| Dec 21, 2006


Feature Article - December, 2006

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December 2006

Direct Democracy?by Jeff Green------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Conservative MP Scott Reid is one of the few Conservative politicians in Ontario with roots in the old Reform Party, and he sometimes expresses that populist touch with exercises in direct democracy, through constituency plebiscites.

He conducted a plebiscite last year, committing to follow the dictates of the people in Lanark Frontenac Lennox and Addington in a vote on Liberal-sponsored legislation that legalized same-sex marriage.

He received an endorsement for the position he himself had taken, opposing same sex marriage, receiving the support of 80% of respondents. He then voted against the legislation, which nonetheless passed.

This week a vote is being held in the House of Commons on same-sex marriage. If a majority of House members oppose the current legislation, the Conservative government will move to repeal it.

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Some constituents received a newsletter from Scott Reid last week, which said he intends to support the move to repeal the legislation, but that he wants to know what constituents think, and is asking them to fill in a new survey.

The survey is short. Under a banner that says “Do you support traditional marriage”, there is a box next to “Yes! I believe in the traditional definition of marriage”, and under that there is a box that says “No! I’m in favour of same-sex marriage”. Presumably, respondents are supposed to fill in only one box.

To me, this survey is not neutral. The entire survey is framed around the assertion that same sex marriage is a rejection of the traditional definition of marriage, whereas proponents of same sex marriage argue they are extending the definition rather than rejecting it. This, in actuality, is the real debate.

Not only that; pollsters all say that making “Yes” the answer you seek is always an advantage. This is indeed the answer that Reid wants and expects.

If Scott Reid really wanted to know, in an unbiased way, where people stand on this contentious matter, he would have asked “Do you support the recent legislation which legalized same sex marriage, yes or no.”

I expect that if Reid had phrased the question in this way, he would still have received majority support for his position. A lot of people in this riding take the view that same sex marriage defies the traditional definition of marriage, and that is why they oppose same sex marriage.

I don’t intend to argue that point here.

I don’t think this survey was even necessary. Scott Reid said he opposed same sex marriage during two election campaigns and he was easily elected, and in the most recent election he received over 50% of the vote.

Whether all of us like it or not, Scott Reid could legitimately say he is expressing the will of the majority of his constituents in voting to repeal the current legislation without resorting to this biased survey.

Scott Reid is not through with surveys; this week, he circulated a new one. It asks constituents to rank which policy matters are most important to them. We are asked to rank the following matters from 1 to 6: Supporting our seniors; cracking down on crime; reducing the tax burden; scrapping the gun registry; restoring traditional marriage; and fulfilling our military mission in Afghanistan.

One problem with this survey is that Reid is deciding what the top 6 policy items are. There is no option for other items on the survey. These six items might be the top six for Conservative Party supporters, but the 50% of people who did not support the Conservatives deserve a say as well

Secondly, the survey presumes a specific position as regards all of the policy items. While this is not problematic in some cases (there are few people who don’t want to support seniors), there are those who oppose the war in Afghanistan; don’t exactly like the image of “cracking down” on crime; don’t want to scrap the gun registry; and don’t think traditional marriage needs restoration.

If Scott Reid wants to know what our six priority items are, he could simply ask. At the very least he could list 12 or 15 policy matters, and let us choose our 6 priorities. Some of us are more concerned about education, jobs, healthcare and the environment than the six priority items Reid lists.

Surveying constituents is a good idea, but these surveys do more telling than asking. The traditional definition of direct democracy is to let constituents have a say on all the issues at hand.

Scott Reid should have stuck to that tradition.

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