Sunday, March 29, 2009

Democracy in Canada

Most of us consider democracy the best form of government. In a democracy all citizens possess certain rights and freedoms provided for in our constitution, including the crucial right to be a part of government as an elected representative. One of the main attributes of democracy is the concept of “majority rule”, in which the majority determines what the government’s policy is. So with these three aspects in mind, how does Canada measure up as a democracy?

As for our rights and freedoms, in 1982, Canada adopted its Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which gave Canadians great freedoms and rights, including the right to a democratic form of government. These rights include a term of five years for the House of Commons, the right to vote and be a member of a legislature, and a requirement that Parliament sit at least once a year. These rights ensure that Canada is democratic, preventing domination of our country by any one party. To stay in power, they must stand for reelection, which is a requirement for any democracy to be viable. This ultimately leaves the decision as to the makeup of government firmly in the hands of Canadian citizens, a characteristic of any true democracy.

There is some criticism concerning the way our political system functions, accusing it of providing too much power to the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister has a wide range of powers, including the nomination of the Governor-General, the appointment of senators and Supreme Court justices. In recognition of this, Jean Chrétien has said that “[a] strong prime minister, having listened to everyone's opinion, may simply announce that his (her) view is the policy of the government, even if most, or all, the other ministers are opposed.” The Canadian parliamentary system combines the executive and the legislative branches of government, meaning that there is no opposition to the Prime Minister provided by parliament, as the Congress can do to the President in the US. This would seem to be rather undemocratic, as the Prime Minister is only one of many MPs elected by the Canadian electorate.

However, the Prime Minister is an elected representative, and although we officially vote for our own MP to represent our riding, it would be naïve to not admit that in general, when a Canadian voter walks into the polling station, they vote for the leader of whichever party they prefer. So, what the voter is really doing is voting for the Prime Minister. Is it therefore unreasonable to give him this power?

Consider the advantages that bequeathing this range of powers presents. The Prime Minister is in reality the representative of the people. Therefore, if he is able to implement the legislation he wants to without facing opposition, except when his party is a minority, he is really being provided the tools to more easily implement the platform on the basis of which he was elected. If he is the Prime Minister, this means that his platform is the will of the people. We can conclude then that the lack of the opposition that the legislative branch can present in other systems actually makes Canada more democratic.

So, how democratic are we in Canada? We do have a voice through our elected representatives, and the will of the majority of us is ably carried out by a Prime Minister who does not face the encumbering checks and balances that the American President faces from Congress. There may be some imperfections with our system, but these have nothing to do with strict democracy. When it comes to that, the voices of the majority of Canadians are represented by a powerful, democratic Prime Minister.

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