Created on Thursday, 23 April 2009 16:57
Written by Peter Ewart
The Incurably Elitist Logic of the Toronto Globe and Mail
by Peter Ewart
rom their offices in downtown Toronto, the editors of the Globe & Mail have written an editorial titled “Mixed PR is best” (April 21 edition) about the referendum on BC-STV coming up in British Columbia in May.
In it, they lecture both the government and legislature of BC that, after the last referendum in 2005, they should have overridden the recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly and “presented the voters … with a better plan for proportional representation.”
Let us dissect the logic of this strange creature of an editorial that has washed up on our shores.
First of all, the editorialists simply don’t have their facts straight. They allege that BC-STV is a recipe for “endless minority governments,” and voters should “reject” it accordingly. This is plain wrong. The Republic of Ireland and Malta, which have STV electoral systems, have had many years of majority governments of one kind or another (coalition or single party). In fact, over the last half century, Ireland has had fewer minority governments than Canada. Furthermore, the average term of each government elected in Ireland has been slightly longer.
Then there is their patronizing and paternalistic tone in lecturing the BC government and legislature to overrule the Citizens’ Assembly recommendation. Whatever other differences I may or may not have with the present Liberal government and NDP opposition, I do think that they took a bold, innovative and progressive step in initiating the Citizens’ Assembly (composed of randomly selected voters from across BC) and charging it with recommending the best electoral system for the province. History will look kindly on this decision.
But it is the logic of this editorial which is most revealing. In 2005, the first referendum on BC-STV was held, resulting in almost 58% of voters and 97% of the ridings in province saying “yes” to the new system. The only reason it was not adopted was because the popular vote was just 2% shy of the 60% threshold (interestingly enough the Charlottetown Accord and Quebec referendums only required a 50% + 1 vote). The fact remains that a large majority of British Columbian voters indicated support.
Normal logic would say that, if, indeed, the provincial government was to take some kind of executive or legislative action, it would have endorsed the decision of the majority of voters and brought in BC-STV. But no, the Globe & Mail editorialists say that the government should have ignored the voters of BC and brought in a “mixed-member proportional system” (MMP) which had been the Citizens’ Assembly “second choice.”
What the editorialists don’t clarify is that that the Citizens’ Assembly had rejected MMP by a wide margin (80% of CA members voted against it). Indeed, a variant on the same MMP system was decisively rejected a couple of years ago in a referendum on the Globe & Mail’s home turf, Ontario (in that vote, 63% of voters were against MMP). In both cases, voters did not like MMP in large part because it gave too much power to political parties, rather than ordinary voters.
So, in essence, the Globe & Mail is arguing that the BC government should impose a discredited electoral system (MMP) that has been strongly rejected by the Citizens’ Assembly of BC, as well as by the voters of Ontario.
Why has this strange logic been put forward by these editorialists? One clue can be found in the statement where they allege BC-STV “will weaken government through political fragmentation.” What this is code for is that BC-STV will force MLAs to listen more to the voters than to the political party bosses. Such an innovation will get in the way of the executive rule that so much of our politics has degenerated into, and which the Globe & Mail editorialists are so much in love with.
After reading this arrogant and anti-democratic editorial, you wonder where these editors have been for the last 20 years. The rejection of the Charlottetown Accord in 1992 clearly showed that Canadians wanted more power over the electoral process, rather than the “executive federalism” espoused by the political elites (which, by the way, the Globe & Mail also supported back then). The Spicer Report, plus a lot of other research and surveys over the years, has also affirmed the same conclusions, as has the decision of the Citizens’ Assembly to support BC-STV.
It was once said of the royal dynasty of the Bourbons, which ruled France for several hundred years, that “they remember everything and learn nothing.” Now, we definitely cannot say, given the evidence of their sloppy research, that the Globe & Mail editors “remember everything.” However, just like the Bourbons, they do appear to have “learned nothing.”
Unfortunately, there is no known cure for this type of incorrigible and reactionary elitism, except, like the Bourbon dynasty of France, the dustbin of history and oblivion.
Peter Ewart is a writer, college instructor, and community activist based in Prince George, BC. He can be reached at: