Saturday, April 4, 2009

Is Canada becoming less democratic?

Years ago, I remembering visiting a then-Reformed Party member in his Ottawa office who was sympathetic to the plight facing Christians in Sudan at the time.  We must have caught him on a bad day, because he opened to those of us there about his frustration and disillusionment with being a member of parliament.  "Useless" was how he felt.  He had come to Ottawa with the intent of making a difference for his constituency and country but the reality of modern-day Canadian government had crushed those dreams. Increasingly, all effective power to make changes has drifted to the centre; the PMO (Prime Minister's Office). 

At the time, I felt that this concentration of power was simply a mark of the Prime Minister in office at the time.  But James Travers, National Affairs Columnist for the Toronto Star, suggests in his article published today entitled "The quiet unravelling of Canadian democracy", this has been going on for some time and that no single party or prime minister is solely to blame.  Our democracy has, he suggested, become more authoritarian and less accountable to the people. The sad truth is that this has gone pretty much unnoticed by an apathetic electorate who knows little about how our government works and cares less. And so today we have a government with muzzled Members of Parliament, a powerless and often anonymous cabinet members (quick, tell me who the Foreign Affairs Minister is?  Even I had to look it up and it's my business to know this!), politicized unelected senior bureaucrats who hold the real power, parties that no longer hold their members accountable or develop policy (or in the Liberal's case, even elect their own leader), and presidential Prime Ministers.  

Please understand that this is not intend as a criticism of the Conservative Party or the present government. I vote Conservative and still believe them to be Canada's best option.  But the fact is, there is a tendency in this fallen world for leaders to grasp as much power as they are allowed to or can get away with.  We, the people of Canada, have allowed this to happen, with nary a squeak of protest.  We have allowed idealism to be swallowed up by pragmatism in the lives of those we elect to power.  This Member of Parliament that I mentioned earlier in the blog is still in parliament and is today a cabinet member.  Nothing cures disillusionment with unfulfilled idealism better than the taste of power. We have allowed parties to abandon their principles for the sake of gaining or maintaining power.  We keep voting for parties (if we bother to vote at all) more out of loyalty than on platform.  I have to confess, though, as I close this blog to a certain degree of scepticism that the drift towards the centre can be stopped (and I dislike scepticism, believing it to be the refuge of the intellectually lazy).  Any incentive to change requires a critical mass of opinion that makes it not only preferable to change but necessary.  Given the general apathy of the Canadian electorate, this critical mass is unlikely to form anytime soon.  I certainly won't live long enough to see it.

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