RM Issue #030715
by Silver Donald Cameron
SUNDAY HERALD COLUMN -- July 2, 2003 [HH0325]
Nature takes 12,000 years to create a great fish stock. A modern fishing
fleet can extinguish it in just 12 years. During that time, three
governments come and go.
Our greatest problems are long-term. Our governments — our main collective
instrument for dealing with them— are short-term.
I have said (repeatedly) that the federal Department of Fisheries and
Oceans is responsible for two of the world’s great ecological disasters,
the collapses of the Atlantic cod fishery and the Pacific salmon fishery. I
have also said that heads should roll, and that DFO should be ripped apart
and rebuilt under new management.
Great rhetoric. But what government would ever do it? The MPs we elect
today aren’t responsible for the past, and may not even be alive when their
own chickens come home to roost in our future. A single human life is
longer than 20 Parliaments.
Yet brief periods of recklessness have permanent effects. When humans first
reached North America about 12,000 years ago, they found camels, huge
sloths, hairy elephants, sabre-toothed tigers and beavers the size of black
bears. Two thousand years later, they were all gone — wiped out, scientists
believe, by human predators.
And now we’ve wiped out the cod.
How do we stop doing this? How do we create a politics with a vision
measured in centuries or at least decades, rather than weeks and months?
What baby steps might we take now, this year, to get more diverse voices
into Parliament, voices which might reflect the human capacity for
imagination and anticipation?
We might start with electoral reform.
What we do now is idiotic. Periodically, at the convenience of the
incumbents, we hold an election. The result is usually a majority
government which is essentially an elected autocracy, free to do any
damfool thing it pleases for up to five years. When it breaks its promises,
we’re helpless. That’s how we got NAFTA, the GST, the metric system and
If we don’t like what the government’s doing on an issue like the fishery,
what can we do? The government’s horizon is the five-year election cycle.
It ignores long-term issues and independent ideas. Partisanship makes
compromise almost impossible, and exaggerates the trivial.
The best governments are minority governments, which have to listen,
compromise, broker deals and satisfy competing interests — or die. The best
in my lifetime was Lester Pearson’s, which over two terms never had a
majority. It gave us medicare, the Canada Pension Plan, the Canada
Assistance Plan, the maple leaf flag, the Canada-US Autopact. It supported
Expo 67, took the first major steps towards multiculturalism and
bilingualism, reformed immigration and unified the armed forces. You may
not favour everything on that list, but you have to agree it’s a hell of a
That’s why I favour some form of proportional representation, a feature of
every democracy in the OECD except the US, the UK and Canada. Under
proportional representation, at least some seats are allocated according to
the popular vote. If the DoubleBreasted Dimwits win 11% of the vote, they
get 11% of the PR seats. PR’s Canadian proponents are Fair Vote
Canada (www.fairvotecanada.org) and the concept has been endorsed (when
convenient, during elections) by such worthies as Bernard Lord, Jean
Charest and Jean Chretien. The NDP will submit PR for a parliamentary vote
In the 2000 election, the Liberals won only 40.8% of the votes, but gained
57.1% of the seats. The Bloc Quebecois, with 10.7% of the votes, captured
12.6% of the seats. The Tories — a genuine national party, however reduced,
with support from coast to coast — won 12.2% of the vote, but only 4.3% of
the seats. The Alliance, with twice the Tory vote, won five times as many
seats. The other genuinely national party, the NDP, won 8.5% of the vote,
but just 4.3% of the seats.
Under PR, every significant party gets at least a toehold in the House --
the Green Party, the Natural Law Party, the Canadian Action Party, the
Christian Heritage Party, the Communist Party (yes, it still exists) and so
on. Minority opinions get voiced, alternative viewpoints get heard, new
parties get a small slice of the limelight. Some of these, at least, are
focussed on long-term issues, like the environment — and a government
building a viable coalition has to listen to them.
If proportional representation is good enough for the Swedes, the French,
the Swiss and the Liberal Party (which will elect Paul Martin this way),
why isn’t it good enough for the voters of Canada?
— 30 —
Silver Donald Cameron
Box 555, D'Escousse, NS B0E 1K0
(902)226-3165 fax (902)226-1904
Home page: http://www.islemadame.com/sdc/
Weekly newspaper columns: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/sdcns/join
Public speaking: http://www.atlanticspeakersbureau.com
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