Spoiling the Ballot: An Expression of Political Will

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Spoiling the Ballot: An Expression of Political Will


Section 3 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms constitutionally guarantees the democratic right of any Canadian citizen to vote in a general federal, provincial or municipal election.  It reads:

Every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly and be qualified for membership therein.

The right to vote is seminal to any democratic nation.  It allows every citizen a voice in how we are governed as a country. Some have said that the right to vote is the “heart of our democracy”.  In theory, the power of Government in Canada exists because of the right of all Canadians to grant power through vote.  A vote is an expression of political will.


In Canada, the House of Commons is a democratically elected body whose members form Parliament.  The House of Commons was established in 1867 when the British North America Act (now the Constitution Act) created the “Dominion of Canada”.

Parliament is composed of 338 seats distributed roughly in proportion to the population from electoral districts across the Country.  Alberta, for example has 34 seats whereas Quebec has 78 seats. Ontario has 121 seats in the House of Commons as compared to all of of Western Canada (British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and the Territories), which combine for just 106 seats.  This means that Ontario and Quebec control the balance of power in the Country.

Though Ontario and Quebec are home to a high proportion of the Canadian population, there are serious regional differences in Canada. Western Canada has long complained about its lack of a voice in Canadian politics. In 2019, the issue has become even more divisive because ¾ of the political parties have actively campaigned against the Province of Alberta -- which is home to about 4.3 million Canadians.  Canada’s energy provinces, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland presently produce the highest per capita gross domestic product in the Country, as compared to Quebec, Manitoba and the Maritimes who produce the lowest. Alberta is presently in a recession, but continues to contribute a massive amount of money to the rest of the Country through equalization payments.


October 21st, 2019 is voting day in Canada.  This is the day Canadians have the opportunity to exercise their voice by checking an “X” on a ballot.  Proponents of the democratic process argue that there are a host of good reasons to cast a vote.  For instance, an election is tantamount to “people-force”, where voters are able to exercise their natural right to be self-governed.  This is accomplished by casting a vote that could potentially peacefully dislodge a bad government. 

the trouble with bad choices?

The question I am struggling with is what if all the choices for government are bad choices?  If this is the case, does it really matter if people force out one bad government only to be subjected to another? 

I appreciate “a choice” is the act of selecting or making a decision when confronted with two or more possibilities”.  As my mother would say, you can always choose what you believe to be “the best” out of the selection of bad. For example, one apple could be more rotten than the other. If I have to eat an apple, I may as well eat the one that is less rotten than the one that is more rotten.  Indeed, this makes some sense. 

However, I am not sure the bad apple metaphor works perfectly well as an exercise of political will.

What is a vote?  A vote is a formal indication of choice typically expressed in the electoral process through a ballot.

In the game of politics I am of the opinion that legitimizing bad choices does a great disservice to our Country.  I say this because the simple act of checking an “X” signals to the party-selected that the voter agrees with its platform and policies.  This leaves a false impression that the voter has actually spoken in favour of the Government at the ballot box, when it fact, the voter may have just been mitigating its damages.   The “X” therefore  not only legitimizes the bad choice but sends the message that the party is empowered to carry out its political mandate.  

I am one of many criminal defence lawyers in Alberta who believes in the right to vote. Where I probably differ from many Canadians, including most Calgary criminal lawyers, is in my opinion that the right to vote comes packaged with an important responsibilities: to make best effort to fully educate oneself about how to exercise power in the ballot box. In my view, a vote blindly cast or made in ignorance is not a true expression of people power. It is a dangerous vote.

Additionally, I am of the opinion that if after making best efforts to education oneself about the choices available in the ballot box, if one is left with the belief that there are no good choices, then there are effectively no choices.  In these circumstances, casting a vote as an expression of people-power is as meaningless an exercise as not voting at all.  By way of a crude example, it is in my view, Mussolini or Hitler are not meaingful choices.  Of course, some will argue that my examples are too extreme. Of course we don’t want Mussolini or Hitler! The problem is, bad choices that become terrible choices have historically gained power through the ballot box. Hitler was voted into power. 

Now, I am not saying that our present choices are Mussolini or Hitler; but they are -- in my opinion --  Dufus A, Dufus B, Dufus C and so on. None of the Dufi represent what David Chow envisions for our Country. In my view, other than having the section 3 Charter protected interest to run for Government, few of the people seeking election are qualified to represent this vast interests of this Country.

So what are my options if I am of the view that there are no options?


In Canada, there is no option to voice discontent against the selection of choices in the ballot box. Simply, it's one or the other.

One might think, “spoil the ballot”. Write on the ballot, “you are all idiots”. Unfortunately, in Canada, though “spoiling a ballot” is certainly a “choice” and a clear act of political defiance, it is, in our present ballot system, at best a whisper and more likely just a straight waste of time.I say this because a spoiled ballot counts as nothing.  A spoiled ballot is simply “rejected” and thus makes no impact. The voice of the spoiled ballot is “silenced” and the voice of the unspoiled ballots stokes the ego and resolve of the parties who attracted the votes.

Why should spoiled ballots be counted?

The spoiled ballot is an important expression of political-will because it voices to those in power that there are Canadians who felt marginalized by the fact that nobody truly represented their interests.  A counted spoiled ballot could also be a powerful tool for social, economic and political change, for it signals to all of the political parties that not all Canadians were content with any of them.  This information could be important to any political party looking to govern in the best interests of Canadians as a whole  In my opinion, the spoiled ballot also gives voice to all Canadians. It may not act to put a party in power, but it is nevertheless an expression of political discontent that is not forced to the silence of not voting at all, or to the false voice of political support when none existed.


For many Albertans, this election has been incredibly polarizing. For the first time in my life I feel that most Canadians have turned their back on Alberta.  Make no mistake, I am not an energy supporter and I am not a climate change denier.  

What I do know is that this Country by and large appears to have turned its back on the people in this Province -- and that I cannot support. This is my home. This is where my family lives. Alberta has never turned its back on me or on this Country.  I fear that this election will clearly signal that this Country has turned its back on Alberta.

Some will say, vote for Mr. Scheer, for he leads the party that is most closely aligned with Alberta interests.  In my view, he -- along with most of his party -- are unfortunately "the Dufi".  I am struggling with whether I should "X" support for a party of "dufi".  More importantly, I struggle with whether a party that has generally failed to glow with the kind of strength, resolve, wisdom and intelligence needed to be in an important leadership role deserves my support. 

In my opinion, my political voice should neither be silenced nor forced.  If I cannot find solace in my available choices, why should  I not be able to voice the politics of David Chow via a counted spoiled ballot?  

Update: October 22nd, 2019

I spent much of  "Election 2019" glued to the television at "Your Father's Moustache" in Halifax, Nova Scotia.   A day later, after having contemplated what happened the day before, it appears the divisions in Canada are wider than ever. Quebec returned to its separatist party. Alberta and Saskatchewan said "no" to the politics of uncontrolled over spending. British Columbia remained divided between its interior and coast.  Canada's Pogey Provinces remained Liberal.

For Albertans, perhaps the most frightening occurrence in this election was that the NDP, who lost 15 seats from the last election, will likely control the balance of power in Parliament.  To move the policy dial, the Liberals will join with either the Bloc (whose interests are antagonistic to Alberta) or the NDP (whose interests are antagonistic to Alberta), meaning that there will be a triple-entente of Dufi bent on driving Alberta and Saskatchewan into recession (or perhaps even depression) while at the same time skimming our pocket book to pay for the votes they bought with uncontrolled spending promises.  

History has shown that Quebec will take the money.  Economically less-well-off provinces still need the money.

History has shown that when you offer free stuff, people will take without thinking too much about how it's paid for.  Yes, we need to be kind to our environment.  Yes, this is both a long term and short term goal. But how do we pay for this kind of change?  Change is not free.

British Columbia will continue to be Canada's most hypocritical Province (at least in Vancouver).  It will continue to be the largest exporter of dirty energy in North American and will continue to ship-in energy that was purchased at a discount from its next-door neighbours, while at the same time claiming to be the environmental champions of this Country.  


As I said yesterday, I have never felt so marginalized by the rest of Canada as I do now.  I have always stood proudly at the sound of our National Anthem. I have always been a Canadian first, Calgarian second and Albertan third.  Today, I look at Canadians across this Country and wonder how they could turn their back on this province.  That what Election 2019 says to me.

I think about my community -- a place of hard working, truly industrious people who own businesses, work hard and are true Nation Builders.  I juxtapose them against....well...those who are not.

Nation Builders cannot thrive in an environment where Nation Building does not exist.  If there were no good choices in this Election perhaps its time for Alberta to think about something else? Canada is only a Federation because we all agree.  Perhaps the experiment has come to an end? Get my drift?