Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Fish Creek Thinks Big on Democratic Reform

(originally posted on

One of the hardest deficits to eliminate is the democratic deficit. People feel disconnected from their representatives - and why shouldn't they? Premier Klein, after his retirement, famously spoke of 'Dome Disease': "You spend enough time under that dome and you start to believe that the most important thing in the world happens under that dome... Eventually you start to believe what the opposition and the media say is true; what the caucus says is true. It's only when you come out from under that dome and speak to ordinary Albertans do you get a different perspective." Our MLA will celebrate her 19th year in office this year. That's a lot of time under the dome.

Calgary-Fish Creek has always been an area full of reformers - people who aren't afraid to challenge convention in order to make things better. Some of the ideas I've heard from the people here to address the democratic deficit include:

  • The creation of a permanent voting record for every bill and motion debated in the Legislative Assembly. Hansard, the current record, only records that the bill or motion "passes" or "fails", unless someone specifically requests a Division of the House, when each member must stand and have their vote recorded. ALL votes cast by your representative should be recorded, and should be accessible on-line to the taxpayers - their boss. Will it take longer? Absolutely. But this is 2012, and you should be able to hold your MLA accountable. Part of that is knowing how they voted - and when they were and were not present for votes.
  • Mandatory reporting of donations. Political parties currently run like the private clubs that they are. There is, however, one big difference: The gentleman running to be the chair of your local Elks Club is not going to use that position to decide how to spend billions of tax dollars. People running for political office in Alberta, or for nominations or the leadership of political parties, should be held to the highest standards of transparency. I am in favour of requiring all political campaigns to release a full list of donors BEFORE the voting date, so the public and those casting their ballots will know to whom the candidates are beholden.
  • Provincial senate. One of my favourite ideas on how to address the democratic deficit involves the establishment of an elected Provincial Senate. While we try to get the rest of Canada to clue in to Federal Senate Reform, we can plow ahead and show them how a Senate can, and should, work. By cutting the number of MLA's to 50 (from 87) and establishing an Alberta Senate of 25 members, elected at the same time as MLA's via proportional representation, we can ensure that Albertans are governed responsibly, that the power of the Legislature to push bills through unilaterally is diminished, and engage more Albertans by making it ever more clear that their vote DOES matter on a provincial scale, even if their voice is a minority one, locally. We're paying fewer politicians, and getting more democratic governance - talk about a win/win situation...

These are just the tip of the iceberg, but it's important that we start to have these conversations now. Rare is the government that will willingly turn over some of its own power - but we have seen, through our new leader, a willingness in Premier Redford to do just that. We need to strike while the iron is hot, and build a governance model for our province that will serve as an example across the country of what accountable, responsible and open government looks like.

If you can get behind these ideas, I ask you to consider getting behind me and casting your vote for me on January 21st. If we want to change "business as usual", we need to make sure there's someone advocating for this kind of change in Edmonton - and nominating me is the first step.

Yours for a better Alberta,



Mark Horejsi said...

I am always glad to see proposals for democratic reform, but I think your idea to cut the size of the legislature is ill-conceived. By doing this you either increase the geographic size (potentially massively) of rural districts served by individual MLA's, or you increase the under-representation of people in urban districts. We often fall for the "less politicians is better" idea but when you increase the number of constituents served per MLA, you necessarily decrease their ability to represent those constituents. How do you propose to deal with these issues?

Furthermore, I have a hard time seeing how cutting some MLA's will offset the cost of paying for a slightly smaller number of senators, who will require staff and resources just like MLA's, as well as the construction and maintenance of a place for those senators. Have you costed this idea?

Brandon E. Beasley said...

I'll just echo Mark's comments, as I was going to post almost exactly the same thing as he did!

I think democratic reform would be better served by the first two things you suggest, and by examining changes to the electoral system: preferential ballots, STV, prop representation, etc. That and ensuring that MLAs are able to vote freely, curtailing the iron-grip of the Preem/caucus leader.