Page 42

Electoral Reform – Proportional Representation Letter to the PM regarding the current process for reform From: K. Rafe Mair, LL.B, LL.D (Hon) Broadcaster/writer, Lions Bay, B.C. Canada V0N 2E0 Email: rafe@rafeonline.com / Web: www.rafeonline.com

Dear Prime Minister, Permit me to introduce myself. I live in Lions Bay BC, and have lived all my life in British Columbia. I left the law for politics in1975 when I became MLA for Kamloops and, for five years, a cabinet minister under The Honourable William R. Bennett. For four years I was responsible for constitutional affairs and represented BC in the run-up to the patriation of the constitution. I was a member of Prime Minister Trudeau's Committee of Cabinet Ministers on the Constitution. I left Government in February 1981 and became a talk show host for the next 24 years. Having had experience in the field, I've been invited to participate in national organizations involved in the discussion on changing the voting system, but I have refused because they would not commit to a referendum. I'm told that a referendum would help the Conservatives because it would take too long to accomplish, thus mean the 2019 election would be FPTP, their choice. I am certainly no Tory supporter, but Tories are Canadians and entitled to vote on what sort of an electoral system we should have. The underlying assumption is that the House of Commons speaks for the people. This is technically true but far from accurate in reality. My MP certainly does not speak for me on the method to be used for electing MPs! With respect, I believe that Parliament is overlooking a strong feeling, certainly in BC, that they no longer represent the people, only interests. But there is an even more serious issue. MPs have a conflict of interest which they tendentiously deny, but is no less real for that. While my interest is a fair way to express my opinion as to how my MP should be elected, the MP's interest is not just getting themselves elected but getting their party a Majority or substantially improve its position. The Prime Minister, who rewards his MPs or punishes them unto expulsion, will want to see a system that is best for them in Central Canada which may or may not be what I want. He runs the Liberal caucus and, absent a secret ballot, will have all Liberal MPs voting as he demands. To pretend that one whose job depends upon the outcome of a deliberation of which they're a part will appear even-handed in making that decision, is naive at best but more likely not telling the truth. 42 dialogue

AUTUMN 2016, VOL. 30, NO. 1

There's an active feeling amongst the establishment, or dare I say the elite, that the great unwashed aren't able to make serious decisions. Interestingly, these same great unwashed are not nearly so stupid when these same MPs seek their votes. It's a denial of the very basis of democracy to say that people are unable to decide matters for themselves. The criterion is my right to vote not whether the decision pleases (in that wonderful phrase from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer) "those set in authority over us." To one who energetically fought the Charlottetown Accord, it's clear that the establishment has never forgiven ordinary folk for voting against their wishes, especially in BC, where the "no" vote was 67.9%. You might think that an expression of opinion that strong would carry some weight with the elite. Instead they've concluded that the public just demonstrated how stupid they were. I would argue, with a lot of academic support, that the defeat of Charlottetown saved Canada. There's a very practical aspect to this. If the Commons makes the decision, it will never really be accepted, no matter what it is. When New Zealand went through this process in 1992 & ’93, it held two referenda, one asking whether or not people wanted to change from the first past the post (FPTP) method. When the decision was a clear yes, a second referendum posed the three logical alternatives with the one getting the most votes, Mixed Member Proportional (MMP), the new method I was in New Zealand a lot in those days and audited the process. It was interesting that about five years after they had changed to MMP, almost everybody I spoke to said they hated the new system, yet when I asked if they would return to FPTP they threw their hands up in horror. My ad hoc survey was confirmed in 2011 when a further referendum asked if people wanted to stay with MMP and 59% said they did, more than voted for it in the first place. What's clearly noticeable is that no matter how they voted people accept that the decision was fairly and democratically made. If Parliament had made any of these decisions, the controversy would be raging still and it would have little respect of the electors. I've taken up too much of your time and close by simply posing this question "how can you make a decision about creating a democratic system without doing democracy in making that decision?" ♣ www.dialogue.ca

Dialogue Vol.30, No.1 digital edition  

Canada's unique volunteer-produced magazine for ideas, insights, critical thinking & radical imagination - shared in letters, essays, storie...