Reconciling Canada the land and Canada the people
Open Letter to Seven Grand River Country Members of Parliament
I wrote this shortly after the September 20 federal election and sent it by email. Even though it appears as if the election didn’t change anything, I had a momentary glimmer of hope that the results showed the time is ripe for breaking some of those tiresome patterns in how partisan politics function in our democracy. We can change how our democracy actually functions too, but let’s begin with a change in habits and attitudes. I urged the these freshly elected or re-elected representatives to start ”working together, across party lines, to address the fundamental issues of our time, starting with reconciling Canada as a land and Canada as a people living on that land" and make the relationship between human beings and our Earthly home their primary concern for the next 4-5 years. I think we, the people of Canada, should make the same resolve. We elected them to lead, but also to represent. So it is also up to us to lead the way from time to time, and for them to follow.
To: Valerie Bradford (Kitchener South—Hespeler), Bardish Chagger (Waterloo); Michael Chong (Wellington—Halton Hills); Lloyd Longfield (Guelph); Tim Louis (Kitchener-Conestoga); Bryan May (Cambridge), and Mike Morrice (Kitchener); House of Commons, Ottawa K1A 0A6.
October 4, 2021
This is an open letter to the seven people who were chosen to represent the communities of the central Grand River watershed in the House of Commons on September 20: Five Red, one Blue, and, from the electoral district where I cast my ballot, one exceptional Green.
Congratulations and best wishes to each of you. As the 44th Parliament begins to assemble, I’m writing in the hope that this will be a new beginning for Canada as a democracy.
At first glance, it looks as though the election changed very little, nationally and here in our neck of the woods, where we ended up with the Green replacing a Red, a slightly better gender balance, but a less diverse representation.
In the 2015 election campaign, Justin Trudeau promised this would be the last election conducted in the archaic first-past-the-post manner. Canadians ended up giving his party a majority, which came as a surprise to most of us. The 2019 and 2021 elections indicate that 2015 was an aberration. Unless there are significant shifts in the way our political parties operate, 2015 may prove to be the last majority government in Ottawa for the foreseeable future.
If the election helps us realize where things stand, and finally begin coming to terms with the situation, it will not have been an exercise in futility. It means, for one thing, that you would be wise to resolve to stay where you are for the full 4-5 year term this time, and concentrate on getting critical things done. No shilly-shallying. No more jockeying for position. No obstruction.
That means working together, across party lines, to address the fundamental issues of our time, starting with reconciling Canada as a land and Canada as a people living on that land. I’m urging you all to make the relationship between human beings and our Earthly home your primary concern for the next 4-5 years.
I’m saying this in the hope that a planetary focus can also serve as a catalyst for a convergence of causes rooted in the way human beings relate to one another, especially the historical injustices that remain deeply woven into the very fabric of North American culture and society.
Getting things done also means making adjustments to how our democracy works. I encourage you to begin taking steps to free our cities from being mere “creatures of the provinces”. At the 154 year mark, it is high time for an urban decolonization. That means going from a hierarchical to a lateral relationship between the various dimensions, not levels, of democracy in Canada.
Liberal members of the House of Commons owe this to the cities, as urban Canada is where most of their support comes from. For Conservatives, the only hope for becoming a viable alternative again is to demonstrate to the 80% of us who live in cities that the deal that was brokered in 2003 did not mean permanently purging the progressive from Canada’s conservative legacy.
Equally urgent is doing something to break the pattern of tyranny of less than a majority. For 100 years now, Canada’s political culture has not followed the standard two-party configuration our system is designed for. The possibility of forming a government, even a majority government, with as little as 30-40% of the vote, which usually means as little as 20-30% of Canadians who are eligible to vote, is simply unacceptable. Besides making adjustments to the reality of multiple parties and divergent regional and national political cultures, we need a full consideration of what Canadian democracy means, what a consituency means, and what confederation means.
One thing is certain: electoral reform should not be decided from within the political system, with the various partisan interests and blinders getting in the way, and certainly not through a “yes or no” referendum. It is a matter of justice, of fairness and of practicality. Improvements should be formulated the same way electoral districts are set, by a kind of judicial body.
Independent election boundaries commissions in each province are tasked with balancing representation from geographic and cultural constituencies with the principle of representation by population. This was a brilliant addition to Canadian democracy that should be better known, and celebrated. Our boundary commissions are what have saved us from the gerrymandering that plagues democracy in the U.S., where electoral arrangements are a partisan political concern.
The way forward is for you, in Parliament, in consultation with your constituents, to set the criteria, encourage deliberation, invite proposals, and let a commissioned body decide what adjustments are called for at this time, and then duly present them to the legislature to pass into law and to implement.
Marinus de Groot