Keegan Bennett says he doesn’t want to be an MP, but he hopes people vote for him to push for electoral reform
This interview is part of our series of articles profiling the Ottawa-Vanier candidates in the upcoming federal election on Oct. 21. Each candidate was asked the same set of questions. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Officially, Keegan Bennett is independent, but he actually represents the None of the Above Party (NOTA).
The party’s main proposed policy is a transition away from Canada’s conventional representative democracy in favour of more direct democracy. The party is officially registered as an Ontario provincial party, but not as a federal party which is why it cannot run federal candidates under its own name. Keegan Bennett ran in the Ottawa-Vanier riding during last year’s provincial election, and this time he’s officially representing the NOTA party.
The Fulcrum: What is something you want your voters to know about you?
Keegan Bennett: I wouldn’t say that this election is about people, personally. It’s a federal election, so people are still voting based on who they want the prime minister to be, and that is an issue. So, I wouldn’t say anything about me personally. It’s not really about me. What I’m running for is electoral reform, and that’s what I ran for last year in the provincial election. I just want people to be able to have more accountability over their elected representatives.
The None of the Above party’s manifesto is about three R’s; recall, referendum and reform. In the case of recall, say a candidate gets elected with a plurality of the vote, which is often what happens in our first past the post system, they’ll get elected with 40 per cent of the vote or sometimes less. Then they’ll do something wildly unpopular and voters will be powerless to stop it for possibly up to four years, if they do it right after getting into office. So recall is important to alleviate this.
Referendum, kind of the same idea. Say on the issue of climate change, you think the government isn’t doing enough to stop it. Say a million voters signed a petition. If a lot of people are rallying in the streets, I think it’s up to elected representatives to answer that, or to at least put forth that motion on the house floor.
In the case of reform, in 2015 the Liberals campaigned on a platform of electoral reform, and of course, if they implemented any alternative voting systems they would get fewer votes and they wouldn’t form a majority government. Nor would the Conservatives. So obviously, they didn’t do that. They just abandoned that, which is what most people expected but it was still disheartening to see that kind of promise brought forth and then just taken away.
To answer the question, I wouldn’t want anyone to know anything about me. I don’t aim to be a politician. I just want to see the issue of electoral reform being pushed harder. I would like people to be more aware of the electoral process and the voting process. I don’t personally have a preference as to what system should replace first past the post. We have so many other different options. We have ranked ballot voting. I believe a lot more people would vote NDP if they didn’t have to worry about a Conservative getting in because the Liberal vote was split. Or say the People’s Party. More people would vote for that if they didn’t have to worry about splitting the Conservative vote. There is also mixed-member proportional. It’s a way of representing both the voting intentions of a riding and also the federal voting intentions.
I would personally say ranked ballot is the way to go because it’s about the same system as we have now just that more people would be able to vote for who they actually wanted to vote for and if they don’t win, no loss, but they don’t have to worry about putting the opposite party in power. Now, there are problems with that as well. There is no perfect system in a democracy. It’s more about a balance of pros and cons, but I think anything other than first past the post would be an improvement.
F: How do your background and past experiences qualify you to be a federal MP?
KB: I don’t know that I am qualified to be a federal MP. I’m 20 years old. I’monly in my second year of college. But what qualifies anyone to be an MP, really? MPs are elected based on their policies, not because of what they’ve done. I don’t know that I’mqualified but I believe that the policies I want to implement are more than qualified. I don’t expect to win. This is the most Liberal riding in Canada. I don’t want to be an MP. That is not my goal. My goal is to see that hopefully one day, electoral reform is implemented.
F: Why did you choose to run under your party?
KB: It was the only party that put electoral reform as their primary focus. For me, that’s the primary issue that would solve a lot of the other problems. Electoral reform comes first in my eyes. Without electoral reform, we can’t have a fully functional democracy. We have a semi-functioning democracy, but anytime something goes wrong, people are not held to their word, voters are powerless for years to stop things that are either unpopular or negatively impact their life. When acts of corruption are caught, voters should have the option to specifically recall the laws that were passed because of corporate lobbying. You’re not voting for me as a candidate if you choose to vote for me in the upcoming election. You would be voting for the idea of more direct democracy.
F: What are your plans for improving this riding specifically by use of federal powers?
KB: Ottawa-Vanier is kind of neglected. It’s, I believe, one of the poorest ridings. It comes down also to municipal and provincial funding. Our health care system was underfunded even under the Liberal government or it was mismanaged. There are lots of different problems that can be solved at municipal and provincial levels that are not being addressed. But federally, I don’t know what can be done federally for specifically Ottawa-Vanier. I would assume improving housing conditions, but that should also be done municipally and provincially. We finally got LRT and the funding for that was money provided from all three levels of government. That’s been an improvement for a lot of people. We’re still going to have to wait five years for it to go to Montreal Road. So that’s probably half of or at least a quarter of Ottawa-Vanier who still have to either drive or take the bus to get to Blair, which adds another 30-45 minutes to their commute because of how infrequent the buses come to areas like Beacon Hill. Not to disparage the buses, but they are unreliable.
F: How will your plans address issues that affect young people and students?
KB: I don’t think there’s anyone besides the very rich who stand to benefit from specific interests which are basically bought and paid for, basically everyone else will stand to benefit from electoral reform. It will allow them to not waste their vote. First past the post is a barrier, and removing the barrier would make voting more direct. A democracy is made for people. Not for the democracy itself.
F: Any final statements?
KB: Research the different methods of alternative voting. I have said that to a lot of people. Almost none of them have said I prefer first past the post because it benefits almost no one except a very few. In Nunavut, they have a consensus government. No one is elected based on party. That’s worked out pretty well for them. A lot of other countries have different ways of voting. They have ranked ballot. In France they have run-off voting. You can rank each candidate individually. Say your preferred candidate only got 10 per cent of the vote, and your number two choice got 40 per cent, the person you voted for in second place would win. So at least you have the option there rather than the vote splitting we have happen.
- Ottawa-Vanier Liberal candidate looking for reelection
- Ottawa-Vanier Green Party candidate looks to reduce poverty, homelessness
- Ottawa-Vanier NDP candidate focuses on the future generation
- Ottawa-Vanier Communist Party candidate looks to fight poverty, tax the rich
- Ottawa-Vanier PPC candidate looks to confront opioid crisis
The Fulcrum will publishing other Q&A’s from other candidates in the Ottawa-Vanier federal election. The Fulcrum reached out to the Conservative Party of Canada candidate, Joel Bernard, and the Marxist-Leninist Party of Canada candidate, Christian Legeais, but neither responded to requests for an interview.