Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Momentum for change

Last night, I attended a candidates' meeting in York South-Weston, surely the poorest riding in Toronto. York South Weston is basically a railway corridor with some depressed industrial areas and modest housing on each side. The hot local issue is a new commuter train line that is proposed to run through the area to get punters from downtown to Woodbine racetrack. The residents would rather have a subway line.

The Liberal incumbent is Alan Tonks, former Mayor of the City of York, former Chair of Metropolitan Toronto, and former Chair of the Greater Toronto Area Services Board. None of these entities still exist. Tonks is a genial fellow with a strong personal following, and is probably not in danger of losing his seat.

Once again, a packed, boisterous house, probably 500 people in a high school auditorium.

The NDP candidate, Paul Ferreira, stole my fire by mentioning proportional representation and phony majority governments in response to a question about integrity and governmental accountability, so I changed my approach.

This meeting was very well run, and they were cutting off your microphone after 30 seconds, so I cut to the chase.

"I'm concerned that we can't hold government accountable if we don't actually get the government we voted for," I said, "so I'm glad to hear Mr. Ferreira talk about proportional representation, and I'll need to hear from the other candidates on that, but I want to push Mr. Ferreira a little further.

"It's all very well for politicians to tinker with the voting system, but clearly, politicians have a vested interest here. History shows us that if we let politicians design the voting system, we get a voting system that's good for politicians. Will Mr. Ferreira and the other candidates commit to a citizen-driven process, so that the people of Canada can have the opportunity to choose a voting system that's good for people?"

Mr. Ferreira was happy to have the opportunity to voice his support for a national Citizens' Assembly similar to the one held in British Columbia.

Candidates in this riding have also been asked about voting reform at previous meetings, so Mr. Tonks had an answer ready. He said that he is concerned that PR might be divisive for Canadians, but he supports the idea of a Citizens' Assembly.

After the meeting, I thanked him for that, and gave him our tabloid to read. I also thanked Ferreira for his support.

Once again, we see persistence by our volunteers building awareness among politicians and setting the ground for the eventual legislative change we will need to get a fair voting system.

Thanks to Fair Vote Canada volunteer David-Paul Sip for getting to the meeting early and handing out literature.

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