Leave your hands off our democracy, please
A referendum is a key right of the people and indeed, they can be trusted
This is concerning your editorial published June 30 under the headline “The danger of a referendum.”
The Spectator turns a vote it disagrees with — Brexit — into a war on democracy itself by opining on the perils of referenda.
Says the Spec: Referenda endorse looking back, are rarely a vote for change, and are a cop-out by elected representatives; referenda further reveal a split between urban and non-urban residents and a distrust of politicians and intellectuals.
The suggestion is that the people can’t be trusted to make the right decisions when we exercise our right to vote. It’s a breathtaking attack on democracy. Adding insult to injury, the editorial denigrates individuals who voted Leave, rather than mount a credible argument for Remain.
The folks who voted to leave aren’t backward-looking anti-change. They aren’t happy with the status quo, and feel the current arrangement isn’t working so they voted for — wait for it — change, of massive proportions and without a road map. This takes courage. I say this as someone who supported Remain.
Regarding a rural/urban split, urban areas are more densely populated than rural, thus have stronger voting power by virtue of numbers. If anyone has cause for concern about their voices being heard, it’s rural not urban folks. The U.K. is 82 per cent urban. If all the urbanites had voted Remain, Remain would have won. Clearly many urbanites voted to leave. And I say this as a happy urbanite.
Finally, while suggesting the Leave folks are anti-intellectual, the piece itself engages in the most anti-intellectual of arguments — guilt by association. To quote: if Donald Trump and Sarah Palin are for Leave “that should say something about the nature and wisdom of the vote.” No, actually it doesn’t. A solid argument for Remain would have said something about the wisdom of the vote, but the column failed to mount one. And I’m a registered Democrat and Bernie Sanders supporter. Trump would be a disastrous president, but that doesn’t mean that everything he says is wrong, just because he is the one saying it.
There are valid discussions to have about the nature of our democracy and even referenda, things like: What topics should be put to referenda? Is a simple majority sufficient?
Canada has used referenda sparingly, from the first ones on prohibition of alcohol (1898) and conscription (1942), to the most recent one on the Charlottetown accord (1992). Quebec has had two referenda on potential separation from Canada. Ontario’s most recent referendum, in 2007, was on proportional representation versus the first-past-thepost system of electing members. The vote lost 63 per cent, but the issue is back in a different form, with Ontario and some municipalities exploring ranked ballots.
Arguably, these topics have both the import and impact to warrant taking the issue to the people — as Brexit did.
Should a simple majority suffice? Not always — even now.
At Halton Region, a triple majority is required to add regional councillors: a majority of Regional municipalities, representing a majority of the population, and a majority vote at Regional Council. In Burlington, a two-thirds majority vote is required to reconsider a vote of council in the same term of office. Quebec has debated whether a simple “majority plus one” is enough to leave Canada. These are debates worth having.
This piece managed to avoid them all. Instead, it made a series of personal attacks against voters on one side — even while half-heartedly calling us all to “look for ways to understand each other.”
The first step to understanding is surely to listen to opposing viewpoints without denigrating those who hold them as bigoted, anti-change, anti-intellectuals.
And leave your hands off our democracy: even if I disagree with a particular vote, I would never suggest withdrawing voting rights via referenda.
The folks who voted to leave aren’t backwardlooking anti-change. They aren’t happy with the status quo …