Opinion » Pique'n Yer Interest

Doug Ford and the petty politics of revenge


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People voting against their own self interest is nothing new, but not a lot has been said about the politics of revenge.

There's really no other way to explain how so many Ontarians woke up last week, presumably placed their brains into jars of bubbling blue liquid, and cast ballots for the somehow less honourable brother of Toronto's former binge-drinking, crack-smoking, distracted-driving mayor Rob Ford.

In the end, Doug Ford wasn't elected for his ideas (which were terrible), his personality (also terrible) or his business acumen (his platform was judged to be the most economically damaging of the three candidates). He was elected because voters were mad at Liberal incumbent Kathleen Wynne for some of the unpopular, but probably necessary, decisions she made. And many didn't vote for NDP candidate Andrea Horwath because they were still angry at former NDP Premier Bob Rae for the things he did in office a full 23 years ago.

Smug British Columbians are probably telling themselves that a Doug Ford could never happen here, to which I would argue that it already has in a way. The Liberal Party ruled for over two decades in this province, skating over every controversy, because a lot of voters couldn't get over a bungled ship-building contract from the '90s.

Politics have become a kind of grudge match where you vote against people and things instead of for them. For example, nobody voted for Trump because he had an upbeat, hopeful message for America; they voted for him because they liked the way he bullied and cowed his opponents in the primary and accused Clinton of being a criminal. He was the revenge candidate, voted in by a resentful public that would rather throw a wrench into the machine of government than try to fix it.

The single-issue voter has become the single-slight voter. We demand everything of our elected officials and forgive nothing, ignoring the fact that politicians are regularly called on to make difficult decisions—and that the odds of you honestly agreeing with a politician and party every single time they vote are slim to none.

Don't get me wrong, there are misinformed and straight-up delusional fanatics out there who believe their candidate and party are always right (e.g. the Trump voters waiting patiently for Mexico to pay for the wall), but thankfully there are enough voters who switch allegiances enough to transfer power every now and then.

Human nature being what it is, I wasn't expecting people to give Wynne a pass for her handling of hydro or education or the budget. What voters needed was a way to punish Wynne without handing the election to Doug Ford at the same time—something that was complicated by NDP baggage and the rising popularity of the Green Party.

That's why B.C.'s latest effort at electoral reform is important. If we don't want to constantly veer from hard right to hard left like Rob Ford reading council minutes behind the wheel of a Cadillac, we need a political system that won't reward a party that got just 40 per cent of the votes with over 60 per cent of the seats—or punish a party that got almost 20 per cent of the votes (one in five) by giving them five per cent (one in 20) of the seats. People deserve a system that somewhat reflects the popular vote.

The BC NDP/Green Party approach to electoral reform is actually quite progressive if you ignore all the usual handwringing about whether it's too complicated for voters to understand (it's really not), all the fear mongering about opening the door for Nazis and Communists (won't happen), all the comparisons to Italy (Germany and Scandinavia are more accurate), and the tired trope that coalitions—parties working together like Weaver and Horgan—are somehow undemocratic.

The referendum format, announced just a few weeks ago, will be a two-parter. The first question is whether people want to keep the first-past-the-post system that handed Ontario to Doug Ford on a platter, or switch to a proportional representation system that would have given Ford's minions a minority mandate at the most. The second question is which of three methods voters would prefer—Dual Member Proportional, Mixed Member Proportional, and Rural-Urban PR.

All of these methods are explained in detail in the governments report (available at https://engage.gov.bc.ca) and will be explained in greater detail in the lead up to the fall referendum.

Please take some time to familiarize yourself with the issue and the pros and cons of the different systems. If we play this right, we will finally be able to punish politicians and parties without punishing ourselves in the process.