20 September 2008

Letter to Editor: "Competition" it isn't

The following was written to the editor of The Cowichan Valley Citizen. While the paper hasn't a website, my letter makes the substance of the article clear.

Dear Editor:

I read your article by Sarah Simpson, "More than a two-horse race," with a growing sense of irony.

Superficially, the topic was democracy.

Certainly, the article started off describing Canada's democratic deficit, telling of the media consortium's decision to exclude, and subsequently include, Green Party leader Elizabeth May in the upcoming televised debates.

Left out of the account was that the NDP and Conservatives colluded to block May's participation, both Jack Layton and Stephen Harper having threatened to boycott the events should she attend. Only Layton's and Harper's reversal due to intense pressure from angry citizens, including from within their own parties, precipitated the change in the consortium's decision.

The article stated that only three parties have represented this riding since 1988. These have been the NDP and the Reform or Canadian Alliance, the latter two being earlier versions of today's Conservative Party.

The situation for voters in this riding is far worse than this polarization would suggest.

We have not elected a member to the government in 29 years. In fact, we have done so only twice in the past 50 years. And you'd have to go back 68 years to find a Liberal candidate who had been elected

With the article's headline, one might have expected that more than the two horses in question would be mentioned, yet only the NDP and Conservative candidates' names and photos were included. Both Liberal candidate Brian Scott and Green Party candidate Christina Knighton were left out.

This kind of editorial omission helps perpetuate the two-horse race and the dominance of the NDP and Conservatives in our riding. But what troubled me most was not this omission, but the response by one of those two horses, NDP candidate and incumbent Jean Crowder.

Referring to the number of candidates which typically run in our riding during federal elections (up to ten), Crowder responded: "There is a lot of interest and that does a lot of good for the democratic process, that people get involved." As to the prospect of facing the extra competition, she stated: "I think it allows us to get some perspectives on the issues. It generates good conversation. I think it's very healthy."

Within the NDP's platform one can find a small section on electoral reform. Yet rarely does one hear NDP candidates voicing their concern that the votes of the majority of Canadians, including those of citizens in this riding, fail to be represented in the House of Commons.

For example, in Nanaimo-Cowichan during the 2006 federal election, the votes of 53.2% of us elected no one. That's 32, 499 votes. That's 32,499 of us whose opinion didn't matter.

Since only first place matters in a winner-take-all system, even the votes for the Conservative who placed second didn't count.

This Citizen article was a golden opportunity for Crowder to raise the issue of the lack of democracy in our voting system. That she didn't has to make this voter wonder how committed she and the NDP are to democratic and electoral reform - and not just the kind of reform which the party prefers, but that which the people decide.

(I omit the Conservatives because they do not profess to want change to our voting system.)

It's fine for Crowder to state, in response to a question about facing added competition, that "it allows us [presumably the horses in the two-horse race] to get some perspectives on the issues, [that] it generates good conversation."

It's another to acknowledge that with our first-past-the-post electoral system THERE IS NO COMPETITION beyond that between the two front-running horses.

Clearly and once again, politicians in the lead don't care about this issue and would prefer that it be buried.

Will voters allow this?

We've shown what we can do when we get angry, when we witness a threat to our democratic choice. We got Elizabeth May into the televised debates.

We have the power to force change. Therefore, I urge anyone who cares about our country's growing democratic deficit to visit Fair Vote Canada's new website, www.orphanvoters.ca. It pulls together the facts about electoral reform, answers your questions and offers constructive suggestions on what you can do to promote this change.

In the words of FVC's Executive Director, Larry Gordon, "The abused, neglected and abandoned voters of this great land will no longer meekly say 'Please sir, we want some democracy'. When the new government takes office we will remind whoever forms the government that they do not have a democratic mandate from the people."

Chrystal Ocean, Duncan.

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