January 13 1995 Halifax Herald
In my estimation, the British parliamentary system, from which we model our form of government, is not very democratic. Relating to this belief, I have long ago concluded that we are governed by benign and paternalistic political party dictatorships.
However, there are two main differences which set our dictatorships apart from others: first, every so often we have the privilege of selecting by secret ballot our dictators; second, we can openly criticize them without fear of being imprisoned or executed. But, highlighting the system's dictatorial tendencies, governments mostly ignore any opposition we show towards their initiatives and, as has been amply demonstrated by past events, only show a pretension of listening to our wishes when they want another mandate.
The way political parties operate under this system is a mockery of democratic principles. Why do we go through the idiotic practice of electing a representative who, after assuming office, becomes totally party oriented and quickly makes our wishes subordinate to the will of the political bosses? Under the party system, if its members don't toe the line, the party has the clout to make its will prevail. For instance, should a representative buck the party and represent the peoples wishes first, he/she can get kicked out of caucus and lose all perks. This is witnessed by the recent case of Cape Breton West Liberal MLA Russell MacKinnon, who, after voting against a government bill for what he thought was in the best interests of his constituents, was quickly expelled from caucus. Two other Liberal M.L.A.s, and probably more, are grappling with the same problem.
Historically, perhaps the best example of the contempt held by many politicians for the intelligence of the electors was demonstrated by the late Mulroney government during the debate over imposing the G.S.T. Despite the fact that approximately 75% of the electorate were dead set against seeing the tax enacted, it was dictatorially voted into law by our so-called representatives. The lengths that the government went to in this instance to insure its will prevailed over the peoples, by limiting debate and making senate appointments of convenience, was a blatant abuse of power.
During the G.S.T. debate, I happened to see televised on a news special a repugnant display of outright contempt for the will of the people by two Tory MPs, which exemplified for me the need to empower the people. The pair were shown discussing with their electors, in an overflowing hall, the then-proposed tax. They listened while their constituents spoke their opposition and then unhesitatingly told them that they would return to Ottawa and, against their wishes, vote the party line. Democracy? I hardly think the spectacle of two MPs giving the symbolic finger to their constituents spells democracy.
Whenever anyone dares to propose the reformation of a system which favours the empowered and practically ignores the electorate, politicians and their staunch supporters throw up their arms and seem to say by their actions: "how dare you suggest that we reform perfection?" The system as it now stands is far from perfection. It operates like a train trying to traverse a faulty rail system - when it comes to a crunch, it has no effective checks and balances. And, while going on its helter-skelter way, it creates an ideal environment in which patronage and other corrupt practices thrive.
When the New Democratic and Reform parties tabled a proposal to make our system more democratic, by introducing recall provisions into it, the old mainstream parties went into shock. After recovering, they quickly rejected the proposal. One can easily conclude that their opposition towards introducing into the political process the democratic ideal of people empowerment is fuelled by a belief that it is detrimental to the best interests of their establishment. Also, political power brokers are well aware of the fact that recall would greatly reduce, if not completely eliminate, their powers to ram through parliament debt-increasing and tax wasting legislative proposals against the peoples will.
Some suggest that the present system is democratic because, if we don't like our government, we can always kick it out when the next election rolls around. Unfortunately, the problem with this is that, by the time the next election rolls, around the damage is done and we generally wind up saddled with the damage for some time to come. Case in hand, the G.S.T.
Government by the people, for the people, is what democracy is all about. We need to start pushing for a political system that will give us that ideal. The best way to achieve government by the people is by getting involved and by electing MPs and M.L.A.s who are honourable enough to say at the outset that, if elected, they will serve our wishes first. Until this happens, we will continue to have government by benign and paternalistic dictatorships!
Daniel N. Paul