Thursday, March 31, 2011

Contesting Canada's Shamocracy

"Although we like to think of ourselves as living in a mature democracy, we live, instead, in something little better than a benign dictatorship, not under a strict one-party rule, but under a one-party-plus system beset by the factionalism, regionalism and cronyism that accompany any such system. Our parliamentary government creates a concentrated power structure out of step with other aspects of society. For Canadian democracy to mature, Canadian citizens must face these facts, as citizens in other countries have, and update our political structures to reflect the diverse political aspirations of our diverse communities." (Stephen Harper and Tom Flanagan: Our Benign Dictatorship)

Well then, if you try pass of something little better than a benign dictatorship as a democracy, you would be engaging in a sham, and in this case the set of institutional practices in question should be referred to as a shamocracy, a cheap imitation of the real thing.

The exclusion of Elizabeth May, the leader of the Green Party of Canada, from the televised leaders debate because the Greens have yet to win a seat in Parliament is a flagrant example of the systemic discrimination that the Greens face in their attempt to gain representation.

In this instance, we are talking about a political party that garnered nearly a million votes during the 2008 federal election but did not receive a single seat. How can you square this anomaly with any conception of a modern democracy? You can't. In fact, Stephen Harper was bang on with his assessment that Canadians need to update their political institutions.

However, what we see time and again is that regardless of the individual the desire to make institutional change is related to the distance from exercising real political power. The closer one gets, the less one is inclined to bring about change.

As a result, I was glad when I learned that the Greens are taking the issue to Court. Already, the constitutionality of the first-past-the-post voting system is before the Quebec Court of Appeal and appears destined to make it's way to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Eventually, the Courts will have to deal with the systemic discrimination facing the Greens. Judges would do well to draw from John Hart Ely's theory of judicial review, which asserts that it is exactly in theses instances when those who are "in" the corridors of power conspire to keep those who are outside the said corridors "out" should the Court intervene.

In the near future, the Court will need to make a fundamental distinction of whether Canada is indeed a democracy or a cheap facsimile.

1 comment:

  1. The system needs upgrades, that much is certian, but like you said, the closer one gets to the levers of political power, the less likely is one to want to change how they function. Just check out Stephen Harper's Senate, it is a clear example of this principle.


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