Last week’s Ontario election was of broader than Ontario significance. By overwhelmingly rejecting a referendum proposal to introduce “proportional representation,” the province’s voters did a service nationwide, and sent a love letter to partisans of old-fashioned first-past-the-post democracy in other countries. And in the general election itself, Premier McGuinty and his Liberal Party managed to win strong majority re-election, by turning the thing into a referendum on another stupid proposal. This was the opposition leader’s hobby-horse idea of extending tax-funding to sectarian private schools, if they agreed to teach the standard Ontario curriculum.
This latter was not a fair electoral tactic, for the governing Liberals trained all their guns on a tiny point in the Progressive Conservative manifesto (found at the bottom of page 10). It was nevertheless clever politics, for with the help of fairly sycophantic media, it let the Liberals escape hard questioning about their embarrassing first-term record of extravagance, mismanagement, and deceit. But still, the voters got to destroy something.
Though it is an even smaller issue, the final destruction of John Tory’s political career is also worth celebrating. The “Red Tory” Tory, who rose to political prominence in defiance of the Peter Principle, has been the author of one political fiasco after another. He was, par example, the campaign manager for Kim Campbell in 1993, whose brilliant electoral strategy reduced her majority government to just two seats in the House of Commons. This round, Mr Tory managed to lose his own seat, and while he immediately declared his desire to continue leading the party, I should think any prospect of that will soon be taken care of in that party’s back rooms. Note: conservative voters do not like Conservative leaders who are not conservative.
Nota bene: had Ontario been stuck with that “rep by props” system we so decisively voted down, Mr Tory would now be returning smugly to the Legislature at the top of the P.C. Party list. One of the glories of first-past-the-post, is the ability it gives voters in a single riding to sink a party leader, or cabinet minister, or other star candidate, and thereby save the rest of us the trouble.
For today’s sermon is about the beauty of negativity. Saying no to an evil, or even to mere stupidity, is a good thing. People shouldn’t apologize for being negative in that way.
Politicians tend to get seriously irked when their well-laid schemes for constitutional and other “improvements” are scuppered by little things called voters, but it is usually a reason for the people to rejoice. The fat and happy politicians of Europe—many of them set up for life by Europe’s various “proportional representation” systems—are still trying to get around continent-wide rejection of their schemes for turning the European Union into a bigger and better blunderbuss of unaccountable bureaucracy. Unhappily for them, almost anything they are able to phrase as a referendum question is immediately blown down wherever put to a vote.
Two cheers for democracy! It has many flaws, and we should never forget the corollary of Abraham Lincoln’s observation: that you can, indeed, fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time. We were all born as foolish as Adam, and some of us never become any wiser. However, the seemingly universal human instinct to stop anything that looks like an innovation, proves sound at least nine times in ten.
I am not against constitutional change, per se, only against most changes, including any that are complex or “packaged.” I am, for instance, more and more enthusiastic about the use of referenda on important public questions.
And it struck me that one simple electoral innovation, oft proposed but universally opposed by politicians of all stripes, would be worth trying. It is to add a line at the bottom of each ballot that reads, “None of the above.” And make it binding.
I doubt the people would abuse such a privilege, except perhaps at first, for they would soon tire of returning to the polls week after week until one party or another ran a credible candidate. But it would be a huge improvement on the old “returned ballot” system (that never got rid of anybody), and would remain in the voters’ arsenal as a pedagogical device, to teach our politicians some elementary lessons on their place in the grand scheme of things.