If it is broke, fix it
Full text of my remarks made during the Ranked Ballots Roadshow at Innovation Works in London, Ontario on March 2, 2018.
There’s a mantra I often hear when I talk to people about electoral reform: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
At surface level, our electoral system in Canada doesn’t seem broken. It may not be perfect, and it may not always work in the ways we expect it to, but there are no obvious flaws that tell us it needs to completely overhauled. Upon first blush, the way we elect our leaders seems to work; it may not be ideal, but it definitely isn’t broken.
Looking past the surface, however, exposes a truth that many people refuse to see: the electoral system is not just broken, but it is actively working to perpetuate its own flaws.
We applauded after the last Federal election when we elected the “most diverse Parliament ever” but didn’t stop to question some glaring issues: women make up only 26% of the Canadian house of commons, indigenous politicians account for only 3% of the 338 seats, and Parliament only includes 47 visible minority members. This disparity is obvious in our provincial and municipal leadership as well.
Moreover, the decisions being made by our leadership affect—and as we’ve begun to notice more and more recently, negatively affect—the way systemically marginalized communities are perceived, are treated, get access to services, and have voice in our society. When a group of people is systemically marginalized, it’s evidently clear: the system we’ve built has an deliberate purpose to marginalize others.
The voices of systemically marginalized communities aren’t being represented when decisions are made that impact them the most. We have built a system—a social, economic, and electoral system—that shuns that representation.
When we say “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” we refuse to acknowledge that the system, as it was built, and as it is currently practiced, is actually broken. It is broken for those who do not have the privilege of being included and nurtured in that system. Being unable to see its brokenness is a function of our privilege; being willing to acknowledge and act upon that truth, to accept that we have a system that historically and currently adversely impacts those who do not look like those in power right now, is a way to use our privilege for the better.
We have an electoral system that is fundamentally flawed and intrinsically broken, especially when it comes to systemically marginalized communities. Electoral reform is crucial and necessary, not just because of issues of representation and inclusion that many others have spoken about today, but because it is a loud and strong statement that our current system excludes so many people in our communities, and that we refuse to let that happen anymore.
Moving to ranked ballots may increase turnout, may increase diversity, and may increase representation—those are benefits that many can speak to better than I can. More importantly, electoral reform writ large—especially as a precursor to broader social and economic reform—says something to systemically marginalized communities across the country: we know the system isn’t good for you right now, and we’re not going to turn a blind eye to that anymore.
I applaud London for taking a first step in acknowledging that things need to change, in one way or another. I applaud our leadership, and the community that rallied to make this happen, to proudly exclaim to people who too often have been left out: it is broke, and we’re going to fix it.
Now let’s get to fixing.