Putting the power in the hands of the people who live with the consequences and pay the bills.
Americans are different from Canadians – we all know that.
Their system of government and governance is different as well. Americans are more likely to demand a direct say in what their governments do at all levels but especially at the local and state levels.
Canada has a different form of democracy, less direct, less hands on. We have a parliamentary system of government; America is a republic. Under both systems the representatives of the people, once elected, make decisions on our behalf; decisions that may or may not reflect the views and values of their constituents.
Referendums allow the people to have a direct say in what the law should be and which projects should be funded. What a novel idea.
In Canada referendums are rare. In the United States, referendums are common and used as tools to guide politicians in terms of what the people want.
The recent mid-term elections in the United States featured many local and State referendums. The following are of some interest.
In California, Proposition 19, if it had passed, would have seen the elimination of all criminal penalties for adult Californians (21 years of age) who planted marijuana plots up to 25 square feet or possessed up to one ounce of marijuana for personal use. The proposition did not pass (54 % opposed) but organizers are already planning to put the issue back on the ballot for 2012.
In South Dakota, Measure 13 would have allowed for the medical use of marijuana . It was defeated with 60% of voters rejecting the measure.
In San Diego, Proposition D, which would have increased sales tax by one half a percent to fund municipal spending, was soundly defeated. In a bid to gain support for the measure, San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders had been threatening dramatic cuts to public safety spending if Proposition D failed. It seems the people in San Diego voted against the measure because they did not trust officials to spend the money wisely.
And lastly, an issue that resonates in Winnipeg: In Houston, where 800,000 offence notices had been issued since 2006, just over 53 per cent of the votes rejected the continued use of photo radar. The revenue collected since its inception in Houston amounted to 44 million dollars.
Some Winnipegers might appreciate having a direct say on the issue of stadium funding. Again, what a novel idea, actually asking the people who will have to pay back the loan if they wish to borrow the money. This, as opposed to allowing millionaire developers and city and provincial politicians (who seem to have difficulty recognizing the difference between an “estimate” and a “wild guess”) making decisions and sending us the bill once all the back room dealing is done.
I sometimes get the feeling we are in a high stakes card game with a number of card sharks. The problem is the card sharks are playing with our money and we, the public, barely have a seat at the table . In such a scenario we need to know when, in the words from a popular song, we should “hold’em, fold’em, when to walk away and when to run”.
With the stadium funding issue, running might be a good option. Clear the deck, get new players to the table and deal a new hand. Never mind that a hole has already been dug. It would not be the first time governments have hired people to dig holes and then fill them in.
Perhaps politicians might be surprised with the results if they engaged in open and meaningful consultations with the public. Given the right time, right location, and most importantly the right players, Winnipegers might just support a major investment of public money to build an appropriate stadium.