Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

New Democrats are soft on democracy too?

It’s official. It was first volunteered by their leader Jack Layton to the editorial board of The Globe and Mail just before the election and repeated last week by his Justice critic Joe Comartin: the social democrats in Canada’s national Parliament now believe that Quebec’s share of seats in Canada’s only elected legislative assembly must stay the same despite the fact Quebec’s actual share of Canada’s voting age population has gone down significantly.
Joe Comartin was as vehement as he was inventive “. . . any redistribution must ensure that Quebec receives a minimum 25% of the seats in that House, “its traditional share.” Conversely, Ontario, Alberta and BC shares shouldn’t go up even though their populations have grown by millions.
The Harper government is expected to bring in legislation (for the third time) to catch up with the last national census. To honor even roughly the primary driver of the electoral map—allocating seats according to where people live to ensure each vote is roughly of equal weight—Harper will ask Parliament to allocate some thirty more seats to Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia. The NDP opposition, apparently, will ask him to be “flexible.”
Asking a so-called ideologue to be flexible is shrewd but, but on this issue, deceitful.
The New Democrats are not asking that Harper provide safeguards for smaller provinces and minority language, culture and religious rights—they’re already enshrined in the Canadian Constitution.
Quebec is protected as well as respected in the Constitution; it enjoys a minimum of 65 House of Commons seats and the same representation as Ontario in the appointed Senate. In addition, the choice and design of a federal structure of government for Canada was largely driven to protect Quebec’s interests from any future intolerant Canada-wide majority.
The allocation of seats in the House of Commons is guided by the decennial census and can be adjusted slightly within each province to respect practical geographic differences. However, the House of Commons membership historically has been driven by one fundamental principle: each vote should be of equal worth; consequently, the allocation of seats must be regularly adjusted to reflect where people actually live.
There would not have been a liberal union of southern and northern American states or a Canadian union of Tories, Grits, Quebec nationalists and, later, socialists and social-democrat offsprings without agreement on one powerful legislative assembly that would represent all the people, as equals.  That is the rationale, the business, and the constitutional obligation of the House of Commons.
Indeed, to persist much longer in denying the dramatic relative growth of the populations of Ontario and Western Canada is to invite legal redress before the Supreme Court.
Yes, yes, Jack Layton is in a tricky spot; his new political base in Quebec won’t benefit directly by giving faster growing regions more seats. However, Official Opposition leaders, by definition, have many people to please and disappoint. He’s putting himself in a tough spot for an unworthy impulse; some decisions can’t be finessed and are best survived by standing for a principle—in this case, one embedded in the DNA of the left. In this political community, citizens—new and old—are equal.

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