From the Editor: Democracy

Democracy hurts, sometimes

Samantha Thompson / The Runner

In most democracies, we elect politicians to make tough decisions on our behalf. Said politicians are—hopefully—elected due to them being of sound mind, and hold an ideology that matches that of the people who elect them. These people are paid a high sum to speak to their constituents and conduct research to make decisions that are in the best interests of the people. This is why I think referendums tend to be stupid.

I’m obviously referring to the recent vote in the United Kingdom, one which some are calling a “protest vote.” The idea that this was a protest vote is baffling to me. The “bankers and politicians” will, at the end of the day, keep their jobs and their money, for the most part. A millionaire who loses a bunch of money on the stock market is in all likelihood still a millionaire. The people who’ll suffer the most from the European Union exit vote are the people who voted in favour of it: poor, working class Britons who are going to be worse off without EU protections. Wales voted to leave, despite the fact that Wales is a very, very poor area that benefits heavily from EU structural funds.

Regardless, I have seen two bad referendums in B.C., the recent vote on transit funding and Harmonized Sales Tax. Voters in the Lower Mainland thought they were “punishing” TransLink by voting against the tax increase, yet almost everyone at TransLink kept their job.

Voters also thought they were doing the same to the BC Liberals in 2011, but they were re-elected anyway. In both cases the people voted against their best interest—more transit funding would have taken more cars off the road and increased livability, and HST made better economic sense in the long run.

In all three cases, the decisions should have just been made by politicians. Sometimes, I feel that things only go to referendum when politicians don’t have the cojones to make a tough decision themselves, who are otherwise afraid of getting unelected next time voters go to the polls. Sure didn’t work out for Cameron. Don’t put something to referendum if you can’t handle the result you don’t like.

In Canada, members of parliament are paid at least $170,400 per year to conduct huge amounts of research by talking to people in their ridings, talking to experts, and sitting in on boring committees. Their sole purpose in life, as long as they’re a member, is to make tough decisions that ultimately benefit Canadians in the long term.

In this sense, there’s a lot of talk right now over whether or not a change in our voting system should go to referendum. Now, given that this is a university newspaper, you likely already have a university degree or are in the process of earning one. I’m very confident that our readership would prefer mixed-member proportional, given the fact that young, educated people in Canada are a little more likely to vote Green or NDP than the rest of the population.

As of 2011, only 53 per cent of Canadians have a post-secondary education, and given the way our single-transferrable vote referendum went several years ago, I have a feeling that a referendum would result in us keeping first-past-the-post. Even though MMP is more democratic, explaining the system isn’t terribly easy.

Another problems with referendums is “tyranny by majority,” in the sense that the majority might want something which is harmful for a minority. In the case of the UK-EU vote, that would be the million-plus EU citizens who’ve made a life for themselves there, and the hundreds of thousands of Britons living throughout Europe.

Yes, I’m arguing that there’s a huge part of the population that isn’t sufficiently well-informed or educated enough to make good decisions, and that’s fine. Most people don’t have the time to sit down and read through the legalese of a proposed bill, or to run around their city and ask random citizens what they think. Some people work two part-time jobs and have hectic lives at home, and politicians should be cognizant of the fact that they go to Ottawa or Washington or Westminster to help people like them.


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