Monday, February 24, 2014

Given Today's Technology, Why Do We Continue To Elect Representatives From Political Parties?

Canada's political institutions have not evolved significantly from their conception nearly 150 years ago. We still regularly go to the polls and choose between the candidates from various political parties to represent us in Parliament and in the provincial legislatures.

Effectively, we transfer our popular sovereignty to a few individuals, who in turn vote according to the dictates of their political leaders.  Importantly, once the votes are counted and the seats distributed, almost the entire population is shut out of the political process that governs us.  We are left standing as spectators, hoping that are elected officials will be able to provide us with peace, order, and good government.

However, the political process, which should be in keeping with the values of a free and democratic society, is many things, but democratic is not one of them.

Political parties are corporate bodies that compete for market share in what I refer to as contested vote exchange.  In short by casting a vote for any candidate in this exchange, the citizen renounces his or her right to what the Greeks referred to as isigoria, the right to equal voice in the deliberations that lead to the formulation of policy and the adoption of laws.

Related Post

It might be argued that 150 years ago, given Canada's vast geography, sparse population, low levels of literacy in the population at large, and snail-paced communications, this institutional arrangement made a great deal of sense.

But what about today?

A well educated population and advances in Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) seriously call into question the necessity of political parties co-opting the political process in order to provide what is supposed to be responsible government.

The logistics of representation no longer apply.  People living in an electoral district no longer need to suspend their right to equal voice in deliberations in favor of aggregating all of their voices and transferring this sovereign power to a single individual.

Historically, other than electing their military leaders, the Athenians did no such thing.  In fact, in order to prevent any faction from holding sway over their assembly, they rotated membership to the executive council on an annual basis, and the members were drawn randomly from a qualified pool of approximately 20,000 citizens.  Importantly, this institutional practice did not lead to "mob rule".  Far from it.  In fact, democratic practices like the right of every citizen to address the assembly were at the core of Athenian society, a golden age which saw an unparalleled flowering of human civilization, so captivating that their political innovation, democracy, rule by the demos (the Greek word for the people) remains as the sole basis of political legitimacy today, some 2500 years after its inception.

Today, people no longer congregate in a single venue at the same time to be heard.  Web casting, face-to-face communications applications like Skype, Google plus, and Face Time, combined with various social media like Twitter and Facebook, empower people from distant geographic locations to engage in meaningful dialogue without the need for intermediaries.  Moreover, supporting documents can be easily made available to everyone concerned and electronic voting can place the power of making the political decisions that affect the quality of their lives squarely in the hands of the people.

Rather than transferring their sovereignty to political candidates from a professional political class, citizens could instead form permanent citizens assemblies and keep their power to make political decisions close to home where they have the possibility of participating meaningfully in the political process.

Imagine a Parliament in which each and every seat represents the will of a citizens assembly in which every citizen has the right to be a member.  In this imaginary world, a network of electronically empowered citizens assemblies would govern Canada's affairs and political parties would be cast into history's dust bin.  Instead of celebrating the political victories of individuals, honour would be bestowed to those who served as stewards of democracy, those individuals that served to protect the democratic process from being appropriated by individual interests.

Maybe this is a project that could be undertaken when Canada commemorates its 150th anniversary and to be completed before it celebrates its 200 birthday.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

In Canada's Contested Vote Exchange the Biggest Losers Are Democrats

Although Canadians like to think of themselves governed by a modern democratic state, in reality, we are still governed by a colonial form of government that is a vestige of the British Empire.

Our Head of State is a foreign monarch, Queen Elizabeth II; the Prime Minister is chosen by the Crown's representative, the Governor General -- although tradition has is that this title is bestowed upon the winner of the contested vote exchange that takes place during a general election -- and the laws adopted by Parliament do not become law until they are given the Royal Assent from the Governor General.

In theory and in practice, Canada is a constitutional monarchy. This means that Canada has both a written and unwritten constitution that allows for the Prime Minister to exercise, for all intents and purposes, the powers of the ruling monarch.

In fact, within his or her Royal Prerogatives, the Prime Minister has the privilege to form a cabinet of ministers, name the Supreme Court justices, and to place, at his or her discretion, the people who will represent the provinces in the Senate.  Moreover, the Prime Minister Of Canada can even declare war without the consent of Parliament.

Without doubt, this institutional arrangement is authoritarian by design.  When going to the polls, Canadians are effectively tasked with deciding to whom they are going to transfer their collective sovereignty, in other words, the leader of the political party who will rule on their behalf.

This is a far cry from democratic governance in which the people exercise their power to rule themselves.

Related Posts

Essentially, elections in Canada are all about participating in a contest to determine which political party will win the most seats in Parliament.  The total number of votes cast for each party does not enter into the equation.  An absolute majority of votes is not required.  In fact, it is rare that a political party will receive more than 50% of the popular vote.

A majority government in Canada means that the ruling party has the majority of seats in Parliament.  In practice, each seat goes to the candidate that gathered the most votes in an electoral district.  Considering that we have multi-party elections, more often than not there are more electors who voted against the winning candidate than those who voted for. 

Aggregating the results of the simultaneously-held, electoral district contests produces the over all winner, the political party with the most seats, whose leader will receive the Royal Prerogatives. Generally, 40% of the popular vote will garner 60% of the seats in Parliament, and with this goes 100% of the political power.

Sometimes, the contest produces bizarre results like when a political party that wins 60% of the popular vote obtains all of the available seats, or when the party that wins the most seats received fewer overall votes than the runner up, or when approximately a million people vote for one party but are shut out of Parliament because their candidates did not win any of the plurality contests in the individual electoral districts.

But that's the way is game is played in Canada.  Democratic sensibilities do arise from time to time -- especially after one of the abnormal results comes about -- but the dissatisfaction with the process has never gained enough strength so that the rules of the game are changed.

Indeed lately, fewer and fewer people are participating in the game.  The idea of giving one's vote to any candidate has lost its appeal because most of the votes cast have no effect on the final result.

This makes the game much easier to play from the political parties point of view. 

Instead of spreading their resources over the entire electoral map, they can concentrate their efforts where they are most likely to be rewarded.  Instead of trying to convince undecided voters, they can concentrate of getting the voters who have been identified to vote for their party out to the polls.  Instead of putting forward reasoned arguments for the positions, they can simply slag their opponents, hoping to convince their supporters to stay home and not to exercise their right to vote.

In short, the winning strategy for political parties is to mobilize the vote that can be counted upon and to decrease the probability of opposing votes being cast.  Reducing the number of voters reduces the uncertainty of the results.

Of course, the biggest losers in these regularly staged electoral contests are those who would like to live in a democracy.  Not only are we aware of how the game is played, we are powerless to change it because we are out numbered and are unable to mobilize a critical mass of disaffected voters, who one day soon will become the absolute majority of Canadians.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Canada's Chief Electoral Officer: A Disgruntled Democrat?

In reaction to a government bill that would prevent Canada's Chief Electoral Officer, Marc Mayrand, from speaking publicly about the quality of Canada's Electoral System, he went on record to state:
"I'm not aware of any electoral bodies around the world who can not talk about democracy" and that "my reading of the act is that I can no longer speak about democracy in this country."
In other words, it seems that Mr. Mayrand is about to have his administrative balls removed with surgical precision.

I guess I would also be feeling pretty disgruntled if I were about to have my balls lopped off in the guise of making Canada's elections fairer.

But then again, I can't remember ever hearing Mr. Mayrand speak about democracy in Canada, which isn't all that surprising since Canada is not a democratic country by any stretch of the imagination.

Related Posts

In theory and in practice, Canada is a constitutional monarchy.  This means that Canada has both a written and unwritten constitution that allows for the Prime Minister to exercise, for all intents and purposes, the powers of the monarch, Canada's Head of State, Her Royal Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II.

Indeed, the Prime Minister is chosen by the Governor General, and the office usually goes to the leader of the political party that wins the most seats during the general election, not to the leader of the party that garners the most votes.

In fact, within his or her Royal Prerogatives, the Prime Minister has the privilege to form a cabinet of ministers, name the Supreme Court justices, and to place, at his or her discretion, the people who will represent the provinces in the Senate.

Moreover, the Prime Minister Of Canada can even declare war without the consent of Parliament.

Honestly now, do you think any democratic nation would delegate the power to declare war to any one person?


Yet, Canada, for all its insistence on being a democratic state, has never gotten around to correcting this anomaly.

Again, this isn't all that surprising because the vast majority of Canadians are quite comfortable with our system of "responsible" government and couldn't give a rat's ass for the principles of democracy.

In my opinion, given our electoral system, the primary function of the Chief Electoral Officer is to run what a constitutional monarchy really desires: a contested vote exchange that gives to the winner of the electoral contest the spoils of victory, the powers of the monarch.

Democracy is what some people aspire to and are vigilant to protect.

Sad but true, Canadians are very content with their form of responsible government.


Friday, February 7, 2014

Inequality Is What America Is All About

Change you can believe in.
Yeah right.  There are some things that never change and one of them is the tendency for the rich to get richer at everyone else's expense, especially in America.
Since the onset of the Great Recession in 2008, 95% of the gains have gone to the top 1%, and during the same time period the median income has dropped.
It would appear that within this context the inequality of income should be the major concern of the political class.

No way.  Not in the US of A, where more than half of the members of the US Congress are millionaires.

Instead, as a close analysis of President Obama's State of the Union speech reveals, Americans should be more concerned about the equality of opportunity than the equality of incomes.

You can't get anymore American than that.

After all, America is a fundamentalist nation founded on the Protestant wealth ethic articulated by the 16th century French-born theologian, John Calvin.

Related Post

Sanctifying Success

Calvin's universe was ruled by a petulant and vindictive deity, one who toyed with his followers by designating a select group of them to share in his divine bounty, only to leave them in the dark as to who these lucky chosen might be.

The faithful were, then, left to fret and worry whether they were in God's good graces and, more importantly, whether they would share the common and inescapable fate of eternal damnation that was the certain end of the non-elect.

How, then, was one to know if they were one of the elect?

The answer: material success.

If a businessman's coffers were fat and he was benefiting from what appeared to be a shrewd and effective business acumen, then surely it is evidence that the Almighty had smiled on him, welcoming him, perhaps, into the Divine's august company.

This, of course, is a ready-made philosophy for any self-flattering elite - no matter what the century - anxious to justify their good fortune as divinely mandated.

Moreover, it provides a justification, based upon a widely-held religious belief, why we should not increase the taxes upon the rich.  To do so, according to this fundamentlist Protestant mindset, would be against God's will.

Instead, we should have faith in the market, which left on its own, without the interference from government, will provide the opportunity for everyone to join God's Elect.

And that ladies and gentlemen is the essence of the American Dream because you have to be asleep at the wheel to fall for that bowl of malarky.

Equal opportunity in America? 

In a country where more than 47 million people live off of food stamps?  In a country where millions of students take on mountain loads of unforgiveable debt just to have the hope of some day making it?  In a country that has the largest number of incarcerated people in the world?

Get out of town! No way!

But that's what it takes to live in America.  You have to "live the lie", I mean "hold the faith" if you want to get by.

Otherwise, you might do something foolish like raise the taxes on the rich and that would most certainly "hurt" the economy.

And God would be really pissed off if that ever happened.

Who knows how he would react? He might even let catastrophic climate change to occur.

So, let's not piss him off and everything will be fine.