PM Denying Dissent On Women's Issues Just Another Byproduct Of Arbitrary Canadian System
This week saw a walkout by Liberal members of the Committee on the Status of Women over the nomination of a Conservative pro-life chairwoman. With their prime minister having forbidden pro-life elements from his caucus, discussion of the new chair was more than unwanted. It was unthinkable for Liberals.
Justin Trudeau expressed bafflement that there might be any other perspective than his own. “We will always defend women's rights,” said the prime minister, “and quite frankly, one would hope that the committee for the status of women would have a spokesperson to stand up and unequivocally defend women's rights. That is sort of the point of the status of women committee.”
No, the committee is to reflect all Canadian women, not just those hammered into radio silence by Trudeau on abortion or climate change.
If Trudeau could stop gazing in the mirror, he’d know that, while abortion enjoys a large support in the nation, majorities up to 72 percent of Canadians favour restriction on third trimester and other facets of the current unlimited abortion law. Odd that a man who preaches diversity so fervently would not know the range of feeling in the people he leads. (Not that his media lapdogs pointed out the contradiction.)
But the swagger of the bully is consistent with the absolutist powers one accumulates under the Canadian political system. Stephen Harper had his obtuse moments, too. It’s a far cry from the U.S. two-party, electoral-college system, where power is shared between executive and Congress.
Just look at the 2016 election. If you ask a Donald Trump supporter, he captured the presidency by winning the electoral college, the curious body devised by the nation’s founders. If you’re a Hillary Clinton supporter, she won the popular vote by a clear majority of voters and thus should be the president today.
The Clinton argument is disingenuous, of course. Neither she nor her backers had an issue with the rules before the election— only after. She lost because Trump claimed a third of the predominately white ridings ridings that had previously voted for a black Democratic president, Barack Obama. And Obama’s black supporters did not turn out for Clinton in many urban centres of the north.
But she has a point about the electoral college’s arbitrary nature. The weighting of the 50 states does mitigate against landslide wins in larger states or regions. It was part of the U.S. founders’ design to prevent larger states in the union from dominating the smaller states.
Clinton could win big in California or New York state— two of the largest electoral college prizes— but it would only deliver her the same votes as if she’d won a squeaker there. So her preoccupation with those states at the expense of Wisconsin, Michigan or Ohio was a very poor strategy— one that ultimately cost her the White House.
She had 240 years of precedent to consult. Coalitions are necessary to win. Seeing the discrepancies between popular vote and electoral-college vote, should the electoral college remain the mechanism for electing presidents? You can make an argument it might be re-visited, although the bar for changing constitutional amendments is very high.
But what would an America that went on strictly popular vote look like? Probably a lot like Canada. A country with more diversity in parties but a far greater concentration of power in the executive.
In the Canadian electoral framework, the largest elements of Canada can and do subordinate the smaller ones. Yes, the popular vote is spread amongst the 338 ridings. But all paths to power lead through Ontario, Quebec and B.C. Win them and you’re elected. The other provinces are easily ignored.
The founders of Canada had hoped that the Senate might counter-balance this, but it hasn’t worked out that way. The concentration of power in the prime minister’s office the past two generations speaks to the impotence of the Senate and of large segments of the parliament as well.
U.S. confirmation hearings have virtually no equivalent in Canada, where the PMO dictates from judges to ambassadors to cabinet posts to crown corporation heads. The majority of MPs are simply rubber-stamping the PMO's will, not changing unpopular legislation.
With the concentration of power in the urban orbits of the nation, there has likewise been a tendency to equate their values to the rest of the nation. As Alberta constantly shouts, its values and culture are not those of people living in downtown Toronto or Montreal. But you don’t need Alberta or Nova Scotia to form a majority.
In America you can build a path to the White House through any number of medium and smaller states. Entrenched Canadian bubble inhabitants like Trudeau often seek to reinforce their viewpoints by using intimidation— as they do with abortion— rather than engaging in nation building.
While imperfect, the U.S. system (particularly in the Senate) forces politicians to create coalitions that better reflect the society. Just ask the GOP which tried to ram health care reform through on a simple party basis. While dramatic shifts in policy are possible (see: Obama/ Trump), they’re often moderated later by these coalitions that enter reflect the moderate society at large.
In Canada, ideologues like Trudeau have little desire to compromise— nor have many mechanisms to force them. The media, too, lapses into the mistake that Ottawa reality equals the entire country. Outside the National and Financial Posts, there is no FOX TV equivalent here, no conservative outlets to counter the CBC’s progressive think-tank.
It’s why we have a progressive hotbed— and a prime minister so comfortably insulated from reality that he can be mystified by women who disagree with him on reproductive rights.
Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy.is the host of the podcast The Full Count with Bruce Dowbiggin on anticanetwork.com. He’s also a regular contributor three-times-a-week to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster, he is also the best-selling author of seven books. His website is Not The Public Broadcaster (http://www.notthepublicbroadcaster.com)