to wipe her eyes as she listened to whatever the smaller one was saying.

Mom? I called, “What’s going on at Mrs. Pauley’s?” My mother came in from the kitchen to stand behind me, drying her hands on a tea towel and looking over my head at the scene across the street.

Oh, my,” she whispered, “I didn’t know it would happen so soon.” She looked down at me and before I could ask, she continued. “When Mr. Pauley died, she found out that he’d let his life insurance lapse. Couldn’t make the payments, I guess. He didn’t leave much money and she hasn’t been able to pay her rent. I think they were already a little bit behind.”

So? Can’t she get a job or something? Maybe one of her kids could help.” The Pauley boys were all grown and had moved away. Four were married with kids and living in Toronto and the other two were in Vancouver.

She can’t work. Her health isn’t good and she hasn’t had a job since she was a girl. She’s not trained for anything. As far as I know, she hasn’t told the boys about this. I don’t think she wanted to trouble them and its not as if any of them could afford to pay it for her.”

She stood for a minute longer as the drama played out and then said, “I’m going across the street to see if she needs anything. I may be a little awhile”

I turned back to the window. The cops and the old guy were getting back into their cars. Mrs. Pauley, tears running down her cheeks, held the screen door open as Mom walked across the grass.

I felt confused. I understood what Mom had said and knew enough about money to appreciate Mrs. Pauley’s predicament. What I didn’t get was, how could her family not know and why weren’t they helping her? I wondered if the rest of the neighbourhood knew about this. Maybe they could get together and help her out. I knew that a lot of folks were out of work and times were tight but this was important. The Pauley place was like a second home to many of us kids. There were always a few friends of the boys’ around the yard or in the converted garage. Even the younger children were welcome to step in for a cookie or a glass of water or just to say hi. Many of us had spent time at her kitchen table sharing a tale of woe and getting in return a soft shoulder and a dose of common sense. Once the last of their boys were gone, Mr. and Mrs. Pauley had kept the garage open as a kind of clubhouse. We spent a lot of time there. 

After I raided the fridge, I started on my homework. Mom came in about an hour later and began preparing supper. “How is she?” I asked.

Not very well,” she answered, “she has to be out by the end of the month and she’s already started packing. Do you think you could go over after school tomorrow and on the weekend to help move boxes and furniture around?

I was glad she’d asked me. “Sure, I’ll ask Hamid if he wants to help. Where is she going to live?”

Robbie and his wife are making room for her.” Mom gazed at me with an odd expression and I realized that she was a little afraid. This could happen to us, I thought with a shock. Mrs. Pauley’s life had been shattered out of the blue. You can’t be sure of anything.

The next evening I went over to Mrs. Pauley’s and helped her pack boxes and brought some things down from the attic. We didn’t talk much and I heard her crying once from the other room. I didn’t know what to say. The next day was Saturday and as I opened her front door I saw that the house was buzzing. It seemed as if every kid in the neighbourhood was there. They were dragging things from the closets and the basement and half filled boxes were scattered across the floor. The air was full of chatter and laughter and in the corner Kerry and Macy were arguing about something. It was bedlam. Mrs. Pauley was standing in the middle of it all with a jug of lemonade in her hand. She was crying again, but this time a broad smile lit her face.  ©

———  

Lemming

I’m afraid of heights which is really a cliché. If you look up an on-line list of the most common fears, heights would be right at the top along with bugs and water and snakes.

I’m not talking about aircraft or roller coasters or the CN Tower. I mean places like apartment balconies or the atrium railing on the 5th floor at the library. It’s not the idea of falling that scares me. I live in the city and the chances of accidently falling any great distance is miniscule unless one qualifies as one of Darwin’s rejects.

No, it’s that little lizard voice whispering in the deep recesses of my brain. A momentary flash of vertigo and a fleeting impulse to jump. I’m guessing that it’s some sort of primal instinct gone wrong. We all come from the same basic cellular unit and share features with many different animals. Maybe this is our link to the lemming.

Do any of you you get this feeling too or am I actually going off the fjord’s cliff on my own? ©

——–

A Nice Way To Start The Day

There’s nothing more relaxing than a cool spring morning on the golf course. Not many duffers out yet and it feels as if we have the place to ourselves. This is my favourite hole. It’s a challenge. A dogleg left with this pond on a direct line from the tee. You have to focus.

This morning, my partner coughed in the middle of my swing. A big, hacking cough. My ball hit the water. I didn’t bother to look for it. Maybe they’ll find it when they find him. ©

——–

Posted on Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers

Thanks to Dawn M. Miller for this week’s Prompt