Suck it up (II) - Macleans.ca
 

Suck it up (II)


 

Eric, of the refreshingly quantitative threehundredeight.com, ventures an endorsement of democracy.

As a political observer, it’s true that I enjoy elections in part because I find them fascinating and exciting. But as a democrat, I strongly believe in the importance of participating in our democratic system and giving every election the attention and self-reflection it deserves. An election is not a burden, it is an opportunity to tell those who represent us what we think of them, and what we want them to do. Being able to participate in our democracy, to re-evaluate the decisions we’ve made in the past, is a privilege and exceedingly important.


 

Suck it up (II)

  1. I'm curious to know if the same people who are now so eager for an election would have a similar infinity to other forms of democratic involvement, such as referenda, recalls, and the like?

    Or maybe perpetual elections are even better?

  2. Yes and no. We are not a pure democracy (like Athens was, at least for Athenian male adults). Rather we sacrifice some democracy for a lot of efficiency (or liberty). For instance, each person is not represented individually in parliament. For instance, even if the majority believed we should kill red-heads, Canada's constitution would prevent lawmakers from passing such a law. In other words, our system of government implicitly accepts that elections are a burden. In that light it is legitimate to ask whether we have elections so often that it impedes the ability of parliament to make policy.

    On the other hand I agree with the basic sentiment that people are making a mountain of a molehill. Firstly, Canada actually does have elections very frequently. Since 1945 we have had 21 elections (1945, 1949, 1953, 1957, 1958, 1962, 1963, 1965, 1968, 1972, 1974, 1979, 1980, 1984, 1988, 1993, 1997, 2000, 2004, 2006, 2008). So the average period between elections is only 3 years, putting us not far from our long-term average.

    Secondly, the cost of elections are pretty small, compared to their importance. Elections cost ~300 million dollars. The government spends 250-300 billion dollars a year, roughly. So if an annual election improved government effectiveness by just .2% it would be a net gain for the Canadian people.

    Thirdly, simply because an election will likely return the same parliament as is currently in office does not mean it is a worthless enterprise. Not only have unlikely things occurred in history (Harper trailed Martin in 2005 polls), but more importantly, giving our assent to the status quo (if that is what we want to do) is just as valuable and meaningful as choosing changes.

    Is Canada broken? Somewhat. We are actually governed fairly well, but our system seems to be cracking with perpetual minority-itis. Constant elections are a symptom of minority-itis, however, not the core problem and not the reason our "democracy is broken". There are deeper systemic changes needed, either to the voting system, campaign finance system, or possibly, some exogenous move by one of the parties could fix the system.

    PS: I say this while also believing that it would be in the interest of the country for Jack Layton to back the Tories for at least the next 6 months or so.

    • Very well said, hosertohoosier!

    • Yuno it's funny, when Paul Martin was trying to hold on to power in his minority government, I never heard any of these people who profess "elections are good for democracy" piping up and suggesting that an election would be a good thing in spring 2005 after testimony at the Gomery inquiry angered the public. On the contrary, those people were angry that Harper was planning on toppling the Martin government only a year after he secured a minority. Would people be crowing about 'democracy' now if it was Ignatieff in power and Harper pulling the plug?

      It takes two to tango in a minority. No one has the high road in this parliament. The Tories aren't cooperating with the opposition, but the opposition are trying to force their partisan agenda on the ruling party. In such a circumstance NO ONE is going to get anything done.

      I think the Canadian public are fast reaching the 'tipping point' where they may just say "screw it" and give one party a majority. Which party that is remains to be seen, but let's just say that I wouldn't want to be the party that pulled the plug right now.

      • I don't think the Liberals are anywhere near a majority, since they'd have to double their seat count to get there. Even a minority is hard to see. The only way we get a four year plus majority, given that I doubt a coalition would last even half that amount of time, is with Harper, and even that's a long-shot proposition at the moment. Maybe Mr. Coyne was right. Maybe the NDP was going to buckle all along. It's one of the few things that makes any sense at this stage.