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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.

Women’s Health: The Next Step

By Josepha Esemogie

Every woman in Ontario deserves quality healthcare. Women in Ontario continue to experience health disparities that could be readily reduced. From research to treatment options to access to services and programs, many women are overlooked and underserved because healthcare has traditionally not considered the impact of sex and gender differences.

Our health system has not always understood the factors influencing women’s health status, with only 1.2 percent of Canada’s research chairs in women’s health. Will it ever be understood?

Health Gap

Ontario has a health gap problem, as shown in the healthcare system. Research shows that women’s needs, including physiological differences, cultural challenges, and life circumstances, are often not taken into consideration. Addressing health gaps in women’s health in Canada requires a comprehensive understanding of the numerous factors that contribute to disparities. Socioeconomic, cultural, and structural factors can influence these disparities, and for women in marginalized and disadvantaged communities, this gap is even wider. Some key areas where health gaps may exist for women in Ontario are.

  • Research: Historically, women have been underrepresented in clinical trials, leading to a lack of understanding of how specific treatments may affect them differently than men. Women are often overlooked in health research studies, yet they have different risk factors for certain diseases and may also respond differently to various treatments and medications. Until the 1990s, women were not included in most healthcare and medical research studies.
  • Mental Health: Women are more likely than men to experience mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, and trauma. The stigma surrounding mental health may prevent some women from seeking help. This also includes the trauma from domestic violence, sexual assault, and harassment, which can have profound and lasting effects on women’s physical and mental health.

We can see the prevailing gap in many aspects, including chronic diseases, access to healthcare without geographical or financial barriers, and cultural sensitivity, and we, as Canadians, need to realize that we are failing Ontario women.

Addressing the Health Gap

Canadians are among the healthiest people in the world. Nonetheless, our health system has not always understood the factors which influence the health status of women, trans women, girls, and gender-diverse communities, nor has it addressed their issues concerning research, education, leadership, and health interventions.

Addressing health gaps in women’s health is essential to public health efforts in any country, including Canada. While Canada has made noteworthy progress in promoting gender equality and improving women’s health outcomes, more must be done.

Ontario’s Ministry of Health has done some research and made initiatives to address these gaps like the POWER study (Project for an Ontario Women’s Health Evidence-Based Report), a multi-year project funded by Echo: Improving Women’s Health in Ontario, an agency of the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care which produces a comprehensive report on women’s health. But is it enough?

These health gaps require a comprehensive and collaborative approach involving healthcare providers, policymakers, researchers, and communities. Initiatives focusing on education, awareness, and policy changes can contribute to narrowing the health gap in women’s health in Canada.

The Next Step

With all the initiatives and research the government has done, more is needed for the people of Ontario. To reach a certain point where the health gap is reduced, and the disparities are barely visible, the government would have to introduce new policies to make the gap less visible. Some of the changes could include:

  1. Address the Economic Disparities: Reduce health inequities resulting from women’s social roles and status; this includes promoting equal pay for equal work, affordable childcare, and family-friendly workplace policies.
  2. Access to Healthcare Services: Service planning must consider the unique needs of diverse groups of women. Offer or subsidize childcare services for women with children so they can attend health and support services.
  3. Gender Responsive Policies: This includes policies on chronic conditions, reproductive health, maternal care, mental health, and violence prevention.

The inequities and disparities in the healthcare sector will only disappear once the government acts on new policies to help bridge this gap and create a new healthcare system that Canadians would be proud of.

Communities, countries, and the world are only as strong as their women’s health.