By PAUL SULLIVAN
Wednesday, September 25, 2002
A couple of guys named Gordon are trying to make British Columbia more democratic.
There are those who scorn the notion that Gordon Campbell (current Liberal leader and Premier) and Gordon Gibson (former Liberal leader and "senior fellow" at the right-wing Fraser Institute) are champions of democracy.
They argue that these Gordons are in the pockets of the oligarchy. Mr. Campbell was elected "with the support of big business and intends to deliver this province to big business," grumps a B.C. Government Employees Union commentator. A denizen of the letters column questioning Mr. Gibson's objectivity asks: "When did the Fraser Institute abandon its advocacy and support of big business and assume the mantle of non-partisanship?"
So the level of Left Coast skepticism is high in the wake of Friday's announcement that Gordon A has appointed Gordon B to figure out how to create a citizens' assembly to review the electoral system, leading to a referendum on the 2005 general election ballot.
The skeptometer went up a couple of notches this week when the Premier, usually a big fan of referendums, squelched a growing movement for a referendum on the 2010 Olympic Games, probably because he feared that British Columbians would do the same thing as the Swiss and reject the opportunity.
But it's tough to argue with the proclivities of either Gordon. The Premier has already set a shelf life for his term of office -- it expires, by an act of the legislature, on May 17, 2005. He also has fixed the dates of the tabling of budgets and sessions of the legislature, promises improved MLA recall and citizen initiative legislation, and more power for MLAs, as well as the citizens' assembly.
First Citizen Gordon B is an old democracy warhorse. While the rest of us moan about our rights, he's out there, in every two-bit meeting hall, enduring the cranks and loonies and tirelessly protecting us. And he's not afraid to bite the hand that feeds him; his Vancouver Sun column was dropped a few months ago by CanWest Global for barking intemperately at Jean Chrétien and CanWest's grim defence of same in which he railed at CanWest for making its newspapers publish editorials that were "dangerous to democracy." So Gordon B's back and all is forgiven, but he didn't know that when he spoke his mind.
For years, he has fought against such deals as the Meech Lake and Charlottetown constitutional accords and the Nisga'a treaty because he believes they don't treat all citizens equally. While his Canada would be a decentralized, white-bread regime full of English-speaking Spartans standing on guard for me and thee, one must admire his dedication and sense of personal responsibility.
As for the citizens' assembly, it can't hurt. Anything that empowers citizens without destabilizing the commonwealth is a good idea. And it's hard to disagree with Gordon B on one thing: Our first-past-the-post system elects four- or five-year dictators. Some new form or combination of forms of government -- republican? proportional representation? -- is required to maintain our democracy.
So Gordon Gibson is not a bad choice to launch this process in B.C. He has to report back to the Premier by Dec. 15 on the citizens' assembly. And while the world is not exactly watching, maybe it should turn its collective eyes from the lurid diversions of a society gone soft and watch a real democrat in action.