A force for division

Lawrence Solomon
National Post
October 4, 2007

Ontario is full of alienated minorities, demographic and geographic groups who lack a voice and for whom the political system offers little of relevance. The new system of proportional representation proposed for Ontario, Myriad Minority Parties, or MMP for short, will empower any group garnering 3% or more of the vote.

Take youth, for example. This disenfranchised group, which votes worldwide in exceedingly small numbers, is uninspired by political promises aimed at the older population, such as better health care, which our youth is too young to need, or lower taxes, which it doesn’t yet pay. Thanks to proportional representation, youths around the world are turning to a political movement and a political party that can speak to their needs and aspirations: the Pirate Party.

Now the fastest growing political party in the world, the Pirate Party offers youth the right to download pirated music and movies – a basic human right, it argues. The Pirate Party – which says it will support any ideology in a coalition government, as long as it gets its way on free downloads – is credited with influencing the Swedish election last year. This year it surpassed the Swedish Green Party in members, and in 2009 it is expected to be the Hot New Thing in European Union-wide elections.

The Pirate Party now has affiliates around the world, including in Canada. An Ontario Pirate Party won’t be running in the next election because Myriad Minority Parties is not yet law. But if Ontarians vote for MMP in the referendum Oct. 10, look for MSM messaging, Face-Book and political chat-rooms to hum, exhorting our youth to join the political process to make free downloads a reality.

Pirates are only one constituency likely to be heard. With just 3% of the vote guaranteeing representation in Parliament, parliamentary debate will give voice to many who have been marginalized. We may well have an anti-gay party, although it won’t call itself that, fighting for a Moral Ontario, and promising to support any coalition government doing the moral thing.

In fact, with a mere 3% the bar to entry, several parties of the religious right may find voice. Born-again Christians, to be sure, possibly balanced by the traditional Christian churches, or by fundamentalist Jews and Muslims. The divisions may not be divine.

How divided can an electorate become? Belgians on June 10 went to the polls with 30-odd parties to choose from. Almost four months later, the myriad minority parties – none of which mustered even 20% of the vote – are still trying to cobble together a coalition. Not only do Belgians not have a government, they may soon not even have a country –proportional representation so successfully stresses what divides Belgians rather than unites them that the press debates daily whether the country should split up, and many consider separation inevitable.

Ontario, like many parts of Canada, is not devoid of balkanizing tendencies. For decades, some have agitated for Toronto to become a province on its own, so that its riches are no longer plundered by others. Northen Ontarian separatists, similarly aggrieved at their treatment by southern Ontario, may likewise decide to form their own province.

Ontario need not split along regional lines for the provincial fabric to tear. Name any hot-button issue that can inflame the passions of 3% of the public – abortion, gun rights, same sex marriage, welfare, immigration – and you’ll have the next Party du Jour, elevated to Parliament with the mandate to cast its vote in coalitions that will give it its way. Desperate to stay in power, coalition governments have a history of going to great lengths. In Israel, public transportation is banned on the Sabbath to accommodate the ultra-orthodox religious parties – a small price to pay to remain in power, political leaders all too often believe.

In New Zealand, an orgy of crass political deal-making so offended the electorate after it switched to MMP in 1996 that three years later, in a citizen-initiated referendum, more than 80% voted to roll back MMP reforms to restore accountability in government. True to form, the newly entrenched politicians ignored the non-binding referendum, and continue to this day to resist calls for reform. Italians and Israelis are likewise trying to reform their dysfunctional systems of proportional representation.

In the worst cases, proportional representation gives voice – and vent -– to the vileness in humanity. In France, a cynical socialist, President Francois Mitterrand, brought in proportional representation in 1986 to split the right-wing vote by allowing the election of the bigot, Jean-Marie Le Pen, and his National Front Party. Le Pen won 32 seats, making him a major political force until public revulsion at proportional representation led to its repeal in favour of a system more like ours. Without proportional representation, Le Pen lost all 32 seats and his party became a spent political force.

Ontario has its Le Pens, striving to divide us, as it has regionalists and pirates and others with grievances to nurse. These will all have the chance to express themselves Oct. 10. So will those who want a united province and country.

Lawrence Solomon is executive director of Urban Renaissance Institute.

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