Friday, April 5, 2013

Some call it democracy

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:
  1. To appoint the Governor General of Canada (through whom the PM technically exercises most of his/her powers, some of which are listed below)
  2. To appoint Senators to the Canadian Senate
  3. To appoint Supreme Court justices and other federal justices
  4. To appoint all members of the Cabinet
  5. To appoint the entire board of the Bank of Canada
  6. To appoint the heads of the military, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and other government agencies
  7. To appoint CEO's and Chairs of crown corporations such as CBC
  8. To dissolve Parliament and choose the time of the next federal election (within a 5 year limit)
  9. To run for re-election indefinitely (no term limits)
  10. To remove Members of Parliament (MPs) from the ruling party's caucus
  11. To deny any MP the right to participate in parliamentary debate or run for re-election
  12. To dismiss individuals or groups of representatives from serving in Parliament
  13. To ratify treaties
  14. 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.


  1. Simply brilliant,

    Thank you very much

  2. You say you hate Queen Elizabeth II's face on Canadian money; as well, you presumably hate the Union Jack on many of Canada's provincial flags. However, the fleur-de-lis symbol on Quebec's provincial flag is from the Bourbon monarchy which used to control France.

    1. Jacques, why would I care what other provinces put on their flags? It's true, the fleur-de-lis is a symbol that was used by the French monarchy. I would have chosen a different symbol to put on our flag but it's a symbol that has been adopted by Quebecers. As long as this symbol doesn't come with an actual monarch, it's fine with me.

    2. I have to say, I agree with you about the Senate. It is an obscene waste of taxpayers' money, money which could be used for so many worthwhile things: helping the poor and sick, reducing crime, improving education, renovating infrastructure and so forth. If it's not to be totally abolished, then it should be radically downsized, and it should be an elected institution in which the Senators would actually have to work for their salaries, and not receive vast amounts of money for virtually useless sinecures.

  3. Hey, I'm all for the alternative vote. I would love to vote for something other than a dictator to be, which they all become, given a few years.
    Thank you for this article.

  4. Veritas: for argument's sake, let's say that the Alternative Vote was implemented in Canada, and the Senate was abolished (or at least radically reformed so as not to waste taxpayers' money), and the Prime Minister's powers were greatly reduced. Do you think you would still want independence for Quebec, even if the British monarchy remained? Or, let's say that Canada adopted all of those measures, including the abolishment of the monarchy?

    Please also note that having a monarchy is not necessarily an anglosphone versus francophone thing. Most people in the U.S. bleieve in having a republic, as do a very large minority of Australians. In addition, there are many predominantly non-English-speaking countries which have monarchies: for example, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Thailand, Saudi Arabia and Japan, for starters.

  5. correction: I should have said, "would you still want Quebec independence even if all of those measures were implemented, but the British monarchy remained?"

  6. Veritas: while I believe in abolishing the monarchy, I don't believe in doing it the French way. It was still murder, and it also paved the way for the dictatorship of Napoleon I, who caused a lot of havoc, destruction and death throughout Europe, despite some good things he did domestically.

    His policies also indirectly led to the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, and later the German-French rivalry which were main flashpoints in both World Wars. He reduced the number of German-speaking princedoms from over 300 to about 30, but he caused a great deal of animosity between the Germanophone states (including the major states of Prussia and Austria) and France. This doesn't even take into account the overarching anger of a lot of other European countries (e.g. Spain, Russia, Italy etc.) towards France as well, largely due to the legacy of the Napoleonic Wars.

    1. For Jacques, the evil of monarchy is less evil than our sovereignty. Only an imperialist can be against the will of a nation.

  7. Their is absolutely no reason why all of the above reforms can't be implemented in Canada. Making Quebec independant doesn't mean we'll get any kind of proportional representation government. The Reality is major parties don't like proportional representation including the one highlighted as it means the chances of getting a majority government are drastically reduced

    1. Anglo-canada will never change without being forced to. It is built on ethno-centric imperialism and the current anti-democratic form of government suits it perfectly well.

      After we - Québec - flush the ro-kk-nada then, maybe, it will rethink its ways. But it is much more likely that the imperialist attitude will prevail.

    2. I'd be surprised if an independant Quebec will do anything but first past the post either. Is it in the PQ's or Liberal parties interest, I think not.

    3. Canada Libre's "ro-kkk-nada" comment is ludricrous hyperbole at best, and libel at worst. As well, his references to India as a "shit country" smack of the same kind of racist and imperialist attitudes which most of the British colonial government officials had towards East Indian peoples, which made it easier to exploit and oppress them.

    4. I agree! I think that Canada should abolish the British monarchy and become a republic, and should also implement a fairer electoral system, along the lines of what Veritas has proposed. I may be an anglophone, but I'm not a monarchist. I'm not even of British descent (nothing against British people, however. The people in the "Alternative Vote" video above seem to have British accents).

  8. Canada Libre said that India is a shit country ?? Show us where ! ..

    About India ; that was probably the richest country on earth before the English came there. So, if ever it's a shit country today, blame it on you know who.

    1. On one of these posts, we were talking about an Indo-Canadian editor of an East Indian newspaper in British Columbia, who accused Quebecers of being "racist boneheads" due to the controversy over young Sikhs in Quebec who wished to wear relgious headgear while playing soccer. The newspaper's editor is named Rattan Mall, if I recall corrrectly. Anyway, Canada Libre said, "You can take the immigrant out of the shit country, but not the shit country out of the immigrant." I'll try to find exactly which post it was under.

      Yes, one can absolutely blame the British empire for that, plus for the Opium Wars in China, genocides in Africa, and other racist, colonial crimes. I wouldn't mind abolishing the monarchy in Canada at all. It's not an exclusively francophone desire to have that done.