Mortimore: Reaching toward democracy

Unlike the geological Big One that will sooner or later smash into coastal B.C., the country-wide shakeup of government has already started.

A political earthquake is rumbling across Canada.

That’s my hunch. Check it out. Unlike the geological Big One that will sooner or later smash into coastal B.C., the country-wide shakeup of government and economy has already started.

Demand is growing for change in the way government manages Canada, handles resources and oversees the distribution of wealth.

The trend arguably shows itself through a quiet, ongoing, half-aware rebuild of political structure beyond the scope of electioneering quarrels, plus the “Occupy” movement and the Quebec student revolt.

Tell me if I am wrong about the options. It’s worth a debate.

Option 1: Prime Minister Stephen Harper feels the anger of voters. He no longer makes such political bully-moves as (a) ramming through an omnibus law-about-everything; (b) weakening environmental protection so as to promote oil pipelines; and (c) making trade treaties on terms that many Canadians oppose.

The benign-change scenario impels Harper to adopt fair-deal tactics – open, inventive, people-friendly, financially doable and respectful toward the environment.

Option 2: Thomas Mulcair and the NDP win the federal election and move Canada closer to the ideal of democracy, which is government by a well-informed population – Lincoln’s imagined “government by the people,” not dictatorship by a privileged financial elite. A progressive regime pushes and combines already-accepted and soon-to-be-established reforms, step by step:

Step 1: Democratize parliament. New Zealand has shown us how. The Kiwis introduced Mixed Member Proportional Representation, MMP. Their parliament is compounded of local members elected by the first-past-the-post system and members elected from a party list, including minor parties. Governments must make alliances in order to govern. The system has worked smoothly since 1996. Mulcair promises to introduce it here.

Step 2: Launch in-depth policy probes, such as Roy Romanow’s health enquiry. Romanow’s report confirmed that most Canadians want public healthcare. It showed practical ways to sharpen the system’s cost-effectiveness,  such as the Sault Ste. Marie care group created by the United Steelworkers’ Union, with payment to health professionals other than fee-for-service, and superior health outcomes.

A Romanow-type public enquiry into trade policy is overdue.

Step 3: Parliament firms up the hiring and tenure of arm’s-length critics: auditors-general, ombudspersons and advocates for children, the disabled, and seniors. When B.C.’s Liberal government made a multi-million-dollar gift to a forestry corporation by arbitrarily removing a tract of Vancouver Island land from forestry use, throwing land planning into confusion and encouraging sprawl, auditor-general John Doyle issued a stinging rebuke.

Step 4: Citizens’ referendum initiatives, graded on a scale from recommendations to binding decisions.

Step 5: Mechanisms for recall of MPs – including the PM – by citizen vote. Mike Harcourt’s NDP government cautiously legislated initiative and recall in B.C.

Mulcair can do it Canada-wide.

Step 6: A Governor General who can safeguard the continuity of government by naming a new PM when the current leader loses popular and parliamentary support – a strong governor loyal to the democratic idea, unlike Michaele Jean, who let Harper close Parliament although he had lost the confidence of the House while an opposing coalition was ready to govern.

Today’s moves toward democracy are a response to the destructive financial scheming of wealthy power-groups during the Electronic Revolution. Change is flowing from pain, trouble and visionary knowledge – just as the loosening of top-down control of Britain’s Parliament was forced by the Industrial Revolution.

• G.E. Mortimore is a longtime columnist for the Goldstream News Gazette.

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