Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Hey Quebec! What Are You Waiting For? Take It to the Streets

Maybe it's just me. When the president of the association of the province's crown attorneys declares publicly that the Quebec government is acting in a manner that is unconstitutional, irresponsible, and immoral, you would think that given the political context in Quebec, corruption and collusion at all levels of government, that people would get riled and take their protests to the streets.

That didn't happen. Instead, a former PQ minister releases a tepid manifesto that may or may not lead to the formation of a new political party. Wow.

In the Arab world, citizens are putting their lives on the line to depose of despotic rule. Even in Madison, Wisconsin, tens of thousands take to the streets to protest the government's desire to strip some of the collective bargaining rights of its public sector workers.

Here in Quebec, we signed an on line petition asking for the Premier to step down; there was supposed to be a protest march in front of Quebec's National Assembly, but it was cancelled so it wouldn't interfere with the winter carnival; and, oh yes, 50 thousand people did assemble in Quebec City to express their desire for a professional hockey team.


Having just spent the last several years in the Quebec Courts pushing forward the question of the constitutionality of the electoral system, I have cause for concern with the government's decision to enact legislation to force the crown attorneys back to work.

In our case, I was quite surprised by the lack of resources and the quality of arguments put forward by the Crown, especially since a decision in our favor would have huge consequences on Quebec's political system. In my opinion, their arguments were hastily prepared and they didn't seek out any expert witnesses who could speak with authority on the subject of voting systems. In fact, just two of us with very limited means could totally out resource the Crown with regard to assembling a legal team and obtaining expert witness testimony. Just imagine what happens in criminal cases where the defendants are capable to hire the best legal team available.

So what, coconut.

Adding the legal system to the long list of government services that don't function very well doesn't make much of a difference. What really counts is how far the Habs go in the playoffs and which couple wins the tele-reality show, Occupation Double.

Brave New World anyone? No thanks, I already live there.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Tyranny of Class in the Anglo-American Empire

Money, money, money. Lots of it. Can't get enough. Makes the world go around. Keep your grubby hands off my pile.

Familiar words? They should be. These are the sentiments at the heart of the Anglo-American Empire. Those with the cash rig the rules of the political game so they can make as much as they can with as little interference from the unwashed masses as possible.

But deep down they are running scared. They still haven't gotten over the fact that a French-speaking mob lopped off the heads of 20,000 of their kind and that their Russian cousins met a similar fate.

So, they decided to give us the vote, knowing that this would be enough since having the vote is not nearly as important as establishing the rules of how campaigns are to be financed and how the votes are to be counted.

Moreover, they propagate the myth that the regime is democratic. In the United States where corporations can spend without limits in support of their favored candidates, it is hard to imagine that a corporate elite would not dominate the political process. In other words, the wealthy few dominate the many.

In a similar vein, in the UK there is soon to be a referendum on the choice of a voting system where the choices are between two majoritarian systems in which in either case majorities are created by eliminating the voices of minority groups. In the case of First-Past-The-Post, the voices of the minorities are systemically reduced or eliminated altogether from Parliament. With the alternative vote, the supporters of smaller parties are supposed to find consolation after their political preferences are denied representation with the fact that their second or third choices might make a difference in the electoral result.

In both instances, there is a steadfast refusal to give equal treatment to the entire electorate. As a result, a general election is not a democratic exercise to form a government of, for, and by the people. Instead, it is a show of force. To the winner go the spoils of victory, the transfer of the political power of the majority to the privileged minority.

Never mind the tyranny of the majority. What the populations of Anglo-American empires are subjected to is the tyranny of a minority. The super rich have gained an institutional lock on the political process and will continue to exploit this advantage to their benefit and to the detriment of the population at large.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Exhorting Egypt Towards Democracy, Obama Embraces the Big Lie

It's interesting to hear the president of a country that is only nominally democratic exhort the citizens of another that have just recently deposed their despot to embrace democracy.

Believe it or not Mr. Obama, there are some of us who take the time to read up on the subject, and even with a just a quick survey of the literature, one quickly comes to the conclusion that the US, despite having put into place popular elections, is far from being a democratic country.

Yes, there were some democratic rights gains in the 1960s, most notably the Voting Rights Act, but these historic gains are far from sufficient to counter the huge disparities of political power that presently exist and continue to grow in the US.

Democracy is a political philosophy that is based on a radical conception of equality. It posits that all humans are born equal and that equality exists between citizens with regard to political rights, speech, and power and that all citizens are equal before the law.

Upon close analysis, it is not until the late twentieth century that America finally owns up to the belief that all Americans are born with equal rights. For the other components of democracy, America is far off the mark, so much so, I would rank the belief that America is a democracy right up there with the belief that the American dream is available to all Americans. At best, wishful thinking, at worst, in the words of eminent political theorist John Dunn, "a thumping falsehood, a bald-faced lie."

America since its inception has been a plutocracy and even more so today than in the days of its founding fathers. Essentially, a aristocracy based on hereditary common in Europe was rejected in favor of a plutocracy of land owners that has evolved over time into a corporate plutocracy. If you are interested in knowing more, I would suggest picking up Michael Parenti's, Democracy for the Few.

Putting aside the obvious anomalies, the Electoral College, the composition of the US Senate, and the influence of the judiciary on electoral results, (Bush v. Gore), Obama has done nothing to make the US more democratic and, in fact, has already thrown his hat in with the corporate elite in order to finance his 2012 electoral campaign.

No real democrat, by this I mean one who understands and supports the equality provisions of the creed, would set out to maintain the tax advantages for the super rich and then go on to cut the budgetary allocations that support the middle and the working classes in order to mitigate the deficits that the favorable treatment for the already privileged brings on.

Money and the power it brings has completely undermined the democratic legitimacy of the electoral process in the US. What Obama has done in his first term is to demonstrate that behind the soaring rhetoric is a man who is quite comfortable presiding over corporate America but doesn't have the interest of the vast majority of Americans when it comes time to defend the interests of the average American.

Greatest country on earth, beacon of hope and liberty, defender of democracy, and the bullshit goes on and on because that's what the American people want to hear and that's what Obama gets paid to deliver: empty eloquence about a fairy tail future.

In reality, the corporate elite have already moved on to seek their fortunes in a global economy, leaving the poor, the uneducated, the unskilled, and the unwanted to fend for themselves in the decay of an abandoned America.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Elizabeth May Speaks to the Damage First-Past-The-Post Imposes on Canadian Political Culture

On Monday, January 31, 2011, we had the privilege of Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party of Canada speak to our gathering to learn more about the Quebec Charter Challenge of the voting system. I invite you to watch it because she addresses some important cultural issues that arise due to the impact our out-dated voting method has upon Canadian politics.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Pushing the Values of the Charter into the Heart of Politics in Canada

Political institutions provide the rules for the way the political game is played. Here in Canada, the rules were inherited from our colonial past and have evolved somewhat over our relatively short history as a nation-state.

The most significant change was the adoption of the Canadian Charter of Rights ad Freedoms in 1982. The Charter in my opinion is Canada's greatest cultural achievement. It distinguishes us from the Westminster Parliamentary tradition by displacing the supremacy of Parliament with a fundamental declaration based on the values of a free and democratic society. In our system, laws passed by Parliament and the provincial legislatures can be subjected to judicial review and may be struck down if they are found to contravene the equality guarantees of the Charter.

In some ways, it is as though our Westminster traditions that were born and conceived to serve the interests of a class-based society operated in parallel with a set of values that are conceived to serve a society that embraces equality. Occasionally, these two opposing value systems would clash as citizens who challenged the legitimacy of the nations laws sought to have the principles of equality enshrined in the Charter and the power therein applied against the powers of privilege supported by what was perceived to be offending legislation, for example, laws restricting abortion and prohibiting same sex marriage. In these two instances, the Charter prevented the ruling class from imposing their social values upon the entire population, but the political system that gave rise to their dominant position in the society remained untouched.

In the relatively short time that the Charter has been in place, we have developed and used the metaphor of the living tree and reference to a dialogue between the Courts and the legislative branch of government to describe the relation between them. This customary framing of the relation can exist only as long as the two opposing value systems only bump into each other occasionally.

However, what has emerged with Gibb v. the Attorney General of Quebec is the inevitable attempt to push the equality values of the Charter into the very heart of Canadian politics and its parliamentary traditions.

The British parliamentary tradition is a political system that concentrates political power in the executive branch where the Prime Minister embodies the power of the crown. Different factions within the society will seek to win the political contest that allows the transfer of monarch-like prerogatives to the leader of the political party that gains advantage in the greatest amount of territorial electoral districts. There is no attempt to seek out political representation on the basis of the popular vote. Such a democratic principle runs contrary to the operating logic of a system that is conceived to give socio-economic advantage to those who prevail in the electoral contest that is aptly named first-past-the-post, especially when we take into consideration how the spoils of victory are distributed. A winner-take-all electoral system is culturally appropriate for a winner-take-most society.

Essentially, by asking the Court to invalidate the discriminatory practices inherent to the voting system we inherited from the British Gibb v. the Attorney General of Quebec aims to replace the portion of Canada's political DNA that seeks to reward and maintain privilege with another set of operating instructions that promotes, and over time, will produce a more egalitarian society. Instead of pursuing a political agenda that serves to increase the distributional gains of the few, Canadians will become empowered to advance the well-being of the many.

Will this happen on the first attempt to do? Only time will tell. In any case, it is of the utmost importance that democrats continue to use the Courts in a similar manner that the corporate sector uses the Courts to put into place an institutional order that advances its interests.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Courts Must Intercede to Release the Institutional Lock that Our Political Parties Have Upon Political Power

Looking at the situation in Quebec and at the federal level, it is evident that the political class has usurped the political power of the population at large.

In Quebec, the Parti Quebecois is unable to tell us whether it would hold a referendum on independence during its first mandate for fears that such a declaration would hurt its electoral chances.

Give me a break. It's article number one of your political platform. If you don't have the balls to come out and say it directly, it's because there isn't the necessary support of the majority of the electors for such a proposal.

And this represents the alternative government option to the present government, the scandal-plagued, thoroughly incompetent, Charest-led, Quebec Liberals.

These are the choices?

Things aren't any better on the federal front. The system offers us a variant of the Quebec voting dilemma. Do we continue to support the Harper-led Conservatives, who we return to power by default because of a medieval electoral system, or do we turf them in favor of the Liberals, who are surrounded still by the stench of corruption?

Again, these are the choices?

Yes, they are!

Alternative voices are systemically under-represented or eliminated altogether. In fact, the electoral campaign is no longer about trying to attract more votes. Instead, it's about slagging your opponent to turn as many electors off as possible so they won't go out to vote and doing a better job than your opponents in getting out the vote from your core supporters.

Democracy, Shamocracy. This is rule by the professional politician.

And what are the chances that any of the political parties that offer a legitimate government option will make qualitative changes to the political system to render it more democratic?

Slim and none!

In the words of Peter H. Russell, eminent Canadian constitutional expert, "those who would can't, and those who could won't."

In other words, there are sufficient institutional incentives that keep the system in place and make it impervious to systemic change. In political science, this state of affairs is referred to as "institutional lock."

Given the traditional media's role in supporting the status quo, the only recourse to bringing about a change to the system is through the courts. The leverage point is, of course, the electoral system, and the point of attack is the discriminatory voting method that systemically distorts the popular will in favor of the will of professional politicians.

Fortunately, there now exists the opportunity for the judges at the Quebec Court of Appeal in hearing the appeal of the plaintiffs in Gibb v. the Attorney General of Quebec to make history and create a rupture with our colonial past and our continued existence as an English Settler State.

Essentially, the Court must decide if we have any pretension to live in a democracy or are we a Shamocracy, a nation that has popular elections in which the objective is to prevent the population from truly engaging in self government.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The End of Westminster as We Know It

The House returns in session and we again seem to be hurtling towards the abyss of yet another general election that in the end will leave us gaping at the real problem, an outdated system of governance.

After the election of a fourth consecutive minority government, Canadians will be forced to face up to reality that the country can no longer be ruled by a single political party. From a democratic perspective, minority government which has become the rule rather than exception should not be tolerated.

Personally, I shed no tears for a political system that is a vestige of the British Empire. Like the former Empire, it should be relegated to the dustbin of history. Indeed, Canadians have succeeded, unlike our neighbors to the south, in building a nation where class and material wealth are not the determining factors for establishing a societal order.

Rather than flogging the dead horse of a political system that was designed to perpetuate the order of privilege, we should now be seeking to construct our own system of governance that carries the label: Made in Canada.

Corporate taxes, the gun registry, illegal immigration aside, the real issue of the upcoming general election is that we are no longer able to govern ourselves effectively.

The first step to extricating ourselves out of the carcass know as Westminster is to flush first-past-the-post in order to get a new set of players around the table and a new set of rules for the game. Afterwards, free from the shackles of the past a new order will emerge.