Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Minority Government is the Domination of the Many by the Few

One day I would like to live in a democracy. Chances are that's not going to happen anytime soon judging by the media's reaction to the five year anniversary of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government.

Almost all the punditry is focused on the performance of Mr. Harper's government and precious little is devoted to the larger more fundamental question of Canada's democratic deficit.

Single party minority government is a flagrant violation of democratic principles. The Harper government, like the previous Martin government, rules as if it had a majority. However, if you factor in our pathetic participation rate during federal elections, the present government enjoys the support of less than one quarter of the electorate.

So, what does this mean in practice?

In reality, it means that we are governed by an oligarchy that advances its own interest at the expense of the common good. In the Westminster parliamentary tradition, the two parties vying to form a government, not on the basis of the popular vote but of territorial control, each take their turn dominating and controlling the population. The same can be said of America. As a result, choices between Liberal or Conservative in Canada, Conservative or New Labour in the UK, or Democrat or Republican in the US are largely illusory. The fact of the matter is that in each instance private interests trump public concerns, which leads to increasing inequality within the respective societies and the absence of adequate legislation to address the global hazards of climate change.

Canadians need to wake up collectively to the fact that only a government which gives meaningful voice to the concerns of all its citizens will in the long term advance the well-being of the entire population. Eliminating voices by narrowing political debate to a few essential ballot questions in a few swing ridings makes mockery of democracy.

The 21st century challenge for Canada is to break with traditional Anglo-American political institutions and develop its own democratic order. There are many improvements that could be made, but the journey of a thousand miles begins with a first step. In what would be a sequence of events to establish a system of governance based on democratic principles, the first step is to change the electoral system so that each vote counts and is given equal weight.

Afterwards, we would mark the anniversary of the introduction of successive democratic reforms together.

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