Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Grant Mitchell on Representative Democracy

We liked this story by Sen. Mitchell so much, that we had to repost it...

It really bears repeating, over and over and over again, particularly when the bent logic of the Reform-a-Tory movement tries to skew the views of the populace...

I believe in representative democracy for these reasons:

a. One of the classic problems with direct democracy is figuring out exactly what every constituent wants is logistically very challenging. Ridings have around 100,000 constituents; representatives simply cannot communicate with everyone. And, they will receive many different thoughts and priorities from those they do hear from. Would representatives be required to poll on each issue? What would constitute a majority? These are the logistical challenges that make this type of direct democracy unworkable.

b. Moreover, there is little room in direct democracy for a representative to take positions that they believe to be right because of detailed study. These positions may not be consistent with the perspectives of constituents, in part, because constituents have not had the time or resources to study the issue with the same depth.

c. Decisions could also be skewed to regions with the biggest populations. I remember driving with a farmer while touring his farm. He made the point that representatives should only vote for the interests of their constituents. I responded with a question about him not ever wanting another paved rural road. How could urban representatives vote for rural roads? Or, what would this approach mean for the influence of central Canada which has the preponderance of representatives in the House of Commons? How could they ever vote for Western interests? The consequence would likely be what happens in the US Congress where there is continual, ‘you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours,’ politics of negotiation.

d. Direct democracy can also erode accountability. In a referendum where each of us votes in a secret ballot on some initiative or other, no can be held accountable for their decision. So, if that decision proves to be a disaster, there is no one to fire for it in the next election. People demand accountability all the time and in fact one of the great drivers in institutional reform debate is the need for greater accountability. You don’t get that with direct democracy.

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Skinny Dipper said...

I do think there is a role for direct democracy in some aspects of our democracy. I do think we should be able to vote on constitutional amendments as is done in Australia. I won't suggest the exact same approval formula that Australia has. I do think we can act as a check on the powers being increasingly concentrated in the executive office.

I do think we need a better representative democracy where we citizens can elected our representatives through some form of proportional representation so that we can get a better proportion of women, various minorities, and different parties in our parliament and legislatures.

I do have a problem with direct democracy under proportional representation systems. If there are three Conservative MPs, two Liberals, and one NDP MP, how do these MPs vote if a bare majority of voters want an income tax reduction? The Conservative MPs may agree with the bare majority of voters. Are the Liberal and NDP MPs obliged to vote for tax reductions also?

Anonymous said...

The timing on this is interesting because today I was thinking Canada needs a system of recall to balance the disgusting two man election we have now.
If a large enough segment of the population from across the country took offense to the conduct of an individual MP, a cross-country electronic voting mechanism should be able to recall that MP.
In other words, the Jason Kenney's of future parliaments would get heaved for assaulting the good senses of all Canadians.