Thursday, August 12, 2010

Representative democracy and popular protest in BC and Australia

British Columbia politicians brought in laws to enable mass petitioning to produce reviews of legislation in 1995, and now they will have to live with it. It has now been certified that the anti-HST petition has enough signatures to require a legislative review. Should the review not satisfy the petitioners, recall petitions also become possible.

The Campbell government is now reaping what it sowed, both by its support for direct democracy measures and by the dishonesty of its campaign promises on the HST issue. But representative "government by discussion" is generally superior to the typically demogogic, hyperbolic mass frenzy of petitioning and referenda, and the fact that the petition success seems to have restored to influence the corrupt and incompetent ex-premier William Vander Zalm underlines the problems with direct "democracy."

That same preference for genuinely representative democracy made me approve of the abrupt removal of Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd last June when he lost the support of his parliamentary caucus. Leaders ought to be accountable -- and to whom better than the elected representatives of the people. Wish we had that process here.

But maybe Australians don't altogether agree. New PM Julia Gillard has been sliding in the polls during the leadup to the August 21 election, and disapproval of the "ruthlessness" with which Rudd was removed seems to have been a factor. 'Course rising unemployment and other economic problems might be behind it too. (Update, August 16: that Ms Gillard is an ambitious unmarried woman -- could that also be a factor, d'you think, mate?)

Auz uses a preferential vote system. Since most of the minor parties are on the progressive side, it's possible Gillard's Labor will lose in the first-preference counting but catch up when second choices of minor-party supporters are tallied up. That should be heaven for most electoral reform wonks; one wonders how the Australian voters will feel if the "losers" win.

The Australian Senate (elected, powerful, and severely gerrymandered in favour of the smaller states -- much like the US Senate) is filled by a form of proportional representation, which means it will probably be filled with "unrepresentative swill" (the memorable description of ex-PM Paul Keating) and will oppose whatever government is supported by the lower house. Coverage from The Australian here, Sydney Morning Herald here. Curiously neither seems much taken with the horse-race "who's ahead in the polls" coverage that dominated Canadian media coverage of Canadian elections.

Update, August 13: Stephen MacLean draws our attention to a G&M online debate on BC's recall/initiative laws.

Update, August 20:  For anyone trolling this far back, the blog called Crooked Timber has some interesting material on the Auz election here -- don't miss the comments.
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