PHOTOS: A man with a pitchfork at a protest by a group of farmers and their supporters in front of the Alberta Legislature this week. We’re going to chalk this up to over-enthusiasm, but if someone had brought a pitchfork to a labour rally, you can count on it the police would have arrested him. Below: Wildrose MLA Leela Aheer and her leader, Brian Jean (photo grabbed from her campaign web page).

Petition-based recall legislation has no place in a functioning, representative democracy.

The important words in the sentence above are “functioning” and “representative.”

“Functioning,” because if you don’t want democracy to work very well, there’s no better way to start than by introducing measures that, in effect, allow thugs and bullies to see how you vote.

“Representative,” because in our system of democracy – which is the only kind possible in a society with literally millions of citizens – we elect representatives and entrust them with the complex task of governing for a set period of time.

I mention this only because Alberta’s Wildrose Party – riding a wave of opposition among farmers to the Notley Government’s Bill 6, the Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act – trotted out the notion of recall legislation, one of many bad American-style ideas in the party’s commodious tickle trunk of policies popular in Tea Party circles south of the Medicine Line.

The Wild Rose-hip Tea Party Opposition now led by former Harper Government MP Brian Jean can hardly be blamed for choosing this moment to grandstand a little by introducing Chestermere-Rocky View MLA Leela Aheer’s mischievous private member’s bill – Bill 206, the Recall Act – as a measure for “putting power back in the hands of voters,” although it would more likely have the opposite effect.

Under Ms. Aheer’s bill, the Opposition party said in a news release issued as the Bill 6 brouhaha bubbled, “voters would be empowered to recall their MLAs and force a by-election.” Under her plan, it would require only 20 per cent of the voters in a riding to sign an official petition to start the recall ball rolling – an absurdly low threshold even if recall laws were a good idea, which they ain’t.

This would mean the a group of partisans of a party that lost an election fair and square could gin up a petition from their voters alone to force a frivolous by-election – during which all business except electioneering would come to a complete stop.

Ms. Aheer’s bill would require the signatures to be gathered within 60 days – no problem if the number of names required was under 3,500, as it would be in Alberta’s smallest riding by population, which not incidentally is held right now by the NDP. Petitions would require “a $5,000 application fee to prevent frivolous attempts.” As we all understand, $5,000 is chump change to powerful interests that want, just for one example, to keep making it hard for Alberta working people to be part of a union.

Other claims in the Wildrose release are risible – such as the preposterous notion such legislation would be used as a “check-and-balance against politicians who put their own self-interest above the interests of the people they represent” and that making it illegal for canvassers to be paid would prevent “well-financed groups or individuals having undue influence in any recall initiatives.”

Please! There are laws on the books now to deal with politicians who really act in their own interest, as opposed to their political interest, which is their right. In reality, it’s not self-interest but sound policy that is the target of this strategy, and well-financed groups and individuals on the political right already have many tools to unfairly manipulate the process, including their obedient allies in the mainstream media.

But the biggest risk is common thuggery – and there’s no hiding the fact in a small community that you’ve refused to sign a petition for a disruption of the democratic process that’s desired by a group of powerful people. That, of course, is why we have the secret ballot in our imperfect democracy.

And, yes, if such legislation led to a by-election rather than an outright recall, you might get a secret ballot that time. But who says in those circumstances you’d even make it to the polling station? If you think voting rights are just theoretical, you haven’t been reading your history, my friends.

If you want to see coercion in action, just try taking part in an effort to organize free collective bargaining in this province – at this moment still illegal despite court rulings to the contrary for employees of industrial-scale agricultural operations in Alberta – with an employer who doesn’t want to deal with a union. I have, and it’s not pretty.

Needless to say, it would be seen as a bonus by the Wildrose Party and its supporters if they can use this brouhaha to keep the NDP from introducing other labour law reforms desperately needed in Alberta. These include such measures as first-contract compulsory arbitration for employers who refuse to negotiate in good faith and compulsory certification of unions in workplaces where employers are prepared break the law to try to block them.

Regardless, to say recall legislation is “open to abuse” hardly covers it. Recall legislation invites abuse, indeed, it virtually guarantees it. By doing so, it subverts the delicate social contract on which democracy is balanced.

I have no doubt support for the anti-Bill-6 effort in rural areas is for the most part sincere, if often misguided. But I also suspect there has already also been a certain amount of bullying in some communities to build support for this cause.

Certainly there were threatening and aggressive characters circulating in the crowd at the Legislature earlier this week. One man came armed with a pitchfork. We can probably chalk this up to naiveté and over-enthusiasm, but I can guarantee you he would have been arrested if he’d turned up so equipped at a labour rally.

Not that Ms. Aheer’s bill has any chance of passing, thank goodness. It will suffer the same fate as most other symbolic and unserious private member’s bills.

Of course, once a Wildrose government was in power, such legislation would go over the side the instant it became a nuisance to the government that promised it – which, as author Dave Cournoyer pointed out yesterday in an excellent column on this topic, is exactly what happened last time we had recall legislation in Alberta.

At this point, the NDP needs to briskly pass an amended version of Bill 6, which despite rhetoric to the contrary by opponents with partisan motivations, Labour Minister Lori Sigurdson and Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier have fully committed to changing to answer what the farm community said were its principal objections to the bill.

The government should then move to the other labour legislation reforms Alberta needs. We already know the problems and the issues, so none of this requires long delays, a lot of study, or “consultation” designed as a tactic for stalling and showboating.

If the NDP were really as sinister and sneaky as their most overwrought opponents have been making them out to be, they would have done the obvious thing and held the debate for Bill 6 during harvest time. Just sayin’.

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  1. Speaking of pitchforks, have you seen the editorial cartoon in the Edmonton Journal today?

    It is nothing less than an incitement to violence against the Premier. The Journal crossed a line by publishing this vile cartoon. An apology is certainly due to the Premier from the cartoonist and the Publisher of the Journal but I won’t hold my breath. This is just another reminder of how far the Journal has fallen. It’s become a Mickey Mouse newspaper and that’s probably an insult to Mickey.

  2. “Certainly there were threatening and aggressive characters circulating in the crowd at the Legislature earlier this week. One man came armed with a pitchfork. We can probably chalk this up to naiveté and over-enthusiasm, but I can guarantee you he would have been arrested if he’d turned up so equipped at a labour rally.”

    Well, of course he’d have been arrested: why would someone bring a pitchfork to a labour rally, given (at least until the passage of this noxious legislation) that you can’t unionize agricultural workers in Alberta? 😉

    But, in the context of small family farmers demonstrating against this odious Bill, using a pitchfork to hold up a placard is clearly innocuous. And, having bungled the roll-out of Bill 6 like champions, this is now all the NDP and their supporters have to fall back on: casting aspersions, calling these hard working country people “threatening and aggressive,” and muttering darkly about “common thuggery.” Maybe it’s good-faith cowardice on their part, of a package with the same sort of fragility that might explain why, as George Canyon said, ““Proponents of Bill 6 likely haven’t had to go out after a full day of work and help a mama cow safely deliver her calf in the middle of a cold, snowy night.” But I doubt it. The odour of city-bred contempt wafting off of this latest effort to shut the peasants up is simply too strong. Remember folks, a “safe space” is one in which those on the left get to say and do whatever they wish, and anyone who utters so much as a word against it is a thug and a bully.

  3. Pitchforks typically have 3 tines. The fork pictured above would more correctly be called a manure fork or in the vernacular of the working man, a shit fork. I will give you that it is a common mistake though.

  4. The folksy homily sours the reality like an over ripened drunk uncle at a family thanksgiving. The government has responded to your concerns. From here on in it’s willful ignorance that smacks of some ludicrous email chain from the lunatic right wing to our south.
    Might I suggest; that if you want all the bright future that those simplistic libertarian pretzel logicians promise, you should sell up and get down to Wisconsin, where everyone has the right to work as they wish, and can sport any manner of self defeating ideologically driven anti-social ideas. Safety? Done it this way for ever. Gun control? It’s my right to the good guy with the gun. Reproductive rights? I say reproductive wrongs. Environmental regulation? Al Gore is fat.
    You’d feel right, and I mean Right, at home.

  5. dear who ever wrote this s— has got to have marbles for brains BC has recall leg. and has used once or twice but with recall leg. at least we won’t be have to keep putting up with s— like an energy minister telling unemployed oil field worker to go to BC or Sask to work we’d have a recall petition up and running in a day so for me to the autor of this blog get for head out of the sand and try to look at life from ground level not you little altar of thinking you know best for I think I know a little of life after 67 yrs but to sit here and read your s— just pisses me off

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