Monday, 3 September 2012

I've decided it's time for a change

I didn't want to put "electoral system" in the title because then nobody would click on the link, but
I've decided it's time for a change in how we elect our representatives.

Perhaps our current system makes sense federally, but I'm not sure it makes sense provincially or locally. This thought came to mind as I read a Metro article last week about the provincial by-election in Fort Whyte. In the article, the candidates were asked about the most important issues that came up as they campaigned door-to-door.

With the province increasingly mired in debt, billions being committed to Hydro projects of dubious benefit, and various problems with health care, family services, etc., the key issues, according to the candidates, are:

According to Brandy Schmidt, NDP ...

"the Waverly overpass request—that’s a big one," she said, adding an overpass at Waverly Street near Taylor Avenue would be something she’d look into if elected.

Bob Axworthy, Liberal ...
The most important issue, according to Axworthy, is having a representative in Fort Whyte who lives in the community.
Let me get this straight: the most important issue is not the provincial debt, or health care or increasing hydro rates or even infrastructure, but what street the candidate's house is on. Score one for Mr. Jetz TV, I guess.

Brian Pallister, PC ...
It varies from too-loud train whistles to the need for more elementary and a high school in the area, to traffic problems on Waverley Street.
While president of the Portage la Prairie Chamber of Commerce, helped find a resolution to train whistling — experience he hopes to bring to the Manitoba Legislature.
That's right: train whistles. Thankfully he is well-equipped to tackle the train whistle problem that plagues Manitoba, having worked on a similar problem in Portage La Prairie. He can leverage that valuable experience as MP and leader of the opposition.

Only Don Benham, Green Party, mentioned issues of province-wide significance: a proposed Honesty in Politics Act and recycling policy.

A common criticism of our 'first past the post' regional system is that it produces outcomes that are not consistent with the popular vote. This is true, but to add to that, you have these weird distortions where a person who will be governing on matters of provincial significance are campaigning on local issues that are significant only to a tiny fraction of the population. I don't know about you, but when a provincial election candidate knocks on my door and asks me what concerns I have with my riding, I have to wrack my brain to think of something that doesn't sound trivial. I'm not concerned about my riding ... I'm concerned about my province.

This preposterous state of affairs sometimes also results in something resembling bribery, as we saw in Southdale where residents voted NDP to get a fancy new community centre complex. Meanwhile, the candidate they elected to get their community center is voting on legislation that impacts everyone. It doesn't make sense.

The same arguments can be made of civic elections. I think we should elect a panel of councilors that have the best interests of the entire city in mind. I think most do, but if a councilor from Ward X continually makes poor decisions there is nothing that most people can do about it. Only a small percentage of people have a say in whether that individual gets re-elected, and because he has name recognition in that particular ward re-election is almost a certainty.

The recent Shindico land-swap craziness is evidence that there are massive systemic problems at Winnipeg City Hall that transcend ward boundaries. [By the way, Bart Kives has been doing a great job of covering this. See: 1 2 3 4 5 6 ]. I'm not saying that council is directly to blame for this, but certainly some of them are complicit in allowing a culture to develop where grievous violations of process like this can be considered normal and acceptable.

It is my belief that if we moved to a system where all people in the city had a say in electing all councilors, there would be greater turn-over and more accountability.

I'm not prepared to come up with the details of how such a system would work, and I think it's highly unlikely anything will change anyhow since those in power have a vested interest in preserving the system that put them in power. I just think it can be better, is all.


Rod Rouge said...

It is kinda absurd, eh? My favorite facet of the broken jewel of Canadian democracy is how we elect those who favour one group specifically, and will likely screw other groups. By catering to a 'slice', they get their rabid support and, with enough vote-splitting by the others, can sneak in on that support alone. And everyone else gets the shaft. Nice!

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but there are local issues that only an Mla can deal with.

Axworthy has schools as a big issue, and it is for that area.

Brandy nails it with a major local issue like rail overpass/underpass.

Don, Honesty and recycling ????? Not sure where that registers on important issues an MLA needs to address for his local constituency.

cherenkov said...

Anon: an underpass? a school? How are these provincial issues? Why does an MLA need to get involved to do this? they're local issues. You vote for somebody in the hopes of getting a school in the area and what you end up with is a $4 billion bipole III line. It's insanity.

Anonymous said...

Schools are provincial and only an MLA can do something about it.

Underpass will only get built with provincial funding. Only an MLA can get that going.

As for BiPole 3 insanity how does a recycling and Honesty Act stop it ?

For people living in the area the top 2 are far more important issues than BiPole 3.

You would think the Greens clued in on that.

cherenkov said...

Nonsense. Why can't the minister of education work with local officials to decide where a new school can go or if one is needed? You don't need an MLA to get involved. In fact, that's the worst way to do it because it does not encourage objectivity.

You don't need an MLA to build an overpass either.

I haven't read the honesty act, and I wasn't suggesting it would do anything specific -- only that it's a actually a provincial issue.

My point is that larger issues like Hydro should be the focus of campaigning MLAs.

Anonymous said...

My point is that larger issues like Hydro should be the focus of campaigning MLAs.


It's obvious half the pop doesn't care either way. Perhaps in the grand scheme of things 10% care, the rest of the 40% think its a team competition or are concerned about local issues.

I would say in a general election the larger issues get more consideration. But these by-elections where only 35% bother to vote, focusing on local issues is the thing to do.

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