For All Nails #213: Shouted Down

by Noel Maurer

From the Statist
19 June 1964

Shouted Down

"IN THE history of a nation", grandly declared North America's attorney general, Nathaniel Chowning, last year, "there are moments when partisan divisions on certain subjects should be transcended." Such divisions were, in fact, transcended, but not necessarily in the way Mr Chowning imagined. On June 17th, a voice vote in the Grand Council constitutional committee summarily rejected the Jay Administration's proposed constitutional amendment to take the selection of the Governor-General out of the hands of the Grand Council and give it directly to the voters.

When Perry Jay, the Governor-General, first placed the proposal before the Council in June 1963, only 19 members of the national legislature voted against it on the first required reading. The reason was clear. The new Governor-General had won a stunning mandate in February's general election, and putting the governor-generalship up for a popular vote had formed the centerpiece of his domestic proposals. The reform was popular in the opinion polls. The Jay Amendment, as it came to be called, easily passed its first vote and was referred to committee. A year later, if the committee approved, it would come up for another reading before the Grand Council, and then, if passed by a second three-fifths majority and approved by the Senate and Viceroy, it would become part of the Britannic Design. Since no proposed amendment (or indeed any piece of major legislation) has ever failed to pass the Senate or been vetoed by the Viceroy, the expectation was that the reform would easily pass.

What a difference a year makes. The administration has burned political capital the way a Mexican locomobile burns vulcazine, pushing through an expanded atomic bomb program and a "non-aggression" treaty with Great Britain. Meanwhile, the success of the administration's other signature domestic legislation, the reform of the National Financial Administration, remains in doubt. With these other distractions, neither Mr Jay nor any prominent member of his Cabinet has made any public reference to the proposed amendment since the statement by Mr Chowning almost 12 months ago.

Why has the reform disappeared? Obstensibly, because the committee could not agree on the threshold for avoiding a run-off election in the event that no candidate gained an outright majority. In reality, because the leaders of neither party support the amendment, save for the distracted Mr Jay. Although Governor-Generals have traditionally acted as the leader of their party in the Grand Council, they have also been, to a significant extent, dependent upon their parties' local grandees. North American elections are decided among a relatively small proportion of swing districts. The leaders of the state and local party machines that control the selection of candidates to the safe seats therefore wield a disproportionate degree of influence over national policy. By giving the Governor-General an independent mandate and an independent base of support, the Jay Amendment threatened that influence.

Defeating the amendment through a voice vote allowed councillors from swing districts -- of whom there are few on the constitutional committee -- to plausibly claim to have supported an amendment strongly backed by the public, while the majority from safer seats could be sure to retain the support of their local mandarins.

The chances are that no attempt will be made to reintroduce the amendment any time in the near future. This is unlikely to be a disaster. The Grand Council has proved its expertise and independence at other times when bad legislation has required amending. Nevertheless, for those who supported the Jay Amendment as a way to increase the popular voice in national government, it's a sad end to the hopes and promises of the '63 campaign.

Forward to FAN #214: Notwani Road.

Forward to 15 February 1965: Legal Challenge.

Forward to the Statist: Really Boring Stuff.

Return to For All Nails.

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