A Province to Call Home?

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First past the post vs. proportional representation: B.C.’s referendum explained (CBC)
Jared Golden declared winner of first ranked-choice congressional election, but challenge looms (Portland Press Herald)
Brian Kemp’s Win In Georgia Is Tainted by Voter Suppression (Mother Jones)

The combination of my growing interest in politics of all stripes in the early 1990’s, and me living close enough to the Canadian border that I was regularly watching CBC to satiate my hockey fix, meant that I quickly got hooked on CBC’s Friday night political comedy shows back then, Royal Canadian Air Farce and This Hour Has 22 Minutes, especially since my whole family was already tuning to CBC on Fridays to catch first-run episodes of The Red Green Show. Even before I got Internet access, and with it the ability to research Canadian politics, those shows always managed to get a lot of laughs out of me, even when I didn’t really understand what many of the jokes were about. I attribute that to the strength of the writing on both shows, although I’ve always had a tendency to laugh along at obscure humour that I don’t fully comprehend (I’m weird like that), so that may have played a part as well.

One of the biggest issues that was facing Canada when I first started watching Royal Canadian Air Farce and This Hour Has 22 Minutes was the possibility of Quebec separating from the rest of Canada and becoming its own country. I’d already known of the tensions between anglophone and francophone Canada — again, the whole hockey thing kind of helped there — and even as extreme as the separationist rhetoric was by Canadian standards, it was still stereotypically Canada-polite compared to what I was hearing stateside in the first years of the Clinton era of American politics. Still, the thought that part of a country may vote to separate and become its own independent country, especially in a place that wasn’t all that far from where I’d lived my whole life, was very jarring to me, and the fact that Quebec residents darn near voted to secede at that point was one of those things that just captivated my attention out of nowhere, and has stuck with me ever since.

Those Canadian political comedy shows I was watching had a field day with the notion of Quebec separating from the rest of Canada, of course; I can still remember all the jokes about how Newfoundland would soon have its own separationist movement. More recently, talk about states like Texas and California seceding from America has sprouted up, and the whole process of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union has been one fustercluck after another for years now (and it’s only getting worse). With the current political climate around the world becoming more and more harrowing , I actually find myself hoping and wishing that British Columbia will start to consider the possibility of its own peaceful separation from Canada, before it becomes too late for them to do that.

Coming off the midterm elections here in America, it’s impossible to avoid all the evidence of this country’s continuing descent into madness. Even though Democrats managed to win back control of one house of Congress, the fact that their massive vote totals resulted in comparatively little change should be nothing short of galling. Here in Wisconsin, Democrats won 54% of the popular vote for state assembly seats, but Republicans will control 63% of the seats after everyone is sworn in. Many so-called purple states experienced similar situations, with Republicans gaining far more representation in state and federal office than raw vote totals would suggest, and because conservatives have been so successful in normalizing things like gerrymandering , and so many media sources failed in their duty to shine a light on these recent right-wing rampages on basic democratic principles, most Americans see this as just business as usual when it comes to our politics.

The sheer scale of fuckery that happened in Georgia this election cycle still defies belief. Ten years ago, the thought that candidates for political office would refuse to recuse themselves from overseeing the elections that they themselves are running in — regardless of their political party — would have been anathema to most Americans’ notions of how our elections should be contested. Now, hardly anyone blinks an eye when not only do the recusals fail to come, but the candidates wield their political power like a battleaxe, cutting voters living in districts likely to vote for their opponents from the voter rolls at will, and just like the post-2010 wave of right-wing gerrymandering, there is a growing danger that these tactics will now become a new baseline, and Republican candidates in future elections will be free to not only copy these same assaults on our democracy, but do even more to ensure that they gain power despite only having support from a minority of the people they want to serve (them).

This is why, on one level, the fact that British Columbia is on the verge of completely reforming its provincial political structure, to ensure that governmental representation more closely represents the will of its residents, is so heartening. Americans may be mostly unwilling to entertain the possibility that humans have developed better election and governmental systems since the end of the 18th century — as welcome as the results of ranked choice voting in Maine have been, the fact that Democrats are still staying far away from pushing it across the nation betrays the fact that they’re still more interested in their donors’ money than actually helping the people they purport to represent — but at least in one part of Canada, things might be about to get better.

(While I’m discussing that congressional election in Maine, the lawsuit being filed by the losing Republican candidate is a chilling reminder of how right-wingers have been loading judicial benches across the country with ideologues these last couple of years, meaning that no matter what legislative victories left-of-centre Americans might be able to win in the next couple of generations, they could very quickly be overturned by the courts. These judicial appointments are the legislative equivalent of a mine field planted by the most extreme elements of conservative America, that threatens to blow up any future efforts to undo the damage of these last couple of years, and keep in mind that we’re about to get two more years of these mines being planted since Republicans will still be in control of the Senate during that time.)

It would be one thing if British Columbia were pursuing electoral reform in a vacuum, but the broader political landscape in Canada is quickly becoming almost as chilling as America’s. In the past few months, far-right  Trump-esque Conservatives have managed to become premiers of both Quebec and Ontario, both times taking advantage of first-past-the-post  provincial election systems to win a majority of provincial parliamentary seats despite only getting a plurality of votes, and more people voting for parties far to their left in each province. Both new premiers have also followed the Trump model of taking a metaphorical sledgehammer to the territory they govern, breaking with traditional political practices to shove far-right agendas down everyone’s throats and even cheering the rollback of environmental protections with the same kind of giddy, naked sadism so endemic among American conservatives these days. That stereotype of every Canadian being super-polite is far from reality now, and it may be about to get even worse.

Despite these horror stories, Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, refuses to budge on the issue of national electoral reform in Canada. This would be bad enough on its own, but the fact that Trudeau specifically campaigned on the promise that the 2015 federal election would be the last contested under first-past-the-post if he became Prime Minister, and then he reneged on that promise, is absolutely gut-wrenching. That Trudeau isn’t spending all his political capital to prevent what just happened in Ontario and Quebec being replicated nationwide boggles the mind, especially when the last Conservative government in Canada got a majority of seats, and with it total power over the country, despite getting less than 40% of the popular vote. Perhaps the fact that Trudeau became Prime Minister under nearly-identical circumstances betrays that maybe he’s not that interested in a truly representative political system in Canada, as long as he can game the current system to let the Liberal Party enjoy nearly absolute power in Ottawa despite not gaining majority support in the last election. The fact that what just happened in Ontario and Quebec — and America — doesn’t appear to be changing his mind makes me sick to my stomach.

When these far-right ideologues seize power, too many of us who are minorities suffer not just directly from the increasingly totalitarian regimes, but also from the sociopolitical climate they create, as can be seen here in America by the continuing rise in hate crimes while the Trump Administration has been in power. I don’t think anyone in America or Canada is under the illusion that Vancouver is some kind of paradise (especially given its insane housing market right now), but many of us are desperate to move to British Columbia just to be as safe as possible in a part of the world that is growing increasingly hostile, if not literally deadly, for people like us. As much as I love my new job here in Wisconsin, I can’t deny that I would probably leap at the opportunity to move to British Columbia if it ever arose.

Passing the proportional representation referendum currently being voted on in British Columbia might just be the first hurdle, though. Given the attacks on democracy that have become endemic in America these last few years, and how they’re seemingly being emulated at the provincial level in large parts of Canada right now, that referendum may be a waste of time if a new federal government steps in and forces British Columbia to go back to an outdated election system that gives its own country’s right-wingers an unfair advantage. As disconcerting as the thought of Quebec separating from the rest of Canada was to me back in the day, when I think of the possibility of British Columbia preemptively separating from Canada before a Conservative federal government can run roughshod over it, that’s actually kind of comforting to me. I doubt it’ll ever happen, but for my part, I’d probably be better off if I stopped running these what-ifs in my head, and started doing more to become a resident of British Columbia myself, before it’s too late for me to secure my own relative safety in this terrifying new world.

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