Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Democracy is too expensive is a poor argument

There are lots of good arguments you can make that just adding more and more seats to the House of Commons to address shifting populations is a bad idea. For example, at some point unless you knock out a wall, you’ll run out of room in the Commons chamber. Cost, however, is the worst possible argument you could make.

“It doesn’t make any sense in these days of financial restraint,” Liberal MP Marc Garneau said Tuesday at a Commons committee studying the legislation that would give 15 extra seats to Ontario, six seats each to B.C. and Alberta, and three seats to Quebec.
I’m sorry, but you’re never going to convince me that democracy is too expensive. That’s as foolish as the Conservative argument during the minority era that the cost of an election would be too high during the downturn. With all the countries in the world yearning for free elections and representative democracy, I refuse to seriously consider cost as an impediment to fairer representation. And in this context it’s cheap populist pandering, and I’d urge the Liberals to drop that line of attack.

If you want to make a principled argument on parliamentary representation, then do it. And the Liberals are correct on the wider point: you can’t just keep adding seats willy-nilly. It’s the politically expedient solution, to be sure, but it’s not sustainable.

It’s easy though, because a real solution is difficult. It would involve taking seats away from low and declining-population regions and giving them to higher-growth ones. Besides opening up a political can of worms, there are also assorted constitutional provisions guaranteeing parliamentary representation levels compared to Senate representation, and other factors to be juggled.

It’s like pulling a loose thread; you start to do something in one area and all of a sudden you need to do something in another. If the Liberals really want to take a principled approach to this issue, there’s no way to do it in isolation. It needs give and take on a number of fronts. Truly addressing Commons representation in a substantive way also means addressing Senate representation in a substantive way, from distribution to elections to the powers of the respective chambers. It means negotiation with the provinces and constitutional reform.

I would truly love to see the Liberals be bold here and get serious with an agenda for democratic and parliamentary reform; let’s throw in looking at voting reform at the same time. It’s all part of the wider puzzle, and it’s time we stopped nibbling around the edges and got serious about this.

But in the mean time, please stop complaining about the cost of democracy.

P.S. If the Liberals want to vote against this redistribution bill, they need to present a detailed alternative forthwith. Who would lose seats and who would gain. Otherwise, you're embracing an unacceptable status-quo that under-represents Ontario, Alberta and B.C. And that's just plain dumb, not to mention wrong. Adding more seats isn't ideal, but it's better than doing nothing.

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The Rat said...

It is in extremely poor taste for the Liberal party to have a Quebec MP fronting this. Quebec won't move off 75 seats and is demanding an un-representative democracy. Does the Liberal party officially support that position? If so, and considering the Conservatives already have a majority without Quebec, I can hardly wait for the next election where the 'new' Liberal leader can once again explain to the West why they don't count. I bet there are already ads in the can ripping the NDP on that.

Koby said...

Rat. The Conservative formula is premised on Quebec retaining its current share in the House of Commons. In this sense they are only marginally better than the Liberals. However, the Conservative, led by that dolt Brown, are also calling for an "effective" senate. In this sense they are million times worse than the Liberals. A more representative House only means something if it is not diluted by the monstrously stupid idea of a "effective" regionally representative senate.

The Rat said...

Yes, the bad Conservatives are giving Quebe exactly the representation they deserve while leaving BC, Alta, and Ont below that. It sucks but it beats the hell out of what the Libs and NDP are proposing. As for the Senate, It's a joke and massively unrepresentative. Maybe the only way to reform it is to screw it up so badly that even @ssholes like Quebec and the minnows in the maritimes realize we should just abolish the damn thing. Until then we are just perpetuating an awful and unfair system locked in to a 1910 configuration. Me, I'd rather do something about it.

Koby said...

Rat it makes no sense whatsoever to bitch about various provinces being underrepresented in the House and then call for the senate to be Reformed. The current senate is not a problem for the simple reason that lacks legitimacy and thus real power. It rubber stamps bills; it is complete waste of money not affront to democracy. Harper and Mr Brown want to change that. They want to give the senate real power! Under Harper's plan New Brunswick will have 10 senators and BC 6. Under Brown's plan PEI will have same number of senators as BC.

Say after me Rat. The House should be representative and the senate abolished. If you believe in rep by pop, that is the position you must take.