Democratic Reform

Sound public policies enhance both human well-being and that of the animals and plants with whom we share not only our country but also the planet.

Public policies are usually a matter of compromise, as there are always competing interests and values. Sound and fair public policies in democracies require the following:

  1. elected officials taking into account the interests of all citizens, not just the politically or electorally influential or significant few,
  2. evidence-based policy,
  3. policies informed by expert and stakeholder advice and insights,
  4. policies that adopt or build on, whenever advisable, ‘best practices,and
  5. affording standing similar to that enjoyed by citizens to the environment, i.e. animals and plants.

Usually, in Canada, public policy is driven by short-term political expedience and political party self-interest. “Selling” public policies dependent on such perverse incentives areoften based on fear-mongering, divisiveness, defamation, misinformation, and falsehoods. These ‘evils’ often make for “good” politics and fundraising, but poor public policy. Such governance is demonstrably incapable of addressing the pressing issues confronting us.

The Electoral System

APPC proposes that the current electoral system, “First Past the Post” (FPtP), be replaced by one that ensures both effective representation at the electoral district level and proportionality, i.e. representation in the House of Commons that accurately reflects the electoral choices of voters. FPtP fails both these criteria. For Canada, two proportional representation systems satisfy them: Single Transferable Vote (STV) and Mixed Member Proportional (MMP).  A century of dozens of independent inquiries into Canada’s electoral system has recommended both systems.  APPC prefers STV.

Click here for more on reforming Canada’s electoral system.

Special Members of Parliament to Represent the Environment

The APPC would also take measures to ensure that enough seats in the House of Commons—sufficient to qualify for official party status—would be set aside for advocates for the environment. Animals and plants cannot vote but are directly affected by public policy to Canadians’ detriment or benefit and so need standing in the House of Commons and genuine influence over legislative decisions.

The Senate of Canada

The Senate can serve a useful function if Senators are chosen by an open, transparent, apolitical, wholly democratic process by citizens in each of the provinces. APPC proposes that a province’s Senators be selected by a Citizens Assembly. The assembly itself would be comprised of citizens randomly chosen, i.e. by lot, similar to the way juries are selected. The Citizens Assembly would consider potential Senators nominated by citizens at large or who applied for the position. The Citizens Assembly would recommend several candidates for the Governor General’s consideration upon the advice of the Prime Minister.

Alternatively, the Senate of Canada could be transformed into Citizens Assembly itself, whereby Senators are chosen by lot, as was done to determine the participants of the citizens assemblies that have studied and made recommendations on electoral reform in some provinces.

The APPC would support the abolishment of the Senate to be replaced by an elected Senate if the elections used a ranked ballot system and parties did not participate. Political parties have no place in the Senate of Canada, just as they have no place on the Supreme Court of Canada.

Political Party Financing

How political parties and candidates raise funds affects policy. When parties are funded by large donations from individuals, corporations, or organizations these entities can have (and expect to have) undue influence on politicians’ policy choices. Conversely, parties can use policy promises or threats to ‘shake down’ major donors. The recognition of these problems has resulted in many legislatures limiting donations to individuals and limiting the amounts they can contribute. This, however, is not without issues. The most extreme partisans are those who tend to contribute to parties. They create financial incentives for parties to adopt or skew policy to appeal to these extreme partisans, sometimes resulting in extremist and distorted policies that disadvantage or harm others.

The APPC proposes barring political parties from direct fundraising, and that parties be financed by an income tax check off. Ten dollars from everyone’s payable taxes would be allocated to the registered political parties of their choice. Those with no payable tax would qualify for a ten-dollar credit which they could allocate. If a voter chose not to allocate the ten dollars, it would be shared equally by all registered parties. The current public funding benefits enjoyed by political parties would be eliminated: the tax credit for donations and the partial reimbursement of campaign expenses. Independent candidates would raise money as usual with appropriate limits.

This approach to political financing would:

  • eliminate most of the incentives in the current fundraising regime that invite distorting public policy to improve fundraising,
  • provide more net funds to political parties, and
  • cost taxpayers less money than the current system.

Paid and Free Broadcast Time

During elections television networks are required to make free and paid airtime available for the transmission of political announcements and other programming produced by or on behalf of registered parties.  The majority of free airtime is allocated to parties that hold seats, while smaller parties receive very little airtime.  For example, APPC typically receives approximately 10 minutes for free.

APPC argues that registered political parties regardless of size and representation in the House of Commons are equally subject to all the provisions, requirements, and penalties in the Canada Elections Act. As such they should equally enjoy all the benefits in the full spirit and the letter of the Equality Rights.

In Figueroa v. Canada the Supreme Court affirmed and emphasized that it is in the public interest that parties not represented in the House of Commons “are an integral component of a vital and dynamic democracy” and, by implication, the public should hear—and have a right to hear—the views of citizens whom political parties represent.

APPC also holds the position that if a registered political party opposes the equal distribution of paid and free broadcast time, as some of the parties with representation in the House of Commons have done, it should provide the Broadcasting Arbitrator with written reasons why an unequal distribution of paid and free broadcast time that favours them is both fair to other registered parties and is in the public interest. Submissions of such reasons would be both fair and in the public interest.

Click here to read APPC’s November 2020 submission to the Broadcasting Arbitrator.

Keeping the Electorate Informed

Lastly, to be successful, democracy requires an informed electorate. Therefore, to facilitate democratic decision making and public participation, government officials would be encouraged to speak to the media, interest groups, and the public on matters of public policy and government-funded research.