I’m starting to think Canada needs to elect a president.
Don’t get me wrong, I actually like our current system. I think it works reasonably well. But I think there’s a serious and growing problem: people don’t understand it.
In our current system, people vote for a local representative in parliament. And that’s all they’re asked to do. The leader party with the most seats forms the government and the leader of that party becomes prime minister. It used to be prime ministers didn’t have a whole lot of power, which is right and good because they’re not actually directly elected. Power comes from parliament. That is the primary democratic body in our system.
Listening to the last election, though, and listening to people talk on the radio, everybody seems to think they’re voting for a prime minister. It’s pretty rare that anybody even knows who their local representative is.
Two months ago, we had an election which ended with a second Conservative minority government. Meaning the Conservative party got the most seats, but not enough to give them the majority of seats in parliament. This is fine and normal. In minority governments, the governing party needs to reach out to the other parties to actually get legislation through. The Conservatives made grand speeches about how they were going to do that, but when it came down to putting forward their first substantial motion, they basically decided to stick it to all three opposition parties.
Sticking it to everybody else actually worked out pretty well in the last parliament. The Liberal party had leadership issues and didn’t relish the idea of going into an election. Which makes sense, because they didn’t fair too well when the Conservatives saw an opening and called an election for no reason, breaking their own fixed election date law. At the end of the election, though, we ended up with a parliament pretty much the same as the one before it, and it looks like the Conservatives thought they could carry on as they had before. Except something had changed: the opposition parties weren’t going to put up with the same old bullshit anymore. It hadn’t won them any favours with the population anyway, as evidenced by the election results. Also, there’s a lot more at stake now. The world economy is going down the tubes, and as I alluded during the election (and you may choose to disagree with me), Conservative policy could very well be disastrous to the Canadian economy.
So the opposition parties got together and did what they’re supposed to do immediately after the election when the governing party can’t govern: they proposed a centre-left coalition.
And we’re in the middle of that mess now. The Conservative party is using whatever quasi-constitutional powers it has at its disposal to fend off a vote in the House which would bring down their fledgling government, and there are protests in the streets on both sides.
It seems like the biggest, popular complaint about a coalition coming in is that that’s not what people voted for in the last election. Which is true. Thing they don’t seem to understand, though, is that they were never asked who they wanted to form the government. Ever. They were asked who they wanted to represent them in parliament. The formation of the government is a mechanism of parliament and doesn’t have any input for public approval. You may call that undemocratic, but it’s been our system for about 150 years.
I could keep ranting about how people are stupid and how they need to understand our system and get it right, but I don’t think that will work. People want to vote for the guy (or gal, to be fair) who runs the country. They relate to a person, not this abstract parliament concept. I think they’d even get the idea of voting for a representative if it was divorced from the idea of picking a national leader.
The more I think about it, the more I think our system needs to change. Dramatically. Not just electing a senate or proportional representation or whatever. I think we may need to seriously consider what it would mean to directly elect a leader. A president, if you will.