Monday, March 31, 1997
Designing democracy in Nunavut
On May 26 the citizens of Nunavut have the rare opportunity to define the democracy in which they will live. That is the day that a plebiscite will be held on the issue of gender parity.
Democracy means the rule of the people. Historically, democracy tends to be the term that those who have a vote use to describe their system of government.
In the past so-called democrats have owned slaves, refused women the vote, refused blacks the vote, and refused aboriginals the vote.
The word democracy doesn't have a binding definition. It is constantly being re-defined as the society it serves changes.
The debate over electing both a man and a woman to sit in the legislative assembly is a debate about the kind of society Nunavut will be.
Few people in Nunavut argue that language hiring requirements are undemocratic. They are considered an integral part of the emerging society of Nunavut.
By the same token, it is entirely imaginable that electing both a man and a woman could be a defining aspect of democracy in Nunavut.
On the other hand, legislating gender parity will no doubt strike some as heavy-handed. Nothing prohibits women from running for office under the current system and for many, that is adequate.
Their response to gender parity would be if women want more representation in the legislature, more women should run for office.
Some people are concerned that gender parity represents an agenda that is forced on them by Designated Inuit Organizations. At least four such groups have expressed their support for the idea.
The fact that the debate is strong is a sign that democracy, however you choose to define it, is alive and well in Nunavut.
What is important is that every eligible voter turn out and express an opinion on May 26. It isn't every day that voters have the opportunity to redesign their legislative system.
As the debate in Nunavut continues, there are many parts of the world where people are dying for the chance to do the same thing.
The threat of levying fines on the parents of students who skip school is not the most attractive option. But we have to admit, in Inuvik at least, it seems to be working.
How can we argue with a 68 per cent decline in the number of absences reported at the town's high school? There's been a similar decline in the number of students late for class.
If this is what it takes to keep our children in school, then perhaps it's an appropriately desperate measure for what are clearly desperate times.
We would be the last to discourage MLAs from questioning every dollar spent by government, but in the case of Michael Miltenberger's legal costs, the payment is justified.
The Fort Smith MLA's election was challenged by some residents who say he won unfairly. The election was run by federal officials. Any legal challenge should be directed at the chief electoral officer, along with any costs involved. That is who is entrusted to ensure elections are free and fair.
Why should Miltenberger pay to defend the integrity of the democratic process in Canada?