Ralph Klein has gone and it is time to retire Ralph's World. Thanks to all of you who have supported this venture by contributing material and through your comments. It has been fun.

Should we get another blog underway? Let me know your thoughts by e-mailing me at johnnyslow@gmail.com.

John Slow
January 1, 2007

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Martha's Monthly December 8, 2004
It’s beginning to look a lot like….time for democratic reform!

A few days ago, Martha sat down with the kids to write the yearly letter to Santa. The kids asked for the usual: toys and books. Martha asked the jolly one for something special: democratic reform in Alberta. She’d thought of this present on November 22 whilst watching the election returns come in. Seems Alberta has joined the ranks of the provincial governments elected by less than a majority of the popular vote but elected to lead a “sweeping majority” government. Now Martha never did all that well at math but she does know that when less than half the people who bothered to vote, which is less than half the adults, elect a government, you don’t so much have a majority government as you have an outdated electoral system. So Martha is hoping that Santa sees fit to put two things in her stocking: a commitment from Premier Klein for a review of the electoral system and a return to all-Party Standing committees.

You may be wondering what one has to do with the other and how either will lead to democratic reform. As Martha sees it, the exercise of democracy is not a day every four years but a day-to-day approach to governing that admits that not everyone voted for you nor does everyone agree with you. In the case of the 2004 election, Premier Klein needs to see that not only did not everyone vote for him, but, in fact, fewer than half the people who voted chose his Party. The majority of voters chose someone else. This should make the Conservatives want to reach out to these disaffected voters. It should make the government want to incorporate some of the varied opinions on public policy into their own policy. It should make the government invite all Parties to play a role in committee work. It should, but it likely won’t.

Because here is what Martha found when she went digging. Every provincial legislature in Canada (except Alberta) is talking about democratic reforms and some, like BC, have made major steps towards it. Alberta is the only province where all-Party committees don’t exist. Alberta also holds the record for the fewest number of days that the legislature sits. In 2004 they sat 43 days, in 2003 it was 56 days and in 2002 they sat 47 days. The total in three years was 146 days. BC Legislature sat for 123 days in 2002 alone! With so few sitting days there are few opportunities by the Opposition to hold the Government accountable for its actions. In any other province some accountability is provided by the fact that committees of the Legislature (where much of the work is done like planning budgets, drafting legislation, and reviewing programs) are made up of representatives from all elected Parties. Ralph Klein eliminated this tradition of incorporating opposition viewpoints (see Edmonton Journal article on imperial Alberta). In Alberta, committees are made up entirely of MLAs from the Conservative Party. When Martha read the Canadian Taxpayers news release she noted that committee work comes with a stipend. So not only are the Conservatives holding all the power, they also get all the perks!

As for electoral reform, well Martha could go on and on. Suffice it to say that when you look at the election results and see that the Conservatives garnered 47% of the vote but ¾ of the seats while 53% of voters chose a party other than the Conservatives and got only ¼ of the seats you can see there is a problem with our First-Past-the-Post (FPTP) system of elections. Proportional representation (PR) takes many forms (see Law Commission of Canada report) but all systems of it would more accurately reflect the will of the voters than FPTP. In Alberta, Fair Vote Alberta has campaigned for a system of PR. In fact, every party except the Conservatives campaigned in the 2004 election for proportional representation. See, for instance, the Liberal plan for democratic renewal and the New Democrat plan for democratic reform.

The BC Citizen's Assembly will make its report on electoral reform public on December 10, 2004. It has already stated it will recommend a form of PR for the province. Their example of how to engage citizens in this topic should be adopted by Alberta. The Marthas of Alberta call on Mr. Klein to make a commitment to democratic reform and renewal by creating a Citizen’s Assembly similar to the BC model and by immediately reinstating all-Party membership on committees of the Legislature. Please let Premier Klein know that democracy is not one day every four years, but an ongoing obligation to incorporating all viewpoints. Copy the following letter into a new email and send to premier@gov.ab.ca, Alison.Crawford@assembly.ab.ca, randy.thorsteinson@albertaalliance.com, newdemocrats@assembly.ab.ca, Edmonton.Riverview@assembly.ab.ca and back to us at marthasmonthly@yahoo.ca.

Premier Klein

Alberta Legislature

December 8, 2004

Dear Mr. Klein:

Congratulations on your re-election. The Marthas of Martha’s Monthly would like to offer you a few pieces of advice on the election results. We noticed that though you won nearly ¾ of the seats, your Party did not garner even half the votes. Such an election result can happen under the current electoral system. The First-Past-the-Post (FPTP) system we have has even led to two provincial elections in which the party that had the second highest number of votes had the most seats and formed the government (BC 1996 election and the Quebec 1998 election). Such results lead to voters demanding a system that more accurately reflects their will. Though your government’s win is not an example of this problem with FPTP, it does suggest that you should consider electoral reform so that such an electoral result never happens in Alberta.

We have two concerns about democratic reform in Alberta. First, we call on you to announce a Citizen’s Assembly, similar to BC’s model, in order to review the electoral process in Alberta. We join the many groups and individuals who have made this call since November 22. Second, we are asking that you immediately reinstate all-Party membership on committees of the Legislature. With so few sitting days, your government needs to provide more accountability to the electorate. Re-instating all-Party membership is the first step towards democratic renewal.

Please make an immediate commitment to an open, accountable government in your last term as Premier. We encourage you to see democracy as a day-to-day process and not just one day every four years.


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