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When Ottawa was in the grips of the convoy, what was Doug Ford thinking? The Emergencies Act Inquiry wants to know.

Justin Trudeau claims Ford was hiding out for political reasons. Ford claims it was a matter outside his jurisdiction.

Will voters ever get straight answers?

With first-past-the-post, it’s just so easy for politicians to hide.

In 2018, Doug Ford’s PCs got all the power with the support of just 40% of voters. That’s 23% of eligible voters. In Ontario’s June 2022 election, he was handed another false majority, this time with merely 18% eligible voters supporting the PCs.

We know what that means: all the power is concentrated in the hands of the leader and his unelected spin doctors. Their main job seems to be to protect the Premier and advance the governing party’s self-interest.

False majorities ensure that partisan self-interest trumps the public interest.

They make it easier for politicians to dispose of inconvenient conventions, avoid accountability, and write the laws to suit themselves. Even Steven Harper once acknowledged that winner-take-all voting allows false majority governments to unilaterally impose measures “abhorred by large areas of the country.” 

When one party wields all the power, leaders can act with impunity. As Leonid Sirota, associate professor at the Reading Law School in the UK, explains, once a politician sets a precedent by flippantly abusing their power for political purposes and gets away with it, it’s very easy for others to follow suit. “Politicians always want to get their way.” 

The notwithstanding clause, for example, was never meant to be used by politicians to ram through self-serving campaign finance laws in Ontario or impose legislation that violates minority rights in Quebec.

Similarly, the “parliamentary privilege” being used as a shield by Doug Ford was never meant to help leaders avoid facing an inquiry to account for decisions that had major repercussions for the whole country.

In addition to these abuses of power, our archaic voting system also inflames tensions and increases conflict by transforming the handling of a crisis into a partisan issue.

A government based on proportional representation (PR) could have prevented the convoy from turning into a political fiasco.

With PR, multiple parties usually govern together in stable coalitions.

Federally and provincially, Ministers from more than one party would have decided together how to respond to the convoy—and kept each other in check. Advancing one party’s self-interest or covering one party’s political butt wouldn’t have been a consideration around any cabinet table.

Under first-past-the-post, the convoy and the Emergencies Act Inquiry have become polarizing, political wedge issues to fuel the next election campaign. Parties are scrambling to avoid transparency, spin a narrative, and collect ammunition to humiliate their opponents.

Proportional representation may even have prevented the convoy in the first place.

Political polarization, the kind of politics that encourages hatred of those with different political views, is on the rise around the world. So are authoritarianism and autocracies.

When people are shut out of the system―while the biggest parties amass seats well beyond their popular support―they do not go away. They find other, more dangerous ways to be heard, whether that’s by capturing the leadership of a big party, or taking to the streets.

Research shows that by giving all voters a meaningful voice in the system and institutionalizing political cooperation, proportional representation protects democracies from harmful polarization and extremism.

Canada’s winner-take-all system is taking us farther down the road to US-style politics. Don’t we deserve better tools to help us handle the next emergency?

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