We are in the midst of voting to decide which way to do the “representative” bit of our democracy. As the old trappers reckoned, there are many ways to skin a cat, and choosing one with which to do democracy with is what we are now doing.
Specifically, we are voting on whether to continue with the system we now endure or adopt one of three alternatives that would favour the two parties NDP and Greens who graciously “granted” us, sovereign populace, this ballot against the wish of the Liberals.
The debate is fierce between the afficionados of the FPTP (Status quo), and the PR (Proportional Representation). This interest could be because this “election” of the system may affect meaningful change, contrary to the run-of-the mill voting events, most of which result in cosmetic change. But I will venture to say that the debate is neither better nor worse from the “Citizens Assembly”, that great show staged by Gordon Campbell back in 2004.
Characteristically, Andrew Wilkinson, who leads the BC Liberal Party now, as Gordon Campbell was then, acknowledges the public mood for change and seeks to get us to ditch the PR opportunity and wait until he becomes Premier to do another “Citizens Assembly” on us though which to dissipate our ire for the system that undermines democracy by cleverly converting minorities to majorettes to help despotism fellow travelers usurp political power from the jaws of defeat. Wilkinson utters plain political poppycock, really.
Next I will go briefly over the juiciest bone of contention, which, as I hear it, is that FPTP gives us “stable” governments and protect us against political instability which is to be avoided as strenuously as pestilence. PR carries instability, they say not unlike mosquitos carry malaria and we must avoid contact with that. Stability in government is precious, and we must protect it lest we lose it, they warn us.
But Democracy was invented expressly to “destabilize governments” – I call it the “Regime of Change” - you know what I mean ... Francisco Franco, gave Spain a very stable government, for three dozen years, did he not? Have a look at the horror it resulted, glance at Picasso’s “Guernica”. No, I do not believe that the FPTP fans seek a government as stable as that, but the road to hell is paved with good intentions, ain’t?
Then look at countries “ravaged” by governmental instability, the frequently quoted examples being post WWII Italy and Japan. But they rebuilt the countries remarkably well and produced thriving ecomonies on pitifully meager per capita natural resources, certainly by comparison to ours. Was that efficiency due to instability? Perhaps it was, because it facilitates prompt adaptability to changing circumstances. It could be to a considerable extent, because they “stayed flexible lest they become rigid.”
Closer to home, look at the “minority” Pearson Government. Never in the history of Canada has a “stable” government ever come close to doing its like – things like Medicare and the CPP, the Canadian Pension Plan. This happened because two great men, combined their FPTP-generated “minorities” into an inconspicuous majority. “Mike” Pearson and Tommy Douglas, without becoming united in holy Party-mony, kept dancing cheek to cheek in the floor of the House and gave us much of what defines Canada to ourselves and the World.
Let’s make politicians earn “stability” by serving us instead of serving their party hacks.
Do I say PR is good? No, I don’t say that. There are better options but they are cleverly distanced beyond reach from us, at least for now. We must be “realistic and pragmatic” this being part of the legacy of Mitchell Sharp, an honourable and wise man. What I say is that PR is a great leap forward from where we now are. And that the lesser evil is the choice we have to make under prevailing circumstances.
I vote Proportional Representation because it is more democratic than the alternative, because it is less toxic to democracy, if you will ...