Winston Churchill is known for many great quotes in his time as britain’s prime minister. He would have been a wonderful interview, from this reporter’s perspective.
He famously said in the House of Commons in 1947, "democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others."
It’s often used as an ironic argument by democracy proponents to prop up the first-past-the-post system by which we elect people to represent us in the corridors of power. Sadly, this lesser known quote falls somewhat closer to the truth: "the best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter."
This election, Surrey residents seemed inspired once more to take up the call to democracy, go forth and cast their ballot for change. and change they received. they removed the only dissident on municipal council and restored a power bloc of absolute political supremacy.
If this is the best example we can come up with to tout the benefits of democracy, perhaps we ought to stop exporting it to the third-world regimes undergoing housekeeping.
Democracy is often described as being the "tyranny of the majority." First coined by U.S. President John adams in 1788, and later popularized in the 1835 book Democracy in America by alexis de tocqueville, the term has come to be known as a scenario in which minority groups within a society are doomed to be marginalized by statistics.
Indeed, of the 698,499 votes cast for council candidates in the Surrey election, 347,723 were cast for people not belonging to the Surrey First slate. By a statistical hair, the majority (50.2 per cent) of the votes went to Surrey First.
It’s quaint, however, to think that Surrey’s elected government was put into power through the consensual majority of her residents. the truth is remarkably, and terrifyingly, different.
According to the city’s own estimates for 2014, Surrey has a resident population of 509,610 people. Of those residents, only 287,940 people were eligible to vote on Saturday, or 56.5 per cent.
Of those eligible voters, only 101,558 people decided to show up and toss a piece of paper into a slot, reducing that number to 20 per cent. Of those voters, about half voted for the Surrey First slate, which brings us down to 10 per cent.
Which means that the people who will be making 100 per cent of the decisions with absolute, unopposed power over the next four years were elected by 10 per cent of the people in the city.
And although Linda Hepner won her right to be mayor by a commanding 50,782 votes, the combined total of votes cast for other mayoral candidates number 53,832. In other words, there are more people in Surrey’s voting public who don’t want Hepner to be mayor than those who do.
Not a pretty picture, is it? I confess, I’ve lost my appetite for the sort of democracy we tout as being the best example of representative politics in the world. a true representative democracy would have half of council representing the half of Surrey voters who didn’t want a Surrey First government.
Politics needs to be about balancing the needs of the people with the power of those elected to represent them. It isn’t fair to expect our government to give us everything we want, but nor should we have one that can do whatever it pleases.
Voter turnout was up this year because people expected change. but with more of the same, I shouldn’t wonder if the bottom falls out completely in 2018.
Adrian MacNair is a reporter with the Now.