Crawl Across the Ocean

Friday, August 12, 2005

Secret Ballot? Who Needs It?

I ran across this statement by Matthew at 'Living in a Society' earlier today:
"...the G-G designate must put to rest immediately any speculation that she is a soveriegntist sypathizer.

All that is necessary is a simple and direct statement from Mme. Jean to the effect that she believes the place of Quebec is in Canada and that she voted 'non' in the 1995 referendum."

...and I swear to God I thought he was joking. But, looking at the Toronto Star, I see that maybe he was serious. At least, New Brunswick premier Bernard Lord is also calling for the proposed new Governor General to publicly state how she voted in the 1995 sovereignty referendum in Quebec.

I'm no expert on governmental procedure in Canada, but I'm assuming that there is some sort of oath or swearing-in ceremony for the Governor General position in which the person taking the job promises to do it properly. And that's good enough for me.

I figure that our ballots are secret ballots for a reason. If our voting choices are to be used to determine our job prospects, notwithstanding the special nature of this particular job, then perhaps we should put some identifying information on our ballots and keep track of everyone's votes in a voter registry database to be consulted before making any future appointments.

The demand that the new G-G state how she voted suggests that she is so morally bankrupt that she would willingly take on the role of figurative head of state and then use that position to try and break up the country, but yet she is so morally pure that she is unwilling to lie about how she voted in a referendum 10 years ago.

OK then.

Update: I see that the Globe and Mail is doing a poll on their website and so far 73% think that both Jean and her husband should reveal how they voted. I can only assume that if the question asked instead if people felt that they should reveal how they and their spouse voted on something 10 years ago at their next job interview and only get the job contingent on giving the right answer, the % saying yes would have been smaller.

Update 2: Just to be perfectly clear, Matthew doesn't suggest forcing the G-G to answer or that we actually should track ballots in a database. That was just me making an analogy to say that if we think the G-G should answer the question (or not get hired) then we might as well do that.

Labels: , , , , ,


  • It is getting very weird. I had a guy (I swear I am not making this up) of being a "journalist", because I said I couldn't get worked up by the appointment.

    By Blogger Greg, at 1:33 PM  

  • I meant to say the guy accused me of being a journalist (whatever that means). That's what happens when you multitask.

    By Blogger Greg, at 1:35 PM  

  • Yeah, I don't know why, but this one really seems to be a) bringnig out the nuts, and b) making generally sensible people makes some strange comments.

    And all over the G-G, which is such an irrelevant institution. If anything, by ignoring this story, you're acting *not* like a juornalist.

    I was only roused to a post because I thought the idea that we should be publicly demanding that people tell us how they voted in the past was disturbing enough to merit comment.

    By Blogger Declan, at 1:49 PM  

  • This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    By Blogger Calvin, at 11:33 AM  

  • On the actual merit of the office of the G.G and Canada's status as a monarchy I am ambivalent. At once I deplore pretty much everything the monarchy stands for at the same time believing it is an important tradition in Canada.

    As for asking to know how the G-G designate voted in 1995, I do not think it is unreasonable. People holding office in the executive of the government including all members of the privy council and the Governor General (but not his/her partner) must be held to a higher standard.

    And the issue of Quebec separation is not neutral nor even simply political; it goes to the very core of the future and meaning of Canada. Supporting Quebec separation is not a legitimate political stance for a member of the executive, let alone the head of state herself. Supporting separation is not akin to supporting a particular party or a particular policy.

    Supporting or even symphathizing with Quebec soveriegntists is a rejection of the ideals of Canada. That is not a political issue, it is not a strictly Liberal or Conservative or Green ideal.

    If you read the post below the one you link to, you will see that I strongly condemn those who oppose the G-G desginate on the basis that she holds dual citizenship with France. As long as she also holds Canadian citizenship I am satisfied.

    However, the head of state must now and have always been committed to Canada.

    It is not unreasonable to ask the members of the privy council (Jean Lapierre, I'm looking at you) and the next head of state, how they voted on a question that in essence asked: 'do you believe in Canada?'

    By Blogger Matthew, at 11:35 AM  

  • Let me ask some hypothetical questions.

    If an aborignal person was nominated for G-G, would we demand to know how they voted on any past questions of native self-governance? What if they were from Quebec and had voted against seceding from Quebec if Quebec seceded from Canada?

    Should we have demand similar answers from previous Quebec G-G's on previous referendums?

    Should we ask if people have ever voted for the Bloc Quebecois?

    What about people nominated from Alberta? - they could have voted for a separation party as well.

    Say that famed urban studies writer Jane Jacobs ran for parliament and was elected. Should she be barred from holding a Municipal Affiars type portfolio because she wrote a book suggesting Quebec sovereignty might be good for both Quebec and Canada (using the amicable split of Sweden and Norway as a reference)?

    If left-wing people feel that the decentralizing Conservative party agenda threatens the Federal government or that the Liberal-Conservative puruit of 'deep integration' with the U.S. is a threat to our sovereignty should we have the right to demand to know if people voted for these parties?

    What about anyone who supports changing the constitution? Or who signs free trade agreements which curtail our sovereignty?

    I just don't see clear rules for deciding when we invade the sanctity of the secret ballot and when we don't.

    Just for Quebec sovereignty? Just when there is sufficient suspicion? Suspicion created and cast by who and for what motives and determined to be sufficient by whom?

    And just for the G-G? Just for the cabinet, the PM?

    "the head of state must now and have always been committed to Canada."

    To me, the idea that we put someone in front of a panel which demands 'do you now or have you ever done anything which might give comfort to Quebec sovereigntists?', and if they won't tell us how they voted on things (which we arbitrarily decide are relevant) in the past (things which were done in secrecy with an understanding that society would respect their secrecy), we reject them because they 'do not believe in Canada'sounds like a witch hunt. - and if that's what it takes to keep the country together, then I'd say we are better off letting pieces separate.

    "Supporting separation is not akin to supporting a particular party or a particular policy.

    Supporting or even symphathizing with Quebec soveriegntists is a rejection of the ideals of Canada."

    That's your opinion. I would disagree, I think it is just like supporting a particular policy. A policy of separation.

    I sympathize with some of the ideals of Quebec separation myself. I don't see this as a rejection of the ideals of Canada. I never thought that one of the ideals of Canada was to hold every part of the country in the country (against its own will if necessary) and with no regard for changing circumstances over time or for the well being of the people who live in (what is currently) Canada.

    I think the country is better off with Quebec as part of it, but the idea that we could, on balance, be better off with sovereignty-association (or whatever) seems undeniably plausible to me. Surely, you have to admit that is at least *possible* that separation is in the best interests of Canadians?

    I don't think it would make sense to have the G-G working for separation, but that's where the oath to do the job properly comes in.

    "If you read the post below the one you link to,"

    I did read that post, that's why I thought the next one was a joke at first!

    By Blogger Declan, at 12:51 PM  

  • I will try to address your hypotheticals first, and then the more subtantive issues.

    On the Aboriginal questions:

    1.Self-governance question-No. Because under all proposed scemes of Aboriginal self-governance Aboriginal communities remain a part of Canada i.e Nisga treaty. Very arguably Quebec already holds much more self-governance than most Aboriginal communities.

    2. Question of Aboriginal referendum within Quebec referendum. This question is extremely hypothetical as such a referendum has never been held. I think such a question would be substantively different from a previous Quebec separation questions that have been asked, but I'd have to think on it.

    3. Previous Quebec G-Gs on previous referendums? Yes. To my knowledge this question only applies to Jean Sauve. Also to my knowledge there was no question of her support in the 1980 referendum. However, for consistency's sake the answer remains yes.

    4. Ask people if they've ever voted for the BQ? 'People' definitely not. Members of the privy council no. Voting for the BQ is not a direct equivalent to voting 'yes' in a referendum. The BQ, despite its principal aim being the destruction of Canada, advances many other policies. Whereas a referendum question is a straight up declaration of support or opposition to Canada.

    5. People from Alberta? Again voting for a party is slightly different from voting a straight yes or no in a referendum. If Alberta held a separation referendum then I would apply the same conditions. Further, I would be unlikely to support anybody who advocated Albertan separation or was a member of an Albertan separation party.

    6. Re: Jane Jacobs. I haven't read the book you refere to so do not know the extent to which she advocates. Again this is not a situation of a straight yes or no answer. Also there is a difference between saying 'life after separation could work out, perhaps in certain ways even be good' and saying 'Quebec must leave Canada for ideological reasons.' Answer: reserve judgement.

    6. Supporting de-centralization and U.S integration. No. Again these are not straight yes or no questions of support for Canada. Secondly neither course is premised on a rejection of Canada.

    7. Constitutional change and free trade agreements. The latter first: My issue is not one of Canadian soveriegnty; it is Canada itslef. The loss of Quebec would not cause a loss of sovereignty it would result in the loss of Canada. Constitutional change question: Advocating senate reform or redistribution of powers is not the same as saying "I don't like this country, I want out" which is what voting 'yes' amounts to.

    8. I'm not suggesting the invasion of the sanctity of the secret ballot. The very nature of the ballot means we can never truly know how Mme. Jean voted. What I am arguing is that it is not out of place to ask her how she voted. She is free to answer however she chooses and Canadians are free to judge her on that answer. That's how freedom of expression works.

    Nor I am not arguing that all future privy councilors and G-Gs cast their votes publically. I am only arguing that as holders of executive office they be prepared to answer questions of this nature. In most cases such questions wouldn't even be necessary, the problem with Mme. Jean is that questions as to her support have been raised.

    Just for Quebec soveriegnty? Yes, or any other vote that asks a certain population of Canadians to reject Canada. Just when there is sufficient suspicion? Doesn't really make sense to ask otherwise. But for consistency sake we could do it anyway. Suspicion created by who? Again that is to be judged by the public on a case by case basis. Again, that's how free expression works. Realize that I'm not arguing to pass a law demanding privy councillors and Gs-G disclose their past voting records, such a law would be deplorable and certainly unconstitutional. What I am saying is that the G-G is accountable to public opinion. If the majority of the public does not think this is an issue, then the issue passes, I freely admit that.

    Now for the issue in general.

    We clearly disagree on the nature and meaning of a separation referendum. In my opinion (I think its clear that everything here is my opinion and that I am, in most cases, not making what I believe to be statements of fact) a separation referendum question asks in essence: do you support and believe in Canada?

    There are all kinds of ways to work within Canada to advance any particular goals or grievances one might have. There is parliament and the courts, and constitutional reform and avenues of public debate.

    A yes vote in a referendum rejects all of those avenues. It argues that Canada as a nation is not worth working for, is not worth trying to improve from within, that the country is better off not just being changed but being broken up altogether.

    It is not one of the ideals of Canada to hold the other parts in the country against its will. If Quebec legitimately voted to separate everyone would have to recognize that vote.

    But the ideals of Canada are inclusion, acceptance, accomodation and recognition of difference. A vote for separtion is a statement that those ideals have failed. When separtists vote to leave Canada they are saying 'we are too different, we do not feel welcome here.' At that point Canada has failed. Anyone is free to say that, as disappoiting as it may be.

    What it comes down to for me is this: We must have a Governor General who at the hour of one of Canada's greatest trials, when Quebecers were asked 'do you feel so alienated from Canada that you would prefer to leave it rather than work within it?', stood with Canada, and voted for Canada.

    By Blogger Matthew, at 2:05 PM  

  • In response to your update:

    Mme. Jean is not a regular person applying for a regular job. She has been appointed to be the head of state of Canada. If I were hiring her to by my secretary it is possible that I might personally care about how she voted, but I would not ask her and I would not make her employment contingent on her answer. However, if one is going to be the ultimate authority in the country (even symbolically) this issue matters to people, that is what the polls shows.

    You seem to suggest the fact that this vote occurred ten-years ago matters. The passage of time does not matter. I suspect, from her acceptance of the position that Jean today supports Canada. But we cannot have a G-G who in the past on such an important question did not support Canada.

    On October 30 1995 we came extremely close to losing the country. Jean's vote literally could have made the difference. We need a G-G who at any time when asked 'leave Canada, yes or no?' answered unreservedly - no.

    By Blogger Matthew, at 2:17 PM  

  • One more and I'll let you respond:

    I don't think that Jean's husband should have to answer to how he voted as he has no official constitutional role in the executive.

    By Blogger Matthew, at 2:22 PM  

  • I appreciate your response.

    I am puzzled that you say a law which requires the G-G to answer this question would be deplorable and unconstitutional so instead we should ask the G-G to answer voluntarily and not hire them if we don't like the answer.

    It's like trying to sign up for something and the law prevents them from forcing you to give them your social security number so they just ask you to answer voluntarily and won't sign you up if you don't give it to them.

    If it is in the public interest to have the question answered, why not pass a law to get the answer?

    It's also not clear to me why the right to get a job regardless of how you voted in the past should only be violated in this one particular case involving only sovereignty referendums. I just don't see what (logically) distinguishes this from all other cases (I suspect this is our fundamental point of disagreement here).

    I guess I don't see it as Canada having failed if Quebec leaves, any more than I believe that the concept of Sweden failed because Norway left, or that I would think that Ontario failed if the north decided to split off or join Manitoba (either of which would make sense in my opinion). Times change, things change, we try to do what is best in each situation. Given the peace and prosperity of our country I think it would be hard to say that it failed, regardless of whether Quebec stays or goes.


    It certainly does seem to matter to people how the G-G voted. I suppose it might (hypothetically) also matter to people whether the G-G is a Leafs fan or a Habs fan, or less humourously it might matter what colour her skin is. But that doesn't mean we should decide to hire her or not based on these criteria. The criteria I mention shouldn't be used because they are irrelavant to the job, the critieria of how she voted shouldn't be used because it is not our place to ask people to reveal their votes (as you note, it would be unconstitutional to force an answer).

    Obviously people have the right to ask if they want to - it's a free country. I just don't think they should or that her answer (or lack thereof) should have any bearing on the decision to hire her or not.

    I do think the passage of time matters, in this as with all things. More time means more time for circumstances to change and people to change their minds. We also place less importance on on things further in the past. Imainge if Jean was 250 years old. Would we ask her how she voted on Confederation in 1867 (if there had been a vote). That's a very hypothetical situation I grant you, but I think people would be inclined not to put much weight on a vote that occurred over 100 years ago.

    What if we were appointing an elderly Newfoundlander. Would we demand to know whether they voted to join Canada or not? I'm skeptical.

    Ah well, at least we agree on her husband :)

    As an aside, if I recall correctly, the Cree nation held their own referendum in 1995 in which they voted overwhelmingly to remain in Canada if Quebec separated.

    By Blogger Declan, at 3:05 PM  

  • I believe we have reached the point of our fundamental disagreement and are unlikely to convince each other of anything.

    Just a couple of things:

    If it is in the public interest to have the question answered, why not pass a law to get the answer?

    Like all things it is simply a matter of where society decides to draw the line. You say "don't ask the question" I say "ask the question but don't force it," someone else may say "ask the question and force an answer." To an extent its just a matter of the concensus that society comes to through debate in the public sphere, for the court of public opinion is the ultimate arbiter in a free society. Discussions like this are part of that process of arbitration.

    I just don't see what (logically) distinguishes this from all other cases (I suspect this is our fundamental point of disagreement here).

    Indeed it is. I see a 'yes' vote as a rejection of the very meaning of Canada. As such I can't except even a symbolic head of state who has at some point in her life rejected Canada. Clearly this seems unresolvable between us.

    As an aside, if I recall correctly, the Cree nation held their own referendum in 1995 in which they voted overwhelmingly to remain in Canada if Quebec separated.

    Although I did not bother to check, I believe you are correct in this. In that case, to return to one of your original questions, if a Cree individual who had been eligable to vote in that referendum were nominated for G-G I would want to know that he or she voted to stay in Canada.

    The passage of time issue does matter, but I think the core issue returns to how we each characterize a referendum vote. I see it as an act just short of treason; perhaps not treason in a statutory sense but, as I am clearly incabable of convincing, an ultimate rejection of Canada. As a result the passage of time does not matter. To me it would somewhat analagous to appointing a G-G who fought against Canada in a previous war, no matter how long past. Again, I'm sure we disagree.

    Does that settle it as much as possible?

    It will be interesting to see where this debate in the larger public goes from here. Is it a product of August boredom that will be forgotten in September, or will it hang around Jean's neck for the lenght of her term?

    By Blogger Matthew, at 4:03 PM  

  • Yeah, I think we've reached the end of the line on this one. It was an interesting discussion though.

    For the record, I predict that all this stuff will disappear and little more will be said on the topic. In part, because the G-G is just not really an important institution these days. I remember at one point there was a lot of controversy about John Ralston Saul, but I don't hear much about that any more.

    Of course when it comes to predictions, especially political ones, I have a lousy record.

    By Blogger Declan, at 4:31 PM  

  • Does Jacques Rose's name ring a bell? It should. He served 8 years as an accessory after the fact for the murder of Quebec cabinet minister Pierre Laporte. And he renovated Madam Michaelle Jean's library in 1994. Coincidence?

    Jean Daniel Lafond, who was born in France, met a number of former FLQ members when he worked on the 1994 National Film Board documentary, La Liberte en colere.

    He co-wrote the film with Francis Simard, another FLQ member who was given early parole in 1982 after being sentenced to life for his role in killing Laporte, who was strangled and found in the trunk of an abandoned taxi.

    By Blogger bijoux55, at 7:33 PM  

  • bijoux55 - I guess I'm not big on guilt by association, especially a thread of association which is as fine as that one.

    By Blogger Declan, at 9:13 AM  

  • bijoux55,

    Stop trolling and cutting and pasting this comment everywhere. Guilt by association does not work, or we can assume Mr. Harper is a separatist for talking to Mr. Duceppe all spring.

    The fact that Mme Jean has accepted the position shows she is a federalist. No soveriegntist would ever accept that postion - they don't like the Queen, remember?

    Even if she voted "Oui" in 1995, is it not possible she has changed her mind by 2005?

    This is much ado about nothing and simply shows the crass levels some right-wing opportunists will stoop to to try to score points against the government. Disgusting. These are definitely not the pople or the party I want in power anytime soon.

    By Blogger Mike, at 9:21 AM  

  • Mike - agreed on all counts - although you left out the sovereigntists in your list of opportunists.

    By Blogger Declan, at 1:06 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home