Hey guys, welcome back to another blog post. Canada very recently just finished the election that our Prime Minister Trudeau called only 5 weeks ago. This election was called at a very controversial time, as the world is currently trying to exit a global pandemic. A lot of people are criticizing Trudeau for calling a costly election at such a difficult time for many Canadian citizens, especially now since the House of Commons did not change in any significant way whatsoever for the Liberal Party. However, even with all this controversy around Trudeau, I still find myself supporting the Liberal candidate in my riding. So this kind of got me thinking, when you vote in a parliamentary democracy who are you really voting for?
No, I don’t mean which party are you voting for. When you vote for a party, are you voting for your party representative, or are you voting for the party leader. To help you understand, I have created this short animation describing this dilemma that voters can find themselves in.
You might think this is an easy question to answer. Political parties spend a lot of time and money promoting their party leader. The ads you see, many of their events, and other popularity stunts are centred around their leader. The only advertisement you might see for your party representative is those big wooden billboards they put up along the streets. This is the same for attack ads as well. The Liberals spent a lot of money attacking Erin O’ Toole, the Conservative Party leader. Their focus in these ads was all about how O’ Toole wanted to “take Canada back.” The attacks were less frequently against the party itself or other representatives for the party. Of course, it would be hard to attack 338 different people in one ad, but why not attack the party and their ideas?
Canada is a representative democracy. Also known as an indirect democracy, a representative democracy works on the idea that a representative will be elected by a group of people (ridings) who share similarities in problems, location, etc. For example, I live in the Burnaby-North Seymour riding. Every citizen above 18+ that lives in this area is allowed to vote for a person to represent our riding. For the last 3 elections, this riding has elected the Liberal candidate Terry Beech to represent the Burnaby-North Seymour in the House of Commons. Since it is his job to represent this area, he might have completely different opinions to the Liberal candidate in the Calgary Skyview riding, George Chantal. Now imagine that this happens in 336 different places with 336 different people. It is virtually impossible for that many people to have the exact same ideas about everything, so it’s difficult to attack the party as a whole.
But then if your vote is electing the representative for your party, doesn’t it make sense to vote for who you think the best candidate is, regardless of party affiliations? This is the dilemma I am trying to tackle today. If you have a representative in your riding that you like, but the leader of the party they are associated with has ideas you don’t agree with, do you vote for your representative anyways?
Lets go back to Bob. Bob really likes the Pink party candidate in his riding, but doesn’t like the Pink leader. In contrast, the Cyan leader agrees with Bob on many topics, but Bob thinks the Cyan representative is not fit for a role in the House of Commons. Who does Bob vote for?
This is where a flaw in representative democracy begins to show. Something called “party discipline” has begun to appear in Canadian politics in the last 50 years. Party discipline is the idea that an MP of a political party will always vote with the party line, regardless of their riding’s ideas. If a member does vote against the party line, major consequences can be enforced, from the loss of a cabinet position, or even removal from the party itself. Of course, there are certain occasions where a “free vote” is called, in which members of parliament can vote with their own conscience in mind. Now this may seem like a problematic thing, but party discipline is a key factor in allowing governments to actually get things done. If every MP was voting for themselves, it would be difficult for many bills to get passed.
So now who is your vote really going towards? If you vote in support of your representative, you are also supporting the party leader, as that representative may be “forced” to vote for bills that are against the beliefs your riding has. When you put it like that, it doesn’t seem like your representative can represent your riding all that well. But if you vote for a competent representative, they may do all in their power to make sure that your riding is fairly and rightly represented. For example, Terry Beech famously voted against the Trans-Mountain pipeline, per the wishes of the Burnaby-North Seymour riding even though the Liberal majority was in favour of the pipeline. So to answer that first question, I think that you should be voting for the party rather than the representative. A representative will only have so many opportunities to represent, where as if you elect the government you choose, more of your aligned interests with that government can become realities.
To wrap it all up, I view this as a major flaw in Canadian democracy. If your representative cannot properly represent your riding, then why vote with the intent to put them in the House of Commons? Why not just vote to make sure the party you want wins? Personally, I feel that party discipline completely destroys the entire principle that representative democracy stands on. However, it is a necessity for a government to function, so I feel that if I were in charge of the House of Commons, I would try to make sure that a proper balance between riding representation and party discipline is met. The whole idea of representative democracy is that groups of people are properly represented. From what I have read, this doesn’t seem to be happening very well in the Canadian House of Commons.
2 thoughts on “Who Are You Really Voting For?”
Ben – a very well written essay. I also feel there is a flaw in Canadian democracy. The Conservatives this time received 34.1% of the votes, which gave them 35.8% of the seats. However, the Liberals received fewer votes, 31.8%, but took 46.2% of the seats. That to me says fewer people wanted a Liberal government, yet that is what we got.
As to “who do you vote for” – sometimes a vote becomes a negative vote. in other words, a vote for one party is not so much as a vote in favour of that party, but a vote against another party.
What do you think the answer might be?
What you are talking about in the first part of your comment is a common feeling among Canadians. A push for proportional representation has been gaining support in recent years. Proportional representation means that the percentage of votes you get will directly relate to how many seats you receive. Personally I am not a fan of proportional representation as it removes ridings from the election, but I do understand why it is a popular idea.
However, you mention stats about how the Conservative Party received more votes than the Liberals. Even though the Conservatives received more votes I do not think that the majority of Canadians want a Conservative government. The left wing vote is split across a number of political parties like the Liberals, NDP, and the Green, (maybe Bloq but I don’t know if they are left wing or not) while the right wing vote is not split in the same way. Only recently did another right wing party get enough votes to truly hurt the Conservatives and that was the PPC in the most recent election.