Monday, October 8, 2007

Profiting from the Democratic Deficit

As I'd predicted in an earlier post on the subject of schools and religious groups, PC leader John Tory's ploy to attract the votes of non-WASPs in the GTA by proposing an extension of public funding to faith-based schools has backfired. It was clear from the beginning that the majority of Ontario citizens wouldn't support such a plan, and Tory's last-minute attempt to control the damage by suggesting that he'd hold a free vote in the Legislature on it instead of pushing it through has made him look more of an opportunist.

The upside of the resulting public debate over the proposal is that Ontario citizens, perhaps to the chagrin of Catholic school supporters, are now ready to start the move toward a single English language public school system.

The downside is that, as NDP leader Howard Hampton complained, the education debate has dominated the campaign both in the media and in the chatter of the electorate to the exclusion of other important issues. The Toronto Star today ran a story about this - without, of course, acknowledging that The Star itself was partly responsible for blowing the issue up. A shamelessly Liberal paper, The Star took the lead in promoting both sides of the issue, effectively distracting voters from other serious issues - most notably in my mind, the impending massive investment in nuclear power. Hampton, naturally, perceived that Tory's school proposal detracted from the NDP and the PC campaigns' ability to draw attention to the Liberal government's mediocre record in several key areas. Following the debacles of the Rae, Harris and Eves governments, however, McGuinty's record doesn't look so bad anyway, and the "attack ads" on TV, in my experience, wear thin with the electorate pretty quickly.

The continued exclusion from the televised leaders' "debate" (a misnomer if there ever was one) of Green Party leader Frank de Jong also worked to keep important issues under the radar of the majority of the public. Certainly one can surmise that the leadership of the PCs, Liberals and NDP find themselves united in their desire not to let any more votes slip away to the Green Party. However, given that the policy debate logjam caused by these three parties' strategies to maintain power has resulted in nothing more than the maintenance of the status quo at Queen's Park, they may want to reconsider their role in keeping de Jong out. Had de Jong been put on the televised debate, a whole host of policy alternatives would have been brought to the fore. All it would take next time is for one of the three other leaders to make the Green Party's admission to the debate a condition of his own participation, and the network organizers would be obliged to comply. There would be little point in going ahead with a two-leader debate.

The corporately-owned mass media continue, unfortunately, to keep the Green Party marginalized. Although the Greens have been polling between 6% and 11%, the party and its policies without question receive far less press proportionally than do the larger parties. The Liberals and Conservatives, the two parties with the strongest ties to corporate Ontario, together receive close to 90% of the media coverage, even though their combined poll totals wouldn't crack 75%. Although polling at about half the popularity of the NDP, a third of that of the PCs and a quarter of that of the Liberals, the Green Party's press coverage comes to probably about a tenth of the NDPs, and its TV coverage still less.

Not only does the Green Party suffer from this exclusion, but so does all Ontario, now and into the future. There's no question that Canada's "democratic deficit," as Green Party of Canada leader Elizabeth May has so astutely referred to it, is largely a product of the systematic limiting of the scope of political debate by the corporately-owned media and its slavish publicly-owned imitator, the CBC. While Elections Ontario forces every political candidate in the province to account for every last dime spent or collected, the Canadian Radio and Television Commission continues to let broadcasters act as free public advertising for some parties but not others.

Our antiquated system of disproportional representation is also a major contributor to the democratic deficit, of course. A second major step forward that has occured in this campaign is that proportional representation in the form of the Mixed-Member Proportional system is now on the public's mind. Although the referendum is not likely to pass this time, great strides have been made in making our politically unsophisticated electorate aware of the options. Perhaps when yet another false majority government takes 100% of the power at Queen's Park with 60% of the seats and 40% of the votes, leaving the majority of voters entirely unrepresented, there will be more questions asked, and more voters ready to take a serious look at a better system of representation the next time the opportunity is presented. Like the move to a single public school system, a proportional system of representation for Ontario is an inevitability that vested interests can only put off for so long.

1 comment:

the rev. said...

Despite the attempts to marginalize the Greens, it looks like they have a good chance of electing an MPP in the Owen Sound area, where their candidate was narrowly beaten by the Conservatives in the last election.