A blog to give a voice to our concern about the continued erosion of our democratic processes not only within the House of Commons and within our electoral system but also throughout our society. Here you will find articles about the current problems within our parliamentary democracy, about actions both good and bad by our elected representatives, about possible solutions, opinions and debate about the state of democracy in Canada, and about our roles/responsibilities as democratic citizens. We invite your thoughtful and polite comments upon our posts and ask those who wish to post longer articles or share ideas on this subject to submit them for inclusion as a guest post.
Contact us at democracyunderfire@gmail.com

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Political Parties & Vigilance

It is not necessary for me to rewrite all that has been said about this subject and how it affects our democracy, there are many and varied opinions available for those prepared to go looking. On this occasion I will just republish a portion of an Op-ed by Catherine Whelan Costen, the former Canadian Action Party President, called Political Parties and Democracy in Canada first published November 19,2006.

The Canadian public continually admonishes politicians because they feel the system is undemocratic or not accountable to the people. I assert that the system was founded with the ability to become more democratic as the country matured, but has not evolved into a more interactive system, in part because those who hold power are reluctant to share that power with the people they serve. Power is given not taken. Democracy is meant to involve the people. The word ‘politics’ was derived from the Greek root ’politeia’ meaning, ‘gathering of citizens’. Oxford Dictionary definition: ‘ORIGIN late Middle English : from Old French politique ‘political,’ via Latin from Greek politikos, from polit?s ‘citizen,’ from polis ‘city.’

It is time politicians understood this and the people gathered to involve themselves in the democracy of our nation, while we still can. Democracy ought to reflect the values, morals and aspirations of the people. As the word political becomes associated with corruption, and high powered games, the people naturally recoil in disgust, leaving a democratic deficit. Through my position with the Canadian Action Party I have witnessed first hand the desperate attempts of the empire builders to block the people from their Constitutional Right to self-government.
Canada is a federal constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary democracy. Comprising ten provinces and three territories, Canada has 308 federal ridings represented by 4 political parties voted into power by the people of Canada. Results of the 39th General Election show that of the 308 ridings, consisting of 30,007,094 citizens, and 23,054,615 eligible voters only 14,908,703 actually voted. That is 64.7% voter turnout, but only 36.3 % of voters voted for the voice represented by the present minority Conservative government. (23.5% of eligible voters voted for the present government) This means that 15,098,391 people in Canada do not have their voice heard, either because they did not qualify to vote or because they voted for another party. 35.3 % of eligible voters have a representative from another party, but the remainder has no voice. 820,875 eligible voters voted for a point of view that is not represented in Parliament. There are 15 registered federal political parties in Canada, Canadian Action Party is one. Everyone of these 15 parties must comply with Elections Canada rules and has the same structure as the others, the only difference is some hold seats in Parliament.

Parties holding seats in Parliament have historically fought against the rights of those parties who do not hold seats. This is a very real form of discrimination against the people of Canada who do not support the elected parties. It is displayed in their conduct during elections when established parties control candidate forums. Candidates (without party seats) are often prevented from offering the public another point of view in ‘all’ candidate debates/forums, either by totally banning other candidates or through biased, moderator-controlled events. Established parties (including the NDP) fight against fair distribution of Canadian tax dollars to the other parties, as is demonstrated with the recent appeal by the Attorney General of the lawsuit fought and won for $1.75 per vote regardless of party size or number of votes. No party with seats has spoken out on the people’s behalf!

‘An Ontario judge has struck down an electoral law that permitted large federal political parties to fill their coffers with public money at the expense of smaller parties.’ But the large political parties do not want competition. They do not want the truth to be exposed or for the people of Canada to have options in this democratic process otherwise they would not be appealing. Yet…

‘The federal government has appealed an Ontario ruling striking down a law that permitted large federal political parties to fill their coffers with public money at the expense of smaller parties.
In a brief filed with the Ontario Court of Appeal, federal lawyers maintain that the small parties should never have been granted legal standing to mount their Charter of Rights and Freedoms challenge against the electoral law in the first place… The federal brief also claims that the government was perfectly justified in drafting a law that requires small parties to prove they have achieved a certain level of public popularity before they can receive taxpayers' money.’Superior Court Judge Ted Matlow said it was undemocratic, unequal and stunts the growth of small parties for no valid reason.

The most popular kids in school weren’t always the brightest, and popularity is not the most prudent manner to run the country. Popularity is often dependent on visibility, and if those who do not want a view to be heard can block it, then democracy is blocked by popularity. Blocking of funding prevents alternative parties from ever getting their message to the public. Democracy works best with an informed electorate. Dictatorships, on the other hand, control free speech. Media broadcasting is another area which is dominated by parties with seats in the House.

We are not talking about a child’s game here, we are talking about our the ability as Canadians to make informed decisions regarding how we wish to live in our own country! If the only people allowed to speak are those who actively deny the rights and freedoms of other points of view, then Canadians do not have a real, living democracy. Small political parties, acting in the best interest of the people, are forced to fund their own legal challenges to this grossly unfair system, while the government of the day uses public money to fight against rights that should be guaranteed under our Charter of Rights and Freedoms!

Undemocratic practices include legislation, or changes to existing legislation, that tip the scales in their favour. This is contrary to the best interests of the people of Canada. Our Supreme Court of Canada sanctioned the importance of small parties in Figueroa v Canada (Attorney General) 2003 SCC 37 it said in part…

"The ability of a party to make a valuable contribution is not dependent upon its capacity to offer the electorate a genuine government option. Political parties… act as a vehicle for the participation of individual citizens in the political life of the country. …Marginal or regional parties tend to raise issues not adopted by national parties. Political parties provide individual citizens with an opportunity to express an opinion on the policy and functioning of government.”
So while our democratic rights are enshrined within our Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Constitution is a solid document and tool for Canadians, they will remain simple historical documents unless the people of Canada breath life into them by actively using them and insisting that our Parliamentary system involve all the people of Canada. Full transparent, accountability cannot be gained without our vigilance and dedication to demanding it

Catherine is not the only one to press for vigilance, David Kilgour MP (retired) said:-
“All too often in Canada and elsewhere there has been a tendency to equate democracy with the holding of elections, forgetting that democracy must be continuously nurtured – not just once every four or five years. Democracy demands vigilance, and a willingness to pose difficult questions and to take risks. I do not mean by that only taking to the streets to complain about what is wrong, but also advocating constructive alternatives.”

This is a quote you will see on these pages on a regular basis for it encompasses my own opinion exactly. Support Democracy - Recommend this Post at Progressive Bloggers

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