Matt Risser’s May 6 op-ed is provocative. He contends the major parties in the provincial election are the same. He argues nothing really changes because Nova Scotia isn’t a proper democracy, that the permanent administrative state prevents progress, regardless of the party in power. As such, regardless of what happens on May 30, everything is the same.
These appear as three arguments for why nobody cares about elections. In actuality, his irritation centres on how we elect representatives. He says what Nova Scotia has isn’t a democracy. He is wrong. His definition of democracy is the problem: “equal representation for all voters and rule by those representing the majority.” He is mistaken about the first part of this definition and improperly defining democracy in the second.
All Nova Scotians have equal representation. Every person has an MLA. Every person gets one vote for his/her representative. The Constitution has been interpreted so broadly by courts to prevent even reasonable exclusions from voting rolls, such as prisoners.
What Risser means by representation is better called “winning.” For him, unless my vote translates into direct power in the legislature, I am unrepresented. If I vote for party X and party Y wins in my riding, I have no representation.
This is nonsense. Just because my MLA is not the person for whom I voted does not mean I am not truly represented. Representation means having a duly elected person from your riding which you have a vote on. Nova Scotians have this.
The second part of Risser’s definition, “rule by those representing the majority” begs the question. He tells us what democracy must contain. Because Nova Scotia doesn’t meet this definition, it must be undemocratic.
Nova Scotia is a liberal democracy. We balance the will of the majority with institutions to prevent mob rule. Liberal democracies require political participation, political freedom, equal rights for citizens and majority rule. No serious person claims Nova Scotia lacks the first three. Majority rule is our dilemma. Risser believes unless majority governments possess a majority of public support, including non-voters, it is minority rule.
I disagree. In truth, the election on May 30 is 51 races in 51 ridings. Each riding will be represented by whoever gets the most votes. A majority government is formed then when a majority of the people’s representatives agree to take the government’s whip.
I fear Risser’s approach to “majority rule” is too close to mob rule. In ancient Greece, Aristotle taught his students to reject democracy. He saw it as a perverse regime where the many rule in their private interests. He proposed a mixed regime where elite institutions mediate the will of the people.
To get enough MLAs to form government, a party needs to have buy-in from all regions of the province. This means the public good trumps the narrow interests of the major population centres.
Nova Scotia’s liberal democracy is that mixed system. It is democratic in terms of suffrage and free elections. It is elite by privileging smaller regions and containing a permanent bureaucracy that Risser also inveighs against. Regionalism and the administrative state are intermediaries that help to ensure policies get crafted with the public good in mind.
Risser’s op-ed is clever. Yet, careful examination shows its premises are faulty. Nova Scotia is liberal-democratic. Your vote does not have the power to change everything. It empowers you to choose your representatives in a way that considers the public good.