Electoral reform disappointment #3

I was disappointed but not surprised when Prime Minister Trudeau abandoned his plans for electoral reform. I’ve been let down before.

fairvote.ca

fairvote.ca

The first time was in 2005 when a Citizens’ Assembly was created to study models of reform. After much deliberation, they recommended a made-in-BC type of Single Transferable Vote called BC-STV.

The referendum was coincident with the provincial vote. Only weeks away from the vote, an Angus Reid poll showed that two-thirds of respondents knew “nothing” or “very little” about BC-STV.

Then to everyone’s surprise and my delight, BC-STV almost passed despite the high threshold: 60 per cent of voters had to be in favour as well as 60 per cent of the provincial districts.

The threshold for districts easily passed with 76 of 79 districts in favour. The popular vote came within a hair`s breadth of passing: 57.7 per cent. Support in Kamloops was the lowest in the province at 49 per cent in both districts (Elections B.C.). Bud Smith, the popular Social Credit MLA from 1986 to 1991, led the no vote in Kamloops.

The popularity of BC-STV seemed baffling given the lack of understanding of just what voters were supporting. But not so baffling in light of a recent referenda, such as Brexit. British voters were as much against immigrants as they were for leaving the European Union. Clearly, voters don’t necessarily answer the question on the ballot.

BC-STV was on the ballot but not on voter’s minds; rather, it was dissatisfaction with Gordon Campbell’s BC Liberals. The BC Liberals lost 31 seats, down from their record win of 77 out of 79 in 2001.

My second disappointment was the defeat of the BC-STV referendum again in 2009. With the earlier referendum being so close, I hoped, against discouraging opinion polls, that earlier support was not a fluke. This time, even in Kamloops, electoral reform would prevail. I joined city Councilor Arjun Singh, Gisela Ruckert, and others in Fair Voting BC. In a column for the Kamloops Daily News (May, 2005), I implored:

“This is a limited time offer.  The chance to change our electoral system comes once in a lifetime, . . . Don’t let this chance to make history pass you by.”

It was not to be. A disinterested electorate, 51 per cent of eligible voters, returned the BC Liberals for a third term, defeated BC-STV by 61 per cent and buried electoral reform for decades.

Trudeau raised my hope federally by proposing unilateral legislation. But Canadians want a referendum (73 per cent in an Ipsos poll).

A referendum would doom electoral reform to failure. Voters like the idea of proportional representation but have trouble understanding the voting systems that would accomplish it. The outcomes of referenda in B.C., P.E.I and Ontario made that clear. The same would be true of a federal referendum says pollster Environics. The vote would be split between three alternatives –the current system and two types of proportional representation:

“In a referendum, not one of these three alternatives would achieve majority support — leaving the reform project to die, along with virtually every other proposal ever put to a referendum in this risk-averse country.”

And that assumes they vote on the ballot question.

Advertisements

Stories sustain successful immigration

With one exception in the last decade, Canada’s integration of immigrants and refugees has been the envy of the world. Policies help but stories sustain success.

One measure of policies is the Migrant Integration Policy Index. The index comes up with a score after considering eight factors: labour market mobility, family reunion, education, health, political participation, permanent residence, access to nationality, and anti-discrimination.

Canada’s score has been steadily rising since MIPEX started monitoring in 2006 except last year because of the Harper government. “Canada’s lower MIPEX score raises serious questions about the intentions and impact of the government’s new turn on immigration policies,” said Thomas Huddleston of the Migration Policy Group in Brussels.

airport-welcome

In spite of the Harper Government, Canada has remained relatively successful. Canada ranks sixth out of 38 countries, compared to Australia (eighth), Sweden (first), U.S. (ninth), and Ireland (ninetieth).

Ryerson University’s Centre for Immigration and Settlement points to areas in need of improvement.

“On the question of whether Canadian citizenship and status is ‘secure from state arbitrariness,’ Canada scores a meagre 23 points, well below Australia, New Zealand, the United States or the European average,” says the director of the centre in the Toronto Star.

The stories we tell ourselves about the immigrant experience are more difficult to measure than policies but important nonetheless. Those stories form a self-fulfilling prophecy that promotes further integration of new Canadians into the fabric of society.

Kamloops city Councillor Arjun Singh told a meeting at city hall that his grandmother became a refugee after the partitioning of India in the 1940s. “I am looking forward in our community to welcoming people from Syria,” he said. “We’re going to be giving them their freedom … a real ability to start again,” Singh told News Kamloops.

As we successfully integrate more refugees and immigrants, the more those immigrants will tell their success stories. It’s the opposite of a vicious circle; it’s a virtuous circle.

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, the first Muslim mayor of a large North American city and son of immigrants, told one such compelling story to MacLeans magazine. He tells of a community forum on refugees he attended in which he expected a lot of anger. When a First Nations woman stood up, he thought she was going to point to all the problems that reserves face. Instead:

“What she actually said was, I need some help. Because I need to understand how and when they’re coming because I want to make sure, … we have an opportunity to have the elders there to drum them in and to do a smudge ceremony so we can welcome them to this land… I might have lost it at that point.”

Canada’s new Liberal government faces challenges in keeping us from slipping further. Canada’s MIPEX rating should improve with the 17 Indo Canadians MPs recently elected, five who wear turbans, one who is minster of defense. It will take time to repair the damage of the Harper years but as sure as day follows night, jubilant stories will keep the narrative alive.