In recent years, much ado has been given to the concept of proportional representation (PR) as it relates to governments and political parties, more specifically here in Canada at the federal and provincial levels. Canada currently has a “first-past-the-post” electoral system in which the candidate with the greatest number of votes in a geographical riding is elected. The purported problem with this type of system is that there can be a discrepancy between the popular vote and the number of party members elected. On the other hand, PR is a means to remedy this issue and better align popular vote with the number of party members elected (e.g. if 30% popular vote cast for a party, 30% of elected members will come from that party). This inherently assumes political parties are a good thing.
One of my own personal contentions with the current political system is party politics. In fact, party politics appear to dominate democratic systems worldwide. But have you ever asked yourself whether this is a good idea and why this is the status quo? While there are legitimate philosophical discussions about the necessity and form of government in any context, today I’m more focused on “band aid” solutions within our current system. Let’s treat this as an intellectual exercise, open for discussion. Admittedly, I’ll be working here with generalities and blanket statements, so please take them with a grain of salt.
Party politics have disgusted me for a long time and still do. I’ve had my partisanship views in the past, but currently I’m more apt to label myself a political “atheist”. I am not beholden to anyone and am cynical to many party claims made. Through much personal reflection over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that I prefer to support good ideas in politics, but will no longer simply vote for “the least of the evils”. Yes, I am a joy to talk to at parties!
When fledgling political parties are established, they are typically done so on the basis of principles. These principles can have varying appeal with the general public from popular and sensible policies to the radical or unthinkable. However, I’ve observed that as parties become more popular and gain that “whiff” of power (regardless if they achieve it or not), they tend to shed their ideals in favour of pragmatic policies in order to become elected. This phenomenon is best described through the concept of the Overton Window.
Once in power, a political party doesn’t really get any better. As opposed to ideally voting in line with the majority of your constituents (i.e. those who elected you to represent them), as part of a party caucus, you’re typically expected to “toe the line” and vote with party policy as part of their collective. Despite the notion that we vote for individuals to represent us in government, in reality, most people see their ballot as voting for the party that name is attached to. Therefore, any ideas the individual you voted for may have are inherently compromised to some degree.
And what if your representative decides to vote against the political party they belong to? Well, typically they might get booted from their party caucus. As a result, they either have to sit as an independent or join a different political party (i.e. “crossing the floor”). Not to mention that “floor crossing” can hold a special place of contempt for the constituents of a riding where an elected representative does this. While perfectly legal, i.e. the individual was voted in, many see this practice as a betrayal of the principles they voted for. They would rather this individual resign and re-run under the new political banner.
So, what should we do instead of political parties? I propose we get rid of these parties and never look back!
A Party-less System?
If we could convince the powers-that-be to abolish the political party system tomorrow, what would that look like? Simply put, it would be somewhat similar to regional, municipal, or city councils we currently have, but within the parliamentary framework.
Although voter turnout is lower across all levels of government in recent times, I find it interesting to observe people are generally more interested in federal and/or provincial politics over more local levels. I find this odd since local politics most directly affect individuals on a daily basis.
I concede that I’m not the most knowledgeable about parliamentary procedure. However, in my humble opinion, a party-less system would look like something similar to the following:
- Elections would be performed the same way; however, no party “banner” would be identified on the ballot.
- At the initial sitting of parliament, in addition to electing a house speaker, a prime minister would also be elected from among the sitting members with a 50% + 1 vote majority (using multiple ballots, as needed) for a defined term.
- The prime minister could then set a cabinet as per the status quo.
- A vote of non-confidence / impeachment could be held to remove the prime minister at any time given a 2/3 majority of parliament members, whereby they would need to re-fill the position.
Outside of the above guidelines, pretty much everything else within the parliamentary framework could be similar to the status quo. Admittedly, alliances would still form between individuals or groups of individuals; however, the hope here would be that these alliances would be issue-based and not tied to a more holistic political ideology.
The Public Psychology of Political Parties
So why might people have a problem with a “party-less” system? I would claim there would be three main reasons for this – we are lazy; we like to “put people in a box”; and, we love drama (even if some claim they do not).
Here’s a headline making declaration – we’re all lazy! Yes, I admit I can be lazy, too. We all lead busy lives and don’t have time to research an individual candidate’s viewpoints in our valuable spare time to see who we most agree with on important issues to us. It’s far easier to just know the gist of what two or three parties stand for and just pick your favourite. Easy, peasy – in and out.
I’ve been “put in a box” before, have you? Someone is typically “boxed” when they express a given viewpoint on any issue to another person. Mentally, that person then “boxes” the person expressing that option into a political ideology (e.g. communist, socialist, capitalist, conservative, libertarian, fascist, etc.) based on their own preconceptions of that political ideology. It is a quick way to determine friend or foe. These preconceptions allow people to mentally categorize an individual as “one of those” whereby they can move ahead with their preexisting confirmation bias. However, I’m willing to bet that most of us have spanned various political ideologies on a multitude of issues.
Lastly, people love the drama that politics brings. People want to look to a glorious leader to standup for the ideals they believe in – it is a cult of personality, it is the management of perception. Without political parties, and therefore leaders, what’s to get excited about? Did you see that debate where so-and-so shut that other guy down? Not anymore! Sure, there would be debates at the riding level, but where’s the grand drama that we can rally around as a province or nation?
I would rather vote for an individual with good ideas than a party with imposed ideals. I’ve volunteered for candidates in the past and generally speaking most are good individuals. During one volunteer stint of mine, one candidate even conceded quietly to me that he disagreed with a certain major party issue, but had to maintain the party line. Thus, the political party system is inherently top-down in nature – more focused on the collective of the party, not the ideas of the individual. Parties are responsible for drawing partisan lines instead of negotiating issues on a case-by-case basis with other individuals representing themselves or their direct constituents.
While the above “party-less” modification to the system is just one option for change, the fundamental question to ask is why would the establishment in power want to change? What is the incentive to do so? In the meantime, those of us beholden to the status quo are left to ponder the causality of the true change we want to see in the world.
Are my ideas presented above here a good ideal to strive to? Well, err… no! Truthfully, I think there are deeper, systemic issues at play here that require more philosophical discussion and personal empowerment. This is an ongoing debate that has been going on since ancient times or earlier with such giants as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. But, perhaps that is a topic for another day.
What is your option of the electoral system? Do you prefer the status quo (i.e. “first past the post”), proportional representation, or the abolishment of political parties? How do you feel about voting for the “lesser of evils” when no viable candidate is available? Have you ever rejected a ballot, spoiled a ballot, or abstained from voting? Why? Please share your thoughts below.