Leave your hands off our democ­racy, please

A ref­er­en­dum is a key right of the peo­ple and in­deed, they can be trusted

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - MAR­I­ANNE MEED WARD Mar­i­anne Meed Ward is a city coun­cil­lor in Burling­ton.

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 …

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