25 June 2010

Fairness in Representation vs. Ideological Identity

I happened upon this news story today, about (now) former Liberal Hec Cloutier planning to run as an independent in the next federal election.

"I met Mr. Ignatieff and he said to me: 'Hector, I would like you to consider running for me because you're the only one who can win the seat back for us.' I said I will consider running, but 'I am going to vote the wishes of my constituents'," Clouthier recalled.

"He said: 'I am the leader. If I whip the caucus you have to follow in line.' I said: 'No, I've been there, done that.' I toed the party line and lost in 2000. I refuse to do that again."

I tweeted the link to the article, adding the comment "Canadians need more politicians like this."

I got a common reply, of the type: 'S/he supports (or is against), or would vote in favour of _____.' (Fill in the blank, e.g.: the gun registry, abortion, censorship, strict environmental laws, Canada's military presence in Afghanistan....

The underlying message of such comments? That anyone who supports _____ or, regardless of personal conviction, would vote in support of _____, is ipso facto a poor candidate for political office; this, despite the majority of constituents in the riding being in support of _____.

Which brings one to a dilemma. In some cases*, fairness in representation aligns well with ideological identity. That is, the Member of Parliament or provincial representative and the political party of which s/he is a member represent the majority view of constituents in that riding.

But what of cases when they don't? What should a politician do? Represent the wishes of the majority of constituents, even if the representative or his/her party may disagree? - and even if the majority outside the riding may disagree? Or should the representative of the people of that riding vote the (national, provincial) party line?

See, to me, it's no dilemma at all. In a properly-functioning democracy, politicians represent the people. (Nothing in the Canadian Constitution says that political parties have a right to representation!)

If the wishes of the majority in a riding run counter to the wishes of others in the riding, then it's up to the dissenting minority, most particularly in the riding, to work to persuade the others. If the dissenters want to enlist outside help, that's fine, as can the opposing side. At least the two sides are listening and talking to one another, which so often doesn't happen now.

That's what democracy is about. It's messy and sometimes inconvenient.

In a properly functioning democracy, we shouldn't be running roughshod over other people's views. Most particularly, we shouldn't permit unfair political representation of the people just because the people in question hold views contrary to ours.

* I write in some cases because our antiquated voting system and the unwillingness of 'the people's representatives' to cooperate ensure that the majority views of Canadians remain, in fact, unrepresented in our houses of government.

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