Elizabeth May, citizen's assemblies, and royal commissions.

Recently I hobbled out to Hart house to view the Toronto Center election rally of the Green party at Hart House, University of Toronto. It was standing room only, which was not good for me. I almost walked out and went to the lounge next door but Elizabeth noticed some chairs up front and invited people to take them. I grabbed one, right next to Deverell, the green candidate and FVC member.

the green lady

It was worth listening to. I like May, she has more sense than the other party leaders put together. She has asked why the other leaders are so interested in winning seats just so they can sit in parliament and watch Harper dismantle democracy in the country. I mean, such limited democracy as we have had.

She spoke about the great danger to freedom and democracy being posed by what Harper is doing, which I do not think people in Canada understand well enough. She is contemptuous of the NDP line that the Liberals are no different from the Harperoids and of their pathetic ambition of permanently replacing the Libs as the official opposition. Actually, the NDP might consider how little real difference there is between themselves and the Liberals.

May talked about how frustrated members of parliament of all parties feel. She thinks many of them did not know what they were getting into before they were elected. They are just there to do what they are told and follow the message track coming out of the leaders office. Even Conservatives come up and vent their feelings to her, saying things they do not feel safe to say in their own caucuses.

She does not think just getting rid of Harper will solve this, either. Old Harpo has build this superb system of control, run right from his desk. It will not go away when he does. When the next prime minister comes in, he will find this "console", in May's imagery, right there ready for him to use. It is unlikely he will just dismantle it.

This is why we need to get voting reform going soon; so the MPs of all parties have some power against the prime ministers office and to be able to represent their constituencies. But as for how we should get it done, she was unclear. She said the problem is that most people know little about voting reform and are vulnerable to misinformation about it.

models of democracy

May says that with the citizen's assembly model, a bunch of people are selected at random and sequestered on a mountain top somewhere, where they are harangued by supposed experts. Then they descend from the mountain and, aha! We have the answers, waving the tablets aloft. Therefore, she is inclined toward a Royal Commission model, where a commissioner or group of commissioners go around hearing deputations and then make a report.

However, I have some problems with the Royal Commission model as well. This gets me back to my studies in participatory democracy. The idea of using commissions of inquiry to make universally respected decisions is popular among those who look into this subject. The Berger pipeline commission back in the seventies is still held up as the gold standard for this.

The problem is that these processes also cost lots of money and take lots of time. There are plenty of opportunities for interested parties to derail the process or to discredit the result. A Royal Commission still has to identify all interested parties and insure they have the money to obtain resources to research and present a position.

I have seen some commissions operate. They did not have the funding or mandate to do anything except go from city to city and listen to special interests tell them what they want. In the case of the one on poverty elimination started by Hugh Segal, all you got was poverty pimp organizations squawking for more money so they could run more poor people's lives more thoroughly.

Some union people talked about full employment, which is delusional. Where is the spare planet where all the raw materials for these extra manufacturing jobs can come from, and the extra goods and pollution can be exported to?

There was almost no mention of guaranteed incomes or even of reduced work times. That was because there was no organized advocacy for these options.

So, what would we see with a commission, royal or parliamentary, on voting reform? You would have FVC and related groups there. They would be confusing and unfocused because FVC in particular can never get itself straight about what its mission is or to get its message together.

The advocates of AV will be there and they will have a very slick message which the FVC types will not know how to counter. And you will have all the geniuses in their own minds proposing the usual kind of nonsense. So what will we get out of a fact finding commission?

I am much more in favor of the citizen's assembly model because I have a dim view of "stakeholders". I had these debates in the "democratic deficit" course; in a democracy there is one stakeholder, the public. Everyone else is a special interest.

A citizen's assembly is the best way to cut the hired experts of the stakeholders out of the process, to get advice from people who are hired for their unbiased knowledge of the subject, and have them heard by people who are free of preconceptions. The biggest criticism of CAs I have heard from FVC people is that they produced decisions which were hard to explain. That was not the problem; people who had the decision explained to them understood it.

The strategy of the anti democratic elites was disinformation. Neither a commission of inquiry nor a Citizen's Assembly has any chance without some power behind it, which can overcome the inevitable sandbagging campaign against anything that might expand democracy. That is where politicians like Elizabeth May come in.

the question

When it got to question time, I hauled myself up to my feet and stood right by May's podium, hoping that would enable me to be heard soonly. The first question and May's answer were a bit longly. I had some jerks complaining that I was blocking their camera angles to May, like there are not enough pictures of her already. I think people know what she looks like by now.

My question; what does she think should be done in relation to the Toronto Center by-election to compel the parties to commit to cooperation and voting reform? She saw this as a lead right into the candidate pledge form which some FVC people had come up with. I looked at one of them but I do not have a copy. The candidate is supposed to pledge to support voting reform and to get his/her leader to sign it.

I did not get to ask a supplemental question. I could not just shout it out because my voice failed me. Sometimes I can shout pretty good in a large room. It was hot in there and I do not do well in heat. University of Toronto does not seem to believe in air conditioning for its older buildings.

The obvious question was; how do you then act on the returned information? If the Liberal candidate spurns it and the Deeper supports it, do we campaign for the Deeper? What if the Deeper's leader does not sign it, or the Lib leader?

I started heading for the door. I almost tripped over Joyce's tiny tripod camera, as she was trying to take a picture of May signing a blown up, poster sized copy of this form. Gosh, we can't miss that photo-op!

The Toronto FVC "action group" says it has now visited all the candidates. It is not clear that they have presented this form, or when they expect a reply back, or what they plan to do.

Whatever the candidates do with it, FVC-T does not have the boots on the ground or the jingle in the jar to really respond in any effective way. It is a small group focussed mostly on pleasing themselves.

I will say more about that some other time.