July 10, 1998 Halifax Herald

Canada's political system languishes in Dark Ages

"Canada's political system outshines Americaís." A variation of this anti-American drivel is often aired or printed in Canada's news media or spouted by its politicians. As a person who has lived under both systems, and has no instilled dislike of our American cousins, such a propaganda statement makes me flinch with embarrassment. Unfortunately, Canada's political system is not superior to the American - not by a long shot - because it leaves the electorate emasculated.

This sad state of affairs is caused by the fact that Canada is in a political time warp which was created by, and is prized by, its politicians. We the people, are being constantly screwed by it. Our politicians thumb their noses at us and go their imperial ways. Political accountability, unless you have a minority situation such as we have in Nova Scotia, is a joke. Our governments are generally selected by using the principle of the "lesser of many evils."

Even with the high level of disenchantment shown by the electorate towards the system, politicians are not about to make major reforms. Why should they? They've managed to create, with the control the present system gives them, a paradise for themselves. Their perks, pensions and so on speak volumes. Reform would greatly reduced this unfettered ability to feather their own nests. Therefore, if ever instituted, reform will only come with the emergence of a brave politician who is loaded down with a love for democratic ideals. None being in sight, far-reaching reform is at best, a pipe dream!

Our political system is so dated that it possibly may be the most backward in the so-called democratic world. It languishes in the dark ages, while other countries surge ahead. Even the United Kingdom, under Prime Minister Tony Blair, is dusting off the cobwebs and making great efforts to pull itself out of its archaic state.

A sample of the radical reforms made in the UK in recent years: The royal family now pays taxes. Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales are being granted varying forms of self-rule. And the nation is looking at ways to catch up with the rest of Europe, by finding a way to implement proportional representation. These moves are revolutionary, democratic changes for a country steeped in imperial traditions and mentality!

A short comparison between the political systems of Canada and the USA shows dramatic differences.

In the US, the Constitution sets out checks and balances to curb the ambitions and shenanigans of politicians. Federally and at state level, the means to curb power-hungry politicians are included in the way the executive, the two legislative branches and the courts are set up. The executive and legislative branches have the power to review, revise or reject proposals made by each other. The executive has the power to veto legislation. The legislative branches have the power to override executive vetoes. The courts have the power, if legislation does not conform with constitutional requirements, to overturn it. No opting-out clause exists.

In Canada, the Constitution provides for legislative branches which have virtually no effective built-in checks and balances. Prime Ministers and Premiers are fitted with dictatorial powers. At the federal level we have an appointed senate which acts as a luxurious old-age home for retired political hacks. The courts can review legislation to see if it meets constitutional requirements; however, if the feds or the provinces don't like a court decision, they have an escape route - an opting-out clause.

The political system used in the United States is not perfect - it is still evolving; but under it, the people hold power. Canada's system gives power to political parties and the people are virtually powerless. Evolutionary changes in Canada's system are virtually non-existent. When reviewing the differences between the two systems, it doesn't take an Einstein to figure out which is the most democratic. Canada falls far short in comparison.

One of the worst fallouts from our dictatorial form of government is that we have the unenviable status of being among the highest-taxed people in the world. Even the poorest of our poor are taxed beyond endurance. Income tax kicks in when a person earns just over $6,000, and sales taxes kick in when one buys almost anything. If our government were accountable, our taxes would be falling, or static, instead of rising. Governments, on average, take slightly over 50 percent of our income, will it stop at 60 or 70 percent? Under the present system, the sky appears to be the limit!

To add salt to our wounds, politicians have recently given themselves pay raises and increased perks without debate. This is a gross affront to democratic principles. Letís hear the news media howl until such time as the affront is corrected.

This brings to mind a thing which really puzzles me about politics in this country. The news media rarely comes out and demand political reform. Why not? In a democracy, media have an ethical responsibility to take to task the shortcomings of government, and to demand that democratic principles prevail and be instituted!

Daniel N. Paul


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