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We live in a representative democracy. It's not possible to have everyone take part in the decision making of every public policy decision or project. So we vote for people to represent us. 

Referenda are the cudgels in the democratic tool bag. They reduce complex issues to simple, binary solutions. They can be useful in limited instances. For example, if a province wants to leave Canada, that's a yes/no question everyone should get a voice in deciding.

For most issues of public policy, we elect people to do the job because we're busy and don't have the time to examine the issues. We expect our elected representatives to make decisions on our behalf and in everyone's best interests. No one everyone agrees on everything. That's why dialogue, collaboration, compromise and consensus are important. Using a referendum to solve a sticky political situation is an abdication of leadership. Leaders are chosen to lead. Citizens expect them to provide leadership. 

On the other hand, if a leader never listens to the people being represented it becomes problematic. In politics, the delicate balance is between leading and listening. Premier Duff Roblin staked his political career on getting Duff's Ditch built. The Red River floodway has saved billions of dollars since it was completed.

One anecdote sums up my position. Years ago at a high school assembly in Winnipeg, a federal election all-candidates debate was conducted with 500 students from grades 7-12. The Reform candidate emphasized the use of plebiscites so people could decide. The contention made - plebiscites and referenda were more democratic. Bill Blaikie's response was perfect.

He expounded, "Even if 85% of this riding were to vote to send Mennonites back to Russia where they came from, I would still vote in Ottawa to keep them here! We will not have mob rule in Canada."

From the Manitoba Grade 11 social studies curriculum:
"Social studies engages students in the continuing debate concerning citizenship and identity in Canada and the world. Through social studies, students are encouraged to participate actively as citizens and members of communities, and to make informed and ethical choices in our pluralistic democratic society."

Leadership & Representation

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