Crawl Across the Ocean

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Taking the Low Roads

Way back in this blog's salad days (when it was green in judgement and cold in blood), I took a 'what type of person are you' test which concluded that I was a 'mandarin' and that '[I] think many of the world's problems could be solved if people were more informed and more rational. [I] have no tolerance for sloppy or lazy thinking. It frustrates [me] when people who are ignorant or dishonest rise to positions of power.

Which brings me to two trivial yet irksome recent political events. The first is the unpleasantness in which our federal leaders all managed to combine pandering to the anit-muslim bigotry of Quebecers (there are 3 byelections coming up in Quebec on Monday) with a profoundly anti-democratic and undignified attack on a public servant who, to his great credit, held steadfast to both the law and common sense.

I am referring of course, to this story in which politicians expressed their outrage that Elections Canada would follow the law and allow people to vote without showing their face. The Globe and Mail held an online poll asking if voters not showing their face at the electoral station should be allowed to vote and those who responded were overwhelmingly opposed to the idea. Alas, they did not follow up with a poll the next day asking if Canadian soldiers serving overseas should be barred from voting (since they would have to vote by mail and not be showing their faces at any polling station).

Anyway, in the comments on the story at the Globe and Mail, a number of people argued that Elections Canada was in the wrong because even if the law said one thing it was clear (from the online poll) that popular sentiment said something else and popular sentiment should take precedence over the law.

OK, you might think, that's just the usual folks who have internet connections at their asylum and spend their days posting insane opinions in the globe comment sections. But what amazed me was to wake up the next day, expecting to hear politicians sheepishly retracting their outrage after having it pointed out to them that Elections Canada was just following the law, only to hear our elected MP's making effectively the same argument as the crazy Globe commenters, arguing that what they express now in a committee or what was mentioned in the debate on the law should take precedence over the law as it was written and passed.

All this 'controversy' over a handful of veiled women who have repeatedly indicated that they have no issue with removing their veil to vote and did not raise the issue in the first place. A shameful episode for all involved, with the exception of Elections Canada head Marc Mayrand who deserves great credit for standing his ground.

The second trivial point of contention is this article in the Globe on how B.C. premier Gordon Campbell has decided that urban voters deserve less representation than rural voters after all. B.C.'s electoral boundaries committee had recommended 5 new seats for urban areas and 3 fewer for rural areas, in order to restore the principle of all votes counting equally in the province (currently rural voters are significantly overrepresented). But now Campbell has changed the rules sothat while there will still be the 5 new urban seats that there will be 8 new urban seats, but the commission can't take away any seats so that the rural areas will still be overrepresented.

This is obviously a political decision as there were signs of outrage from the rural parts of the province that they would be forced to have the same level of representation as the people in the rest of the province.

Of course, Carole James, the leader of the opposition NDP, somehow manages to come out of this making Campbell seem like the rational actor.

First, here is what she says about the decision to not remove any rural seats,

"NDP Leader Carole James said it's about time the premier started paying attention to rural communities and the electoral boundaries process.

“We've been involved in the boundaries commission hearings since the beginning as New Democrats,” Ms. James said.

“Our MLAs have been out carrying the message that we shouldn't be losing rural representation. The premier and the MLAs in the Liberal party were nowhere to be found, so about time that they started paying attention.”"

Now, here is her reaction to Campbell's decision to still go ahead and add the 5 seats in the urban areas,
"She [James] said she's concerned about “how far the premier has gone in saying there'll be legislation to propose increasing the number of MLAs to 87.”

Ms. James said she hasn't heard the public calling out for more politicians."

One minute the NDP is out on the barricades helping out the rural folks who are desperate to have more representation.

The next she is dismissive of adding seats to urban areas because, "she hasn't heard the public calling out for more politicians"

It's enough to drive an old mandarin around the bend...


  • Campbell's proposal effectively adds eight MLAs for the high-growth areas by adding the three rural seats to the original 79 and forcing the commission to add five on top of that. Probably means two more Lower Mainland seats and one more on the Island. Obviously, he's trying to come up for a proposal that will come close to equal representation and still pass the Legislature -- Campbell was getting a lot of heat from his own caucus.

    It's been a while since I lived up North, but the sentiment generally was that they were underrepresented and ignored by the 604. That a vote in the North was worth twice as much as one in downtown Vancouver tended to be met with a so-what, talk of resource revenues, or othersuch.

    Here's where it gets really political: by the time this issue comes up again in 2016, Campbell will almost certainly be retired and swilling virgin Pina Coladas on a beach in Maui. Some other SOB gets to deal with it.

    The trouble for Carole James is that there is no solution that allows the Interior and North to keep their seats other than to increase the number of MLAs. Considering that Robin Austin was one of the first to suggest increasing the number of MLAs (he wanted 85; Campbell did him two better), she's being disingenuous.

    By Blogger Ian King, at 10:33 PM  

  • Thanks for the clarification Ian. The article I linked to said he was adding 5 to the existing 79 seats

    - "The new legislation will also direct the commission to allocate an additional five seats to reflect population growth.

    Those, added to the legislature's current 79 seats, will mean space in the ornate chamber will get a little tight."

    - but I see that you are right and he is adding 8, not 5, which is a little more reasonable.

    I'm not really sure why the NDP is opposed to more MLA's anyway. Isn't the right wing supposed to be the ones who think politicians are evil and government is the problem...

    By Blogger Declan, at 11:00 PM  

  • It also took me a couple of re-readings to sort out the proposal; the references to five additional seats didn't jibe at first with the 87 figure in the premier's press release.

    My best guess at this point is that James is trying to play the populist card; hence the talk about the people not clamoring for more pols. It's about as substantive as the kerfuffle over the MLA pay increase, and only slightly better executed.

    By Blogger Ian King, at 12:55 AM  

  • To be honest, even if the rural areas were being overrepresented a slight bit for the sake of pandering, that might still be better than the alternatives. I remember feeling a chill in my bones when this proposal originally came out and there was (unjustified) outcry from rural areas and talk that this would have a good chance of derailing STV support in the rural areas. I'm just grateful this won't be an issue in the STV referendum.

    Also I might as well point out that Elizabeth May and the Green Party basically made the same point you have about this fiasco, so that's not all the federal leaders... in a sense.

    By Anonymous V, at 1:44 AM  

  • Ian - agreed.

    Good points V. I suppose sometimes a little irrationality now is better than a lot later, and if I hadn't been feeling lazy I would have put more work into differentiating the stands of the various federal parties on the 'veil' flap...

    By Blogger Declan, at 11:00 AM  

  • The only reason I can think of that James would be anti-extra-urban seats is if the new boundries were in rich areas and the north tends to go NDP. Since I have numbers on any of that, and I'm lazy, I'll just throw it out there.

    By Anonymous Arwen, at 11:56 PM  

  • This comment has been removed by the author.

    By Blogger Ian King, at 1:08 AM  

  • (rewording)

    Layton's reaction was most interesting to me. The NDP would be the most likely to advocate for Muslims voting as they please (for a bunch of reasons, including that Islam is a minority religion and seen as sufficiently under fire to be worth defending), but Layton has gone with the crowd -- though not as forcefully. Torn between the current NDP thinking and the desire to play to sentiment in Quebec at byelection time?

    (Layton a shameless panderer? Shurely not!)

    Arwen -- political advantage is a possibility, but not a really strong one. The NDP did rather poorly in the North, but better than expected in the Cariboo and as well as expected in the Kootenays. The extra urban seats would be a wash, so I'm sticking with the faux-populi theory, or maybe the need to find something critical to say about a Campbell initiative.

    By Blogger Ian King, at 4:17 PM  

  • I know I'm a little late coming to this post but I thought I would comment regardless.

    Lately, I've been a bit of a fan of a slight overrepresentation in the rural areas of Canada if only for the reason that I think it's important for Canada to have it. I think that Canada is such a vast country that it's important to have those rural voices, to remember the other areas of Canada. I'm someone who lived in metropolitan areas my whole life (Halifax & Toronto) and I think that we should maintain a slight overrepresentation of rural-urban.

    That all being said, I think that there are cases like say in my home province of Nova Scotia where there are probably too many rural ridings and not enough in the Halifax Regional Municipality for instance. I don't necessarily think that it should be some 50-50 split on rural vs. urban as I think given the size of Canada it's unlike many other nations.

    By Blogger Bailey, at 9:41 AM  

  • "I think that Canada is such a vast country that it's important to have those rural voices, to remember the other areas of Canada."

    What you're saying is that you think land deserves representation (in addition to people). I'm not really sure, logically, why this should be the case.

    Why not argue that because Canada is an aging country, ridings with a lot of old people should have their votes count for more than ridings with fewer young people.

    Or that because Canada is a very cold country, ridings with low average temperatures should get more representation. The point is, what's special about land?

    By Blogger Declan, at 9:00 PM  

  • In Montesquieu's Spirit of the Laws he discusses the influence of climate on countries and in particular the type of democracies they choose. I think there is some truth to that. If you look at many of the other cold countries such as Sweden they have a sense of social democracies similar to Canada. If I recall correctly, John Raulston Saul wrote about something similar in Reflections of a Siamese Twin. He spoke of how such harsh climates affected the building of Canada as a nation and the influence on it.

    And I guess in a roundabout way that's kind of what I was getting at. I don't tend to believe that there is some cardboard cutout version of democracy and that every riding in Canada must have exactly 108,324 people in it otherwise it's not democratic. I don't believe that because there are 4 small ridings in PEI that somehow makes their voters more important than a voter from a Toronto riding that has over 125,000 voters. Nor do I find anything undemocratic about it.

    By Blogger Bailey, at 8:54 AM  

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