RESTORING DEMOCRACY in CANADA by Guy Dauncey

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Brian White
RESTORING DEMOCRACY in CANADA by Guy Dauncey

RESTORING DEMOCRACY in CANADA

Dear Michael, Jack, Gilles and Elizabeth,

This letter comes with New Year’s greetings from myself, and millions of Canadians who think alike. Together, you represent the political preference of the large majority - 60% to 65% - of voting Canadians.

Our Canadian democracy has fallen into a dark and lugubrious funk. The chief rationale of having a democracy is that we should be governed by a party or parties that represent a majority of the voting citizens - and yet here in Canada, this is not happening, causing a permanent political sulkiness.

Our government in Ottawa is not democratically legitimate - and yet this is the government that is foot-dragging on international action on climate change, boosting the Alberta tar sands, and arbitrarily proroguing Parliament. This ends the Afghanistan torture enquiry, while conveniently giving time to appoint enough new senators to create a Conservative majority in the unelected Senate, locking in their influence for years to come.

It weakens the dignity of all Canadians to be ruled in such a manner. There is a direct line that can be traced from our ‘skunk of the world’ reputation on climate change to our being governed like this.

Canada flag, upside-downWe are a nation in distress - which is why our flag is shown flying upside down. And yet, as polite Canadians, we swallow our distress far too passively.

The situation has arisen because no party is able to control a majority of the seats in Ottawa. This is common in many European countries, however, and in no instance do they end up being governed as we are.

In most of Europe, when the party with the most MPs does not win a majority, the accepted protocol is that they seek partners who will work with them in a coalition. If they fail, the leader with the next largest number of MPs does the same until a coalition government emerges that is supported by a majority of MPs.

Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Turkey, Israel, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Pakistan, India, Kenya - they all have coalition governments.

No one is suggesting that a coalition is necessarily the best way to govern a country - all forms of democracy are messy, and have inevitable crises. But in Canada, right now, a coalition may be the only way in which we can have a democratically elected government that represents a majority of Canadians.

This letter is an open appeal to you to meet together and agree on the principles on which you would work together in a new government, and start the task of normalizing the idea of a coalition government here in Canada, just as they do in Europe.

None of your parties is going to disappear; the values represented by the Liberals, the New Democrats, the Greens and the Bloc Quebecois are all important - yet it may be years before a majority party emerges again in Canada. It is time for all Canadians to get used to the idea of a coalition government.

A few lessons from Europe may be helpful, drawn from a March 2009 conference organized by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung that brought together scholars and MPs for a dialogue about the nature of coalitions.

  • Coalition governments are rarely announced in advance. They are negotiated once the will of the voters is known. The parties do, however, make it known which parties they would be willing to negotiate with, and which they would not.
  • The process of building a coalition is open and transparent. In Germany, the ‘grand coalition’ that ruled from 2005 to 2008 had a 190-page contract that laid down the terms of their partnership. Speed and secrecy create suspicion and hostility.

Our dilemma is the tradition, seemingly accepted by the Governor General, that the party with the most seats is entitled to form a government even if it does not command the confidence of the majority of MPs.

There is nothing in the Canadian constitution that says this is the Canadian Way. Wikipedia’s anonymous editor states, “the Governor General must draw from the Privy Council an individual to act as Prime Minister – in almost all cases the Member of Parliament who commands the confidence of the House of Commons.”

It is my belief that the legitimacy of the manner by which the Governor General is somehow empowered to invite a government to be formed that does not command the confidence of the House needs to be questioned openly and formally, in a public debate.

The future of Canada as a country of moral standing in the world is at stake. We are growing ashamed to be Canadians on the international stage - and all because we are being governed in this undemocratic manner.

The crises of our time are far too urgent to be held hostage by a government that does not represent the majority of Canadians. You have the power to change this. On behalf of so many of us - please do.

- Guy Dauncey

kropotkin1951

Brian White wrote:

A few lessons from Europe may be helpful, drawn from a March 2009 conference organized by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung that brought together scholars and MPs for a dialogue about the nature of coalitions.

  • Coalition governments are rarely announced in advance. They are negotiated once the will of the voters is known. The parties do, however, make it known which parties they would be willing to negotiate with, and which they would not.

- Guy Dauncey

 

I think that this is a very good direction to go in for dialoguing with the Canadian public prior to the next election, whenever that may be.  As Canadians begin to fully grasp that a majority by any party is one of the least likely outcomes they need to hear about a different way of doing government.  Bully boys or parliamentarians cooperating to provide good solutions for Canada's future let the voters know what the choices are.  My dream would be a campaign commitment by all the opposition parties to move forward in a defined fashion on electoral reform, particularly PR, as part of a unified core of principles for achieving the support of the majority of the MP's in the next minority parliament. 

We don't need less parties because diversity in debates on public policy is essential.  If they need green issues to agree on my pet initiative would be a government backed Bond issue to develop a pool of capital for employee owned businesses that are developing green technologies.  As an anarchist I always it ironic that most of the right of centre commentaries and politicians all praise worker owned businesses like CHEK.  The syndicalist model of economic development is acceptable to not only the NDP but also the Green's and likely the Bloc.  Even the Liberals can't wait to try to get at the front of any photo op involving employees keeping businesses open by buying and running them.  Lets all promote the seeds of an alternate economy while we have this incredible non-partisan good will towards workers succeeding in owning and running their own business.

ottawaobserver

I hope you'll get back to us when Mr. Dauncey hears back positively from Michael Ignatieff and Peter Donolo.

Michael Moriarity Michael Moriarity's picture

The reason the LPC refuses and will continue to refuse consideration of a coalition is their hope of a false majority under the FPTP system. The only reason we are even having this conversation is the anomaly of the BQ, which makes false majorities much more difficult to achieve. Governments which consistently represent a majority of the voters will only be possible if PR removes the hope of false majorities, which seems most unlikely at this time.

Debater

It's true that both the Conservatives and the Liberals have historically benefitted the most from the FPTP system while the NDP have been the most harmed by it.

It is therefore unlikely that the 2 bigger parties will be in any hurry to reform the system without SIGNIFICANT public pressure to do so.

But as mentioned, the party that actually benefits the most from FPTP is the BQ - they are able to win the majority of the seats in Quebec in every election despite the fact that a majority of Quebecers have never voted BQ.  If we had PR, the influence of the BQ would be seriously diminished.  One assumes that they would not be in a hurry to reform the system either.

Brian White

Is coalition government legal in Canada?   Right now, Iggy has no credibility so who really cares what he thinks?  Get rid of him.

He was offered the pm office and refused like a true political moran. What a stroke of genius that was! The papers raved about him, didn't they.

And the vacuous public, filled their heads with that nonsence.

In a normal parliamentary democracy, in a normal country, the Conservatives would not be ruling.   And the last thing the biggest country in the world needs is a majority government. We are much too diverse to have one.

Harper wants to have a drug war, and build prisons and mine tar. He doesn't believe in global warming even though he is sending canadians up to the frozen north to rattle the sabers across the wide open seas to russia. He has even been up there.   He comes from alberta where stockwell day found dinosaur bones with spear damage.

I do not want to be ruled by a pocket hitler. But a pocket hitler is what we have because the canadian public and parliament cannot count.

Fidel

The only thing that could restore law and order in our Northern Puerto Rico and "corrupt petro-state" would be a street rebellion. Our stoogeocrats, AWOL for the second or third time in twelve months,  have abdicated.

ottawaobserver

Quote:

The first step

from Accidental Deliberations by The Jurist

A quick reminder to those who have seized on Chantal Hebert's column as a possible harbinger of a near-term coalition between the NDP and the Libs, particularly in the wake of Stephen Harper's subsequent prorogation of Parliament.

At last notice, there were two opposition leaders who were willing to cooperate with others to try to ensure that Canada gets better government than what it's received under the Cons. And there was one who, having decided he preferred continued Harper government to an available alternative, decided to run screaming from the very idea of a coalition any time it was mentioned.

Which isn't to say that talk about a coalition can't or shouldn't happen now. But if it's going to, a necessary first step is for Michael Ignatieff to publicly repudiate the aggressive anti-coalition stance which he took over the past year - both as a signal to the NDP that it's worth its time to come back to the table, and to shift the political cost/benefit analysis to suggest there's some chance that he'll follow through with a coalition rather than cutting and running again.

Brian, I might agree with you on the uselessness of Michael Ignatieff, but for the time being he is the major impediment to any strategy like Guy Dauncey's working.

kropotkin1951

We need parliament to vote no confidence because of being shut down as the first Order of Business any Opposition party is given.  Our elected MP's need to stand up for parliament and not be afraid to go to the public. I'd rather gamble on him getting an actual majority rather than seeing him pervert our parliament into a one party state with no debate needed on any issues of importance while he is still a minority PM.

ennir

kropotkin1951 wrote:

We need parliament to vote no confidence because of being shut down as the first Order of Business any Opposition party is given.  Our elected MP's need to stand up for parliament and not be afraid to go to the public. I'd rather gamble on him getting an actual majority rather than seeing him pervert our parliament into a one party state with no debate needed on any issues of importance while he is still a minority PM.

Yes, well put.

ottawaobserver

It might be well put, but it's an impossibility in the scenario outlined by Norman Spector, for example, because the opposition won't have any chances to move non-confidence between a Wednesday Throne Speech, Thursday budget, government orders on the Friday, and a Sunday dissolution.

Doughnut

What a great article.  Hopefully something BIG happens in the next election!

kropotkin1951

ottawaobserver wrote:
It might be well put, but it's an impossibility in the scenario outlined by Norman Spector, for example, because the opposition won't have any chances to move non-confidence between a Wednesday Throne Speech, Thursday budget, government orders on the Friday, and a Sunday dissolution.

 Since when are budgets not confidence measures?  It shouldn't matter what's in it, it should be defeated because the government has lost the confidence of the House to GOVERN.  MP's are either puppets to be manipulated by Harpo the Puppet Maser or they are representatives of the people with enough intestinal fortitude to stand up to a bully who is perverting our system.  If he can ignore a committee asking for documents then he is acting as a despot.  Our MP's have to call him on this or it will stand as the ultimate precedent.

 

Chester Drawers

Iggy, Jack and Gilles do not have the brass balls to either force an election (run on a coalition platform) or install a coalition government.  There has been ample opportunities since last January to do so and they have failed to pull the trigger.  They are afraid of something, not sure what that is, but it scares the hell out of them.  Their internal polls must indicate something that is vastly different to their opinions on either an election or coalition.  Surely the hatred of Harper would be enough for these leaders to put aside their own personal party goals to get rid of him.  Since they are unable to do so or are unwilling to do so must mean they have a kean knowledge of the voting public that scares them.  Reduced seat counts possibly, Liberals lose seats to Dippers, Bloc to Liberals, lost western seats to Cons.  I believe that is the real reason that the trigger is on safety and there are no public pontifications or declarations on a formal coalition.

kropotkin1951

We need another election before any talk of a coalition.  That is why I like Guy's idea of the parties stating who they would be willing to work with and on what issues.  Even that narrow an agreement is preferable to Harper being allowed to treat my MP like a non essential part of the government process.  To be summoned at appropriate times to add pomp and circumstance to Throne speeches but to be silenced whenever they find the ruling party's actions inadequate and demand answers to sensitive questions.  That is monarchical rule with Steve as Queen.

Chester Drawers

1951, that is a coalition via the back door.  Just come out and state it publically, why hide behind the curtains.  What are they afraid of?  The voting public abhorrers gamesmanship and halftruths of politicians that is evident in polls about politicians and the low voter turn outs.  Just be publically truthful about the coalition and see where the cards fall.

hsfreethinkers hsfreethinkers's picture

Quote:
In most of Europe, when the party with the most MPs does not win a majority, the accepted protocol is that they seek partners who will work with them in a coalition. If they fail, the leader with the next largest number of MPs does the same until a coalition government emerges that is supported by a majority of MPs.
Why don't we do it this way? It sounds perfectly reasonable.

Michael Moriarity Michael Moriarity's picture

hsfreethinkers wrote:
Quote:
Why don't we do it this way? It sounds perfectly reasonable.

Simple. They use PR, so all parties know that there is unlikely to be a big shift in seats if they have another election. Under FPTP, the prospect of a false majority leads to intransigence, especially by the two largest parties.

ottawaobserver

kropotkin1951 wrote:

ottawaobserver wrote:
It might be well put, but it's an impossibility in the scenario outlined by Norman Spector, for example, because the opposition won't have any chances to move non-confidence between a Wednesday Throne Speech, Thursday budget, government orders on the Friday, and a Sunday dissolution.

 Since when are budgets not confidence measures?  It shouldn't matter what's in it, it should be defeated because the government has lost the confidence of the House to GOVERN.  MP's are either puppets to be manipulated by Harpo the Puppet Maser or they are representatives of the people with enough intestinal fortitude to stand up to a bully who is perverting our system.  If he can ignore a committee asking for documents then he is acting as a despot.  Our MP's have to call him on this or it will stand as the ultimate precedent.

Oh, perhaps I should have made my point more clearly, kropotkin.  Sorry about that.

The point related to the speculation by both Don Newman and Norman Spector that:

* after the Throne Speech is read on Wednesday March 3 (note: no debate on such a day), and
* the Budget is brought down on Thursday March 4 (note: no budget votes that day, no votes on the Throne Speech either, no other confidence votes possible since 48 hours notice on Order Paper required), and
* either the Debate in Response to the Speech from the Throne or the first day of Budget Debate on Friday March 5 (again, note: no motions possible for 48 hours reason again) ...

... the Prime Minister would then go to the Governor-General on Saturday or Sunday and dissolve Parliament, citing 18 months as the average length of a minority government, and have an election called *BEFORE any confidence vote could even be MOVED*.

The fact that Chester Drawers is back to work today at the Conservative Resource Group, and taking the time to stop by and leave provocative comments (welcome back Chester; have a good holiday?), makes me believe that (a) they're feeling a bit touchy about the prorogation announcement, and (b) are casting around to see if they can ramp up the equivalent of an anti-coalition hysteria again.

In other words, I think the public campaign is having an effect; notwithstanding anything the Conservatives and their friends in the fourth estate say.

dwatch dwatch's picture

To have its democracy restored, Canada would have have been a democracy sometime in the past. 

A democracy does not allow, in law, secret donations, secret lobbying, excessive secrecy, dishonesty, unrepresentative actions, or waste of the public's money, all of which have always been legal, and are still legal in Canadian federal politics (and provincial, territorial and municipal politics across Canada -- see details at:

http://www.dwatch.ca/camp/SummaryOfLoopholes.html

or start at:

http://www.dwatch.ca/Clean_Up_the_System.html

For an accurate, comprehensive summary of what Harper's Conservatives have actually done, what promises they have broken, and what the opposition parties have largely ignored and failed to act on (even though they could make all of these changes by working together to pass private member bills -- mainly the fault of the Liberals), go to:

http://www.dwatch.ca/camp/RelsDec1609.html

Hope this helps.

Duff Conacher, Coordinator

Democracy Watch

P.O. Box 821, Stn. B
Ottawa, Canada
K1P 5P9
Tel: (613) 241-5179
Fax: (613) 241-4758
Email: [email protected]
Internet: http://www.dwatch.ca

Since 1993, making governments and corporations more accountable to you, and changing Canada into the world's leading democracy

Malcolm Malcolm's picture

Brian, coalitions are perfectly legal.  See the Co-operative Government in Saskatchewan, 1929-1934 and the NDP-Liberal / NDP-Independents coalition in Saskatchewan 1999-2003.

kropotkin1951

Chester Drawers wrote:

1951, that is a coalition via the back door.  Just come out and state it publically, why hide behind the curtains.  What are they afraid of?  The voting public abhorrers gamesmanship and halftruths of politicians that is evident in polls about politicians and the low voter turn outs.  Just be publically truthful about the coalition and see where the cards fall.

 

No back door just an honest dialogue with Canadians about how to make parliament work compared to now where parliament has bee rendered irrelevant by a MINORITY PM with no respect for our democratic traditions.

Fidel

Debater wrote:
as mentioned, the party that actually benefits the most from FPTP is the BQ - they are able to win the majority of the seats in Quebec in every election despite the fact that a majority of Quebecers have never voted BQ.  If we had PR, the influence of the BQ would be seriously diminished.  One assumes that they would not be in a hurry to reform the system either.

And according to Murray Dobbin, Quebec guarantees that a party like the NDP would never form federal government. PQ must be over-represented in the House of Commons because of an apparent threat of separation. And yet our two old line parties never considered 60% supermajority for separation referenda in PQ. An undemocratic threshold that high is reserved for referenda on fair voting in provinces like Ontario and B.C. Apparently they are full of it and fear democracy more than Balkanizing the country by Quebec separation for corporate America to scoop up the pieces for a song(even more than they have already).

They have so many excuses for not modernizing our electoral system it's not funny. The right comes out with every kind of lame excuse from "Sure FPTP was invented in the 19th century, but so were telephones!!" to "It wouldn't change electoral results anyway" But they are very careful to avoid talking about modernizing the system and both old line parties remain united when voting down the NDP's proposals on reform. In fact, Canada's two stale and worn-out old line partiies avoid talk of modernizing anything and everything as a general rule.

hsfreethinkers hsfreethinkers's picture

Has this letter had any impact? I thought it was great. Interesting that it doesn't mention PR though, but focuses on normalising the idea of coalitions. Do you think the anti-prorogue movement will morph into a push for PR and/or a coalition? Maybe we need a Facebook page :) - this one is so last year: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?v=info&ref=search&gid=27949758238