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First Past the Post is hurting Canada’s democracy

By Dan Roibas

Canadians are becoming disenchanted with our democracy.

Over the last two elections, First Past the Post has empowered a party that is no longer the most desired by our country. The Liberal Party of Canada (LPC) has leveraged the “winner take all” power of FPTP to efficiently pick off enough ridings to win the general elections while losing the popular vote by two hundred thousand ballots and decreasing overall participation in each election since coming to power.

The damage FPTP is causing is most obvious when you examine the first election of Justin Trudeau. This election had one of the highest rates of voter participation since 1993, which saw 68% of the eligible voting population participate. People were excited at the prospect of a new, young leader, with a familiar name and new ideas about how to run the country. Particularly, ideas on fixing the broken voting system which historically kept down popular parties like the NDP and empowered ones without broad support, like the Bloc Quebecois. Voters were so excited, in fact, they rewarded the LPC with a majority government, giving them the power to implement these ideas however they saw fit.

However, the LPC had not won more than fifty percent of the vote to match their seat total, laying the first groundwork for them to abandon their promise. Over the next two elections, the Liberals showed yet another reason to keep the status quo, by being rewarded for losing the popular vote with even more seats from 2019 to 2021. Winning political parties will continue to be rewarded until one that wins realizes fixing Canadian democracy is more important than any one party’s ambitions for re-election.

FPTP does undeniably have some benefits for the Canadian context as Canada has always needed to appeal to regional parties to accommodate its sparse population over a vast landscape, such as with the Bloc Quebecois in Quebec and the Reform Party in the West. The power FPTP has given to these parties, especially in the case of the Bloc, offsets Canada’s lack of regional representation at the federal level that, say, a legitimate Senate would. But the requirements to alter the Senate to make it legitimate would mean opening the can of worms that is amending the constitution, a far more difficult path to go down than changing our electoral system.

Ideally, our electoral system must then balance regional interests as well as the broader interests of our democracy, which it could with a more robust system such as Mixed Member Proportional Representation (MMP). This electoral system has mostly been known for its use in Germany, and while a densely populated smaller nation is not exactly comparable, there are similarities between our two countries.

Germany had similar regional divides as Canada, having been divided into East and West for years, and a diverse parliamentary government system. And here is where Canada could leverage MMP, giving more power to smaller, regional parties, while maintaining the strength of more broadly appealing ones.

Were MMP implemented in Canada, we could address issues in this country that go back further than the Constitution Act. We could create a parliament as diverse as the people of this country, one built on cooperation and compromise, rather than the cynical calculation of how few ridings a party needs to win. Fixing these democratic deficits go towards fixing problems at the very heart of Canadian society.

Is the Supreme Court of Canada diverse and inclusive?

By Benthara Pettah

In a Political Science class, the Professor remarked on how regional representation at the Supreme Court was necessary to represent the vast and diverse geography of Canada. As an international student in a land that embraces diversity, I wondered if the same diversity was reflected in the apex court of the country. Unfortunately, the answer is no, not enough.

In 2023, for the first time, there is a justice from the indigenous community on the Supreme Court. There are five women justices on the bench, also for the first time. However, there is not much racial diversity and there has never been a black judge.

Why diversity?

The diversity of backgrounds at the Supreme Court is not just a matter of representation but is also a requirement for sustaining the ideals of justice, equity and a sense of belonging. A diverse and inclusive judiciary is what enables the judiciary to be both independent and impartial. Because the values, perspectives and experiences of people appearing in court are different from those judging them, this could impact the ability of judges to appreciate their circumstances, assess their credibility and craft appropriate remedies. “As a law student,” Chief Justice McLachlin said in her Edinburgh speech, “I never dreamed that I would be called upon to decide whether a religious Muslim woman may be permitted to wear a Niqab while testifying, or whether same-sex couples should be allowed to marry, or whether children can refuse life-saving medical treatment on religious grounds”. Although judges are capable of making fair decisions for minority communities, the increasing number of women on the bench demonstrates how a heterogeneous bench is leading to enhanced judicial decisions.

As Chief Justice Wagner said in a news conference, diversity inspires and maintains public confidence in the judiciary:  “All Canadians should be able to see themselves reflected in their justice system. Justice should not make a person feel like an outsider or an ‘other’ when they confront it”

Way Forward

Critics consider diversity an antithesis to the merit system, mostly because there are not many qualified candidates from the marginalised community. This is the consequence of generations-long systemic oppression and the disenfranchised people will require some more accessibility, such as scholarships and mentorship programs. Diversity does not dilute judicial excellence; it merely broadens the perspective of the justice system. Further, United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16 promotes the inclusion and participation of under-represented people in the judiciary. 

There are also arguments that there are not many qualified candidates who are from diverse backgrounds. This just proves the systemic disparity and calls for more outreach programs and funding from the state. Widening the talent pool is a responsibility, not an act of charity.

For some, the diversity argument is just tokenism and low-hanging fruit. According to them, no good can come out of it in addressing the core issue of inclusion. However, Justice Shirzad in his speech mentioned that “diversity in substance is the answer.  A bench that is diverse in substance, therefore, is not only representative of Canada’s diversity but is also empowered to render decisions informed by that diversity.There is general acknowledgement that New Zealand and Norway, leading examples of ethnic and gender diversity in the judiciary, have improved the overall performance of the judiciary.

Conclusion

The counterarguments to diversity only raise questions regarding the process of bringing diversity to the Bench. Bringing more qualified candidates from minority communities requires conscious effort from the government, such as providing accessible education and opportunities. In an interview with Christina Restoule, the manager of indigenous community services, at Conestoga College, on the conditions of indigenous students, she said “In order for students to want success, they need to see success.” Therefore, it is time that the government, along with community organisations and educational institutions, initiate policies that include widening the talent pool from diverse demographics.

In 2023, a woman from the indigenous community was nominated to the Supreme Court. This should be seen as the start not the end of the process of bringing more diversity to the judiciary. There should be more judges from diverse communities to reflect the democratic aspirations of the country.

Destruction of the Greenbelt: Is it Worth it?

By Sara Dix

The Ontario Greenbelt is two million acres of protected land that should remain untouched by land developers as it is one of the most biologically rich areas that provides fresh air, clean water, and homes for wildlife. It is essential for the preservation and conservation of Ontario’s natural areas.

In September 2023, Ontario Premier, Doug Ford, announced the reversal of his government’s decision to open the Greenbelt to land development. This was followed shortly after by the resignation of the Ontario Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister, Steve Clark.

This decision was the result of massive public criticism and reports that revealed concerning information regarding the government’s decision-making process over the past year.

The Land Swap Announcement

When the Ford government announced their plans to open up thousands of acres of Greenbelt land for development in November 2022, Municipal Affairs Minister, Steve Clark, argued that it was a step to tackle the housing crisis in Ontario by building 50,000 new homes.

The fifteen pieces of Greenbelt planned to be developed, totalling 7,400 acres, were located in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area and 9,400 acres would have been added from somewhere else, which defines the term: “land swap.”

Public Outcry

However, The Narwhal points out that “experts say you can’t just draw a line around a piece of land, say it’s protected and assume it will all work out – how that land is connected to what’s around it will also define how successful conservation efforts might be.” Therefore, the plan did not consider the impacts of removing this land in terms of preserving the natural state of the Greenbelt.

Among one of the groups to criticize the government’s decision, Parks Canada warned that the removal of land from the Greenbelt would mean “irreversible harm” to the Rouge Urban National Park and that the government had violated an agreement with Parks Canada by committing to the plan.

Even the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers condemned the land swap plan by stating that “converting Greenbelt lands to residential development will hinder Ontario’s carbon targets without providing economic return, nor reduce the cost of buying a new home.”

The former provincial planner, Victor Doyle, who is credited as an architect of the protected area stated that the land swap “threatens the stability and certainty of the Greenbelt…It undermines its permanency…creates an incredibly powerful precedent that will weaken the Greenbelt significantly.”

Meanwhile, multiple investigations into misconduct within the government’s decision-making process began in December 2022 that questioned the influence of certain developers.

Ford Government Corruption

The Ontario Integrity Commissioner, David Wake, began an investigation into whether Clark breached rules that forbids MPPs from “making decisions or using insider information to improperly further their interests, or those of other people.” This report found that Clark failed to ensure that the process was completed properly and that developers had direct access to political staff.

The next scathing report on the government’s conduct came from Ontario’s auditor general, Bonnie Lysyk, which questioned how much the developers stood to gain from the Greenbelt land sales and whether the plan was created in the public’s interest. The report revealed that certain developers were given “preferential treatment” and had a direct impact on the government’s decision. Of the 7,400 acres of land, 92% could be tied to three developers who would have direct access to the housing market and for the owners of fifteen sites, there could be an $8.3 billion increase in the land’s value.

Support for Development

The main group who has fully supported opening the Greenbelt are the developers themselves. Many in this industry have despised the Greenbelt since its creation because it places limits on where the developers can build and many have pushed to have their own land removed. As a result, they were able to influence the provincial government by utilizing their lobbying power.

There was also support from municipal leaders such as former mayor of Mississauga, Hazel McCallion, who agreed that the Greenbelt restrictions should be loosened to increase housing and preexisting infrastructure while maintaining the conservation efforts.

Is the Greenbelt Worth It?

The Greenbelt is worth it, frankly. It provides so much more than just land to develop into residential or commercial buildings and during a time when climate change is worsening, protecting as much wildlife and natural resources as possible is more essential than ever.