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Progressives must act as decisively as conservatives do

Surely it's time for the reality-based community -- that's us, my progressive friends -- to start making some new democratic realities!

In 2015, as you will recall, many of us overcame our reservations and voted for Justin Trudeau's Liberals on the basis of his firm, clear, unequivocal promise to introduce democratic electoral reform to Canada.

Call me naïve, but I for one believed him. It didn't hurt at all, of course, that Thomas Mulcair, the former Liberal who led the federal New Democratic Party after Jack Layton's death, had gone full neoliberal and was trying to campaign to the right of the Liberals and as close to the Conservatives as he dared come.

Like many progressive voters, I imagine, I have been watching the thuggish Doug Ford's performance since his election as premier of Ontario on June 7 and grinding my teeth.

This is not because he is swiftly enacting terrible policies that were never mentioned in his campaign. That was a safe bet for what would happen from the instant he captured the leadership of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives in the party coup that removed the hapless Patrick Brown.

Rather, it is because he has the boldness to act on his beliefs, no matter how destructive and anti-democratic they are. Audentes fortuna iuvat.

Why are our leaders, time after time, so cautious, so timid, in their defence of Canadian democracy?

Even when they promise to fix things to ensure the prevailing consensus in Canada can, you know, prevail … first they appoint a Minister of Democratic Reform, then they consult their civil servants, then they strike committees, then they listen to conservatives who can only grasp power by exploiting our flawed and undemocratic first-past-the-post system demanding referenda and other stalling tactics, then they feel their feet go cold, and then they back away.

Trudeau has already done this. In British Columbia, meanwhile, this fall there is supposed to be a plebiscite on electoral reform -- which seems clearly designed to fail. Better the devil you know than the devil you don't.

Meanwhile, Ford acts to hobble his enemies and cripple democracy in Toronto, where any group associated with the Ford family would have trouble winning a fair election after the rolling gong show that was his brother Rob's city administration.

Well, Rob has gone to his reward, and so has Doug, in a manner of speaking, and more's the pity.

As my friend, the brave and acerbic Nora Loretto observed in a Tweet the other day: '… progressives need to take note at the speed at which Tories make transformative policy change."

Indeed we do. Do you remember the anonymous George W. Bush Administration official who mockingly portrayed the majority of progressive Americans as "the reality-based community"?

"When we act," said the official, widely thought to be Republican strategist Karl Rove, "we create our own reality."

He went on: "And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors ... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do'."

Well, whoever he was, he spoke the truth.

Here in Alberta, meanwhile, the United Conservative Party led by Stephen Harper acolyte Jason Kenney has paused in its screechy and misleading complaining that the NDP Government of Premier Rachel Notley didn't campaign on a carbon tax -- although it was implicit in the NDP platform -- to bob their heads in agreement with the Ford Government's efforts to hand civic democracy over to the development industry in Metro Toronto.

Not a word of that -- not a single word -- was heard in Ford's campaign, which may also explain why Kenney has so little to say about his own plans. After all, if we have the misfortune of finding out what they are, you have to know a lot of Albertans aren't going to like them either.

If Kenney's party manages to win power in next year's expected election -- as seems quite likely, given recent polls and the way the Alberta electoral map has been left much as it was under the Progressive Conservatives -- you can count on it they will make similar moves to undermine the persistent tendency of urban Canadians to vote for progressive policies.  

Moreover, as the Toronto-born American conservative commentator David Frum recently observed, also rightly, "when highly committed parties strongly believe things that they cannot achieve democratically, they don't give up on their beliefs -- they give up on democracy."

He was explaining the activities of the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump, which makes the appalling Bush Administration Frum worked for as a speechwriter look good. But he could as well have been describing Ford's government or, one strongly suspects, Kenney's plans.

Well, it's not too late for Trudeau to turn about, keep his electoral reform promise, damn the Tory torpedoes, and save Canadian democracy. But I think we all understand how remote the chances of that actually happening are.

Surely it's time for us to start choosing genuinely progressive leaders whose boldness matches that of the unrepresentative right.

What Edmonton would look like under the Ford plan

I hope it isn't necessary to provide a primer on why municipalities, the level of government that most affects our lives, need a higher percentage of elected representatives by population than do provincial or federal governments.

Here are some rough, back-of-the-envelope calculations suggesting what civic government would look like in Edmonton under a plan like Premier Ford's.

Premier Ford intends to reduce Toronto City Council from 47 members, which he claims is expensive and inefficient, to 25. With a city population of 2.8 million, that's one councillor for every 112,000 citizens. Ford's meme-makers say the city has 25 MPs and 25 MPPs, the Ontario equivalent of an MLA. I count 24 each, but whatever.

By comparison, the Edmonton Metropolitan Region (which has not yet suffered a forced amalgamation by a Conservative government, as Metro Toronto did in 1998) has a population of 1.3 million, 11 MPs and 27 MLAs.

If you count only the councils of the five cities and four immediately adjacent counties, including one that is really a city, in the EMR, there are 71 municipal councillors. Add the 11 towns and three villages in the EMR and you will find there are 157 elected councillors. That comes to an elected councillor for every 8,280 people. And I have left out First Nations band councils and summer village councils because they tend to be on the rural fringes of the area.

It would be interesting to see how Albertans who think what Ford is proposing in Toronto makes sense would react to a forced amalgamation that would leave a new mega city with only about 11 councillors, roughly the ratio Ford proposes, and the number of MPs in the Edmonton area. I can guarantee you most of them -- conservative and progressive alike -- would not like the idea.

What Alberta political parties think of it might be a good question to raise with all parties in the expected 2019 provincial election campaign.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca

Image: Ryan Hodnett/Flickr

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