Why We Need Democratic Reform
By: Ryan Young
Well the dust has settled from the longest election year in modern history and the new Premier and his cabinet have been officially sworn in. The most optimistic of us are looking forward to the stronger tomorrow that the Liberals have promised, but now more than ever we need to hold the feet to the fire and get government working for the people again.
For this reason I was a little disappointed that there was no mention of democratic reform in any of the thirteen mandate letters that Premier Ball issued to cabinet this week. With a record low voter turnout of 55% in the November 30th general election you might think that the new government would be more concerned with the state of democracy in our province.
Almost half of the eligible voters in the province couldn’t be bothered to take the time to cast their vote and participate in the democratic process. Premier Ball need not look far to find the reasons that keep people away from the polls in droves, the major reason is quite clear. People don’t feel that their vote matters. I mean why take the time to go out in the cold November wind to cast a vote for the PC’s or the NDP when we all knew that the red tide was on the way in?
Videos by several comedy groups surfaced during the campaign where residents were asked to name their electoral districts and/or the candidates vying to be their MHA. The results, while amusing, were downright embarrassing. The simple truth is that the majority of Newfoundlander's are not engaged in the political process and have very little knowledge of what is happening on Confederation Hill. When you ask them why, the answer is usually simpler still. People don’t vote because they don’t feel that the current system is representative of them. But how do we change peoples minds? How do we get people involved in the process? The answer to those questions might be the simplest of all.
During the federal election campaign there was plenty of talk about electoral reform. Canadians overwhelmingly support a shift towards a proportional representation style of democracy. There are many different forms of PR to be studied but the main point to be considered is that a PR system makes every vote count. The number of seats in the legislature would be directly related to the percentage of the vote. Prime Minister Trudeau has promised that we have seen the last first past the post election in Canada, even if we don’t know yet what the new system will be. But why have we been so quiet about the issue here in Newfoundland and Labrador?
The Liberal government promised an all-party committee on democratic reform as part of its election plank on openness and transparency. As part of this plan, the Liberals promised to consult with the public on new ways to restore democratic integrity to the province. It was surprising then, that when the Premier issued his mandate letters, there was no mention at all of democratic reform. No minister has been appointed responsible for democratic reform and there is no mandate for the creation of the all-party committee as was promised during the election campaign. With the clock already ticking on the next election we don’t have the time to drag our feet on this issue. It needs to be addressed immediately with a clear mandate from the Premiers office.
Some critics argue that we would be best served to wait until the federal government has established how it will conduct its elections and change our system accordingly. That is a fair statement that does have some credibility as we certainly want to minimize the amount of confusion that will result in any major change to the democratic system. It would be wise, however, to start laying our own groundwork so that we don’t be left having to do all of that work in a short amount of time when the feds make their final decision.
The real question to ask is this: Is there sufficient political will to make major changes to the democratic system in Newfoundland and Labrador? Remember that this new government was elected with a large majority, and any changes that would be made to the system would reduce the amount of power they wield. Can we really expect any political party to give up the power for the betterment of the people? I guess we will have to wait and see.