A SOBER SECOND THOUGHT FOR ONTARIO (Print Version)
by Randy Hillier*
Le Québécois Libre, January 15, 2009, No 263.
There is a growing chasm between the political demands and aspirations
of rural Ontario on the one hand and urban Ontario on the other. Just
take a look at an electoral map of the province: federally and
provincially, a red blotch on the north shore of Lake Ontario marks the
Liberal urban bastion of Toronto. This is surrounded by a blue mass
representing Conservative rural Ontario. These maps tell us something we
know to be true, but are hesitant to speak of.
Ontario has become, essentially, home to two competing political
communities, with different customs, economies, values and expectations.
Unfortunately they are represented by a "unicameral" parliament with no
upper house to balance the purely majoritarian legislative assembly. The
result is a widening of the gulf between the two communities, with every
new law and regulation passed by an urban-dominated Queens Park ill-suited
to the needs and wishes of rural Ontario. In fact, the authors of these
laws and policies are more often found in the bureaucracy than in the
legislature. Nonetheless, the way to correct our unbalanced political
landscape is to increase our political representation.
Two Houses Are Better Than One
What we need is a bicameral provincial government with
a Senate of fifty elected representatives, one from each county,
regional Municipality, and (in the north) district, to lessen this
growing urban-rural chasm by tempering urban priorities that cause
damage and harm to rural Ontario. Much like the federal Senate, this
upper chamber ought to be able to amend or defeat most bills passed by
the lower house, but be unable to introduce, alter, or defeat money
bills. However, to ensure that they have a greater regard for their
communities than for party discipline, provincial Senators ought to be
excluded from cabinet posts.
An elected provincial senate whose representation is based on
communities of interest, not population, would have the advantages of
the federal senate without the failings of political patronage. Arguably,
sober second thought and review is more relevant provincially than
federally, as there is a more substantial and direct relationship of
services between the people and their provincial governments.
The most difficult part of this proposal is that in order to create a
provincial Senate, the province must first give constitutional
recognition to the boundaries and legitimate jurisdictions of
municipalities, counties and districts, just as the federal government
does to the provinces. And contrary to popular misconception, this
constitutional amendment only requires the passage of legislation in
Ontario along with a request to the federal parliament that it be
included in the constitution.
Presently, municipalities and counties, the form of government closest
to the people, are creatures of the province and can be collapsed,
amalgamated, or expanded with the stroke of a legislative pen and three
readings. In addition, their responsibilities, funding, and financing
dangle on the threads of whatever partisan wind is blowing. Giving them
constitutional recognition would free major municipal governments from
this faulty master/servant relationship.
An elected upper house is recognized as a requirement
where diverse populations reside in large geographic jurisdictions. They
exist in Australia and other successful Commonwealth countries, and in
the United States. In fact, many Canadian provinces, including Nova
Scotia, Manitoba, and Quebec, originally had provincial Senates. They
were discredited and discarded, however, because they were appointed,
not elected. A provincial senate representing communities of interest,
with staggered elections by preferential ballot, would ultimately reduce
the number of flawed and unpopular Bills passed, preserve and respect
regional diversity, and mitigate, not replicate, the failings of the
lower house elected on the basis of population.
The priorities of Ontario's urban politicians and bureaucracy are bans
and restrictions, and they are out of sync with the people of rural
Ontario. This has resulted in Ontario going from first to worst in
economic performance, a painfully dismal record in health care, high
taxes, a ballooning bureaucracy, deficits, reduced individual
responsibility and freedoms, and have-not status. This dismal
performance is a reflection, not of coincidence, bad luck, or external
factors, but of the wrong priorities. In a democracy, people,
politicians, and governments are the authors of their fortunes, good or
bad. But institutions matter as well as personalities. An improved
bicameral political structure is needed so that the urban drum is not
always the loudest.
Ontario is too large and diverse to be represented by a single
legislative house. The North, South Eastern, South Western, and Central
regions are significantly different than the GTA and indeed from each
other. Our political system ought to mitigate these regional differences
instead of exacerbating regional divisions.
A glance at the electoral map shows that the current system is not doing
the job. It's time for a bicameral provincial government to check and
balance parliamentary majorities that show little regard for regional
Randy Hillier is MPP (Member of Provincial
Parliament) for Lanark Frontenac, Lennox & Addington