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Letter: The main dish


I’ve been reading the articles from “The Democracy Cookbook” and must commend The Telegram for giving us something of value to read. Even more so, I commend the writers of those articles and especially those who conceived of that wonderful book itself. If the articles to date are a reliable indication of the complete contents, then it should be on the shelf of everyone who has any concern for social, economic and political justice in this province.

Nevertheless, as excellent as I think the “Cookbook” may be, I firmly believe that, while their recipes should be consumed by all, they omitted the main dish. In my assessment, their efforts addressed the symptoms, and neglected the real causes. They failed to get down to the grass roots of the problem, which is an absolute requirement in curing any disease. To provide the recipe for that entrée is my objective. And, like a good medical scientist, I shall begin with the proper diagnosis.

In Newfoundland, the first signs of the disease surfaced in 1832. In late summer and early fall that year, the harbours of Fogo Island were visited by a schooner which livyers had never seen before. When she rode to anchor in the middle of the harbour, an extremely well-dressed man could be seen on her deck holding a bullhorn. The residents were soon treated to a magnificent speech. He told his listeners that he belonged to St. John’s and that Newfoundlanders had been granted an elective assembly. The power to chose their representative rested with them, the fishermen of the island. He continued to make grandiose claims about the new powers given to the people and continued to make outlandish promises.

The same phenomenon was repeated by another such visitor a few days later. On election day, one of them was chosen as the new member for Twillingate-Fogo but he was never seen again (That was T.R. Bennett, who did not run in 1836.)
With slight variations, the same experience occurred in the other districts of the island and continued down to our own time. Complaints about absentee members or neglect of their districts’ interests became commonplace throughout the next century. That lack of control over elected representatives is still being debated almost 200 years later.

The problem is so readily visible that a mere novice can determine that the political system of which those candidates bragged was a top-down creation. There was no organic connection with the grass roots built in to the new political machinery. The voters at the bottom of the pile were organically isolated from the voted ones at the top. This weakness operated like a virus, always smouldering beneath the surface while political “saviours” tinkered with different medicines, all destined to fail. The solution rests with getting right down to the grass roots and building from the bottom up.

The main dish consists of beginning in each neighbourhood and assembling each resident to elect their own committee charged with responsibility for their neighbourhood’s affairs, together with their relationships with the whole community. No neighbourhood committee decision can be binding unless all residential units are represented at the decision-making process. Each neighbourhood will elect a representative to sit in their community assembly (council) and each community in the provincial district will select one of their own to sit in a provincial district assembly. This process will not only restore power to the grass roots in every community, but will inaugurate a truly democratic district government, a boon that has been sadly lacking in N.L.

Each district assembly will, in turn, elect one person to sit in a provincial Assembly. We will then have a system whereby the provincial House of Assembly will be a creature of the district assemblies which latter will be creatures of the community assemblies of that particular district. Each of those community councils (assemblies) will be creatures of the neighbourhood committees, which cannot function without the participation of all residential representatives. 

We will then have a new system of government for the province which can be named, without reservation, as truly “democratic.” Meanwhile, political parties will become dead as dodos, and campaigning will cease forever.

John Carrick Greene
St. John’s

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