Consult, Consult — Delay, Delay?

My current fear is that the consult craze when applied to electoral reform will inevitably result, intentionally or unintentionally, in a long delay and the eventual defeat of essential remedial action.

In my last post (May25th,2016) I criticized the structure of the Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reform and of course was delighted when, within a week, the structure was greatly improved. Was it possible, I wondered, that the minuscule weight of my little opinion helped tip the balance and make the Government re-think? (Well, one can dream.) But I do know that more and more we’re being told that Parliament wants to consult — on almost everything.  And there’s the rub.

In the case of Electoral Reform we, the People, are promised consultation – which provides the potential for literally millions of individual opinions to be heard, absorbed and processed. That, of course, is absurd, but it does pose the question: What’s the line between reasonable consultation and absurdity? And when does consult, consult, cross the line into delay, delay?

Even if the Electoral Committee is hoping for genuine input then the wider the consultation the more complex becomes the analysis and the more time consuming the process of evaluation. Outcome delayed. Action delayed.  For the Government, cursed with the double promise of consultation and elimination of first-past-the-post before the next election, it’s a real tightrope.

Unfortunately, Canadian governments are very good at breaking promises by simply delaying real action. “Tabling” a Bill in Parliament is an often-used simple tool, its dictionary synonyms being “postpone, delay, defer, sideline”. Governments also find that “Investigations” and “Royal Commissions” can move almost any political hot potato far away onto the proverbial back burner. Our founding father, John A., was so good at the delay tactic he was nicknamed “Old Tomorrow”.  As for Mackenzie King, his take on the delay tactic was summed up by poet F.R. Scott – “Postpone, postpone, abstain…. Do nothing by halves which can be done by quarters.”

I do not believe that the consultation  exercise being carried out by the Committee on Electoral Reform is a delay tactic and I sincerely hope it does not morph into one.

As a good citizen I should probably submit my thoughts via some official form on the Internet, or attend a Townhall and maybe ask a question or even offer an opinion, or attend a block party, or organize a coffee-klatch, or – what the hell – simply offer my two cents worth of consult right here and toss it into the ether. Which is what I will now do – again.

Personally, my position hasn’t changed from October, 2012, when I voiced it in this space as encouragement to the then fledgling leader of the Liberal Party.  “Parliament,” I said, “could install the Preferential Vote system without commissions, drawn out studies, referendums and other prevarications. The Preferential Vote system would not even change the ballot – it’s literally as simple as 1,2,3 – but as a first step it would pave the way for all kinds of genuine democratic reform – including electoral. It’s high time somebody bloody well did something. Canadians can take only so much dithering, discussing, evaluating and procrastinating.”

I had acknowledged earlier (April, 2011) that the preferential system (PV) would not go down well with my own NDP because PV is far from being Proportional Representation (PR). But without an initial step we’d never see PR.  In my opinion the Party had immolated itself for years on the altar of the ideal PR, the electoral Holy Grail, the almost impossible to describe let alone promote Mixed Member Proportional Representation (MMPR).  Demanding the ideal impeded the possible.

I still suggest that Parliament could well implement the simple preferential system as a first step before everything collapses under the weight of apathy and frustration created by the untenable, anachronistic, unfair, undemocratic, virtually insane first-past-the-post system. Or collapses under the weight of consult, consult, consult, or – heaven forbid – intentional delay, delay, delay.

In the past I have used an analogy that I believe is still relevant: We’re in a basement being flooded by the waters of a corroded, blocked, system. There is a ladder leading up out of the mess. The top rung is the alluring but complicated Proportional Representation but the bottom rung leading up out of the mucky bilge is the simple Preferential Vote. Surely we don’t drown because the top rung isn’t available in one leap?


About Munroe Scott

Munroe Scott is a veteran of the freelance writing world.
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2 Responses to Consult, Consult — Delay, Delay?

  1. Munroe, given that the final decision, following the committee consultation process will, in this case be with the government, I see no reason why Proportional Representation should and could not be fully implemented. Of course I realize that the Liberal government may want to play party politics with the whole thing and pick what suits it best. However, the PV system is a pale shadow of the real thing as far as electoral democracy is concerned, and once in place may take another 150 to be improved upon. Change is coming to the voting system, so I think now is our chance to have a system that truly reflects the interests of the electorate and party support across the board.

    • Munroe Scott says:

      Mark, if we can make the step to PR in one leap there is no argument from me. My fear is that if the consult craze is taken too far it may carry on into a referendum. If so, and if the bar is again set high as in BC and Ontario, then PR will go down the drain again. Being difficult to explain PR is difficult to sell. You have more faith than do I, but good for you.

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