Pubdate: Wed, 27 Dec 2017
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2017 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Bill Curry
Page: A4


Scott Reid stood alone on the Conservative benches as the House of
Commons gave its final say on landmark legislation to legalize the
recreational use of marijuana.

Of the 74 Conservative MPs in attendance for the late November vote,
he was the only one to support the bill. He was also the only MP in
the Chamber who could say with some level of confidence that his vote
represented the wish of his constituents.

Nearly 3,100 of Mr. Reid's constituents in the Eastern Ontario rural
riding of Lanark-Frontenac-Kingston responded to a mail-in referendum
on the bill, resulting in a narrow finding of 55-per-cent support. Mr.
Reid voted accordingly.

First elected as a Canadian Alliance MP in 2000, the 53-year-old had
been an active member of the Reform Party of Canada, which advocated
for populist principles such as more free votes, citizen-initiated
referendums and the ability to recall unpopular MPs. Years later, Mr.
Reid views his mail-outs as a way of keeping those principles alive.

"You should vote the will of your constituents," he said in a recent
interview, dismissing "the idea that my conscience is somehow superior
to those of the people who elected me."

Such ideals are easier to maintain in opposition than in government.
Throughout the entire time of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's
Conservative government, Mr. Reid was Deputy House Leader. Given that
leadership role, Mr. Reid said he felt an obligation to toe the party
line and his use of referendums diminished.

He held five referendums during his first period as an opposition MP,
polling constituents on a pay raise for MPs, changes to the Species At
Risk Act, the 2001 Anti-Terrorism Act, riding boundaries and the 2005
same-sex marriage vote.

In government, he held just one referendum. In 2012, he voted against
a private member's motion that was viewed by some as a reopening of
the abortion debate in Canada based on his constituent feedback.

The marijuana question was the second referendum Mr. Reid has
organized since returning to the Opposition benches. He had also asked
his constituents in the spring of 2016 whether he should vote for or
against Bill C-14, the legislation legalizing medically assisted
death. Mr. Reid voted in favour of the bill based on 67per-cent
support from his riding.

Support for legalization in a staunchly Conservative riding may seem
surprising, but the area is home to Tweed Inc., one of Canada's
largest cannabis producers. The company operates out of a former
Hershey's chocolate factory in the town of Smiths Falls. Shawn Pankow,
the mayor of Smiths Falls, said his sense is that the community does
support legalization and praised Mr. Reid's referendum efforts.

"I think it's refreshing when we have an elected official who is going
to take a little bit of risk and take the pulse of the community," he
said. "It may not always be truly reflective of the actual sentiment
of the people of the riding, but at least he attempts to gain that

Mr. Reid is the Conservative critic for Democratic Institutions and
has studied referendum models in American states and around the world.
He has a particular fondness for Swiss cantons, where direct democracy
practices date back to the Middle Ages.

The wonkish MP has clearly given a lot of thought to the question of
how often he should be seeking guidance from his riding, but hasn't
settled on an answer. "I'm not sure how far one goes before one says,
'We've gone too far here,' " he said.

Beyond the theory, he takes pride in the practice of his local
referendums. The vehicle for polling his riding is a flyer called a
householder. All MPs are allowed to send up to four of these pamphlets
a year to every household in their riding. Usually, MPs pack the
flyers with promotional photos and a laundry list of recent

When sending out a referendum-style householder, Mr. Reid aims to
avoid partisanship. He includes information on both sides of the
argument in question with the goal of being as unbiased as possible.
He also compares the ballots to the voters list to ensure no one is
voting more than they should. He then destroys all of the ballots.

An obvious downside to the process is that the ballot is not secret.
"I just don't know how to overcome that problem, because I have to
verify they are who they say they are," he said.

He also has some guidelines of what kind of questions to ask. He won't
ask about policies that were included in the party platform he ran on.
He also has to weigh the practical matter of whether there will be
enough time to conduct a referendum before the House of Commons casts
its final vote. The questions he would put to the riding generally
come down to high-profile questions of conscience.

"As an old Reformer, we actually singled these out and said these are
issues where you should be either voting your own conscience, rather
than the party line, or else the wishes of your constituents, rather
than the party line," he said. "And I still think that makes sense to
this day."
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MAP posted-by: Matt