The Republic of Canada – Part 1

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.

4 thoughts on “The Republic of Canada – Part 1

  1. Wayne Smith

    If people don’t understand the current system (and they don’t), the answer is not to create a worse system that people will still not understand.

    Executive Presidents are arrogant dictators. We already have those under the current system.

    What we need are parliaments that accurately reflect the way people voted. Our winner-take-all system means most votes have no effect on the outcome of the election, so election results are always horribly distorted.

    Proportional representation is a fundamental attribute of a fair voting system.

  2. tinkerer

    Huh. (And I thought American’s had scrambled brains for politics?)

    But I really don’t think you want a President. That would just be a whole ‘nother problem!

    When we Americans vote, yes, we vote for a President (among other things). But to have ONE PERSON representing 350 MILLION, is really lopsided. Especially since the President needs only a simple majority of votes cast–heck, he could end up there on only 21.5 percent of the vote, if we had 5 parties almost equally split! (So ok, we have just two parties that get most of the votes, so it usually works out to about 49-53 percent of the nation’s votes, but a girl can dream of future diversity, right? heh) It’s hard enough in the state legislature to get adequate representation for all the residents, and that is on a much smaller scale than the country-wide scene (I speak as a person who lives in a lesser-populated area of my state, and so although our area is very different economically & geographically, we often do not get our needs met because there is more representation for the other side of the State and so what fits them usually wins. sigh) And unfortunately, our Presidents have figured out how to wield far more power than they were even intended to have–they are supposed to be just one of many branches all balancing each other (Senate & Congress, who we also vote for). But, those Presidents, they don’t WANT to be mere figureheads with limited powers, and because it is easier to just point at one person instead of a whole body of them, our citizens seem to have forgotten that is all they really mostly were by design. And so we let ’em get away with their dictatorial behavior, and override the balances. It gets worse each generation. Grrr.

    Nah. You folks just have the same problem we do–too many are not taking their government seriously for what it is and is MEANT to be, and understanding what their own INDIVIDUAL responsibilities are. We all need a reality check!

    People in general give me a headache…

  3. Darcy Casselman Post author

    I don’t personally want a president. I certainly don’t want a president with very much power. What I want is a way to mitigate this destructive tendency Canadians have to fixate on the Prime Minister and nobody else.

    The issue’s died down a little, so I’m finding it difficult to rally the righteous indignation necessary for follow-up posts, but I do want to go into the idea further.

  4. John E.

    Warren, although I agree that better representation by population is a must if we are to improve the current political system in Canada, I don’t see how directly voting for our leader can be any worse. The sad thing is that many Canadians already assume that we directly elect our PM (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20081214.wdohcanada1214/BNStory/politics?page=rss&id=RTGAM.20081214.wdohcanada1214). There are many ways we can ameliorate government, and I believe we should look south for inspiration.

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