Electoral reform and the God-given office of citizenship

Prime Minister Trudeau promises openness, consultation, consensus. Christians cheer! Engaging citizens more fully in governing is not just nice, it is profoundly Christian.

It goes back to Genesis when God gave his children marching orders, a commission or in the language of yesteryear, an office – keepers of the garden. Stewardship confirms that we are image-bearers of God (Gen.1:26-28). Humans develop and maintain the creation, as co-workers with God, as Divine image-bearers. In Genesis God is very democratic, rich/poor, male/female, high/low, all are given an office, all are Divine image-bearers.

As history unfolds our jobs grow more interesting; the assignments more challenging. Marriages used to be arranged by others, now the partners choose. In the workplace the trend is from serfs, to workers, to partners, to self-employment. In the state, when voters help shape public policies, subjects flower into citizens. That is historical progress. The unfolding of God’s creation entails dispersed authority. For Prime Minister Trudeau to enlist citizens in shaping public policy is to enlarge their calling, to treat them as grownups, to burnish the image of God in them. Hence, Christians cheer the promise of more democratic governance.

The problem with Parliament
No Trudeau promise is of greater significance than this one: Election 2015 is the last under first-past-the-post. First-past-the-post (FPTP) belongs to a former time. Under the push of history, most democracies have evolved to a proportional voting system. FPTP’s central feature is local ridings; one seat per riding. Its virtue, we are told, is that every Canadian is assured a seat in the House of Commons, someone who represents you, knows your needs, speaks for you, gives you voice. Really! What voice? Voters know politicians do not speak for them.

If MPs represent voters in geographic neighbourhoods and regions, why do neighbouring MPs not sit beside each other? Why not be neighbourly and regional in parliament? MPs are seated by party. Party representation dominates parliament, not geographic representation. Your MP is beholden to the party more than to you. Canadians know it. Their vote for a local candidate is really a vote for party and leader. In my case, I was elected because of former BC premier, Bill VanderZalm, and five years later I lost because of Bill VanderZalm. If votes are meant for a party, why not vote for a party?

Mostly, MPs do not speak for their voters, but pity the rookie MP who tries to. How would she know what position to take? Are the citizens of her constituency of one mind, politically? If not, she can represent some, or none, but not all. Effective representation is impossible under FPTP. One seat per constituency cannot represent fairly Canada’s political diversity. Those who share political interests cannot pool their votes unless they share a postal code. In each constituency, only the largest group, most often a minority, captures a seat and is represented in Ottawa. FPTP fragments the Christian political community as it does those who vote Green and others. Parliament does not reflect the political diversity of Canadians. Minority views, except the largest, are denied representation. The citizenship of those not represented in Ottawa is diminished. In biblical language their office of Divine image-bearer has shrunk.

Will PM Trudeau deliver? Will his caucus abandon the rules that gave them a 50-seat bonus? Will turkeys vote for an early Thanksgiving? They will probably replace FPTP with the Preferential Ballot. It keeps the promise without sacrifice to the Liberal party, because it changes nothing of substance. The Preferential Ballot is still one-seat per constituency. Representation is still by postal code not by voters’ political convictions. Party discipline remains severe and loyalty to voters weak. In short, change, but no real change. The Preferential Ballot is no more proportional than FPTP. The largest party still receives a hefty seat-bonus and smaller parties get short-changed. The concentration of power remains unchecked.

Trudeau’s promise of greatest significance may not materialize but however he involves citizens more robustly, Christians cheer. Not because we have a right to be consulted. The Bible is not big on rights. But because citizens are Divine image-bearers and citizenship is a God-given office.

  • Nick is an occasional contributor, a former Member of the Legislative Assembly and long-time CC supporter. He lives in Richmond, B.C.

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