The first-past-the-post-system, which Canada uses in its federal elections, has been referred to as an “elected dictatorship.” This term reflects a system that operates off of the premise that the election winner more or less gets to do whatever they want to push forward their agenda. But what happens when someone isn’t really elected, and still gets to help form this elected dictatorship?
The Supreme Court is looking into this very question right now, as it reviews a case of potential election fraud in Ontario. This fraud is alleged to have taken place in the Toronto riding of Etobicoke Centre, now held by Conservative MP, Ted Opitz, after he won the previous election by a total of 26 votes. The controversy centers on 79 voters that were found to have cast a vote without providing evidence that they were permitted to do so. An Ontario court has already deemed that these charges are sufficient to throw out the election results.
Regardless of one’s preferred party, it is easy to see that if the ruling overturns the results of the riding’s election, it will provide an easy target for opposition parties to attack. It is not only ethical that the Conservative Party does something to ensure that nothing like this happens again, but also in their strategic interest. It is for this reason that we can hope that the Conservatives, a party not exactly known for progressive stances on social or ethical issues, will actually act in this case. The party must send the message that change is happening, and although the best thing would be to provide additional legislation to prevent problems like this from occurring in the first place, even declaring that they won’t allow Mr. Opitz to run as their candidate would be a good start.
However, though only strategic reasons may convince the government to properly address this issue, others bear mentioning as well. Foremost amongst these are the implications that the upcoming Supreme Court ruling for our electoral system. If we do not root out these problems, we will be dealing with a much longer and far more enduring problem than 79 votes and a seat that is not needed to maintain a majority. This is as much about the political culture in our country as it is about Etobicoke Centre, if not more so, and the actions taken, both by the government and the Supreme Court, must reflect this. If they don’t, they will be creating a culture that could potentially remove voters from the elections process.
If the government is confident that their candidate actually won the riding, then they shouldn’t be afraid of a by-election. Yes, money is tight for both Canadians and the government right now, but elections are and always will be a good use of our money. Maybe democracy has a cost, but it is a cost still worth paying. If this government wants to get tough on crime, they need only look as far as the election to prove it.