The other day, at lunch, a rather silly colleague of mine seemed exasperated by all the anti-Harper talk she was hearing around the lunch table. She then declared "Well, if everyone hates Harper so much, why did he get a majority at the last election?". I had to point out that Harper barely got 40% of the vote which is in no way a majority. This left her rather baffled but she assured me that she would look it up and get back to me.
Get back to me she did. The next day, she announced that Stephen Harper had achieved the biggest majority in 20 years in 2011 with 166 seats. I explained to her that the Conservative vote went from 37.65% in 2008 to 39.62% in 2011. An increase of 1.96% which allowed the Conservatives to go from a 143 seat minority to a 166 seat majority. That 1.96% somehow represented 23 seats. Those must have been some very important people for their votes to carry so much weight.
What really happened is that a lot of Liberal voters defected to the NDP, therefore giving the victory to the Conservatives in many ridings even though over 60% of the electorate voted against them. This happened all over Ontario which allowed the Conservatives to pick up all those new seats. Democracy is generally understood as meaning "rule with the consent of the majority" but in this system it is "rule by the biggest minority" which is simply not democracy. I tried to explain to this woman how undemocratic this system was but her answer was to say "well, that's our system!". In reality, it's not our system at all. It's the system of our conquerors. It's the British system. It is imbued with their history and their archaic institutions which really have nothing to do with us.
One obvious clue that this system isn't ours is that our head of state is a foreign monarch. Not only is our head of state a throwback from an earlier age but it is a foreign throwback. The Queen of England is also the Queen of Canada and therefore the Queen of Quebec. This fact embarrasses and disgusts me to no end. I find it offensive that Quebec's MNAs are forced to take an oath of loyalty to the British monarch and that reciting this same oath is also the first act asked of new immigrants. It should be remembered that the Queen of England is also the head of the Church of England. I don't understand why there isn't more resistance to having to swear allegiance to this person. It's like swearing allegiance to the Pope when you aren't even Catholic.
|How to end monarchy the French way!|
I hate the Queen's face on our money and stamps. I find it idiotic that all this "Crown" nonsense infests our judicial system. It gets to the point where I sometimes feel like we are some kind of primitive tribe aping our colonial masters. But there it is, in Canada’s system of government, the power to govern is vested in the Crown but is entrusted to the government to use on behalf of the people. The Crown reminds the government of the day that the source of the power to govern rests elsewhere and that it is only given to them for a limited duration. In a democracy, the people are sovereign—they are the highest form of political authority. In this ridiculous system, which we inherited from the British, the Crown is sovereign.
Another obvious sign that this system is not ours is that it is a carbon copy of the Westminster system in Great Britain. We have an unelected Senate which is based on their House of Lords, a medieval relic from a time when land ownership was a major source of political power, and just as ownership of land moved from generation to generation so did the titles. Basically, it was a safeguard for the nobility. It allowed them to veto any foolish decisions made by the plebes in the house of commons. In Canada, an appointment to the Senate is usually a gift to a political crony. It's a complete waste of tax-payers' money. In fact, the only time we seem to hear about the Senate is when there are scandals.
Since our head of state is more of a figurehead who does not exercise direct power, the real power to govern lies with the Prime Minister. This, in fact, merges the executive with the legislative branches of government, thereby removing important checks and balances. The Prime Minister, therefore, becomes all powerful, particularly if he/she has a majority of seats which is often achieved without the support of the majority of voters. The main undemocratic and even dictatorial feature of the Canadian federal system is the unilateral power of the Prime Minister:
- To appoint the Governor General of Canada (through whom the PM technically exercises most of his/her powers, some of which are listed below)
- To appoint Senators to the Canadian Senate
- To appoint Supreme Court justices and other federal justices
- To appoint all members of the Cabinet
- To appoint the entire board of the Bank of Canada
- To appoint the heads of the military, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and other government agencies
- To appoint CEO's and Chairs of crown corporations such as CBC
- To dissolve Parliament and choose the time of the next federal election (within a 5 year limit)
- To run for re-election indefinitely (no term limits)
- To remove Members of Parliament (MPs) from the ruling party's caucus
- To deny any MP the right to participate in parliamentary debate or run for re-election
- To dismiss individuals or groups of representatives from serving in Parliament
- To ratify treaties
- To declare war
So, we have a system that gives far too much power to a single person but it gets worse. You can't even directly vote for or against this person unless you live in their ridding. You can only vote for your local representative who will most likely just sit in the House of Commons like some potted plant and vote the way they're told to. Basically it's a package deal. Who you want as your local representative, the party you'd like to see control Parliament and the chief executive cannot be chosen separately.
Most people choose based on the leader of each party and usually it is a vote against the person they hate most. You see, we have a first-past-the-post system. You don't need the support of the majority to win. You just need more than the next guy. The media will tell you which candidates have a chance of winning and which don't. You don't want to waste your vote on someone who can't win and you don't want THAT guy to win so you'll just have to hold your nose and vote for the other guy who you're told has got a shot but does not really represent you on many issues.
Of course it doesn't need to be this way. There is a very simple and effective way to make sure that the person elected has the consent of the majority. It's called Alternative voting or Instant runoff voting. Here's a nice and clear explanation of how it works:
This system eliminates the need for strategic voting. You can vote your conscience first and vote strategic second, if you want. The person who wins in this system has the support of 50% + 1 and you can't argue with that (unless you are Justin Trudeau or Stéphane Dion). In other words, you can vote for the candidate or party that represents you the most without the fear of handing the victory to the party you hate most.
In the end, my biggest problem with this system is that I am not the subject of a monarch and I never will be. I am a citizen of a republic. It's a republic with a meaningful democracy, not a mockery of it. It's a republic that is free and diverse. It's a republic that proudly asserts its difference in an ocean of homogeneity. It's a republic that does not exist yet but one that must exist. Of course, I'm talking about la République du Québec.