11 October 2008

Feminists, Poverty-Environment-Health Activists: Attention please!

This commentary by Elsie Hambrook, Chair of the New Brunswick Advisory Council on the Status of Women, is a must-read.

When Doris Anderson, former and famed editor of Chatelaine and lifelong activist, came to Saint John on a stormy winter night in 2003, drawing hundreds of women to hear her speak on electoral reform, she confided something that, years later, still makes some of us think.

She was more than 80 years old, feisty as ever, and she said if she had it to do over, she would spend all her energies on electoral reform. She had had many causes and careers, several to do with advancing Canadian women's equality, and she had become convinced that without an electoral system that better reflected the actual votes, women would not gain political equality. [My emphasis]

I made such a decision when WISE folded December 15th last year, to pour all my energy into advancing democratic and electoral reform, the latter with emphasis on changing our archaic, undemocratic first-past-the-post majoritarian voting system to a system of proportional representation. After all, WISE had made that its very first of three goals.

Ever since making that decision, I've felt one frustration after another. And yes, I do know that a mere ten months isn't a long time; there have been people working for years to get electoral reform to the position of importance it needs to be in the minds of the Canadian public.

As we found when operating WISE, getting the message out to the public is damn hard. Not just because the media and corporate and party elites are so strongly against democratic and electoral reform, but because, among other things, locations where people come together are increasingly not available for canvassing or soliciting.

For example, at the All Candidates Meeting in my community, I wanted to distribute Fair Vote Canada flyers on the seats in the theatre. I'd printed off 250 flyers, plus sheets of the FVC petition for candidates and audience members to sign (was hoping to ask a question at the mic on ER/PR).

When I arrived at the ACM venue, I asked permission of the manager to distribute my flyers on the theatre seats.


So I asked permission to distribute the flyers outside, at the front of the building.

Denied again.

Even the purportedly public sidewalk fronting the building was off-limits.

It's a common problem: more and more places that used to be public gathering-places are now in private hands. Even public places can be under lease to private concerns.

Anyway, with an issue as fundamental as electoral reform and the unfortunate glazing of eyes one witnesses too often when it's mentioned, I was immensely gratified to learn of two other feminists, one of whom is located in one of Canada's leading feminist hotspots, writing about the same issue and urging some serious activism in support of proportional representation.

As I've argued previously and will no doubt do again and again, the single most pressing issue for Canadians is the recovery of democratic choice for voters. Until that happens, none of the issues that matter to the true majority of Canadians will be addressed. At best, they will be given only lip service. At worst - and this is no different than what's happening now -, Canadians will continue to be governed by politicians whose priorities are the same as their corporate backers and moneyed lobbyists.

That's because the people with the power to change policy - those who get 100% of the power on the basis of 60% of the seats, which in turn are on the basis of less than 40% of the popular vote - have no reason to listen to the remaining 60+ percent of Canadians who voted. Nor do they have to listen to the 35 to 40 percent of the Canadian electorate which has given up voting altogether.

Until acceptance of politicians' applications for employment to these powerful positions are directly tied to whether or not those politicians DO listen to the majority of the electorate, said politicians will keep on ignoring the issues which matter to 76 percent of the Canadian public eligible to vote.

For more information about electoral reform, please visit Fair Vote Canada and their brilliant new website for Canada's Orphan Voters.

Recommend this post