People want change, not more of the status quo
Opportunistic, self-serving decisions show us why it’s easy to be cynical about politicians
Democracy took a hit last week. A double hit, really — a one-two punch, if you will.
First, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau walked back on his campaign promise that the 2015 would be the last first-past-the-post election. And then, bam! City council rejected the $300,000 consultant’s report and imposed its own version of ward boundaries as the new normal, which looks much the same as the old normal.
I only get this space every two weeks, and there are lots of topics I’d like to write about. I don’t want to repeat myself. It wasn’t so long ago that I wrote on both these topics, but I want to be part of the record now, in response to the decisions that have been made.
I don’t take this gig lightly. I recognize the significance that newspapers play in both recording and reflecting the tenor of the times. I’ve read maybe more than my share of old newspapers in the courses of my history degree. Considered a “primary source,” newspapers carry valuable pieces in trying to understand the puzzles of the past, and are a go-to source when researching the attitudes that surround them. The “intellectual milieu,” a professor called it, is well represented in the daily press.
So, for as much as I want to express my profound disappointment in our elected officials, I also want to go on record as saying to those who will be interested in this topic in the future: people did care about these issues. No matter what the official message is, no matter what the government documents in the archives say, people did care about reforming the electoral system. They did realize that the current system was inherently flawed and could return a majority government with a minority of the vote. There were people who were concerned that the first-past-the-post system was past its prime and no longer relevant. Across the country and across all social divides, there were people who wanted electoral reform.
Don’t buy the government’s message; we were all duped.
As for the ward boundary review, I’m not sure what council was thinking in voting in their own version over that of the consultants, and the people they consulted. The people who want boundary reform will not let this rest with your decision. They will take it to the Ontario Municipal Board, and I bet it won’t be pretty. The optics alone are damning: councillors reject consultant’s report, which includes important citizen input, in favour of their own reworked/not reworked boundaries. The time and energy council will spend in fighting the board, their own consultant’s recommendations and the citizen’s petition which will be sure to follow, is a waste of council time and taxpayer money. Money that could be used elsewhere, like housing; time that could be spent on other matters.
Opportunistic. That’s what the Liberals are, promising us the sky during the election and then claiming it’s too high once they get elected. And we believed them. We believed Trudeau when he said, hundreds of times during the election, that this was the last one to be run first-past-the-post. The Liberals knew this was a juicy issue and they played us, probably knowing full well that the glacial pace of government could very well preclude any timely reform. This was a promise they knew they couldn’t keep, but oh well. Sorry!
Opportunistic. That’s what some city councillors are in rejecting the consultant’s report and using their power and influence to maintain their own fiefdoms. Gerrymandering is the term for their interference. For those councillors so concerned with “optics,” they certainly don’t look good. You can see that, can’t you?
We have come to a time when public service has become personal self-service. There’s no other way to understand the resistance to reform, especially when so many people seem to want it, when so many are demanding it, from not-for-profit organizations to private citizens. Petitions are being prepared as you read this.
Politics has become, for some, a lifetime sinecure, with incumbents betting on the power of name recognition to secure yet another term, time and again. It’s not about public service, it’s about a job, a politician’s job. And their No. 1 priority is keeping that job. We can all relate to that, I suppose.
But I still can’t help but be disappointed. I wanted to believe in the “sunny ways’ hype that surrounded the Liberal win. I wanted to trust our councillors to do the right thing. But it seems the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Margaret Shkimba is a writer who lives in Hamilton. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can “Friend” her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter (@menrvasofia)