Why our elections highlight the need for a true Canadian Republic

By Beryl Wajsman on September 18, 2008

“The Republican form of Government is the highest form of government; but because of this it requires the highest type of human nature.”

~ Herbert Spencer


And, they’re off!

Prime Minister Harper’s frustration with a recalcitrant opposition was understandable. An opposition that sabre-rattled with weekly regularity yet supported the government on some forty confidence votes. Sadly, the tradition of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition proposing more than merely opposing is lacking in Canada. Frankly, Mr. Harper came closer to that goal when he was in opposition than any recent leader.

That is all the more reason why it was to be hoped that the civility and integrity that is a hallmark of his politics would have been maintained. As Lorne Gunter wrote recently the fixed election date law was, more than anything else, legacy legislation. Though understandable, it remains unfortunate that it was not respected.

Harper has now led the longest minority government in this nation’s history. Whether or not you agree with all of his legislative agenda, it cannot credibly be argued that he has not succeeded.

The Conservative government was elected with a plan to move forward on five areas of legislation. It got most of their agenda through on four of these. Harper may be right that Parliament is dysfunctional. But that’s politics. Reform Parliament by all means, but why make the people pay with a very expensive election.

The only irritant of any consequence that occurred during the summer recess was the House Ethics Committee hearings into Tory finances in the last campaign. Mostly technical issues they involve some one million dollars. This new election costs hundreds of millions.

More than the cost, the sight of this nation being plunged into a fourth election in eight years reeks of banana republic imagery. If there was some desire to tackle compelling issues it would be understandable. Though urgent matters of economic disparity and social justice exist, there does not seem to be the political will by any party to address them. This election seems just another distraction of bread and circuses.

We have criticized the opposition, Liberal and NDP both, for ignoring the critical issues of the health care crisis, of one-third of our urban households living in poverty and of galloping nanny-statism destroying our privacy rights. Instead of addressing these, we get the “Green shift” with a 30/50 anti-poverty plan built into it. The reality is there is no environmental crisis to the degree the eco-theocrats would have us believe and eco-theocratic environmental proposals just don’t work and the politicians know it. They don’t work because they don’t address the fundamental issue of the internal combustion engine. Instead of a carbon tax, Mr. Dion would serve the public better if he proposed credits making hybrid cars affordable at the $20,000 level. That would be a real “green shift”. But that involves taking on vested interests.

Politicians are loath to do that. And lest anyone think that the tax will be “revenue neutral” just remember the Tory promises characterizing the GST in the same way. No tax is ever “neutral”. But it’s easier for politicians to “go green” than to tackle the tough political and distributive problems we still face in this land of great wealth that has produced only a thin veneer of affluence.

The Conservative government does not provide us with much justification for an election either. Mr. Harper has given Canada a bold and principled position in foreign affairs and our standing in the world. He has rightly engaged us in mankind’s struggles for freedom and redemptive change. He has begun, some would say too slowly, to roll back government encroachment in our lives and started to reduce the groaning federal bureaucracy. He has also begun to lower our unconscionably high levels of taxation which hurt the working man and woman more than any other strata of society.

Yet the reasons offered for an early election have to do with the desire to pass certain pieces of criminal and social legislation. These pieces of legislation are not only not worthy of an election, they are not worthy of Stephen Harper the man. Bills like C-10 on limiting film financing based on sexual content and C-484 that would re-open the debate on fetal rights are not necessary. The former reeks of censorship. The latter, of the imposition of state morality on what should be a private matter. The Tories “tough on crime” bills that include mandatory minimums are totally disconnected from reality. Violent crime in Canada has been going down consistently. The attempt to make Canadians believe there is some king of violent crime epidemic is wrong. Sadly, in this election, the Tory package panders too much to a recalcitrant right and the Liberals to the statocratic left. Neither will serve the greater good.

The role of a political party is greater than just acquiring and keeping power. If elements in the Liberal Party wanted a quick election in order to see Mr. Dion defeated and send the party into another leadership convention, and elements in the Conservative party are afraid of the effects of Obama’s campaign on trends in Canada and of possibly worsening economic conditions, those considerations have nothing to do with the fiduciary responsibility that both government and opposition owe to the Canadian people.

The election date law that Mr. Harper succeeded in passing is historic. Perhaps the only element missing was that governments must govern for the full term whether they are majority or minority. Now that was something to look forward to.

Here are some others.

Imagine that when a man or woman presents themselves as a candidate to lead this nation you get to vote for them directly. Imagine that the people who want to represent your riding are responsible only to you, not to some “leader”.

Imagine that though they may all be members of parties, party politics in the house of the people’s assembly is kept to a minimum because the leader of the nation and the elected representatives serve for fixed terms that cannot be terminated because of minority standings.

Imagine that we will know the exact election date every four years. Imagine that our head of government will not be able to “whip” elected representatives of his party in line votes because they obtain their mandate directly from the voters as the head of government does. Imagine that Canada’s “first past the post” system is relegated to the dustbin of history.

Imagine that if we directly elect a head of government from one party while another’s elected representatives constitute the plurality or majority of the house of the people’s assembly they actually have to get along because there will be no election for four years and if they don’t honor the public trust and produce fiduciary governance they will be turfed.

Imagine that our elected head of government can select a cabinet, the executive, choosing from the nations best and brightest. Imagine that the committees of the house of the people’s assembly, the legislature, are given real budgets for research, investigation and legislation with power equal to the executive.

Imagine that our Senators are elected. Imagine if both levels are forced to get along for the greater good. Imagine that both levels make our laws together.

Imagine that our head of state is not a pomp and circumstance painted figurehead but the person we actually vote for. Imagine that our judiciary has equal power to the executive and legislative powers to hear the people’s grievances and is not locked into merely judging the people but judging the law.

Imagine if the organizing principle of our political system is not the imperative of obtaining and keeping power but of protecting individual consequence and conscience as set out in our Charter. Imagine if our head of government takes an oath to protect our most precious and inalienable rights and not swears loyalty to a foreign sovereign.

Imagine the power of the sovereignty of our suffrage. Imagine every citizen of Canada as a king and queen yet no one wears a crown. Imagine the final realization of the vision of Lafontaine and Baldwin of true “responsible government”.

Now imagine that it is no dream. It is the Canadian Republic.

Canadians have for too long been conditioned to abdicate their individual imperatives and the sovereignty of their suffrage to institutions. It’s a top down process. When citizens are raised from childhood on bended knee, they can never arouse in themselves the spirit, or confidence to take control of their own lives. Buck-passing becomes a way of life. This nation’s national political will has become as petrified as the trees in Russian gulags.

Our offices of state created from Canada’s beginnings walls of secrecy in council rooms apart that have proved endemic to the development of a true liberal pluralistic democracy fuelled by an engaged citizenry of independent  thought and action. And the past twenty years in particular have seen our highest elected officials fully exploit the protection of those walls of secrecy. It has resulted in one scholar has called a “controlled democracy”.

The Oxford Dictionary defines Republicanism as “…the belief that the supreme power of a country should be vested in the electoral power of the people…”

What a concept. Supreme power vested in the people.

Now that’s something worth having an election about.


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Editorial Staff

Beryl P. Wajsman

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