If you voted in the ridings of Scarborough North or Scarborough Southwest during the recent Ontario Provincial Election, you probably noticed the option to vote for a candidate representing the “None of The Above Party.”
Don’t worry, you wouldn’t be alone if you wondered, ‘Who are they?’
“I haven’t heard of them,” said 31-year old Brittnay Wicksted on the steps outside of Scarborough Town Centre.
The None of the Above Direct Democracy Party was first founded by former Conservative, and Green Party of Canada founding member, Greg Vezina, in 2014. He first came up with the idea of the party when looking at each of the major parties’ offerings in the 2014 Ontario election, which caused him to come to the realization he’d “rather vote for none of the above.”
So, his wife told him to start his own party.
The NOTA Party had candidates nominated in 24 out of the 124 ridings throughout Ontario in the recent 2022 Ontario Election. A candidate from the party has never won as a member of the NOTA Party, but a number of their members are politicians who were formerly working for other parties, like David Sylvestre (a former green candidate), and Brian Crombie (a former liberal).
The NOTA (None of the Above) Party believes in a system of direct democracy as opposed to the current representative democracy we have in Canada. To put direct democracy simply, Vezina describes it with three R’s, which are:
The point of direct democracy, in Vezina’s eyes, is to give the people the chance to govern themselves so that real change can be implemented, he said, no matter what it might be that the majority of people agree on.
When asked where the NOTA Party lies on the political spectrum Vezina said, “We are the political spectrum, we believe in whatever the vast majority of people want.
“It’s governed by the people, for the people, of the people.”
Direct democracy occurs when all laws and policies are voted for by the people, and not just by representatives who were voted into office. In NOTA’s approach, this would be implemented in the form of referenda that the government would introduce whenever policy changes are proposed.
“Why don’t you let the public make these difficult political decisions? Tell them, ‘Look, here’s the choice, you choose A or B.’ And then we do what they said,” Vezina said.
The NOTA party would also make all members of the provincial parliament independent after the election, Vezina claims.
“You’ve got to break the lock that follow-the-leader politics has on our democracy, you’ve got to neuter the leaders,” Vezina said.
“You’ve got to make the members independent, and you’ve got to make them free to vote their conscience to vote against the party.”
In doing this, the hope would be to form a government of “National Unity,” where you bring the best MPPs from each party to just get things done.
Historically, provincial referenda are pretty rare in Canada, and Ontario doesn’t stand out in that regard. The most recent referendum in Ontario took place in 2007, and asked Ontarians if they wanted to adopt a mixed-member proportional system over the current first-past-the-post system. This referendum failed as 63 per cent of voters chose to keep the status quo.
Recall and Real Accountability
It’s a common feeling throughout Canada these days that politicians don’t have the people’s best interests in mind. When asked what three words she would describe politicians with Wicksted said “manipulative, contradictory, and stupid.”
This mistrust of politicians is one that the NOTA Party shares. It’s the belief of the party that right now politicians currently aren’t able to get much done for their constituents, since “there’s only two rules in politics, get elected, get re-elected. That’s it,” Vezina said.
Vezina also believes it’s only a matter of time for any politician in our current system to lose sight of their original goals, and fall prey to corruption, as he has seen time and time again throughout his 50 years in politics.
“Our politicians are not honest. They are before they get elected. In most cases, it’s not even their fault. They don’t systematically go out and break the law, the law gets broken for them, and they just sit by,” Vezina said.
This where his plan for recall comes in. If the party were to be elected, once referendum laws were passed, their focus would then move toward bringing Ontario recall laws similar to those introduced in both B.C. and Alberta. These also wouldn’t only be for politicians, but also for judges, police and civil servants as well, Vezina said.
“If you’re found guilty of corruption or conflict of interest, you don’t get a $200 fine and taken out to dinner. If you get found guilty of conflict of interest under our laws, you’re going to jail!” he said.
What role do smaller parties play in our democracy?
The None of The Above Party isn’t the only small party you might not have heard of before. According to Elections Ontario, there are currently 25 registered provincial political parties. This includes parties like the New Blue Party, and the Ontario Party.
According to the CBC the NOTA Party got 0.2 per cent of the total vote share in the 2022 Election, with a total of 7,506 votes.
“The role of smaller parties is to give voice to interests and identities that are not expressed or emphasized in larger parties,” said Dr. Livianna Tossutti, an associate professor in the Department of Political Science at Brock University.
While most smaller parties don’t receive more than two per cent of the entire vote each election, experts said it’s important we consider the role these smaller parties can play.
“In ridings where there are close races, smaller parties can affect the outcome by drawing support away from the larger parties,” Tossutti said.
Vezina sees a vital role for smaller parties. “All new ideas and new policies in any democracy, as has been the history since the Magna Carta and Athens, really come from outsiders,” he said.
Robert J. Drummond; Professor Emeritus Of Politics and Public Policy at York, agreed. “Smaller parties can have some limited effect by expressing for debate ideas that the major parties do not promote,” he said.
“In time, some of those ideas may gain enough support to be adopted by a major party.”