Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Intent For a Democracy

Byers misunderstands democracy

Nanaimo, BC bore witness to an interesting protest today, as a group of pro-coalition protesters declared Democracy in Canada to be dead.

In an organized stunt, a flag-draped box -- apparently it was supposed to be a coffin -- was carried to the office of Conservative Nanaimo-Alberni MP James Lunney where a eulogy for Canadian democracy was read.

Michael Byers then addressed the crowd.

"Democracy is not yet dead, this is a kind of funeral we could in all seriousness be having in a couple of months unless we do something serious to stop it," Byers announced. "Everyone in Canada needs to be educated on how our constitution works. They need to be educated that coalitions have happened before in Canada and that it happens in other countries - it happens every election in Israel, so there is nothing to be afraid of."

Except that, once again, Byers is putting ideology before reality. And this time, he's putting ideology before national unity.

To begin with, there is no Constitutional precedent for handing the reigns of government over to a coalition after a duly elected government has been defeated. There is, in the King-Byng affair, a precedent for handing the reigns of power over to a single-party government after a coalition was defeated.

However, those familiar with history will remember that William Lyon Mackenzie King -- defeated after his allies in the Progressive party abandoned his coalition government -- had preferred an election to the ascension of the Aurthur Meighen Conservative party. When Governor General Julian Byng refused to call the election, King denounced the affair as British interference in Canadian affairs. He moved quickly to help defeat the Meighen Conservatives, and used the issue to win the ensuing election.

It is certain that the Constitution allows for the ascension of a coalition government to power under such conditions. However, it emphatically does not demand it.

Whether Byers cares to admit it or not, the choice between the coalition and an election right now very much is up to the Governor General. But there's one key, undemocratic hitch in this particular matter: no one elected the Governor General, but they did elect a government.

In asking for a prorogation of Parliament, Harper bought time for the elected officials of this country to sort this mess out instead of simply relying on a decision rendered by an appointed governmental figurehead. Granting this prorogation was the only responsible option on the table for the Governor General.

Handing the reigns of government over to a government with a separatist party as a coalition partner simply cannot be regarded as an option, no matter what the ideologically blindfolded Byers may demand. No government with a separatist party as a coalition partner could even possibly be legitimate. No government with a separatist party as a coalition partner could be expected to meet its national unity obligations.

But this, by far, is not the only dilemma that Byers has overlooked. The second one is far more basic, far more important, and it is far more to Byers' discredit that he's chosen to ignore it.

The idea in a democracy is that power over the affairs of the nation is to be wielded by elected officials, not appointed officials. Even if the Constitution allows the Governor General to appoint a coalition government, there is no guarantee that even if such a government could command the confidence of the house that it could command the confidence of the people.

The most recent polls confirm that, even with the more popular Michael Ignatieff at the helm, this Coalition does not enjoy the confidence of Canadians.

In Intent for a Nation, Byers lays out his vision for Canada. Unfortunately, he seems to have no comprehension, whatsoever of the intent of Canadian democracy -- that Canadians, not appointed officials, will choose their government.

A plurality of Canadians voted for Stephen Harper as their Prime Minister. The plurality did not vote for Stephane Dion, Jack Layton, or Gilles Duceppe. The plurality did not even vote for a coalition government. Evidently, they wouldn't have voted for it even if they had the option. Canadians certainly don't plan to vote for it now.

Apparently Byers doesn't understand this. For Byers, democracy dies when appointed (yet oddly powerful) officials make the only responsible decision available. For Byers, democracy dies when elected officials are called upon to resolve a crisis before unprecedented actions are taken. For Byers, democracy dies when he doesn't get the government he wants.

Democracy in Canada is not dead. It isn't even dying. While it could certainly stand to undergo some elective surgery -- an elected senate and an elected Governor General, just for starters -- democracy is alive and well in Canada.

Even if people such as Michael Byers don't understand the intent.

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