Electoral system reforms could lead to Trump-like candidates in Canada

One of the consequences of electoral reform could be the emergence of Trump-like candidates in Canadian politics


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NEW YORK Jan. 24, 2016/ Troy Media/ – In Canada, the exchange of political philosophies on social and economic ordering, as well as on foreign affairs, takes place almost exclusively within the ranks of those who already hold political office.

To be sure, respected spokespersons with a national profile are sought after by the media when a particular and well-defined issue is in play. The general rule, however, is that those whose opinion resonates on issues large and small are already stakeholders within their parties and the traditional political process.

Rarely, if ever, do Canadians see the kind of U.S.-style maverick who parlays name recognition into an attempt to secure a legitimate seat at the poker table of real power.

Under our present electoral system, the candidacy of a Donald Trump could probably never happen in Canada. Every presidential election season in the United States invariably brings with it a chorus of competing voices all braying for the attention and support of the voter.

We have already seen this in the run-up to the first New Hampshire primary scheduled for Feb. 9. In a contest that has been going on since even before the Canadian election was called and settled, voters have seen an outsider like Donald Trump take much of the spotlight onto himself.

Because the Republican and Democratic parties essentially hold open contests every four years to choose their presidential candidates, it allows for individuals without an established political base to attempt to find traction and support. Of course, without significant financial resources and a pre-existing public profile, no candidate would stand a chance.

Even without the eventual endorsement of either the Republican or Democratic party, a well-heeled and ambitious individual has the option of making a run for president as an independent. While the chances for success and actual occupancy of the Oval Office are slim, the consequences of this fact can be far-reaching.

Bill Clinton won the presidency in 1992 with less than 44 per cent of the popular vote. This anomaly was made possible due to the candidacy of Ross Perot. As an independent, Perot managed to siphon off enough support from incumbent President George H.W. Bush to propel the previously little known Arkansas governor into the White House.

Looking back, it is significant to note that Clinton’s presidency also provided a national stage for his wife as first lady. One could argue that those Perot ripples will still be reaching shore in November 2016 when the presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton could become the first female president of the United States.

Clearly, our differing systems of democracy result in a distinct process of choosing leaders. Canadian transitions of power within party ranks tend to be rather staid in comparison. Leadership conventions when they happen are often more coronations than competitions.

In Canada, we rarely get a true outsider throwing a hat into the ring. The closest to a Trump-like candidacy was the very brief and probably long-forgotten time in 1983 when then Edmonton Oilers owner Peter Pocklington sought the leadership of the Progressive Conservative party. The multi-millionaire garnered less than four per cent of the convention vote but it was a kind of American moment where a private citizen with a public profile decided he wanted to become a prime minister.

It will be interesting, however, if one of the unanticipated consequences of proposed electoral reform in Canada is the eventual emergence of individuals who, rather than seeking to join and mould a party, instead gather an as yet non-existent party unto themselves by using their stature, their message or even simply their celebrity.

Deciding whether one system is better or not is a fool’s errand as the answer necessarily depends on each individual’s preference when it comes to the manner in which political discourse is served. However, for pure entertainment value – and the fodder with which to feed the 24/7 news cycle – the U.S. approach has its charm.

Imagine Donald Trump in a toque and you get the idea.

Troy Media columnist Gavin MacFadyen is a Canadian writer and lawyer living in New York state. Gavin is also included in Troy Media’s Unlimited Access subscription plan.

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