Now is the time for a discussion on democratic reform

December 10, 2008

I need a rest, maybe even a “cooling off period” to recover from all the political intrigue of the past week. Not that parliament necessarily needs a break, at such a pivotal time, but I sure do.  Rarely have constitutional issues and parliamentary maneoveres raised so much interest with the Canadian public.  People are engaged, whether because they are upset, angry, confused or excited.  Hardly anyone is bored by it.  For now it seems to have settled down, whether for good or ill.  One good thing that should arise from all this excitement, however, is that Canadians are more aware than ever of the inner workings of our democracy. Furthermore, regardless of where you stand on this particular coalition, Harper’s behavior, Dion’s leadership, or any of the other issues, almost everyone would agree that something is broken with democratic system.

It is time for  national discussion on democratic reform.  Never before have Canadians been soon interested and so upset at how the system works.  This is the opportunity, with the STV referendum coming up, to discuss ways to fix our system.  Canadians want to know that their voice is heard and that decisions are being made in a transparent manner.

So lets start that discussion now. It’s easy. Here, I’ll start.

Some may blame the recent fracas in Ottawa on politicians and their crass, greedy, conniving ways.  But really, contrary to some reports,  politicians are people too.  The problem, I think is that the system we use to govern ourselves have very strange incentives built into it.  It has incentives for prime ministers to shut down government to avoid being voted out of his job. It has incentives for opposition parties to make any compromise just for the hope of forming a more representative government.  If the members of parliament elected only two months ago actually represented the votes cast nationally then a coalition of opposition parties would look very different.  See Larry Gordon’s letter to see the break down of what the party numbers could have been.

While we do that, the parties will realign themselves, the Liberals have already chosen a new leader, the Quebec election is over even with historically low turnout and eventually parliament will sit again.  Parties are playing political games and voters are still tuning out.  Do you agree? Disagree? Think I’m crazy. Let me know.

Assuming you agree, and I will assume that until you tell me otherwise, what’s a responsible citizen to do?

Get involved.  Join groups (fairvote, stv, fairvoteubc ), join the discussion (twitter, or comment on this blog! any others? let us know! ), writer letters (some hints), talk to people!

Mark Crowley is a PhD student in Computer Science at UBC

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