Saturday, March 11, 2017

Minister Against Democratic Reform, the sequel

Years ago I wrote a series of “Minister Against Portfolio”columns, because while a cabinet minister is theoretically appointed to champion a particular area of society, it seemed that under the anti-government Harper administration, many cabinet members were hostile to the mandate of their own ministry, whether it was environment, finance, agriculture, or justice. (I planned to write about the Minister Against Women but that seat kept being vacated and treated as a secondary portfolio for other ministers.)
Barrie residents holding government to account
However, with the change in power, I thought the series finished. Little did I realize appointing a minister to retard rather than achieve progress was also in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s toolbox. This government is now on its second Minister Against Democratic Reform.
I guess this was telegraphed when Trudeau formally renamed it the Ministry of Democratic Institutions, taking “reform” right out of the name. (Not that having it in the name led to any actual reforms under Stephen Harper). Nevertheless, Minister Maryam Monsef’s original mandate included steps toward electoral reform, a key 2015 Liberal election plank. This was so important it was even included in the Speech from the Throne. Trudeau promised 2015 would be the last election held under first-past-the-post voting over 1,800 times: on the campaign trail, in office, and of course in the aforementioned Throne Speech. Which means through his volte-face on this issue, he makes not only himself but his party and our Queen into liars.
But back to the Minister. Although it was in her mandate to establish a committee to consult on electoral reform, it seemed that having done so, Monsef did her best to undermine and sabotage that committee. Delay in set-up plus a very tight reporting schedule made the committee’s task challenging, yet they were troopers and held an amazing number of hearings in a rather short time, hearing from hundreds of experts and thousands of citizens all over our great nation. Having gone above and beyond, however, and even having reached a consensus recommendation between the Conservative, NDP, and Green parties (and when was the last time that happened?) their work was spurned and even mocked in the House by the Minister. Which I guess we should have expected, given that the holdouts on the committee itself were the Liberal MPs.
Which brings us to the new Minister Against Democratic Reform, Karina Gould. From the start, I had misgivings. In an early interview, she said every vote counts because “We literally count them 1, 2, 3, 4 up to the majority that wins,” showing a breathtaking ignorance of the difference between a majority (what the Liberals have in Parliament) and a plurality (the less-than-majority vote which gave them those seats). Only a minority of MPs ever win on a majority of votes, a serious flaw of our existing system. This dismal portent proved all too true when Gould’s mandate was released, clearly stating the falsehood that no consensus on electoral reform has emerged.
Because the reality is this: in the largest consultative process in Canadian parliamentary history, a strong consensus of experts and regular citizens called for a more proportional system (PR). A survey completed by more than a third of a million people said they want multi-party coalition governments, a feature of PR.
The more recent assertion that reform would somehow empower extremists is even more counter-factual, but more on that will have to wait for a future column. For now, the take-away is this: the Trudeau government seems no less willing than their predecessors to appoint Ministers whose job is to sabotage their portfolio, not advance it. To quote America’s Tweeter-in-Chief: SAD.

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner.
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins serves on the Living Green and Robert Schalkenbach Foundation boards.