One Small Joke From Harper, One Giant Leap For Democracy

I want to expand a bit on the press release I posted yesterday. There are, specifically, two things I’d like to cover.

First, what’s going on in Ontario? Some of you likely know this, but over the past several months a group of randomly selected Ontarians (known as the Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform) have been meeting to learn about and discuss different kinds of voting systems. They have now decided, by an overwhelming majority (more than 90%) and after much debate and deliberation, to recommend that Ontario change its voting system to one currently being used in Germany and New Zealand called Mixed Member Proportional (MMP). All of Ontario gets to vote “yes” or “no” to that proposal on October 10th, 2007, the same day as the next provincial election. I’ll expand on how MMP works, why it’s important, and what’s wrong with the arguments against it in separate posts to follow. Stay tuned.

Second, what’s all this talk of a $900,000 “private” public consultation underway by the Harper government? Well, the federal Conservative government decided they wanted to pretend to know how Canadians feel about the need for electoral reform. However, instead of asking a randomly selected group of Canadians in a transparent and non-biased process (as the government of Ontario did in creating the Citizens’ Assembly), they hired a think tank known for opposing electoral reform. From John Ibbitson:

To placate the NDP in this minority Parliament, the Conservatives promised in their Throne Speech to consider the question of electoral reform.

We now know how they plan to proceed. Those plans are hilarious.

Claiming they don’t want the process to be captured by special interests, the Conservatives have decided to employ what could be the very first closed-door public consultation.

They have hired pollster Conrad Winn to conduct a poll, and a think tank to convene a series of focus groups across the country. Citizens will be probed for their thoughts on the role of political parties in policy development, the decorum (read lack of it) in the House of Commons, Senate reform, civic engagement and, oh yes, electoral reform…

…The contract to conduct the focus groups went to the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, a conservative think tank based in Winnipeg.

Three times in recent years, the Frontier Centre has published articles from contributors that argued strongly against [proportional representation] and in favour of retaining the status quo…

…Jack Layton [opposes the process]. “It’s a sham, and a stacked deck,” the NDP Leader said yesterday. “It really indicates that Stephen Harper is not serious about electoral reform.”

In this instance, Mr. Layton hits the mark. Mr. Harper has not the slightest interest in considering the question of electoral reform…

…This charade is an act of political subterfuge calculated to disguise inaction. It may furnish the government with some fabricated evidence that Canadians don’t want electoral reform (but, no doubt, do want Senate reform and more decorum in the House). But the conclusions will be as worthless as the evidence on which they’re based.

The government established an upper spending limit of $900,000 for this exercise. That’s not much, in the great scheme of things, but every single penny of it is wasted.

So, that’s what the heck Elizabeth and I were talking about in the release, in case you wanted that background.

I love Ibbitson’s use of the word “hilarious.” Sometimes, he seems to be saying, you just have to laugh.

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