Post-election refresher – Canadian Democracy 101


It is the height of understatement to say that no one seems satisfied with the outcome of the recent Federal election. With the re-election of Mrs Gallant, the electorate of Renfrew-Nippissing-Pembroke remained divided into two distinct solitudes: those very proud of the re-election of the local candidate but astonished with the national outcome versus those astonished with the re-election of the local candidate but grateful for the national outcome.

Good Faith versus Bad Faith

I have all the time in the world to speak with people, even those I vehemently disagree with, who are acting in good faith; that is to say, their efforts and aims are sincere and geared to the maintenance of freedom and democracy in Canada. I will engage all day with anyone genuinely interested in heathy debates of public policy: who pays too much tax and who pays too little, what federalism means or should mean, the role of government, the balance of personal freedom and the common good, and a host of others. Sadly, it is overwhelmingly the bad faith comments we are seeing online and hearing in the media and that I think we need to address. Before I get too far into these comments, I should say this: a good person can, on occasion, promulgate or — as is often the case in the internet age — act as unwitting amplifiers for a bad faith arguments made by other individuals or even foreign countries.

Bad Faith from Bad Actors

Canada is not alone in being the target of foreign government information operations. Those of us who remember the Cold War can recall the clunky propaganda of the Soviet Union. The difference today is that bad international actors are not sending propaganda films to you; instead it comes as a meme from your Aunt Kathy. While they come across as folksy “real talk” they are actually carefully crafted appeals to emotion to hijack legitimate public discussion to insert and amplify false, misleading, or inflammatory narratives. The short-term goal is to weaken in the population the moral and ethical underpinnings of democracy, to seek to plant concepts such as your vote not mattering, or voting does nothing because all parties are the same. The avowed long-term goal of these operations is to erode the number of citizens participating in our democracy and if you read to the end of this article you will see their effect. While there are many examples online to choose from — let’s just look at two.

“Well nothing changed — why bother having an election?”

First, let’s address all of the people boring us on Facebook, at the gas pump or the general store with the “well nothing’s changed- why even bother having an election!” nonsense. I don’t ask for much but logical consistency should be the minimum standard. Instead, we get a paradox, and as paradoxes go an obvious one. What these people are saying is that elections should only be held when we somehow know that the results will be different but the only way to determine that the outcome will be different is by having elections!

Now, there certainly are some people at the far ends of our political spectrum who may secretly like the idea that everyone knows the outcome of elections before they occur, as in Russia or Venezuela, and there is no doubt that knowing Putin will win with 99 percent of the vote before the ballots are counted is very efficient, but it is not how we do it here.

Canadian Democracy Fun Fact 1 – Snap Elections are a Thing Here

This is Canada and in our electoral system, snap elections get called by minority governments. History shows them being called by both major parties. Mr. Harper did it. Mr. Trudeau did it. We can have a fulsome and honest debate about whether tactically it was a good idea, examine the factors that kept the current government from forming a majority, or what the stability of the electorate means, but to denigrate the validity of an election process based on the seat distribution is a red herring and a dead end. Whether we want to use the metaphor of the general public as a ship’s navigator who the government has asked if they are still on course, or we choose the public as the patient in hospital who just got their temperature taken for the second time in two hours, the information we provided in this election will have a direct impact on the determination of national policy and is very valuable.

Having covered value now let’s look at cost.

“What a waste of money …

We have all heard and seen this one and I will admit that the $610 million price estimate given by Elections Canada is, at first glance, eye-watering. However, I have learned over the years that when dealing with big numbers context is key and, once we do some simple math, it gets put into context pretty quickly. Each of us expects an election system that is fair, accessible, efficient, and provides timely results. Across the globe, elections in modern democracies are costly so I was determined to see what the cost of our democracy is.

Canadian Democracy Fun Fact 2 – Democracy costs 3 cents/day

Elections Canada prepares election materials for every elector and organizes the network of tens of thousands of voting sites across our huge country. For this last election there were 27,366,297 registered electors. Our personal share, as an elector, of that $610 million is $22 dollars each. With two years between this election and the last one, democracy in Canada cost you and me the whopping total of: 3 cents a day.

This leads to another paradox, this time a sad one. I have noticed that typically it is the same people bemoaning the election cost that post jingoistic memes online such as “freedom isn’t free” or “they paid the price for our freedom.” While I can appreciate the sentiments, especially around November 11th, it is a paradox because they venerate those that paid the ultimate price for democratic ideals while simultaneously decrying paying their price of democracy which they seemingly find too rich for their blood.

“Fine, but I am still mad and unsatisfied – who can I be mad at?”

Find one or two of the 11,231,758 registered electors who didn’t vote and ask them:

  • What was more important that day?
  • Why they didn’t take part and make actual change?

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