2010: HST+Facebook=The End of Sortuvocracy?

I predicted that the Zalmer’s HST petition, while noble, would ultimately fail, as the Government has no obligation to honour the will of The People as voiced in mere petitions.

Indeed, the process was set up to fail. Most of us know the bar was deliberately set so high that it was never intended to be a real tool for citizen input, but I was surprised to read this week that Ujjal Dosanjh, the chairman of the committee that recommended the initiative process in ’93, completely admits that!

“We never in our wildest dreams ever felt that any initiative would pass, because we set the threshold so high,” Dosanjh states in an illuminating Globe and Mail article.

So in many ways the Zalm is already a winner on this one, even if the Government decides to continue ignoring the will of the people, which they can still do. Even the promised referendum is by no means a surety. Although we do have Gordon Campbell’s word on that one.

I didn’t see the referendum move coming, I have to admit that. It was probably about as good a move as possible politically for GoCam–it wasn’t enough to save him, but it did take some wind out of the Recall sails. Those sails seem amazingly full still, though, because the battle rages on.

The battle is no longer simply about the HST, though.

This battle pits proponents of our current system of Sortuvocracy, in which politicians represent their parties and special interest groups, against those advocating for Democracy. And the people demanding a say in public policy aren’t shutting up.

They’re organized, too, which is what makes this battle different. There is no doubt that the Internet, specifically Facebook in this case, helped to quickly galvanize the angry masses and demonstrate their opposition to the decisions of their “representatives.” The Internet wasn’t a factor when the group of politicians, headed by Mr. Dosanjh, got together to draft a mock procedure for holding themselves more accountable.

Will this usher in a brave new world, in which politicians are accountable to (or, eventually, replaced by!) the public? Or will elected officials continue to choose allegiance to their parties over representing the populace?

Time will tell, but you have to think that they will at least think twice before acting without consulting constituents, knowing that recall is a legitimate option now. We could be on the brink of something exciting.

Of course, the government could also just modify or scrap the recall and initiative procedure, knowing that it can actually work. Watch for this after the HST issue dies down.

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6 Comments

Filed under Canadian politics

6 responses to “2010: HST+Facebook=The End of Sortuvocracy?

  1. Pablo

    One fact you likely realize–and is in the article–but your post neglects to mention is that of course recall and initiative was not initiated by the Harcourt government but rather by Vander Zalm himself when Social Credit decided to put it to referendum in 1991. After it passed, the NDP government formed Dosanjh’s committee begrudingly. But at the same time, I don’t believe Dosanjh. I notice that the Globe was not able to come up with any other former committee members to corroborate his claims. He’s also the guy who soiled the highest legal position in our province by using its authority to knock off the premier and further his own political ambitions (though you also have to give the NDP membership credit, too, because they bought it).

    The thresholds were definitely set extremely high, because they need to be to avoid the expense and instability of constant recalls and referendums. I think of an MLA like Paul Reitsma of Parksville-Qualicum, who wrote a letter to the local paper (under a pseudonym) in praise of himself, as someone the legislation was written for. A recall campaign for him was under way to being successful before he got the message and resigned. Targeting Ida Chong because of a government decision supported by the majority of MLAs (all elected by voters–the same people relied upon to choose wisely in referendums and recalls), though, is a bit silly.

    For a guy like Paul Reitsma who individually disgraces himself but refuses to resign, and virtually his entire constituency wants to get rid of him, recall was a useful and effective tool. Around the same time Kevin Falcon — as a “concerned citizen” of course — was trying to recall vulnerable members of the NDP government for purely political purposes, and these efforts failed. So in the mid-90s it looked like Dosanjh and co. had drawn the line in the right place.

    And maybe it’s still in the right place… This journalist and the academics are over-reacting. Campbell’s HST surprise was unprecedented and extreme as far as government policy goes, and it’s unlikely that anything else will mobilize the public in the same way. And the recall of Ida Chong is collateral damage. Completely unfair to her, but she’s essentially taking the fall for her leader and that tends to happen in party politics. Once a new premier is sworn in and the HST referendum gets closer, Vander Zalm’s recall campaign will lose steam and won’t go beyond Chong. The long-term impact may be that governments may not dare do something as unreasonable and brash as the announcement of the HST ever again, but then again I’m not sure anything like it was ever dared before, either.

    Recall and initiative’s impact over 20 years has been to force Reitsma’s resignation, force the HST referendum, perhaps play a role in influencing Campbell’s resignation, and perhaps recall one MLA in response to the most unpopular politicial decision in BC history. Put into context, the impact seems about right, and should have been reasonably “expected.”

    Dosanjh is probably seeking attention with his comments, and the academics are wrong to suggest that this is going to happen all the time now. [Why isn’t it happening to force a public inquiry into the BC Rail sale then?] In fact, in fairness to Dosanjh he may have been saying more that he never imagined a government could possibly do something SO unpopular (and stupid) that a successful initiative would be warranted by the public — which is more a comment on Campbell’s decision than the legislation.

    The academics and the Globe and Mail are saying that by working, it didn’t really work. I think most people in BC feel that by working, it DID work.

    • Jason Scott

      Thanks for the well thought out response and the additional background info.

      I’ll tell you why I think recall is legitimate here, even if the criteria for singling out Ida Chong might not be fair.

      What’s being questioned goes to the core of our system: What does representation mean?

      Politicians and the public have very different ideas on this, and more and more people have had enough of politicians towing the party line.

      Politicians that vote in parliament based on their party affiliation, rather than the wishes of their constituents, do so at their own peril from here on in.

      • Pablo

        I wish. But it’s not the case. The mainstream media laps up good old battlefield good guys vs. bad guys politics and a number very influential commentators like Vaughn Palmer, Gary Mason and Keith Baldrey blew their gaskets when there was dissent in the NDP (initiated by internal debates over party discipline). The sports-team format of one team vs. the other is easy to report on and easy for both journalists and readers/watchers to comprehend. Throw in this wacky concept of individuals not blindly following their party leaders (no offence intended to the blind), and instead representing those who elected them, and the powers that be who feed us the news feel it’s too complicated for some people to handle. And they’re probably backed up by research, polls and sales figures showing that we the people are in love with the party system, too, and in fact usually cast our ballots based on parties and party leaders over local representatives. This is certainly what the parties think, too, and have beaten into the heads of their MLAs ever since they were nominated as candidates.

        Do some Googling and find Bob Simpson’s statement he made in early December upon deciding to stay independent (even after Carole James’s resignation). It hardly received any coverage, yet fits into your Party vs. real constituents commentary, so you may want to consider giving it some coverage here on your blog!

  2. too legit

    Why you hatin\’ on the system?

    • Jason Scott

      I don’t hate our system of government; there are certainly worse examples. In fact it was a huge improvement over feudalism when it was conceived of hundreds of years ago.

      What I find offensive is calling our system a democracy when the people have no real say in public policy or legislation (the original tenets of democracy.)

      It’s not a horrible system, it’s just not very democratic.

  3. To be or not to be that is the question… Bureaucracy sucks bottom line the rich get richer and the poor just keep getting poorer. Taxes are useful for many things, like paying for olympics, villas and yeah the gold medals worth in cash….. Democracy becomes the joke of many Imperialist Countries**cough Cough, China**… Sad

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