Two weeks prior to the 2011 federal election, the Foundation for Democratic Advancement (FDA) produced a non-partisan 226 page audit report on all federal registered political parties with a national platform barring the Bloc Québécois. The FDA electoral audit focused on a detailed background audit of the party leaders, audit of the visions and policies of the parties, and audit of the incumbency record of the Conservative Party. The nine-person audit team was diverse in terms of profession, gender, age and ethnicity.
The Conservative Party placed eighth out of twelve registered political parties, with an overall failing score of 43.8 percent (out of 100 percent). The FDA concluded that the Conservatives were worthy of insignificant representation (15 seats maximum) in the Canadian Parliament.
In the federal election, the Conservative Party received a large majority (167 seats) based on 39.6 percent support from those Canadians who voted, and only 24.3 percent support from Canadian voters overall, including Canadians who did not vote. (167 seats out of 308 seats equals 54.2 percent)
In 2011 as well the FDA conducted an electoral fairness audit of the Canadian federal electoral system, in which Canada received a 25.75 percent grade (out of 100 per cent) for electoral fairness. (To put this score in context, the US received a 30 percent score, Finland a 40.75 percent score, and France a 91.75 percent score.)
The FDA concludes that if the Canadian electoral system was significantly more fair, the Conservatives would not have attained a minority government let alone a majority government. A more fair Canadian electoral system based on an equal playing field for registered political parties in terms of electoral finances, media access, and impartial media would have created a balanced, equitable Canadian electoral discourse, and thereby expanded Canadian electoral choice. In the FDA’s opinion, the Conservative majority is representative of an unfair democratic system (as documented in the FDA’s electoral fairness report), and a resulting misinformed and uninformed Canadian public, rather than the popularity of the Conservative party.
A summary of the FDA’s non-partisan electoral findings on Harper and the Conservative Party are as follows:
Background of Harper:
59 percent score for suitability of being prime minister of Canada. The low score is reflective of Mr. Harper’s professional experience that entails brief work in the Alberta oil patch as a computer programmer and reporting for three major newspapers. Also, the FDA auditors found no evidence that Mr. Harper has ever volunteered. (The FDA uses volunteer experience as an indicator of commitment to public service.) The 59 percent score is reflective of Mr. Harper having an MA in Economics, 18 years political experience including prime minister in a minority government, and living his entire life in Canada. (In contrast and as an example, Elizabeth May received a score of 84 percent for very strong academic and professional backgrounds, 31 years of political experience, and 41 years of volunteer and activist experience.)
Vision of the Conservative Party:
40 percent score. The Conservative Party’s vision for Canada is restricted to the short-term, with emphasis on economic recovery, elimination of debt, and low taxes. The Conservatives’ vision statement is devoid of any vision of an ideal Canada or a Canada worth striving for (or at least a long-term vision the Conservatives are willing to share publicly).
Incumbency Record of the Conservative Party:
30 percent score. In the FDA’s opinion, the Conservative Party did not uphold Canadian values in their last term: as example, at the 2010 CITIES forum on endangered marine life the Conservatives blocked international attempts to protect the endangered polar bear (viz., the polar bear has become a universal, emotional symbol of the decline of northern regions; Canada has an established history of wildlife conservation starting with famous Canadians like Grey Owl); the Conservatives got Canada further embroiled in military conflicts in Afghanistan and Libya (when Canada could have abstained from direct participation like Germany in the case of Libya and the Netherlands which withdrew early from Afghanistan); the Conservatives did not secure the removal of its citizens from Guantanamo Bay unlike every other western country; and the Conservatives did not acknowledge publicly the Palestinians' right to their own state (viz., self-determination is a fundamental democratic right, which is enshrined in Article 1 of the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: “All peoples have the right of self-determination…” Also, the 30% percent score reflects that the Conservative Party did not balance the federal budget, changed their position on the income trust tax, and increased Canadian overall debt. Furthermore, the FDA auditors think that the Bank of Canada had a larger role than the Conservative Party in guiding the country through the recent recession.
Policies of the Conservative Party:
80 percent score. In the FDA’s opinion, the Conservative policies are sound, comprehensive, relevant, and apply to all sectors of the Canadian economy.
70 percent score. The Conservative policies are comprehensive and relevant, and cover a range of tax credits with no increase in taxation. The FDA auditors question how the Conservative Party can balance the federal budget in four years without slashing significantly government programs.
20 percent score. The Conservative policies are extremely narrow and vague, with only specifics on the ecoEnergy Retrofit-Homes Program and development of Quebec’s offshore resources. There is no direct mention of the Alberta tar sands and nuclear energy, and the Conservatives provide no specifics on “clean energies” (as opposed to renewable energies).
20 percent score. The Conservative policies lack progressive and practical vision, and they are contradictory by promoting more intrusion into the environment via more snowmobile trails and increasing landowner rights. The score of 20 per cent is reflective of the Conservative Party’s pledge to create two new national parks, while major environmental issues such as the endangerment of northern wildlife, global warming, nuclear waste, alternative means of transportation such as the electric car, depletion of fish stocks, contamination of lakes, bulk water exports, and oil and gas development in ecologically-sensitive areas are ignored and even promoted as is the case with the proposed Northern Gateway Oil and Condensate pipeline from Bruderheim, Alberta to Kitimat, British Columbia.
30 percent score. The Conservative policies lack passion for education and demonstrate no investment in the future of education. The Conservative Party does not address a number of educational issues such as increasing post-secondary tuition fees and recruitment of teachers.
20 percent score. The Conservative Party health policies lack vision and relevance in dealing with Canada’s health care issues. There are no stated policies which address the increasing costs of prescription drugs and universal healthcare. However, the Conservatives support more doctors in rural areas and a commitment to deal with increasing wait times.
Arts and Culture:
10 percent score. The Conservative Party’s arts and culture policies are extremely vague and demonstrate a lack of interest and support for arts and culture. Moreover, the Conservatives do not mention their policy for the CBC. The score of 10 per cent reflects the Conservative support for the RC of Music national examination system and Canadian Periodical Fund.
60 percent score. The Conservative Party takes a top-down and power-oriented approach to crime. In the FDA’s opinion, the Conservatives do not understand the complexity of crime and its underlying sources. Moreover, the Conservative proposed terrorism laws threaten Canadian civil liberties. The 60 per cent score is based on the comprehensiveness of the Conservative surcharge policy for victims of crime.
60 percent score. The Conservative Party’s foreign policy is comprehensive and relevant with an emphasis on building the strength of the Canadian military. This policy likely shifts Canada into a more aggressive foreign military role which may not be in the better interest of Canadians. Also, the Conservatives do not address a number of foreign affair issues such as international aid, Middle East conflicts and revolutions, and the proliferation of nuclear arms.
20 percent score. Though the Conservatives propose progressive reform of the Senate and elimination of party subsidies, they do not address significant electoral unfairness issues in the federal electoral system like partisan public and private media and severe inequality in electoral finance and broadcast laws. There is no demonstrated intent by the Conservatives to make the federal election system more equal and fair for all registered political parties, and thereby more democratic.
60 percent score. The Conservative Party has very sound, progressive policies on First Nations transparency and fair regional representation in the House of Commons. Yet, at the same time, the Conservative are committed to using Canadian tax dollars to build a holocaust memorial (for the victims of the holocaust) and a communist memorial (for the victims of communism).
In the FDA’s opinion based on its research and audit findings, Harper and the Conservative Party are unworthy of a majority government, and the fact that they received a majority is symptomatic of a flawed electoral system (due significant electoral inequality and unfairness) and the human factor through Liberals and Conservatives who over the last three decades have created the current electoral laws and regulations.
As indicated by the Conservative Party’s mediocrity (in the FDA’s opinion) and their majority government, a renewal and redirection of Canada’s democracy is necessary through both significant system reform and new representatives who are truly reflective of the will of Canadians as a whole.
Stephen Garvey is founder and executive director of the Foundation for Democratic Advancement.