Friday, November 15, 2013

Making Accountability Real

At the beginning of the last century, the heyday of Progressivism, a new tool was given to voters -- the recall election. The Rob Ford saga has many lessons. But one of them is that Ontario voters should be given the right to recall their politicians. Tasha Kheiriddin writes:

If Ford had any sense of decency, he would step down of his own accord. But failing that, he is correct when he says that it is the people who voted for him — not the media, or the city’s councillors — who should decide whether he stays or goes. So why not give those same voters the power to strip him of office, and then either re-elect him, or not?

Jurisdictions around the world, from California to Switzerland, have recall and referenda laws. British Columbia has one, which was used most recently to dispose of the province’s HST, after politicians broke a promise not to enact it.

Of course, politicians of all stripes are afraid of the beast they would unleash. But, at present, those same politicians feel they can do as they wish until the next election. There is no mechanism to make mid-term corrections. If voters had the ability to recall their politicians, mistakes could be dealt with before their consequences became unbearable. For instance, Kheiridden writes:

Had there been such a law on the books when the gas-plant cancellation controversy exploded in Ontario, Wynne’s minority might already have been driven from office.

And, on a municipal level, if a Mayor could be recalled, why not a councillor? You can see why many politicians are gun-shy when it comes to empowering voters in between elections.

Typically a recall election cannot be held unless there is a high threshold of voters who demand it. Others will argue that legislators can try to build a "firewall" around a leader -- as Toronto City Council is attempting to do this morning -- to try and minimize the damage he or she can do.

But, in the end, the people who can stop the bleeding are voters. Recall elections would make  accountability real.


Lorne said...

I was watching the At Issue panel last night on The National, Owen, and Chantal Hebert made an interesting suggestion that would obviate all of the contention over the Ford situation. Citing precedents, she says the province could simply move up the next election by a year, thereby giving the people the ultimate choice rather than to have to wait till Oct of 2014.

The sooner this diseased persona is excised from the civic landscape, the better.

Owen Gray said...

That's an interesting suggestion Lorne. The people have the right to removed those who they have ordained.

But, whatever the solution, it needs to apply to more than just Rob Ford. Otherwise, those who follow in his footsteps will still believe that their only date with accountability is at a preordained time.

l smith said...

The example of Wynne is instructive, and speaks well to the dangers of recall provisions.
It is probably true that, were such provisions in place, Wynne would already have been recalled, but keep in mind that the "gas plant scandal" itself is entirely a matter of partisan posturing.
The conservatives ran on a platform of doing EXACTLY THE SAME THING, after all.

Owen Gray said...

Agreed, I. There is a danger that the recall provision could be misused or used for trivial reasons.

On the other hand, now that MP's owe loyalty first to their party and second to those who elected them, a recall provision would return responsible government to the people who are ultimately responsible.

e.a.f. said...

Recall is a good idea, but it can also result in politicians being more interested in fighting a recall than in doing their jobs.

Part of the problem, in my opinion, is the size of Toronto. At one time it was a number of smaller cities. The provincial government was passed leg. amalgamating all the cities into one. Perhaps given the unhappiness of many, they ought to look into getting their cities back. From the figures it doesn't appear to have saved any money. Having a city the size of Toronto only made it easier for the Cons. to gain control. Yes, it all has worked nicely for Ford and harper. Now lets see how Ford will assist in bringing down Harper.

Owen Gray said...

The amalgamation was spearheaded by the Mike Harris government, e.a.f. -- the people who gave us Flaherty, Clement and Baird.

But, as usual, they left behind bigger problems than the ones they encountered.