The System is Broken but it sure is entertaining

November 29, 2008

This may be a good moment to clarify what’s good and bad about our democracy.  First-past-the-post is horrible and misrepresents the will of the people.  But parliamentary democracy is just awesome. It has the ability, in some cases, to self correct.  Case in point in the very interesting developments on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday. The Conservative government overplayed its hand by trying to push through measures to remove public funding from parties.  I don’t know how they thought they’d justify this since the Conservatives are by far the richest party and this only hurts small minority voices.  And I really don’t know who they thought they’d fool into believing this was a cost saving measure.  The total cost of the program is $30 million!  Really, I think Obama ran a couple commercials that cost more than that.  The fact is that this program, which gives a few dollars to a party for every vote they get is the most proportional thing about our current electoral system.  It is one of the only strong arguments for ‘voting with your heart’ in first past the post.  At least the party you are voting for that you know won’t win your riding will get a bit of money. It may not matter much to the Conservatives or even the Liberals if they ran things efficiently, but it sure makes a difference to the NDP and Greens.  Some complain that it also makes a difference to the Bloc.  Well you know, just deal with it, they can choose to vote for whoever they like, you can’t selectively give money just because you disagree with a party policy, even a seperatist policy.  But thats just me.

I digress.

So now, the Conservatives have managed to get the weakened and bruised opposition parties to actually unite together to defeat them, good work Stephen!  What I think the Conservatives are only now coming to understand is that Canadians actually take the parliamentary part of our democracy quite seriously.  Contrary to what Jack Layton and Stephen Harper tell you, the leader of a party is not running for Prime Minister.  We don’t have a president in Canada, we have a Queen.  Canadians vote for local members of a party to represent them in parliament.  That party rules, and the leader of that party is the Prime Minister.  So when you hear this:

On Friday, Stephen Harper … stated that while the Opposition has the right to bring down the government on matters of confidence, he said they had no right to “take power without an election.”

This is misleading and actually incorrect.  The Liberal-NDP coalition (with promises of non-interference from the Bloc) would not be ‘seizing power’.  They would be attempting to make a go of forming government once the house loses confidence in the Conservative minority.  That’s how parliaments work.  You do not have to go back to the electorate every time because parliament is made up of MPs, its not formed by an electoral college.  If a large portion of parliament can make a case for forming a stable government that represents a large portion of the electorate then that is preferred to calling another election.  What the conservatives are trying to do are make blustering statements that sound like common sense but actually don’t represent the reality of our democractic system.

This week I think the Conservatives underestimated how much Canadians understand and care about that particular system.

Mark Crowley is a PhD student in the Department of Computer Science at UBC.

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