plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose
(the more things change, the more the stay the same)
That's pretty much how I feel about living in Canada in the second decade of the twenty-first century. Yes, this country has seen a lot of changes, from the building of the trans-national railway to the creation of the information superhighway. Yet, when it comes to our political economy and our system of governance, we are still what we were 150 years ago, an English settler state.
Looking back at the Europe's imperial conquest of the rest of the world, Britain did something different as compared to the Spanish and Portuguese when it decided to people on a vast scale some of its colonies with successive waves of English settlers and thereby established control of large territories occupied by indigenous peoples: the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. In fact, with the exception of the United States, which fought the British to win its independence and to become a republic, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand are still part of the Commonwealth, a vestige of the former British Empire, and still have a hereditary monarch, Queen Elizabeth, as their head of state.
What amazes me is how resilient this form of governance has turned out to be, resisting any substantive change to the manner in which we govern ourselves for 150 years. Think back to Canada at the time of Confederation in 1867: approximately, one million people spread out over a huge expanse of land, with the majority living in rural sectors. This is a time that predates electricity, air travel, and the internet.
Without question, the scale of the economy and the amount of communication within and between peoples in different nations was tiny as compared to what we experience today. You would think that given the monumental change we have seen in the manner in which Canadians live their lives since Confederation would be reflected in Canada's political institutions.
Living in the twenty-first century, a time in which I regularly chat via Skype with my fiancé who lives in South America at no additional cost than my connection to the Internet, and that I can pull up onto my screen the latest edition of daily publications from around the world like the New York Times, The Guardian, or Le Monde in seconds, I am absolutely flabbergasted that we retain a system of governance that embodies a hereditary monarch, an appointed Senate, an electoral system that uses a voting method (first-past-the-post) in which each and every vote does not count equally, and that the system grants what constitutes the powers of an elected monarch (in Canada the Prime Minister can declare war without the consent of Parliament) to the leader of a political party that did not garner the majority of the popular vote.
WTF? How is it that we have done so many marvelous things over the last 150 years but we have never gotten around to creating a modern, democratic, nation-state?
What also boggles my mind is not only do we cling to an outdated system of governance but that even making a relatively simple change, like creating an electoral system in which the representation in Parliament accurately reflects how people voted, is next to impossible.
How complicated can it be? If we are going to tell the world we are a democratic nation -- the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that we are a nation that adheres to the values of if a free and DEMOCRATIC society -- the least we could do is create and use a democratic electoral system.
However, it has been my experience that the most powerful political institutions in Canada, the Prime Minister and the Supreme Court of Canada have, in effect, resisted bringing Canada into the twenty-first century with regard to the nature of its political institutions. The former refused to honour a campaign promise enshrined into a Speech from the Throne (so much for the symbolism) to change our aberrant voting method that dates to the middle ages, while the latter refused to hear a case that challenged the constitutionality of the said voting method, but did find the time to pronounce on what are the acceptable limits of bestiality. Go figure.
Given this turn of events, I have become resigned to the fact that I will not see Canada make any qualitative changes to its status as an English settler state in my lifetime. Sure, I am free to marry another man if I wanted to, and end my days with the assistance of a doctor if I so choose, and will soon be able to buy marijuana legally if I so desired, but although these things maybe important to others, they matter not to me.
What I would really like to be able to do is to participate meaningfully in the way this nation is governed, but that's not going to happen anytime soon. Instead, what I am being offered is the opportunity to smoke a joint at my leisure so to take the edge off the discomfort that arises when I reflect upon how the state makes sure that my political voice and the voices of more than a million other Canadians who take seriously the health of the global climate are effectively silenced.
Happy Birthday Canada! Unfortunately, we are going to have to part. You may embody many admirable qualities, but not the one that matters most to me.