Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Farce of Quebec Democracy

It's a bit sad to see the that the pernicious attack on democracy vis-a-vis the re-redistricting of electoral ridings in Quebec has gone sadly uncontested by our elected officials who it seems have gotten an 'independent' commission to do the dirty work that which they themselves would never dare to try.
The so-called independent agency (Commission de la représentation électorale (CRE)) that draws up the Quebec electoral map is supposed to act fairly and impartially in dividing up the ridings according to these rules and principles.
"Il importe d'assurer l'égalité relative du vote, c'est-à-dire que le poids du vote d'un électeur ne doit pas être disproportionné par rapport au poids du vote d'un autre électeur, à moins d'une situation exceptionnelle. Pour ce faire, il faut regrouper un nombre d'électeurs à peu près égal au sein de chaque circonscription du Québec." 

"It is important to ensure the relative equality of voting, that is, the weight of an elector's vote should not be disproportionate to the weight of another voter's vote, except in an exceptional situation. To do this, we must have a roughly equal number of voters within each riding of Quebec. (ed. note my translation from the French)
It's not that complicated if one remains fair and impartial, but it becomes problematic when the commission invokes political motives. There are so many voters and so many ridings, divide one from the other and you get a number that represents the number of electors that each riding should represent.
Number of voters in Quebec ......6,012,440
Ideal number of voters per riding....48,100

It's pretty cut and dried, but democracy in our fair province takes a decidedly undemocratic turn when 'Quebec Rules' are applied.
The CRE allow that the orderly division of ridings be modified in consideration of subjective criteria  allowing itself a margin whereby ridings can have 25% more or less voters than the average.

It means that ridings can vary by an astonishing 80%.
Lowest threshold ............................36,075
Highest threshold .......................... 60,075
Unfortunately, this disgraceful attack on democracy is practised in just about every electoral district in North America.
Even in the United States presidential election, some voters had more voting power than others, leading to Donald Trump's victory with less votes than Hillary.
How bad is this descrepency?
Well voters in Wyoming, Vermont, and North Dakota get to cast one electoral college vote  with 143,000 voters, while it takes some 500,000 New York voters to do the same, a margin of over three and a half to one.
Some democracy.....

In Ontario, it takes two and a half as many voters in Brampton to send a MPP to the Ontario legislature as it does in Timiskaming—Cochrane.
Some democracy....

But as usual Quebec takes the cake.
Not content to use the formula that allows the CEQ to modify ridings by the 25% plus or minus rules, the commision used its discretionary power in invoking  the 'special circumstances' rule to create two Montreal ridings with 62,000 voters compared to the 11,800 voters that elect a MNA in Iles des Madeleines, an obscene difference of almost six to one.
That's right it takes about six voters in D'Arcy McGee and Mont-Royal-Outremont to mimic the voting power of one Madelinot!

Imagine if votes were divided by race instead of geography and we told Anglos, Jews, Blacks and immigrants that it would take six of their votes to equal one Francophone vote.
Too much?  I think not. Fairness is fairness.

So what are these special circumstances that make it so compelling to bastardize the election ideal of one person/one vote?
The old chestnut trotted out is that outlying ridings are so geographically large that MPs are disadvantaged by travel and deserve smaller ridings despite population.

But this is not the case with the Magdalen Islands... far from it.
The Magdalen Islands are an isolated two island community in the  middle of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, accessible only by air or sea.
While this is true, if the riding was twinned with the closet geographical neighbour, Gaspe, the total electors would number about 42,000, still under the provincial average.
As for hardship, there are at least two flights a day between the two districts , flights that take less than hour. Once arrived in the Islands, travel is very simple as the population is very concentrated.

As for special economic circumstances that makes it compelling to  have an MP with such a sparse population, there is none.
Islanders are Canada's biggest layabouts, with the season of its biggest industry, lobster fishing, lasting just ten weeks a year, with fishers and employees in the processing living on employment insurance the rest of the year.
Islanders are renowned for their indolence and dependence on Canadians for permanent welfare. Here is what controversial radio host Andre Arthur had to say about them, much to the consternation of locals.
The Magdalen Islands is a place where residents spend the year on the BS (employment insurance,) or on either auto insurance benefits or on workman's accident insurance, where in the summer they exploit tourists in a shameful way. Every time I was in the Magdalen Islands, I felt like I was visiting an Indian reservation, that is, a place where all those who actually work, come from the outside. The people of the Islands are at home with both feet propped up in front of the stove, saying: "When will my check arrive?
 Here is an audio of the screed in French

By the way, that employment insurance is paid by Ottawa, so there is really no compelling business for a Quebec MNA other than to insure that the Ottawa welfare pipeline is maintained.

Democracy is fragile, its biggest enemy are those who chip away at its fundamental tenets quietly through bureaucracy and regulation.  It remains our civic duty to defend the principles of democracy, because if we leave it up to politicians and bureaucrats, we will find ourselves stripped of our rights......  and by the way, we are already half way there.


  1. Yeah this has always irked me and its always to the benefit of the rural areas who are often the most economically depressed and reliant on government in point the Iles de la Madeleine.
    A vote here should equal a vote anywhere else..that is true democracy. In Canada in many countries we have a bastardized democracy where some votes are worth more than others..where many votes mean nothing in the first past the post system.
    There however was an eloquent argument put out last year about the electoral college..that it was intentionally set up that way so that it wasnt always new england deciding everything all the time. But still hard to accept that some votes are worth more than others.

  2. I see our idiot premier is giving life to the seperatists by talking about re-opening the constitution. I mean he has nothing better to do than open up this can of worms. I think Couillard has zero political skills..he is complete disaster..the whole Liberal party is.
    I mean how is this going to help him..does he really think he is going to be seen as the champion of les Quebecois by opening this up..its more likely that les Quebecois will get pissed off and turn back towards the PQ.

    1. complicated writes:

      "I see our idiot premier is giving life to the separatists by talking about re-opening the constitution."

      I couldn't agree more.

      I have participated on this forum for several years (mostly prior to Philip's recent rebooting of this excellent site) and I have constantly opined that the separatist sentiment in Quebec is NOT, as Philip and others have insisted, dead. I have always maintained that the public opinion polls that Philip and others often cite -- that the 30% to 40% support for separation, recorded form time to time -- was not, as they claimed, evidence of the death of the separatist option but, rather, prime evidence that it was alive and well.

      Support for separatism in Quebec goes in waves; from a low of about 14% in the mid '80s when Pierre Trudeau left office to as much as 55% at the height of the Meech Lake debacle. We are at an historically LOW point for support for separation these days (and for the past 5-10 years): no perceived humiliations by the federal government against Quebec, no worries about demographics, etc. AND YET THE SUPPORT IS STILL AN INCREDIBLE 35% OR THEREABOUTS. This is an incredibly HIGH figure when you consider that the 35% (or whatever it may be at any given time a public opinion poll's results are published) is virtually 100% francophone sentiment. The story of Quebec's political bent on matters dealing with language, the constitution, or independence is the story of linguistic demographics: approximately 80% of the population is francophone and 20% non-francophone. The reality is that, as far as these matters go, the 20% non-francophone population is a voting bloc that is -- without exhaggeration -- 99% "NO" when it comes to independence referendums...and this is not MY opinion, but the objective conclusion of professional demographers, who study these things on the tail of each and every referendum that have taken place in Quebec over the past 37 years (we've had 2 of 'em, plus Charlottetown, which was not on separation). So, mathematically, a 35% registered preference in a public opinion poll for separation is actually a 44% support if just francophones are considered! THAT'S A DEFICIT OF ONLY 7% FROM GETTING A MAJORITY OF FRANCOPHONES SUPPORTING SEPARATION...AND THIS AT A TIME OF RELATIVE CONSTITUTIONAL CALM!

      The obvious conclusion: separation is not dead; it is VERY MUCH alive and ready to be tickled, prodded, and woken up. It will NOT take much to get that figure up to 60% of francophone support...and 60% is the percentage of francophones who voted "yes" in 1995. And I don't have to tell you how close we came to a constitutional disaster then.

      So, all that Couillard is going to do is rile up separatist sentiment...and there is only one way for support for separation to go, and that is UP (you know, just like interest rates which are at a historically all-time low). This is because the 35% or so of the population that supports separation is DIE-HARD; even if Jesus Christ came down and endorsed Canadian Unity and handed out a million bucks to each separatist to love Canada, that 35% WOULD NOT BUDGE.

      And it won't take much to rile up the latent "we are a nation" subconscious sentiment that lies in the hearts and minds of every desouche in the province.

      I, of course, am pleased as punch that Couillard is doing this as I am convinced that the ONLY WAY for anglos in Quebec to get back their rights and freedoms is in an independent Quebec (something else I've pontificated, at length, on this site, ad infinitum, so I won't go into it now).

      So, Mr. Couillard, I say: go for it. You are clueless as to the Pandora's Box you are opening but, hey, as Stalin used to say (I paraphrase): useful idiots can be useful.

  3. Philip invokes the example of the United States and the election of Donald Trump because Hillary got more votes than Trump did. Of course, this is NOT the system in the United States for electing the president; it is the electoral college.

    The better example for the U.S. would be direct voting of U.S. senators by the people. This wasn't always the case; originally, the Upper Chamber of the bicameral U.S. Congress, the Senate, was meant to represent the individual states, NOT the people. Prior to the 17th Amendment of 1912, each state appointed their two senators. The 17th amendment made the selection by popular vote.

    So, California -- with more than 39 million people -- gets two senators -- and Vermont -- with 626,000 people (less than 2% of California's population)-- also gets two senators. This is WAY MORE undemocratic than Philip's excellent examples from Quebec's electoral map.

    More importantly, the 17th amendment changed the very fabric of the U.S.'s federal government. The Senate was originally meant to be a buffer against an all-powerful federal government by a check and balance meant to ensure that the federal government didn't encroach upon states' rights. Now it is a huge behemoth boasting a $4 trillion+ annual budget that definitely encroaches upon all manner of states' rights.

    When a Senate candidate is running for election in a state he doesn't stand up on a platform of "states rights"; he isn't campaigning for "if you elect me, I will go to Washington and defend state sovereignty." NO, he campaigns just as does the candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives does: representing the interests of the people which, more often than not, is the "what goodies can you get me from Washington's Treasury."

    So the two chambers of the U.S. Congress both now represent the people which is a far departure from what was originally intended. And we can now see the consequences of that:a huge behemoth of the federal government which has its sticky fingers in all aspects of American life, with over 150 million Americans who are now recipients of some sort of entitlement program from the federal government.

    A movement now underway in the U.S. is the Article 5 Convention movement. Article 5 refers to a part of the U.S. Constitution's Amending Formula which has never been used in its entire history. It bypasses the Congress (and the president, who doesn't have a say in amendment under any of the amending options anyway) and enables the states, by themselves, to amend the constitution. 3/4ths, I think it is, of all states are needed to pass a resolution in their individual state legislatures demanding the holding of a convention. At such a convention, amendments can then be proposed, which, if adopted by the convention, then would go back to the individual states for discussion, debate, and ratification...with zero input by the federal congress. And if the 2/3rds or 3/4ths of the states (I forget at the moment what the formula is) ratify the covention-ratified amendment, it becomes an amendment to the constitution. I think the latest tally is 12 states has passed the resolutions. This is going to be the big thing to watch over the next few years in U.S. politics because it holds the promise of radically altering the nature of the U.S. government and politics as never before.

    Now, the repeal of the 17th amendment is not necessarily going to be one of the amendments proposed if and when such a convention take place, but I for one sure hope it is at the top of their agenda.

    1. Thank you for the excellent post. I hope readers read and take note...

    2. Good post, Tony! Philip, I think it's time to post a blog about Couillard's attempt to re-open the Canadian constitution.

      Mr. Sauga