The average person here is such that we ought never to have had self-government; we are not fit for it."(St. John's businessman Eric Bowring in testimony to the Amulree Royal Commission 1933)
It's a good thing that the number of Communications people in government has grown extraordinarily in the past few years. Experience has shown time and time again, that Ministers of the government sometimes say the most inept things. These Ministers really need someone holding their hand (mouth) to prevent "Open-Mouth Insert (swallow)-Foot" and to make them look good.
Obviously, such was not the case when the current Minister of Municipal Affairs, the Hon Kevin O'Brien suggested to Randy Simms in this month's edition of MNL's Municipal News - on the eve of the next round of municipal elections in September - that allowing too many uninformed voters to vote using a computer would be wrong.
“People who don’t know what’s going on, voting for people they don’t know, is not appropriate,” he says. "It is better to have 30 percent of the community turn out who have a true interest in their town then to encourage a larger turn-out where the chance of an uninformed decision could win the day."
That's the same exact logic that had NL give up self-government in the early 1930's in favour of a dictatorial Colonial rule. We (the average person electorate) were considered by the power elite to be too stunned to know what was good for us - we were simply not fit for democracy.
Time and technology have moved on but unfortunately that kind of thinking is still very much in the present. And most worrisome, the minister whose job it is to maintain the most fundamental, close to the people, municipal level of democratic government shares that thinking.
What is most grating to me is that Minister O'Brien has hung himself on fumbling two issues here:
First there is the issue of informed voting. I agree with the minister to the extent that it is important that people make an informed vote, however arguing that uninformed people should not bother to vote is patronizing and is a slight to our democratic process. If he is and we are satisfied to see people stay away from the election booth (be it real or virtual) then we are failing the men an women who died and continue to die for that right. Minister O'Brien should be encouraging people to get informed and get out to vote, He should not be giving them an excuse not to be "fit for it".
Second there is the issue of electronic voting. It is a concept that may encourage more people to vote by making the voting process more convenient. In an age where we (informed or otherwise) can buy lottery tickets, renew licences, collect pogey and pay taxes online the minister feels we are not up to voting online. The technology is readily available however the Minister and government has given it the thumbs down.
There are proven arguments that e-voting encourages more younger people to vote. They would probably vote for more younger candidates - something that government says it wants & needs to see. Their actions however send an opposite message. They know more older people will vote using the conventional pooling booth system and they also know older people will be more comfortable voting for people of their own age. We also know that older people in office will tend to favour the status quo - which could be a real political plus for a cash strapped provincial government. There will most certainly be fewer worries about rocking the boat and breaking the bank with a senior age-friendly policy!
I doubt very highly that the government will change its mind on e-voting, but I do think they need to change their attitude on voters and do it quickly. Until they do, I for one will continue to take a very skeptical stance on their cry for younger people to step up and run for municipal councils. Government knows that the old-guard enjoy the job enough to stay "if nobody else runs" and they also know that the old guard can be better managed than a bunch of new people with innovative ideas who will be asking for more, more often, possibly more effectively with their command of new technology such as social media.
I am willing to bet that there will still be a lot of gray hair around Council tables in October - and everyone who voted will be absolutely fine with that. That's a shame.
Read the full story here: