The Missing Debate

It‛s been a long campaign and I thought in my ignorance that eventually the real debate would emerge. But no. It‛s all been about the economy, jobs, the niqab, fractured citizenship, refugees, deficits, terrorists, environment, and other comparative trivialities.

I say “comparative” with good reason and you may well ask, “Compared to what?

Compared to the fate of Parliamentary Democracy, that‛s what.

Unless we have been totally brainwashed by the historians our Parliamentary Democracy evolved over centuries. It was a tumultuous evolution involving, at times, such disparate elements as the Barons at Runnymede (1215) , Wat Tyler and the Peasants Revolt (1381), the beheading of King Charles (1649), and even our own Mackenzie and Papineau rebellions (1837).

Sidebar # 1: Wm. Lyon Mackenzie, who led the armed rebellion in Upper Canada, fled, then returned to be usefully productive in the Legislature, would, under current Bill 24, presumably have been shipped back to Scotland.

The latter events, also known as the Rebellions of Upper and Lower Canada, installed Responsible Government in our system which simply and logically means that the Executive (the cabinet) is answerable to the elected members of the House of Commons who have the power to vote (50%+1) a Government out of office.

Of course other parts of our system have evolved as well. Political Parties which do not even appear in the Constitution Act have increased their presence, number and power. Unfortunately, the electoral system by which their candidates are elected has not evolved. As everyone knows we can wind up with majority governments elected by a minority (as small as 25%) of eligible voters. At the same time the power of the Prime Minister has increased to the point where the Prime Minister‛s Office, the PMO (that now employs approximately 500 people), has in fact become a Department and, unlike all other government departments, it is totally political in that its principal purpose is to keep the PM and his Party in power. It is perhaps no wonder that a Leader with a Party given majority power by as few as 25% of the eligible electorate becomes obsessed with self importance and self protection.

This evolving accumulation of power now in the hands of the current PM and his hired PMO has resulted in:

* ours being the only Government in the Commonwealth ever to be found in contempt of Parliament;

* precedence being violated by the proroguing of Parliament in order to avoid defeat in a Confidence motion (i.e. – to avoid the application of Responsible Government);

* precedence again being violated by the proroguing of Parliament in order to avoid an inquiry into the alleged illegal handling of Afghan detainees;

* our Government being accused by its own Parliamentary Budget Officer of keeping double books (for costs of the F-35 fighter) which, for other institutions, would be considered a crime;

* the flagrant use of Omnibus Bills that are so large and so all-encompassing that few Government members find time to read them before voting approval;

* the passing of the Second Budget Omnibus Bill without accepting any of 163 amendments proposed by the Opposition.

* the issuing of a handbook of instructions detailing how to derail Opposition led committees even though competent committee hearings are vital to ensuring good legislation;

* the impeding of parliamentarians‛ access to information on Government spending by charging even the Parliamentary Budget Officer exorbitant fees for such access, even though control of finances is a major tool for parliamentarians to keep a Government under control;

* the apparent exercising of poor judgement in appointing members to the Senate, then apparently becoming complicit in covering up ensuing misdemeanours and eventually trying to destroy the Upper House by attrition — in violation of the Constitution.

So again I ask – where is the debate on Parliamentary Democracy?

And again I say that the economy, jobs, the niqab, fractured citizenship, refugees, deficits, terrorists, environment, etc., etc., are comparative trivialities. All these so called major issues are cargo on the ship of state, and the ship of state is piloted by Parliament. Destroy Parliament and all is lost.

Sidebar #2: In the 1930s two European leaders preached that the economy and jobs were of primary importance. They rebuilt their economies based on full co-operation with big business, the military, the curbing of civil liberties, and the use of the democratic system to destroy democratic institutions. Their first names were Adolph and Benito but it is considered politically incorrect to invoke their last names in our Canadian context, so I won‛t. And I confine myself strictly to their actions in the 1930s – from which all else followed.

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About Munroe Scott

Munroe Scott is a veteran of the freelance writing world.
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20 Responses to The Missing Debate

  1. antireifier says:

    Right on Munroe. As usual you say it better than me!

  2. John Goodfellow says:

    Yes Munroe this is indeed a very critical time for Canada and there are a great many of us across this great land who feel as you do! You’ll be pleased to see what a West Coast online magazine, The Tyee, recently put out as an E-book, entitled– Harper, Serial Abuser of Power:The Evidence Compiled (The Tyee’s full, updated list of Harper government assaults on democracy and the law). Thank you for your resolve. John in Aylmer,Qc

  3. Edward Smith says:

    Munroe, the history you see as important is not the history Harper finds useful. By championing the War of 1812 and relics of the Franklin Expedition, he postures as a sage who shares a great love of country with everyman. Unfortunately, Provincial Ministries of Education are in line with Harper, offering little or no course content relevant to parliamentary evolution for nearly forty years now. You could count on the fingers of one hand the public high school graduates who know the Court Of Star Chamber from a squash court. As a school teacher I was frequently asked on Parents’ Night “Why do they have to take History anyway? It’s all, like, in the past, right?”

    Add to this historically negative home environment the social context of a culture obsessed with the demolition or otherwise re-muddling of built heritage (in the name of progress, of course!), and you have generations of Canadians who have grown up in a physically a-historic environment (think the coast-to-coast equivalents of Peterborough’s Lansdowne strip). Indeed with the recent closure of Peterborough Collegiate, and its Limestone Board equivalent Kingston Collegiate, one could well conclude that only new suburban schools lacking any historic texture whatsoever are deemed suitable learning environments in this country.

  4. As usual your turn-of-phrase is elegant and informative. But I felt this blog post lacked closure. I’m not sure whether that’s deliberate because the issue itself has no closure, and probably never will. But I felt like you provided the base of an argument but didn’t really take it to its next level – where do we go from here? Do the promises of electoral reform by the NDP or the Liberals, or even the Greens, if enacted, will they accomplish anything?

    • Munroe Scott says:

      As usual, Jason, you make an acute observation. In my opinion there is no closure, only evolution or devolution. We sink or swim. On Monday we either sink further into a subliminally theocratic and overtly fascist condition with Harper or we swim with the others and then do our best to see that they honour the promise of electoral reform. If they initially achieve something even as simple as a preferential (ranked) ballot that will indeed be an accomplishment. So cheer up. Don’t expect closure, hope for progress.

      • I don’t think a ranked ballot is much progress but I suppose it is better than nothing at all, though marginally. The reason I say this is that the Liberals usually get the second choice of voters who don’t vote Liberal. A ranked ballot could practically ensure one-party rule by the Liberals for decades. Though they are more progressive than the Conservatives generally, this isn’t always so. And they still aren’t willing to lessen the control of Canada by Bay Street. Note Conrad Black’s article that says the business elite are quite comfortable with a Liberal government. That’s something that should also worry us.

      • Munroe Scott says:

        Jason, I agree with what you say about the Liberals and Bay Street etc. but disagree about the value of the ranked ballot. It would permit us to throw strategic voting aside and we might be quite gratified to find that there are more of our own ilk around than we had ever dreamt of. But of course I am an optimist. It would at least be a possibly productive and democratic step forward — and certainly much easier to sell and implement initially than a full blown prop rep system.

      • antireifier says:

        Ranked ballots do not eliminate strategic voting. So I am opposed to them. It is unlikely that ranked ballots would evolve into proportional representation. Fair Vote Canada bases its recommendation for PR on studies. You might want to look at their research.

        Herb

      • Munroe Scott says:

        I have followed Fair Vote for years and disagree with their conclusions. I agree Ranked is not PR but it would make for a FairER Vote.

      • antireifier says:

        You may want to read this article about how well STV works (NOT) in OZ. Australian electoral reform is overdue, but who will provide the impetus? DateMarch 15, 2015
        http://www.theage.com.au/comment/australian-electoral-reform-is-overdue-but-who-will-provide-the-impetus-20150313-143oyo.html#ixzz3oZhXbLwg

      • Munroe Scott says:

        It’s an interesting article but this week all the pros and cons of the voting system are irrelevant. Our current challenge is to get rid of the research-averse, fact-free, manipulative machine that calls itself the Harper Government and pretends to be Conservative. But whatever the outcome on the 19th there will then be much to ponder and much to do in the realm of electoral reform.

      • Herb Wiseman says:

        I disagree with the goal to get rid of Harper. That has obfuscated the debate about democracy vs. corporate rule. The Libs are as committed to corporate rule as the Cons. It may actually be a good thing to have another 4 years of Harper to wake up the Canadians who think he is OK. As it is we will possibly get Harper lite. Future generations may be able to figure it out if the austerity agenda and inequality continue. As for STV vs. MMPR, both cause people’s eyes to glaze over, Why change one system of strategic voting for another?

      • Munroe Scott says:

        Of course we must get rid of corporate rule. We the people have become mere colonial peasants in a Global Corporate Empire. But the question is, how? Let’s, for now, close this blog debate on electoral systems but to clarify my own my position I quote myself (Chinese inspired) from an old play:
        Though the mountain is high
        it’s only a hill beneath the sky.
        Here’s the bottom, there’s the peak,
        the path to follow is the path you seek.
        Why don’t you climb, instead of sigh
        and say, “The hill is high”?

      • Ranked ballots are still a winner-take-all system and not proportional. In such a system, most of the voters will still not have a representative that aligns with their party views. I don’t think the issue is in implementing the system (though I could be wrong); I think it’s more in getting people to understand a different system. I like the NDP stance because it chooses a system, and says we’ll do it. I think people will only understand it by doing it. If they don’t like the results, they can always change it back or to something else. That’s why I see little value in ranked ballots. They are easy to understand to voters but won’t change the core problem, that of not representing voters intentions broadly.

      • Munroe Scott says:

        Yes, yes. But try to explain Mixed Member Proportional or one of the other versions to a voter and his/her eyes glaze over. The problem is it is too easy to oppose by confusing, and believe me the Cons and the Libs will pay lots of lip service while stamping on it with boots. But I certainly agree that First Past the Post has got to go.

  5. So it’s too hard, so we shouldn’t do it? Canadians aren’t as smart as most of the civilized world when it comes to voting? Essentially, that’s what you’re saying. I know you want to get rid of the Conservatives and so do I, but change isn’t just about change, it matters what you replace it with. Ask the residents of most of the countries of the Arab Spring who got rid of dictators only to replace them with religious-based systems what they think of that. We could argue in their case that incremental change might be all that’s possible right now, but I would like to think we can do a little better than that.

    The problem isn’t just that we have to get rid of one party, and substitute another, the problem is in giving one party all the power when they only got 40% (or less) of the vote. Any reform other than directly stopping this absurd and undemocratic system is chipping away at the outside, not addressing the core problem.

    Get rid of the Conservatives, and bring in another party, who now have become astute observers of how well Harper has gained the system, and now copy them, regardless of what they say to get elected. The same could be said of ANY party. Though, at minimum 60% of Canadians are against Harper, it doesn’t matter if he’s managed to stay in power for nine years, at least as long as most governments in Canada, and five of those as a minority.

    We can talk all we want about limiting the powers of the PMO and giving MPs more power until we’re blue in the face, but if any future government can roll back all those changes with only 40% of the electorate, it won’t matter. Real electoral reform isn’t irrelevant because the problem with the Conservatives isn’t just who they are, it’s that they have expertly manipulated the system they were presented with and pushed it to their limits. And nothing, especially not ranked ballots, will stop the Liberals from doing the same, or any other party, unless that system is changed to something proportional. Saying we can’t do it because it’s hard is not an option.

    • Munroe Scott says:

      I really don’t think I said it was too hard so we shouldn’t do it. I did say, “… on the 19th there will then be much to ponder and much to do in the realm of electoral reform.”

  6. Some actual research on ranked ballot (alternative vote):

    “AV elections in Australia have shown that
    the second choices on ballots tip the balance
    in only a small number of seats. In 21
    elections between 1919 and 1996, only six
    per cent of the leading first-choice
    candidates were defeated by the distribution
    of second choices.

    In Manitoba and Alberta,
    where AV was used for 15 elections over
    three decades, second choices changed the
    outcome only 2 per cent of the time.”

    Source: http://campaign2015.fairvote.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/AV-backgrounder-august2009_1.pdf

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