Originally this post was to be called Togas to Twitter and was to be restricted to the work of the Canadian Senate. The idea for it was given by a friend who wanted something about people’s misunderstanding of what the Senate is and does. The problem is not the misunderstanding of the Senate but of the entire Canadian political system and the various elements that make it up. Many people ignorantly compare the Canadian system to the United States’ system, but this is comparing apples to star fruit. The Constitution Act uses the term Westminister Model but even comparing Canada and Britain’s systems is apples and pears. Here is my opinion on various parts of our system.
Canada is a Democracy with a Queen instead of a president. This is a good thing because it is far to easy for republics to become dictatorships, most seem to end up that way. Separating the Head of State from the Head of Government is essential in preserving democracy in Canada. There is benefit to not having an elected head of state, no expensive elections means their is stability and the long view can be taken. How vulnerable would Canadian democracy be with someone beholding to those who got him/her elected? Having the Queen’s residual power of dismissing cabinets, dissolving parliaments and declaring war in the hands of a partisan individual would lead to disaster. Perhaps patriating our monarch the way we did our constitution would be the best solution to cut the final ties with the colonial era.
The Supreme Court of Canada is the fail safe valve for our individual rights and the final appeal for our justice system. The nine judges are deemed to represent the Queen and are appointed upon the consent of council, council being the Prime Minister. Playing partisan politics with any court let alone the Supreme Court eliminates the ability to preserve individual freedoms in the face of public opinion. The Justices are to be impartial to the point where they can not vote or be members of political parties. In the absence of the Governor General the Chief Justice acts as Canada’s head of state, which should never be beholding to a political party.
Canada’s Senate was never intended to be like the United States Senate and never should. The Canadian Senate is meant to be a legislative editor, catching the mistakes made by the House of Commons. By not being elected allows the Senators to take a longer view at issues and subjects so they can be analysed thoroughly. The Conservative dream of an Elected, Equal and Effective (Triple E) Senate would create gridlock, reduce the ability of effective research and be corrupt. Senate elections would be so expensive Senators would be at the mercy of the special interest groups and voters. The abolishment of the Senate would lead to poor legislation, the tyranny of Parliament and increased court challenges, especially now that the legislative review team at the Justice Department is being by passed.
Ideally the House of Commons is the second most powerful institution in Canada. Direct Democracy is impossible outside of small, remote tribes. Canada once practiced responsible government where the executive answered to the peoples’ elected representative. Since Confederation the power of Members of Parliament has been reduced to seat warming and cheerleading for the party leader. MPs are supposed to hold their leaders, the cabinet and the Queen to account not answer to them. The Westminister Model used in Canada is the result of civil wars, rebellions and sacrifice yet what is happening in Parliament now is reversing every achievement since the Magna Carta. All party leaders are becoming to powerful and MPs are being to obedient, so the first reform should be each party caucus dismissing their leader. Until MPs exercise that basic power of choosing the House’s leadership Canada will suffer irresponsible government.
Not one member of cabinet, even the Prime Minister is elected. All cabinet members are appointed by the Queen, tradition dictates they must be sitting Members of Parliament and occasionally Senators. In order for the Queen to appoint someone Prime Minister the House of Commons must consent. In fact if a majority of MPs decide to topple the current cabinet and form an Elizabeth May led coalition it is perfectly acceptable, legal and purely democratic. The government of Canada answers to Canadians through Parliament and the only way to get around that is to call an election. Yet an election does not need to be called if a majority of MPs decide to continue until the Constitutional five years kicks in.
Ministers are supposedly responsible for the policy direction of their departments and have to answer to colleagues in Parliament for their decisions. Yet increasingly it is Canada’s Civil Service who is blamed for cabinet policies. The civil service is traditionally outside the political sphere as the implementors and advisors of policy. Currently the unelected, unaccountable staff at the partisan Prime Minister’s Office is bullying the civil service into breaking the rules. The environment government employees face is one of suspicion, fear for their career and public humiliation for not going along with The Harper Government. This will eventually mean those who serve the rest of us are incompetent or corrupt leaving us with horrible and expensive service, if any.
Citizens in a democracy are the holders of the nations sovereignty. The Queen may where the crown but the crown symbolizes the power of Canadians not of the nice English woman with the dogs and horses. Canadians through ignorance and idiocy have created the problems in Canadian Democracy. Buying into the populist rhetoric that, we just have to pick a party and go to Tim’s and all will be well, is leading to tyranny. Allowing over generations the reduction of MPs to trained seals barking on cue, of alienation between governed and government, of buying into the lies of civil servants having no value or paying taxes as being evil then Canadians have given away sovereignty.
Citizenship is the most important institution we have to preserve democracy. It isn’t given to us but will be taken away if we remain ignorant of the system as it is intended and as it has become and we will lose it if we continue to ignore our duty to ourselves by holding the elected to account. Government in Canada has become incompetent, corrupt and controlled by special or regional interests. If citizens don’t reclaim the central role of government than they cease being citizens and become serfs.
Canada does not need to reinvent the government institutions, Canadians need to be citizens. Which means spending some time to get informed on the issues and getting involved. Remember it is far easier to sacrifice some time and energy than sacrificing life, limb and sanity like far to many Canadian citizens have.
Some reading suggestions:
- 1867: How the Father’s Made a Deal Christopher Moore
- The English Constitution Walter Bagehot
- Constitution Acts