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LANA PAYNE: Time to take some of the anger out of politics

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Every day, Canadian politics gets a little worse. More polarized, nastier, hyper-partisan.

Just look at Alberta. Anger so far has been winning over hope and a progressive, super-smart premier who a majority of Albertans think has done an incredible job including with the economy. And they may still not vote for her. Go figure.

Although Rachel Notley has already defied all the odds and no one should count her out. Whatever the outcome, Alberta is a deeply divided province — divisions driven by Conservatives who these days thrive on whipping up the angry hoards with a horrid blame-game.

Conservative Doug Ford won Ontario and is now tearing up every piece of progressive legislation while also gutting health care and education.

This was to be expected, but many ignored the signs. The rapid pace of the destruction has left a lot of Ontarians reeling, especially parents of children with autism who have been devastated by the Conservative government’s decision to attack much-needed services. 

At least 25,000 people flooded the grounds of the Ontario legislature a week ago to protest cuts to education including the elimination of 3,000 teachers. We can expect more of these kind of large-scale protests given the government’s plans to defund important medical services. Can anyone imagine a scenario where education could be better with fewer teachers?

Ford won all the power with 40 per cent of the vote.

This remains the sorry state of Canadian politics, enabled by a broken first-past-the-post system. A system that encourages the divisiveness and hyper-partisanship we see swamping political discourse.

Federally, the governing Liberals continue to spiral, gaining no traction from their budget as they continue to deal with the fallout from SNC-Lavalin. Playing footsie and courting the alt-right, anti-immigrant voter has not hurt Andrew Scheer one bit. We can and should expect him to continue to do exactly that.

In the meantime, raging, heated and often untruthful rhetoric has reached new highs. Yellow vesters are popping up in neighbourhoods from Mount Pearl to Calgary, comfortable in the space they have been given by their political heroes to flaunt their extremist and racist opinions.

Our political system is failing Canadians. When a political party with the minority of votes can govern with all the power, this leaves people feeling discouraged and not represented. Simply their votes don’t count.

The federal Liberals erred badly by breaking their electoral reform promise. Prime Minister Justice Trudeau had said that the 2015 election would be the last first-past-the-post election. It won’t be and it could end up being his biggest regret.

A proportional representation (PR) voting system as is in place in more than 90 countries around the world would be more democratic, not to mention fairer.

Political parties would be forced to work together under a voting system where every vote would count. For example, in the last Ontario election, 40 per cent of the votes would have given Doug Ford, 40 per cent of the seats rather than the comfortable majority he currently enjoys. He would have been forced to with work with another political party, to form a coalition of sorts. Had he not been able to do that, those parties who pulled 60 per cent of the votes would have had a chance to form a government. Working together means you must swallow heated rhetoric and compromise instead.

An electoral system that by its very structure forced compromise. Is there anything more Canadian than that?

The people of Prince Edward Island, not for the first time, have an opportunity to make political history on April 23.

In addition to electing a new government, Islanders will also vote in a referendum on electoral reform. They are being asked whether they support a proportional representation system, also known as Mixed Member Proportional (MPP).

According to the Vote Yes P.E.I., in the last P.E.I. election, it took only 1,860 votes to win one Liberal seat, whereas it took 8,851 votes to win one seat for the Greens. Additional, none of the thousands of votes for the NDP counted towards any elected seats.

Given the state of political discourse, there is something to be said for a political system that forces collaboration and compromise, especially in these times of heightened, damaging and often racist rhetoric.

Electoral reform won’t fix all our political problems, but it will certainly make the system more democratic and will encourage consensus.

Prince Edward Islanders have an opportunity to show the rest of Canada that electoral reform is not only possible, but a fairer way of doing politics.

And goodness knows, these days, politics needs all the help it can get.

Lana Payne is the Atlantic director for Unifor. She can be reached by email at lanapaynenl@gmail.com. Twitter: @lanampayne Her column returns in two weeks.

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