@Meslin and the messy business of democracy | #onpoli

I’ve written previously about my admiration for Dave and the work he does. His latest post, over at his place, is yet another illustration of the principled and energetic approach he brings to his activism; he’s one of those people who makes things better for all of us because of his commitment.

On his blog, he’s calling for the inclusion of Ontario Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner in the leaders’ debates in the context of the approaching provincial election. Dave’s argument, if I understand it correctly, is that in the spirit of true democracy and respect for voters, Mr. Schreiner should have a place at the table along with Dalton McGuinty, Andrea Horwath and Tim Hudak.

(As always: Dave, if you feel that I’m misrepresenting your words or taking them out of context, please write and correct me. You have my personal commitment to publishing them here.)

You can’t help but respect the thinking behind this initiative. Only thing is, you can make the same argument about any number of parties and candidates who aren’t properly represented in the current discussion, whether it’s via the “mainstream media” or everyday conversation.

While I’m not entirely comfortable signing on to the initiative as it’s currently set up, Dave’s argument raises an important question about how political debates and discourse are framed. To the extent that he’s criticizing the traditional mindset that sees Ontario politics through the lens of the “Three Main Parties” and consigns everyone and everything else to the “fringe,” he’s right. Why should we leave it to the corporate media or the traditional political and financial power brokers to decide who’s worth listening to, who gets access to our attention on prime-time TV, and who gets left with a soapbox on the corner?

A leaders’ debate is, by definition, an artificial event. It’s not without its value, and even if the participants stick closely to their talking points and the scripts set out for them by their handlers, it can occasionally be entertaining. (I enjoy waiting for someone to go off message or make a major gaffe, but that’s just me.) But the choice of whom to include and whom to leave out is necessarily arbitrary. Whether you want to make it on ideological or merely logistical grounds, someone’s going to have a legitimate complaint about being left out. If you’re going to argue that the Green Party should be in, then why not the Communist Party (down, Giorgio! Down!) or the Family Coalition Party or the Freedom Party?

On the other hand, there’s the obvious question of where to stop? At what point do you draw the line and say this or that party or candidate simply doesn’t merit inclusion, and on what basis? Doesn’t too large a field make things unworkable and unintelligible?

An easy and obvious critique for me to make, of course, and it shouldn’t take anything away from Mez’s dedication to fair voting and genuine civic engagement. I can’t write about it without also noting his commitment to more fundamental voting reform. It’s no great revelation to point out the dysfunctions inherent in our current First-Past-The-Post system and its disfiguring effects on politics, and it’s only fair to cite Mez’s work in that regard as well.

Even if you can’t sign on to the current initiative, it’s a discussion well worth having. 

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