Is More Democracy the Answer?

We’ve written before about the Northern Pass project debate in New Hampshire. Plans are in the works there to build transmission lines connecting Quebec and southern New Hampshire. The proposed lines would be about 180 miles long. Citizens in New Hampshire have raised many of the same concerns that we in Alberta have and have called for the lines to be buried.

We’ve noted in the past that Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has endorsed the idea of burying the line. Yesterday, the New Hampshire Senate voted 23-1 in favour of putting significant restrictions on the project. (The one vote against was from a Senator who thought that the guarantees provided by the New Hampshire constitution covered the issues in the legislation – he was not opposed to the proposals on merit.) The bill included protection of the rights of private property owners and the creation of a commission to develop policies for burying power lines. (This bill still needs to be passed in New Hampshire’s lower house and approved by the governor, although with margins that wide the legislature could easily overrule a veto by the governor).

This begs the question – why is the government in New Hampshire listening and the government in Alberta not listening? There are a lot of possible reasons, but it probably has a lot to do with the fact that the government in Alberta has not had to listen to the people for a very long time. We’ve had the same government for 40 years and no effective opposition until now. MLAs in the governing party are not able to represent their constituents if what those constituents want is different from what the government wants. Citizens are not able to recall their MLAs or initiate referenda. Because the democratic environment is much more dynamic in New Hampshire (relatively independent legislators listen to their constituents and are able to speak and vote based on those concerns), the Northern Pass Project is going to be affected by what the people want, in a way that the Heartland Transmission Line has not been up until now.

Perhaps one of the most important things we need to do in Alberta in the next election is demand real democracy. If Alberta had a political system where MLAs had to represent their constituents, the Heartland Transmission Line would never have made it this far.

~ by RETA on January 26, 2012.

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