Green and growing

My story about being a Green politician in Canada, and why it was the best thing I ever did.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

At Issue - Viewer Questions - My Answers

I am a big fan of the At Issue panel, which is a Thursday night feature of CBC's news show, The National. This week, the panel answered viewer questions. Their answers are always interesting and informative, but I think sometimes they miss the boat. So, I would encourage you to listen to what they say, and also read what I have to say. Then, tell me what you think!

To see the original clips, in two parts, go to CBC's website here for part 1.

As you read my answers, you can see that the need for a change in our voting system underscores a number of problems which we sometimes accept as being unavoidable. At the very end of the clip, you will see that Andrew Coyne really wanted to talk about democratic reform, but did not have time.

Question 1 - What New Year's resolutions would you have for our members in the House of Parliament (to improve decorum)?

Three of the panelists latch on to the idea that it is party loyalty and excessive partisanship in caucus which leads to the abhorrent behavior in Parliament. My suggestion is to loosen the power of parties so that MP's can once again take on the role as official representative of their constituents, rather than puppets of the party. Read on for how we do this!

Question 2 - An old slogan of Western alienation is "the West wants in". Are Westerners "in" now?

The panel generally said yes, although some said mixed. Chantal H├ębert's position is closest to mine. I belive that Conservatives in the West are well (over) represented, but supporters of other parties are not. Here, a party issue is substituting for a regional issue. Proportional representation would take big steps towards fixing this.

Question 3 - Do you think Canadians as young as 16 should be given the right to vote?

The panel got this one wrong. Absolutely, 16 year olds should have the right to vote. They are intelligent and engaged, and the future belongs to them. They pay taxes and have other responsibilities in our society. They should have a say. They couldn't do any worse than the rest of us.

Question 4 - If electoral voting can be accomplished using the internet, would this be a significantly positive contribution to the electoral process?

Allan Greig had it right. Use the technology to engage people, not only in voting but in developing policy.

Question 5 - What do you think about mandatory voting, with the option for a blank vote?

Interesting question. Mixed response from the panel as well. I think that if we made it easier to vote (using the internet, for example), then it is not so much of a burden to require people to vote. If we allow people to say "none of the above" or to spoil their ballot, then we have allowed them to express that sentiment as well. What do you think?

Question 6 - Truth in advertising is a law in this country which applies to companies. Why does this not apply to politicians?

A famous quotation says "truth is the first casualty of war" (US Senator Hiram Johnson, 1918). I believe that we should have a ombuds office that investigates politician's claims. They could easily issue a monthly report outlining erroneous claims, particularly those that are repeated so often that we begin to think we are hearing the truth. We need to hold politicians to a high standard.

Question 7 - Is the party system subverting the fundamentals of Canadian democracy? Is this a source of political apathy? Can the party system undergo democratic renewal or is it even a democratic problem?

This is an important question. The party system allows people with some shared values to work together to represent those values. However, parties and party leaders have become too powerful and have made the individual MP less relevant. An interesting idea that was raised was that the party leader should be selected from the caucus after the election, rather than by the party membership prior to the election. Proportional representation (PR) would make the individual MP more accountable to his/her constituents, rather than to the party. PR would also increase the diversity of representation in the house, which would require parties to dialogue and compromise in order to work effectively after an election. An MP's future should be in the hands of the constituents, not in the hands of the party leader.

Question 8 - What can we do to bridge the growing gap between Canadians and our democratic institutions?

The two panelists who responded basically said "vote". I think they missed the boat on this one, too. IMHO, people don't vote because they don't think their vote really counts. We need a good PR system in place, one in which every vote can make a difference. If I want to make a statement, I might vote first for the Pirate Party, or the neo Rhino Party, but I also want to have a chance to have my vote count for some other party as well, so my second choice might be my party of preference. Or, I might want to vote for my party locally, knowing that it is unlikely they will win the riding, knowing that my vote will go into a proportional pool to compensate for dis-proportionality of first past the post. Short answer, make everyone's vote count, then they are much more likely to use it.

Let me know what you think about these questions!

Jim

(Edited to correct title)