Izzy Asper Dead at 71

Izzy Asper died yesterday at the age of 71. The CBC, never far from the sights of Izzy's ire, reported the news respectfully, noting the man's philanthropic endeavours and his many accomplishments.

And why not? For all of the concerns raised over Mr. Asper's control over Canadian media, his stifling of editorial dissent and his alarming cozying up with the prime minister, Mr. Asper still accomplished more in his lifetime than most Canadians can even dream about. He was passionate, committed and hard working as well as a tremendous booster of his home town of Winnipeg. He made his fortune in Canada and, by and large, he kept it in Canada. There is no doubt that he had an impact throughout this country.

All of these things are worth celebrating. Mr. Asper had a tremendous life which we will remember for some time.

The Verdict of the Voters

In all of the hoopla over the California recall, it's easy to forget that some Canadians had a recall election of their own a while back... sort of. Back in 1993, the Liberals rode into power, pushed partly by a great wave of anger against what was seen as Tory arrogance in general, and the Goods and Services Tax (GST) in particular.

The Liberals campaigned against the GST; actually, Jean Chretien was quite nuanced in his wording: he opposed the tax and would replace it if he could, but he told the voting public frankly that if he needed the money, the tax would have to stay. Some Liberals weren't as careful. In particular, Sheila Copps (who would go on to be deputy prime minister), said on record that she would resign if the Liberals didn't kill the GST.

Two years into the first Liberal mandate, two budgets were passed, each coping with high deficits and each maintaining the GST. Maverick Liberal front-bencher John Nunziata takes the unprecedented step of voting against the Liberal budget. He is drummed out of the party. In the resulting media controversy, Sheila Copps' promise to resign is raised again and again. She tries to duck, but in the end accepts the inevitable, claiming that she made the decision after she couldn't bring herself to look a constituent in the eye.

But that's not the focus of this story. Sheila resigns her seat and runs for the Liberals in the following byelection. She's very popular with the people of Hamilton, and is returned handily. The Reform Party, which had taken credit for ousting Ms. Copps, places a distant third behind the NDP. This is not the verdict that many Canadians were hoping for and some are bitter. Andy Donato of the Toronto Sun, in particular, puts up an offensive political cartoon the next day, showing the people of Hamilton East (Sheila's constituency) all with asses substituted for their faces.

Well, this turned the tide for Sheila in some ways. That Andy Donato could stoop to labelling every single voter in Hamilton East a bunch of buttheads made Sheila's critics look like bitter, immature schoolyard bullies whining that the verdict of democracy went against them. The provincial MPP for the riding, himself a right-wing member of the Harris government, came to the defense of his constituents and chastised the Toronto Sun. It was one thing to call Sheila on her broken promise; it was quite another to question the right of the voters of Hamilton East to cast their ballots as they saw fit. Attack Sheila's flaws if you must, attack her personally if you dare, but you won't go far in democracy if you attack the very voters who run it.

Which brings me to the always opinionated but ever readable Tom Tomorrow. Much as I respect his writings, and much as I agree with some of his posts, my respect for him took a bit of a downbeat after he labelled millions of voters in California a bunch of morons. He is, unfortunately, not alone.

I can't say that I like the prospects for California with Arnold Schwarzenegger as governor. I can't say that the recall process did anything but give California democracy a bit of a black eye, but in the end the voters made their choice, and I have to respect that. Even though I wasn't a resident of Hamilton East, I felt that it was a bitter and personal insult when Andy Donato labelled those who disagreed with him a bunch of buttheads, and this sword cuts both ways. We can argue all we like about the effect of our opponents' policies, argue even about our opponents' motives, but we must never ever lose our patience with the democratic process. In the end, we have to respect the voter choice and, if the voters choose against you, well tough tomales.

The average voter is as human as you and me; he or she is no different from your next door neighbour. How rapidly will neighbourly relations deteriorate if you started shouting insults across the fence? Such a lack of respect is a slippery slope that we shouldn't be strapping skis on beside. It's a violation of the golden rule, to love your neighbour as yourself. Christ didn't say it would be an easy rule to follow, but he did say that the consequences for not following it would be quite bad.

It's the price we pay for living in a democracy. Even in terms of rational self-interest, these are the same voters that you have to convince and convert if you want any hope of having your policies see the day in the next election. Insulting them for disagreeing with you is not the best of starts.

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