Monday, November 15, 2004


Some interesting sounds coming our governments here in Ontario and up on the Hill in Ottawa. It seems there is a great interest in changing the way we elect our representatives to the provincial and federal legislative bodies.

I know this is insider ball at this point, with real interest only existing for those observers of the "hackery" variety like myself. But it could change the way Canadians participate in and look at the political system in Canada.

If we take the proposed B.C. model, the basis of which centres on the concept of proportional representation, it would radically change the face of politics in Canada. I have personally always found party politics somewhat boring, as the 24-hour media cycle have boiled down issues to sound bites and polling. Adding to the lack of true discussion of issues is the massive power a majority goverment has in Canada. While it makes for stable government, old pros like Jean Chretien have showcased how unresponsive they can be to activities of the Official Opposition. These changes would arguably eliminate the Liberal hegemony that we ALL benefit from on a daily basis. Which makes me wondering why they're doing it.

But are they?

The Globe reported today on the format the federal "discussions" would take:

"If it goes ahead, Ottawa would be following in the footsteps of several Canadian provinces, which are deep into their own deliberations over how to change their systems.

Sources said one notion being considered by the minister is for a series of five or so regional town-hall meetings, where citizens, academics and other groups would be asked to provide their views and suggest changes."

I think "town-hall meetings" puts everything on the wrong footing right from the beginning. Meetings like those, by design, always attract vested interests, both in the public and with the government. Its too easy to have people tell you what you want to hear, or hijack the meeting so only one point of view is really heard.

For this kind of initiative to work, it must truely be a relection of the opinons of Canadians and it must be above reproach. It would be fatal for an initiative--touted to kickstart voter participation and involvement in the political process--to be seen as just a puppet show going through the motions to get the goverment where they wanted to go in the first place.

That's why the B.C. Citizens Assembly, is so brilliant. Its 160 members were randomly selected to sit on the panel. They weren't neccesarily experts. In fact, many come from backgrounds completely removed from the political process. Frankly, those are the kinds of people that I want making these decisions. Clearly, there is a high level of apathy and disconnect. I want the people that feel that way to help design a system that appeals to them; people with no vested interest (especially political) in the outcome of these changes should be the ones ultimately deciding. Politicans deciding how they are elected is a clear conflict of interest.

Its good to see that it looks like Ontario will be following that model of consultation. Hopefully the feds will move towards that kind of consultative strategy--and that Ontario follws through on the panel's recommedations.

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