Remarks by Hon.
David Kilgour, MP for Edmonton Southeast
Ontario Provincial High
School Debate Tournament
Room 209 West Block, House
2 April 2004
Check against delivery
subject we are debating, recall of elected officials, is one that I find
interesting. It gained much
prominence this past winter when California Governor Gray Davis was recalled and
subsequently replaced by actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, in a race that featured a
myriad of interesting candidates.
any of you from British Columbia? It
is the only Commonwealth jurisdiction to have recall legislation, which has been
quite busy in recent years, particularly following the election of a new
government in 2001. There was even
a campaign under way- "Recall them All"-- essentially, an attempt to
unseat all 77 of the sitting Liberal MLA's.
dira bien ce que l'on voudra, mais l'idée d'un projet de loi sur la révocation
des députés repose sur des principes importants, tels que la représentation démocratique,
la volonté de la population et les responsabilités afférentes à l'exercice
d'une charge publique.
the heart of recall legislation is the assumption that politicians are the true
equals of those who elected them in the first place. Accordingly, the argument goes, mechanisms should be enacted
to ensure that voters maintain the right to "un-elect" a politician
part way through their mandate if he or she does something illegal, unethical or
inappropriate. Like so many things
in life, recall legislation is far more complex than it seems.
I'd like to briefly outline some of the pros and cons that come to light
in most discussions of this topic.
Legislation: the democratic tool of the people
of those in favour of recall legislation point to its role in the bigger issue
of direct democracy. Along with
initiatives like fixed election dates and voter-initiated referenda, recall
legislation is an attempt to give ordinary citizens more power.
Essentially, the simple act of voting every four or five years is not
enough of a mechanism for genuine citizen engagement-citizens deserve better
tools in order to hold politicians accountable.
allows citizens to continue to hold their elected officials to account during
the term of a parliament or provincial assembly without having to wait for an
election call. It allows
constituencies to get rid of an unpopular politician at their discretion, as
long as there is a substantial level of agreement.
By many accounts, a good politician should have nothing to fear from the
implementation. If he or she is
doing their job in representing their constituents well, theoretically recall
will never be initiated. Those who
support recall initiatives often point out that they succeed in making the
system seem more transparent to the electorate, as well as shifting the balance
of power between the electors and the elected.
has been said recently about the "democratic deficit" between members
of Parliament and the electorate at large.
Voter turnout is down (59% in the 2000 national election), especially
amongst young voters (only 25% of those aged 18-25 voted), and there is a
growing sense of disconnect between citizens and MPs. Many argue that initiatives like recall will do much to solve
this problem. Give people the tools
to be a part of the process and they will care about becoming involved.
Allow for stronger accountability measures and citizens will be more
inclined to trust politicians and have faith in the system.
In essence, advocates for recall emphasize the importance of
strengthening the link between citizens and politicians, and ensuring that the
will of the people remains supreme.
n'est qu'un bref résumé des arguments invoqués par les partisans de la révocation.
Qui donc pourrait s'opposer à l'idée d'accorder plus de pouvoir aux citoyens?
Pour tenter de le savoir, revoyons quelques-uns des arguments présentés à
l'encontre de la révocation.
Legislation-time-consuming, costly and dominated by special interests
considering the alternate viewpoint to this particular issue, I think it's fair
to say that there are not many people who disagree with the theory of recall
legislation as holding politicians to account is one of the cornerstones of our
democracy. The disagreements arise
more from notions of practicality and implementation. Recall efforts can be prohibitively expensive.
recent recall campaign in California was done at an estimated cost of between
$53 and $66 million. Even in
British Columbia, a much smaller jurisdiction, recall efforts cost between
$120-150,000. This is taxpayer
money that could be spent elsewhere. Recall
is also time-consuming. In BC,
where voters can initiate recall petitions on any sitting member (including
cabinet ministers), nine petitions were initiated in a one-year period.
Each petition must be verified by hand, taking up time and resources.
importantly, because of the first-past-the-post electoral system used both in
Canada and the United States, recall can set up some interesting scenarios.
During the campaign in California, someone pointed out to me that Grey
Davis would be recalled if 50% plus one of those voting opted to do so, but that
his successor, running in a race with over 10 candidates, could feasibly be
elected with only 10 or 20% of the votes cast.
One has to ask whether this truly represents the people's choice!
tradition of strict party discipline in Canada makes recall difficult.
How can electors blame a specific policy on their particular member when
it is likely a decision made by Cabinet or caucus as a whole?
Recall may well be an excellent tool to use to rid oneself of an
incompetent, dishonest, unethical or irresponsible MP, but there will always be
situations that can't be seen in stark black and white terms.
Perhaps an unpopular federal decision is made that affects a certain
region of Canada-for example, the National Energy Policy in my home province of
Alberta. It is more than likely
that regional MPs fought very hard in caucus to prevent the adoption of this
they be recalled simply for being outvoted by their party?
In order for recall to work effectively, we must differentiate between
MPs caught in difficult decisions and MPs who are simply not up to the job.
An MP who is embroiled in a conflict of interest should quite possibly be
recalled. But what about one who
can't stop a mine from closing in his or her hometown?
Or one who takes the fall for an unpopular government policy?
These are questions we should all consider.
believe the best compromise is to provide recall legislation with a significant
threshold, say a requirement that 40-50% of registered voters sign a petition,
and regulations surrounding the extent of a recallable offence.
Recall legislation should attempt to balance the need for voters to be
able to unseat an MP who has done something corrupt or dishonourable with a
pragmatic and practical approach to ensuring the process is not used
closing, I want to thank you again for the invitation to speak with you all
tonight. As I mentioned earlier,
voter turnout and participation among young people is at an all time low.
It gives me great encouragement and hope for the future to see you all
here and to know that you are interested in politics and the debate of ideas.
I'm sure I'm surrounded by countless future lawyers, teachers,
politicians and even Prime Ministers. Best
of luck to you all in the future and be sure to continue to ask questions, be
curious and maintain your interest in politics and public life.