The Communist Party of Canada aims to expand democratic rights

Expand democratic rights

In preparing its consultation, the Special Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reform released an initial report concluding that “Canada’s electoral system is one component in a broader democratic framework.”  In this brief we have argued that the electoral system is undemocratic. It also takes place within a broader capitalist framework that is fundamentally anti-democratic.

As noted by the Canadian Labour Congress in its brief, the Canadian state still bears the imprint of its colonial origin: the retention of a monarch of another country as the head of state, and the un-elected Senate is appointed from the privileged class.  With the separation of legislative and executive powers, important policy and state affairs are also increasingly removed from the parliamentary arena, and instead decided by Cabinet or its non-elected officials in the state apparatus, by appointed judges and courts, or in conformity with the terms of neo-liberal trade agreements.  Charter rights are curtailed in practice and by law, such as Bill C-51. Many other examples could be cited as the central fact of political life in Canada is that state power remains firmly in the hands of big business.

Regarding the Constitution, scaremongering by Senator Serge Joyal that MMP could not be implemented without constitutional change has been firmly rejected by Fair Vote Canada, Dr. Dennis Pilon and others. Nevertheless, the Constitution of Canada does not recognize the multi-national character of the country and the associated basic democratic principle of equality of nations. The reality is that locked within Canada are the Indigenous nations, the Québécois(e) and the Acadians. Indigenous Treaty Rights are inadequately protected in the Constitution, often not upheld nor honored. With legislation such as the Clarity Act, only the English-speaking nation has the fundamental democratic right to sovereignty. Quebec has never ratified the Constitution.

For many years, the Communist Party called for a constituent assembly of the people to draft a new constitution based on the equal and voluntary partnership of Quebec and English-speaking Canada, recognizing the national rights of Aboriginal peoples and Québec to self-determination up to and including secession.  The Communist Party proposes a confederal republic with a government consisting of two chambers. One, such as the House of Commons today, would be elected through MMP.  The other chamber – a House of Nationalities – would abolish the Senate, and be composed of an equal number of elected representatives from Quebec and from English-speaking Canada, with guaranteed and significant representation from the Aboriginal peoples, Acadians and the Metis.

Each chamber should have the right to initiate legislation, but both would have to adopt the legislation for it to become law. Furthermore the Aboriginal peoples must have the right to veto on all matters pertaining to their national development. This structure will protect both fundamental democratic principles: equality of the rights of nations whatever their size, and majority rule.

Electoral reform is long overdue

The Communist Party of Canada has not been alone in advocating for proportional representation. PR has been a long-standing demand of the progressive trade union movement. The NDP, Blocs, Greens and many prominent people in Canada including some Liberals have called for MMP. Globally, socialist and communist parties in around the world have been demanding MMP for well over 100 years. At the turn of the century, labour voices in Canada called for PR, and in 1916 public pressure finally forced the federal Liberal party to appoint a committee examining electoral reform.[1] The call for voting reform was strengthened with growth of the working class forces, the enfranchisement of women, and the October Revolution in 1917. As a result, various forms of PR were adopted in some capitalist and socialist countries around the world.[2]  This drive to PR received great democratic impetus after the defeat of Fascism in the Second World War. After the future socialist German Democratic Republic adopted PR in 1947, the Federal Republic of Germany adopted MMP in 1949. At the same time, coalition governments which included communist parties achieved PR in Italy and briefly in France.

With the so-called McCarthy Red Scare and the onset of the Cold War, some municipal constituencies introduced “Single Transferable Vote” to block socialists and communists. In the 1952 British Columbia’s ruling parties notoriously changed its provincial election rules to block the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation.  Nevertheless, as the labour and people’s movements across Canada continued to support of MMP, public pressure grew.

Reflecting these demands, in 1976 Quebec created the first short-lived Ministry of State for Parliamentary and Electoral Reform which recommended PR. In 1979, the otherwise deeply flawed Pépin-Robarts Commission suggested additional seats be added to the federal parliament and “awarded to candidates from ranked lists announced by the parties before the election, seats being awarded to parties on the basis of percentages of the popular vote.”[3]  Both these proposals were ignored by the Quebec and Canadian governments, but the people increasingly asserted that FPP was unfair. For example, in 1983 a petition for PR gathered over one million signatures.[4]

Twelve years ago, after a total of five more provincial public commissions as well as a report by the now-defunct federal advisory Law Commission of Canada which recommended MMP,[5] the federal government was again compelled to launch a specific investigation into “democratic renewal” chaired by the late Liberal MP Mauril Bélanger. In 2004 the Committee recommended a full inquiry into new voting models, with special attention to MMP.[6] This proposal also fell to the wayside. But public concern about the electoral system has continued, particularly following the nine-year rule of the reactionary Harper Conservative government, who won the lion’s share of seats with less than 40 % of the popular vote. This very same imbalance was repeated in 2015, with the Trudeau Liberal majority.

Concern over public confidence in bourgeoisie democracy has clearly pushed the ruling class to consider electoral reform. Other motivations include: (1) big businesses’ desire for stable governments and failure of the current system to consistently deliver; (2) reaction to the crisis of confederation and the growth of the Bloc Québécois by trying to find was to further contain Quebec sovereigntist sentiment; (3) and the recurring difficulty for the big parties to capture a genuinely cross-Canada electoral base, in the face of regional-based cleavages within the interests of monopoly capital. This dynamic has been developed by Free Trade and the 2007 economic downturn.  Internationally, similar factors combined with public pressure have helped contribute to the adoption of PR systems by over half the governments in the world today.

The people’s demands for more democracy are getting stronger. Our party shares the justifiable expectation and impatience by the public for the Trudeau Liberals to get to work. Now is the time to implement Mixed Member Proportional Representation.

The Communist Party has no illusions that much needed electoral reform will comprehensively resolve “the democratic deficit.”  For our Party, democracy is not only about voting, but the people having a decisive say about the future. [7] But MMP would be a long overdue and important reform, helping the working people in their struggle for a fundamentally new direction and winning a better society.

 


Notes

[1] F. Leslie Seidle, “Electoral System Reform in Canada,” Canadian Policy Research Network, 2002 http://cprn.org/documents/16305_en.pdf

[2] Denis Pilon, “Explaining Voting System Reform in Canada, 1874 -1960,” Journal of Canadian Studies, Vol. 40, No. 3

[3] Report of the Pepin-Robarts Task Force on Canadian Unity, 1978  http://www.solon.org/Constitutions/Canada/English/Committees/Pepin-Robarts/pr-7.html

[4] Noted by the Law Commission of Canada, in Voting Counts: Electoral Reform for Canada, 2004 http://publications.gc.ca/collections/Collection/J31-61-2004E.pdf

[5] Ibid.

[6] Forty Third Report of The Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, Nov. 25 2004 http://www.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?Language=E&Mode=1&DocId=1936659&File=0

[7] For our full perspective please refer to our Party Programme, Canada’s Future is Socialism (2003) at www.communist-party.ca/party-program

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About Communist Party of Canada Guelph - CPC Guelph

Quality jobs, social services, better environment and a great democracy. Summarizing what the Communist Party of Canada advances: We are always with the people!
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