Wednesday, May 04, 2005

That's a dream you dreamt

If I'm reading this correctly, it seems the Globe & Mail's John Ibbitson is upset that those ghastly farmers and rural hicks that live outside the rarefied atmospheres of Toronto and Montreal also get represented in the House: Stephen Harper need only look at the Conservative MPs sitting behind him to know that forcing a spring election may be his only chance. The Conservative Party of Canada should not be able to win a general election. Why? Because it is a largely rural party in a largely urban country. Of the 99 members of the Conservative caucus, 51 hail from rural ridings, and only 48 represent urban constituencies. So, about half and half. As in, it's a party that has about equal support from both urbanite and ruralites. I'm not sure what the problem is here, unless Ibbitson is really saying it's de facto wrong for smug urbanites to be anything but the overwhelming majority of the polity. (This estimate is based on a personal survey, with "urban" defined as a riding that contains a medium-sized city. Lethbridge, for example, is considered urban.) Canada, however, is an urban country, with about half of its population living in the six largest cities. Half of the population lives in large urban areas. About half of the Conservative caucus are from urban ridings. Again, I'm not seeing the problem. A wrong-headed obsession with preserving a voice for remote communities skews the Commons in favour of rural ridings, at the expense of the large cities. Were it not for these rotten boroughs, the Tories would be in even worse shape. I suppose he can't be faulted with egregious misuse of the historical term 'rotten borough,' being an English major and all. From Wikipedia: The term rotten borough (or pocket borough, as they were seen as being "in the pocket" of a patron) refers to a parliamentary borough or constituency in the Kingdom of England (pre-1707), the Kingdom of Great Britain (1707-1801), the Kingdom of Ireland (1536-1801) and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (1801 until their final abolishement in 1867) which due to size and population, was 'controlled' by a patron and used by a patron to exercise undue and unrepresentative influence within parliament. Though rotten boroughs existed for centuries the term rotten borough only came into usage in the 18th century. In some constituencies and boroughs, due to the small number of electors, the post of Member of Parliament could effectively be bought. Because the constituencies were not realigned as population shifts occurred, MPs from one borough might represent only a few people (giving those people a relatively large degree of political representation), whereas entire cities (such as Manchester) might have no representation at all. Examples include: Old Sarum in Wiltshire had eleven voters, Dunwich in Suffolk had 32 voters (the bulk of the settlements in the borough having fallen into the sea), Plympton Earle with 40 voters, and Newtown on the Isle of Wight with 23 voters (all figures for 1831). All of these boroughs could elect two MPs. At one point, out of 405 elected MPs, 293 were chosen by less than 500 voters. [...] The rotten borough isn't one that elects a party whose policies you disagree with; it's one where the residents, due to maintenance of historical electoral boundaries against any kind of updated population-based equity (as is provided for after each census by the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act in conjunction with the appropriate proportionality clause of the Constitution), enjoy massively out-of-scale representation. There's been a conscious attempt made to keep most ridings somewhere between 80,000 and 120,000 residents, which isn't incredibly unfair. (It's a far cry from eleven voters electing one MP, while denying a metropolis any members at all, in any case.) If Ibbitson was actually upset about disproportionately representative MPs, he might condemn the territories, which skew majorly from the attempt at roughly equal representation by population; the Yukon gets one MP for a population of just 28,000, Nunavut one for 27,000, and the Northwest Territories one for 37,000. But, then, those are Liberals, and it wouldn't do to attack our Natural Governing Party's brave sojourners from the far North, would it? The rural overrepresentation within their caucus (which must surely be reflected in the party membership) tilts the party in favour of issues that alienate urban voters. This is why the Tories oppose same-sex marriage and the decriminalization of marijuana possession; it is why they obsess over the gun registry, and worry more about false refugee claimants than promoting immigration. Hey, here's a thought: Maybe different segments of the population have different political priorities, and vote accordingly. Maybe - just maybe - political parties exist to represent the electorate's opinions, not to instruct them in the Doubleplusgood Correct way to think. What a concept! Despite the rotten boroughs, the House comes closer to reflecting our evolving urban reality with each redistribution of seats, which should make it virtually impossible for the Tories to win an election, even setting aside their unpopularity in Quebec. When redistricting is slyly cooked to give the party in power an edge (no matter how slight), we call that gerrymandering, you tool, not "reflecting our urban reality." Enthusiasm for legal means of making it "virtually impossible for the Tories to win an election" is but a few steps away from pondering why we even need those pesky opposition parties at all. There's some more, and it's mostly pedestrian analysis of the Bloc as a positive external force, but I think his main point - that it's just not fair how people not living within walking distance of at least one Thai restaurant, independent bookstore, and Starbucks are treated roughly as equal as he in our electoral law - is pretty clear.

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