Let’s be practical

In Canada we used to have — still have, according to a friend who should know — the excellent institution of the “returned ballot.” It is my usual way of voting. I can write with some confidence that it has never won.

Here’s what you do. You go into the polling station, show your ID (in Canada voters must identify themselves). The officer crosses you off the voting list, and gives you a ballot. Then you say, “I wish to return this ballot.” He says, “Thank you, sir,” and takes out his returned ballot book. (It need be nothing special: a school exercise book will do.) He copies your name into that, along with your address. (It is the only way to get your preference recorded.) You thank him, then wander off through the boobs who came to vote for somebody.

One has oneself, in effect, just voted for “none of the above.” This is the theory.

In practice the officer, who may or may not speak English or French, but probably needed the money, looks puzzled and a little frightened. He has no idea what you are talking about. You dig in, to provide a patient lesson in elementary civics. He won’t have a book, but you have brought along a cahier with “Returned Ballots” written on the cover in large capitals with a felt pen, and some heraldry doodled above it. To be helpful, you have already written your name and address on the first line. He consults all the other polling staff then says, “Thank you, sir.”

When, later, you check the results, you will not find a single returned ballot mentioned. Perhaps you were counted among the spoilt ones.

Now if you had been counted, and had persuaded a plurality of your fellow citizens to do likewise in, say, the riding of Parkdale (about one-in-four would triumph in most Canadian ridings; one-in-six if the turnout were low enough), the election is annulled. A by-election must then be called, in which none of the previous candidates may stand.

By repeating this process four or five times in a significant number of constituencies, you (now in the plural) could perhaps send some sort of message to Ottawa. (Or, “Tottawa,” as I like to call it.) The scheme would be to leave the House of Commons without a quorum or any sort of government for two or three years, to see if that improves things. (I assume that, if they aren’t paid for long enough, the “civil servants” will drift off to other jobs.)

One of Canada’s politicians, a known trouble-maker named Maxime Bernier, has just announced the formation of a new political party. It will be called the “People’s Party,” to distinguish it from those other parties. Bernier is, I gather, a vaguely libertarian populist. He is quite popular in his own riding, somewhere south of Quebec City, and I predict his party will win one seat in the next Parliament. We would probably need to persuade one-in-three voters in Beauce, to get him out.

I wonder if any of my gentle readers in Canada, with perhaps a hundred million to spare, would like to finance a national campaign for the returned ballot. I doubt that we would find a politician of any party to front for it. But that’s okay.

The Premier of Ontario has caused much consternation by using the provincial power to cut the size of Toronto’s municipal council to roughly half. I endorse this, as a tentative measure, but I don’t think it goes far enough. Split the place into about two hundred boroughs, and get rid of the “Metro” bureaucracy entirely, and then we have something to talk about.