July 23, 2007

A Modest Proposal

Yes, yes; I know. "Oo, a literary reference! We're sooooo impressed!"

But frankly, it's tough to imagine a recent argument being made in one of the local papers being anything but satirical! A quick precis:

According to the writer, our local federal representative has not been very noticeable on the national stage. The reason for this, he proposes, it that she belongs to the 4th largest party in parliament. Wouldn't it be better, the reasoning went, if we had voted for the party that was now in power? Did we learn nothing from the Shuffle Demons' immortal "Pavin' My Road"? Only those who are in power can do anything for us! Anything else, and we're just going to be ignored by the powers that be!

This silliness actually went on for a few days, if you can believe it.

Short form of what's wrong with this argument: it ain't democracy.

Longer form: even when someone from a specific party wins the local nomination, they are supposed to represent everyone in the riding, whether they voted for that member of parliament or not. Obviously, they are going to be more biased toward the majority, and that's certainly fair, but the rest of the population is not to be "ignored"! They've still got questions that need answering, and requests that will be made, and all the rest of it.

*Quick aside - Here's one place where keeping religion out of politics is absolutely vital: there was much discussion of whether the MPs would truly represent their constituents during hot-button debates (abortion and gay marriage) or go with their personal feelings. This goes right up to the Prime Minister's office, where the last couple PMs had been threatened by the Catholic Church if they allowed gay marriage (both were Catholic) - they did anyways, because they both felt that that was what the population wanted. - End of aside*

The belief that the representatives should only toe their party line without any consideration to the locals is not only rather horrible behaviour, it's also political suicide. When former U.S. speaker of the house Tip O'Neill said that all politics were local, he was thinking more that the leader of a party would affect all the regional politicos. Any mistakes or unpopular moves that the party leader made would have to be explained in the back yard of the members of parliament.

While the statement is true, it also works in reverse: should enough of the people in a riding feel passionately about an issue, that feeling should make itself known right up to the Prime Minister's Office. Ignoring the passionate is a big mistake in politics, which is why it sometimes seems like only the freaks and flakes and one-position shrieks get any attention - they tend to be organized, and they'll vote over their one issue before anything else.

As for voting for a small party (one with no hope of election) being "wasted", I'd like to draw your attention to a couple of movements - environmentalism and religious revivalism. Neither of these movements were very important fifty years ago, and yet they both changed the face of politics in ways that are felt even now. When a one-subject party gets enough support to go national, that gets the attention of those currently in power.

Every party in North America has to have an official environmental platform, no matter how ridiculous it makes them look, and that's a direct result of grassroots environmentalism.

The astounding failure of the Equal Rights Amendment to pass doesn't mean that its proposal was worthless - politicians noticed how many votes were going that way, and either modified their positions or lost their seats.

Which is what makes this such a good question for the CNN question period... Thanks to Blue Gal for pointing this out. Same goes for anyone in Canada proposing that the Green Party not be included in debates here.

Waiting until we see who's in charge before begging him for scraps is not what I'm interested in: that ain't democracy.


posted by Thursday at 1:00 pm


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