August 17, 2001 Halifax Herald

Canada least democratic of democracies

The fact that our country is classed by most scholars and lay people and by many of its politicians, as the least democratically governed country among the world's modern democracies is something to be downright ashamed of. It becomes even more so when one takes into consideration that our government likes to lecture other countries about democracy. And the pity is that there isn't at present, a political party left with the will to effect the democratic changes needed to elevate Canada to the top of the list.

That we live in a country with an archaic, dictatorial political system is unquestionable. Such a state is not altered by the fact that the electors have an opportunity every few years to choose a benign dictatorship. Democracy is only realized when the people's will is respected and followed. Canadians do not enjoy this. In fact, if the rest of the world were to minutely assesses Canada's politics - with the exceptions of North Korea, Afghanistan and a few others - they would conclude that our system of "democratic" politics is a role model for dictators to follow.

Should anyone want to debate this point, consider this first: Canada has a prime minister's office that comes with the authority to staff with personal choices all federal and provincial Supreme Court vacancies, all ambassadorships, the governor general's office, provincial lieutenant-governorships, the senate, etc. This is democracy? Not by a long shot. Its imperialism at its worst.

We don't, of course, have a secret police force that keeps an eye on citizens and maintains files on them. I say this with tongue in cheek, because I know of two non-criminal human rights advocacy people who did, in the not to distant past, discover that files were being kept on them. Paranoia runs deep among the power brokers - threats are seen everywhere. They may have even targeted you! Sounds like a James Bond thing.

Then, along the same line, we're not punished by governments and political parties for speaking our minds and daring to say things like what I'm saying here in a public forum, are we? Of course we are. As a columnist, I often write to politicians asking for information and receive few replies. The Alliance, although it pontificates about being democratic, fares no better in this regard than the old, established parties. If you write praising them, they reply; but criticize and not a peep.

Appropriately, we mustn't forget to mention spite. I'm a firm believer in the allegation that many MPs don't respond to correspondence from constituents whom they believe didn't vote for them. For instance, on April 4, 2001 I wrote to Geoff Regan asking for information, and still await acknowledgment.

Of course, when discussing some of the major shortcomings of the system, it would be remiss not to mention the iron fist welded by party leaders to insure that MPs obey party dictates. That political parties are becoming more dictatorial in this area is demonstrated by the growing number of MPs and M.L.A.s getting expelled, or suspended, from party caucuses for occasionally following conscience, or the people's direction.

And then there is the political nature of the appointments made by the prime minister's office to the positions previously mentioned. Rarely do prime ministers go beyond the converted to make these. In fairness, this concession has to be made when speaking of modern patronage: Many of the political hacks appointed today are far better qualified than were the political hacks of yesteryear. Some of the former could hardly read and write. However, in a modern democracy, the practice of virtually excluding from consideration for appointment non-affiliated citizens and members of out-of-power parties is an indefensible human rights abuse. In fact, its such a gross abuse of political power that it besmirches a modern democracy by its practice.

This all leads to the reason behind writing this column. The idea for it was fostered by the contents of a Canadian Press item by John Cotter entitled Day's predicament no surprise to some, published in this newspaper July 23. The story relates opinions expressed by some of Stockwell Day's former Alberta political colleagues to the effect that participating in the mostly unchallenged Conservative rule in Alberta ill-prepared Day for national leadership.

They claim that because he is a product of a top-down political system that produced very little opposition for him to cope with, he didn't have any incentive to learn the people skills needed to lead a national political movement that was designed to be fuelled by people power. In plain English, they believe he was trained, by the dictatorial parliamentary system that the federal and provincial governments now use to govern, to be an arrogant imperialist. A group that has as its motto: I dictate; you obey.

I'll close with a plea and a statement of fact. Mr. Day, please enhance chances for democratic reform to take root in this country by stepping down. Such would permit the Alliance to elect a leader capable of rebuilding and reuniting the party, and dislodging its inclination to pontificate about social issues that the majority of voters have no problem with. If you stay and re-win the leadership, the party will become an ineffectual rump. Face this fact: Your poor performance has reduced your chances of ever becoming Prime Minister to virtually nil. As matters now stand, you are a priceless asset for the Liberals.

Daniel N. Paul


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