Two gov­ern­ments, two demo­cratic fail­ures

THE SPEC­TA­TOR’S VIEW

The Hamilton Spectator - - OPINION - Howard El­liott

To­day, two fail­ures. One is lo­cal. One is na­tional.

One is the Lib­eral govern­ment’s failed com­mit­ment to demo­cratic re­form — mean­ing a vot­ing sys­tem dif­fer­ent than first-past-the-post. Two, Hamil­ton city coun­cil’s fail­ure to find a mean­ing­ful so­lu­tion to ward bound­ary in­equities which means not all cit­i­zens in the city have eq­ui­table rep­re­sen­ta­tion.

We bun­dle these two be­cause they do have a fair bit in com­mon. They’re both po­ten­tial po­lit­i­cal wins. Justin Trudeau knows that re­form­ing the way we vote isn’t a top of mind is­sue for av­er­age Cana­di­ans. City coun­cil­lors know av­er­age con­stituents don’t care much about ward bound­aries, un­less they are af­fected di­rectly. They both know they can duck these is­sues with­out pay­ing a big po­lit­i­cal price.

Granted, this isn’t ap­ples to ap­ples. Fed­eral demo­cratic re­form is a huge is­sue that could fun­da­men­tally change the way we elect gov­ern­ments. Ward bound­ary mod­ern­iza­tion is about as lo­cal as you can get. But they are both about equity and in­clu­sion.

Many don’t think the first-past-the-post sys­tem is bro­ken, or is the best of im­per­fect op­tions. That is de­bat­able. But one thing that is not is that the sta­tus quo is why we have a ma­jor­ity govern­ment right now that won 54 per cent of the seats in Par­lia­ment while hav­ing less than 40 per cent of the pop­u­lar vote. This govern­ment’s pre­de­ces­sor had a ma­jor­ity with an even smaller slice of the pop­u­lar vote.

But Trudeau may be mis­judg­ing how much this will cost him. It is yet an­other bla­tantly bro­ken prom­ise. And while the dis­in­ter­ested ma­jor­ity may not care that much, the mo­ti­vated mi­nor­ity — mil­len­ni­als be­ing a big part of that — care deeply. Trudeau has just turned his back on them hav­ing promised he would be a dif­fer­ent kind of prime min­is­ter.

And city coun­cil? By opt­ing to tin­ker around the edges of this prob­lem — hav­ing spent a quar­ter-mil­lion dol­lars on a con­sult­ing re­port they hap­pily ig­nored — in­stead of ad­dress­ing the un­de­ni­able in­equity, they have only kicked the prob­lem down the road. Al­ready lo­cal ac­tivist Matt Jelly prom­ises to take the mat­ter to the On­tario Mu­nic­i­pal Board. The dis­par­ity is so ob­vi­ous it is quite pos­si­ble, even likely, the board will or­der the city back to the draw­ing board. That would mean they wasted $250,000, made a bad de­ci­sion and then had to do it all over again. Not smart.

The prob­lem here is fun­da­men­tal. Wards with dra­mat­i­cally dif­fer­ent pop­u­la­tions have the same num­ber of coun­cil votes — one. So a few thou­sand con­stituents get a vote, and cit­i­zens who live in the most pop­u­lous wards get the same thing and the same rep­re­sen­ta­tion. At a very ba­sic level, this doesn’t add up. Elec­toral dis­tricts (wards) should re­flect rel­a­tively bal­anced rep­re­sen­ta­tion by pop­u­la­tion. Coun­cil took the easy way out on this is­sue, and it doesn’t re­flect well on them.

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