I expect that in the coming weeks and, after the summer recess, the  months, we’re going to hear a lot of blather from the Government about “Mandate”.

The word mandate always gives me heartburn.  What really does it mean?  The thesaurus on my PC gives 28 synonyms which, when tracked into a good dictionary, divulge interesting shades of meaning and clarify nothing.

Well, since my avowed principal idea in writing this blog was to take an over-my-shoulder look at the path behind, I find that the heartburn is nothing new.  And I find that once-upon-a-time I had an off-the-wall idea for reforming the electoral and parliamentary system so that a mandate, real or imagined, couldn’t be abused.

It all goes back to midway through the Mulroney years.  (At that time, not being able to bring myself to attach the fine old name “Conservative” onto Mulroney’s gang, I called them the “Multories”.)

                          “X” means “Mandate”

I’ve just had a great idea!  It came along when I was on the verge of apoplexy brought on by the word, “mandate” — the thing the Mulroney government claims it has and that the opposition claims the government doesn’t have.

Do the Multories have a mandate to govern?  Sure. I guess so.  They must have.

But what does “govern” mean?  Ah, there’s the rub.  Surely it at least means to function within some set rules, one of which is not to give away the store just because you’ve been told to manage it. [….]

If there is one thing for which we should be eternally grateful to the Mulroney government, it’s for rubbing our noses in the dangers of our system.

We’ve let a system evolve in which a strong minded PM with a suitably subservient cabinet and a healthy majority in the Commons can literally do anything he wants, including using millions of the taxpayers’ dollars to tell the same taxpayers that locking the country into a more ruthless economic system is for their own good. [….]

Let’s change the electoral system so the party with the most votes doesn’t form the government but forms the opposition!  Then the only mandate that I as a voter can be considered to have given is a mandate to ensure good government by electing a good watchdog.

Given this system the only government that could wield majority power would be a coalition of the losers. Coalitions, by their very nature, don’t lend themselves to single minded control.

I can see this system putting an end to patronage and election bribery.  What’s the point of a government buying the electorate’s affection if, when it’s got it, the inevitable result will be to put itself into the opposition?

Optimists deny that elections are won on negatives more than on positives.  But anyone with a long memory knows that the governments of St.Laurent, Diefenbaker, and Trudeau eventually foundered on voter antipathy.

Voting for the opposition would at least let us exercise our vote in a positive frame of mind. Wouldn’t that be nice?

This is an idea the NDP should run with. Making the majority party form the opposition should be a platform plank right alongside the one for abolishing the Senate. The first makes the second practical.

So okay, I’ve already admitted it was off-the-wall, but it’s no more bizarre and a lot more positive than the situation to which the current system has brought us.  Besides, very soon now, I’m going to talk about somebody else’s reform idea that is certainly out of left field but not at all bizarre.  I promise.

♣  “X” means “Mandate”
From: Down Paradox Lane
Lindsay This Week,  August 23/88
Copyright (c) Munroe Scott


About Munroe Scott

Munroe Scott is a veteran of the freelance writing world.
This entry was posted in Opinion and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to MANDATE ??

  1. Vaughan Lyon says:

    The political mandate claimed by party governments is certainly a strange beast. If the mandate were real, rather than a device used to bolster the legitimacy of a government probably elected by less than half the electorate, it would be difficult for a new government to change the policies of its predecessor. In doing so it would be repudiating a policy agreed to, or mandated by the people of Canada. To do this it should have a very specific mandate for change. The system has no provision for them to get that. The claim of a mandate to govern or to adopt specific policies is almost always just hogwash. You called it right, Munroe

  2. Lionel Strange says:

    I agree that the mandate concept is hogwash Munroe, However
    Your proposal that the party that gains an electoral majority should automatically become the opposition rather than the government seems to me to have some major snags.
    1. what sort of idiot would want to run for parliament knowing that in order to achieve a cabinet position and have the opportunity to put forward effectively his or her ideas, he or she must somehow arrange to (a) get elected, and (b)not be a member of the party that gets a majority of seats?
    2. If the ordinary citizen knows that one particular party is commited to pushing forward some action that he strongly supports , how is he to place his vote knowing that if that party gets a majority it will not be in power?

    • Munroe Scott says:

      Hey, Lionel, of course you’re right. Didn’t I say it was an “off-the-wall” idea? It is, of course, a bizarre notion but not really much more bizarre than our current system of “first-past-the-post” that can give dictatorial powers to a PM with approximately 25% of the eligible electorate voting. Of course voter apathy, indifference and cynicism also enter into it . But now that I’ve presented a bizarre solution to help reform the system I hope before long to present a more rational idea — from a source more rational than I am.

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