Naïve hope

For one reason or another I’ve never had someone respond to an article I’ve written in the form of a letter to the editor. Perhaps this is because of the convenient online comment functions on most web sites — or perhaps because what I write is just plain boring.

I fully expected it would eventually happen, at which point I would be labelled an idiot or some other expletive. If everyone agrees with you, you’re probably doing it wrong — right?

Well, it looks like I’m still doing it wrong:

In “PR not the only electoral option,” Matt Campbell has put his finger on the crux of the attitude problems surrounding PR. He echoes Alan Holman, saying, “there are many ways to elect politicians.”

When we vote in the first-past-the-post system, we can pretend that we are voting for people who will represent us in the Legislature. Reality says that, too often, maybe even always, all we get are politicians.

When we vote in the PR systems that have been wagged in front of us, we will know, up front, that we are voting for politicians. Our noses will have been rubbed in the reality before we vote, and we will go into the polling booth with this “something doesn’t smell right” looks on our faces.

Leave us with our moment of naive hope at the polls.

Carl Mathis,
Charlottetown

(via today’s Guardian)

The enemy of the good

Over the past few months I’ve been advocating for electoral reform in my home province of Prince Edward Island. On the heels of a provincial election and a controversial coin toss to decide a tie, I wrote that “a coin toss is not just a deeply flawed method for choosing a politician, but a symptom of a larger problem,” making the case to reform our tired and broken first-past-the-post voting system.

Luckily the issue has gained steam in the province, with a steady stream of op-eds, panel discussions (more on that later) and debate in the legislature. In Saturday’s Guardian, Alan Holman very clearly laid out the options Islanders have when it comes to electoral reform. One of the problems with the debate, however, is that it often gets framed as a question of proportional representation (P.R.) versus the status quo.

Holman was right to point out there are many ways to elect politicians, and whatever system we use greatly affects the quality and makeup of our legislature. There are a number of advantages associated with P.R., but what he said next was prescient — and something that has been on my mind for some time:

“While many Islanders feel there’s a need for change they should keep in mind a couple of old adages; perfection is often the enemy of progress, and incremental change is usually the most successful.”

There is a real opportunity and appetite for reform in the province. Just 10 years ago, P.R. was soundly rejected by islanders for a variety of reasons. If we fail to truly consider real, meaningful and straightforward alternatives like ranked ballots (often called preferential voting), Prince Edward Island may miss out on this window to adopt a more progressive voting system.

There is an old Chinese proverb that says “better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.”

Let’s not make perfect the enemy of the good.

Frontier College

For about 18 months I’ve been volunteering with a national literacy organization called Frontier CollegeFounded in 1899, the “college” was established to educate migrant labour as the country expanded westward. They would send university students to frontier camps across the land “where they laboured with fellow workers in the daytime and taught them at night. By 1913, these ‘Labourer-Teachers’ taught in boxcars, tents and cabins in almost every province of Canada.”

It was an effort to respond to the dangerous working conditions in labour camps which drew heavily on immigrant labour. The remoteness of the camps meant that workers had no access to education which was traditionally provided by schools and churches. As a result, most workers were caught in a cycle of economic insecurity, often with no exit in sight. You can read the full history if you like, here.

Far from working with miners in the wilderness, I work with students in Halifax’s North End on Gottingen Street. Today, I received a lovely message from the mother of a learner I’ve been tutoring throughout the spring. She improved her math test scores from 45 to 58 to 78 per cent. A great note to end the school year on.