TOKENISM,GERRYMANDERING and the RACIAL DIVIDE
Underbelly of Vancouver
TOKENISM, GERRYMANDERING and the RACIAL DIVIDE
Well, as expected, the wards debate is triggering some highly charged, and not very reasoned arguments why Vancouver needs to adopt wards in the upcoming October 16, 2004, referendum. Tagging along with these emotional opinions, expressed by Prof Kennedy Stewart of COPE, comes the promotion of US-style politics being deployed into Vancouver city politics. In his latest volley, Prof Kennedy Stewart, a longtime Coalition Of Progressive Electors member and recent unsuccessful NDP federal candidate, is challenging the constitutionality of our current at-large electoral system.
In a September 9,2004, Georgia Straight article, by Charlie Smith, Mr Stewart cites a landmark 1973 US Supreme Court decision that the electoral system used in some Texas city elections (multi-member ridings with gerrymandered boundaries) discriminated against African-Americans.
If Vancouver citizens choose not to adopt a ward system in the upcoming October 16, 2004,
referendum, Mr Stewart says he will file a constitutional challenge that the present at-large
system is discriminatory against a specific racial group (Indo-Canadians) in Vancouver. To back up his research, Mr Stewart cites that only one individual of Indo-Canadian ancestry (Setty Pendakur) has ever been elected in our current Vancouver at-large system. Interesting is that Setty Pendakur was from the Non-Partisan Association, which rejects wards.
Stewart supporters on this matter include Councilor Tim Louis, who is a practising lawyer. He has asked the city's legal department whether the current governance model employed by the City of Vancouver is in fact discriminatory. Mayor Larry Campbell has waded into the debate and states in the same Charlie Smith article that he doesn't believe the current system is illegal. Mayor Campbell then goes on to take a potshot at Mr Stewart by inferring that university professors as Mr Stewart is, do not understand political reality.
So who is right here and is there something wrong with the COPE analysis?
Well, an informed person would say that Mr Stewart appears to be grasping at straws. Perhaps he fears the ward referendum he is promoting for the Yes side will be lost. But one questions whether Kennedy Stewart's posturing is one shared by COPE or is COPE divided on what the best strategy is. However, sadly, once again, the turmoil in the governing party COPE is spilling over into public view. Mayor Campbell has not been able to address this COPE conflict behind closed doors and I suspect the citizens of Vancouver are becoming tired of these shenanigans within COPE. As leader of COPE, Mayor Campbell demonstrates his inability to be a strong leader.
The Coalition Of Progressive Electors obviously are split on their strategy for the upcoming referendum. COPE has chosen the highly respected former Councilor Darlene Marzari as
the Yes for wards face, she will have her work cut out for her in her attempts to bring about victory for COPE on the referendum.
Let's get back to other questions that Mr Stewart raises as red flags on the referendum for wards debate. What about Kennedy Stewart's claims that a specific group is being racially discriminated against by the current at-large system?
Well, for starters, Mr Stewart's claims are very insulting. He suggests that not only should neighborhoods be created divisionally by government, he also suggests that our electoral system be divided along racial lines. He further professes to bring a US-style of politics to Vancouver in order to correct our problem.
How so, you say?
Well, if you study the US system you'll see that wards were created as a result of activism by minorities who claimed African-Americans were not able to obtain political office as a result of these multi-member ridings. Mr Stewart, incorrectly calls them an at-large electoral system. Successfully articulated in 1973, that historically, the African-American community tended to live in a specific area of the city and therefore to have a real shot at power, wards should be created along racial divides.
Mr Stewart makes the same argument in the case for wards. The difference here is that Kennedy Stewart uses the Indo Canadian community as an example to spread his hypothsis. But is what Mr Kennedy doing really tokenism? What he appears to be saying is that racial communities should only be defined by specific geographic areas.
What Mr Stewart hasn't taken into consideration is that his perspective is not based on real democracy. Indo-Canadians, receiving a proportionate share of the vote based on their sheer numbers by population would be a more ideal situation. This form of representation better ensures representative democracy. Allowing a minority group one seat at the table, as a ward system would do, is the same as saying allowing one minority voice at the decision making table is much better than what we currently have.
Incorporating a pro-rep style governance model would be much more inclusive and fairer than representation based solely on geographics. Moreover, Kennedy Stewart says to let the courts decide electoral boundaries for us. Doesn't Mr Stewart realize that visible minorities move around and if it's his premise to change boundaries whenever demographics of neighbourhoods change, that Vancouverites could be going to the polls whenever a geographic concentration of ethnic groupings spreads out.
And who decides this issue, citizens or government?
It seems to me that a word comes to mind when citizens have real democracy taken away from them. Mr Stewart's latest argument of why a ward system is constitutionally better sets the stage for Gerrymandering. Voters of this city must reject this form of hijacked democracy. Shame on you, Mr Stewart, for even suggesting it.
Jamie Lee Hamilton