Monday, May 9, 2011

From 2007 on Democracy

I wrote this in 2007 regarding the last Ontario provincial election. Seemed worth looking at again:

You know, I was thinking about it this morning while walking in the chilly morning air to work. The thing is that I don't really care at all that we here in Ontario just went ahead and re-elected the reptilian kitten-eater who has ruled, and lied to, us for the past four years. Hell, we had four personality-free chumps to choose from and the people of Ontario decided that it's better the chump you know than the chump(s) you don't know... I can't say I blame them. It's a pretty hollow victory, but then again any victory is a victory, right? (Note to campaign advisors: possible future Liberal Party slogan: "Liberals: Because You Don't Really Care Enough to Vote for Anyone Else!")

But whatever. A little ailurophagy never hurt anyone (non-feline). Nobody with the name "Dalton" can clearly be overly scary or intimidating, so the big machine fails to have a new face atop it. Whatever.

What did get me thinking in the chill winds this morning, however, was the other thing we were asked to do this week, which was to vote on changing our electoral system. The long, short and boring on this is as follows: It failed, which is hardly surprising coming from an electorate so afraid of change that they elected the same political party 12 times in a row from 1943 to 1981, but if it hadn't failed it would have made our parliament a split between 'first-past-the-post' and 'proportional representation'. It would have been a bit confusing but it would have given a greater chance to a wider number of parties to have representation in parliament. It would have looked a lot like how they do things in New Zealand and in the completely meaningless parliaments of Scotland and Wales.

The cards were stacked against it, and not just because the main party in power got there because of the old system. The main opposition, whose federal counterpart was driven to extinction a decade ago by the old system, came out in favour of it. Plus, in Ontario change is scary. The same old same old is preferable.

After all, the new system would lead to perpetual minority governments. And Ontarians (and Canadians as a whole) don't want minority governments.

How do I know that Canadians don't want minority governments? Well, because newspapers and TV keep telling me that. They keep pointing out that a minority government immediately means instability and, within a week, we'd be reduced to Somaliaesque rule-by-warlords. It is, media tells me, absolutely unthinkable that a minority government could still be effective, could be more accountable and responsible, could even (cover your children's ears) be better than handing a blank cheque every four to five years to one political party or another. Yes-men in parliament who stand up and engage in empty debate when, in the end, what the party leader wants will be - according to our media, this is representative democracy at its best. This is what Canadians long for.

Americans should know this very well - living in a country where bipartisanship is so institutionalized that Ross Perot in 1992 could get 19.7 million votes and yet not a single vote in the Electoral College, the closest Americans can get to 'minority government' is having a majority in Congress held by the party who the President doesn't belong to (like at the moment). This might explain why Americans vote at about the 50% mark. Ontario's not far off that.

Americans, at the very least, elect at every level of government (yeesh, you guys elect your fire chiefs). What strikes me as hysterical is that, at the federal level anyway, our democratically elected parliament can, theoretically, watch its bills be stricken down by an obsolete and unelected senate. Who can then, theoretically, watch its bills be stricken down by an obsolete and unelected Queen (or rather an unelected Governor-General acting on her behalf). It's true - only our third most powerful body is democratically elected. Yet we`re meant to be a shining example of democracy.

But what gets me is this - pro-senate and pro-monarchy pinheads talk a lot of bollocks about accountability and checks and balances. They talk about how quasi-dictatorial unelected people are completely necessary to make sure that elected people never turn quasi-dictatorial. If we didn't have a bunch of cretins living large off of the public pay-cheque, the argument goes, parliament would have the abilitry to pass whatever bills they like!

A blank cheque, if you will...

Nobody seems to ever point out that all of the safeguard that twits in the Senate (and/or Buckingham Palace) are meant to provide could also be provided - dare I say it even better - by (shock! dismay!) a minority government... If all of these so-called safeguards that the Senate and the Queen are meant to provide are in some way necessary, then you'd figure the additional safeguard of accountability provided by a minority government would be a good thing... something Canadians would want...

But that's not what my newspapers tell me. My newspapers are pro-Senate, pro-Queen, yet pro-Majority Governments.

And pro-taking-people-for-fools...


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