CFN – In the last ten years, more and more political scientists, sociologists and citizens have been raising questions about the state and the future of democracy in Canada. In general, people think that democracy, as they knew it, has undergone major changes, and these changes are continuing and they can no longer find their place in the current political landscape of Canadian democracy.
Often, we forget that democracy’s central element is the “power of decision”. The direct exercise of the power of decision-making (direct democracy) or delegating this power to the people we elect (indirect democracy), is the essence of democracy. If we want to evaluate the state of our democracy and, especially if we want to improve it, we must answer the following questions: Who has and who exercises the real power? ; How is the power exercised? and In favor of whom? The answers to these three questions will help us not only to understand the state of our democracy but also how to act collectively to improve it.
In a series of three columns I will try to cover these three questions in a historical perspective given that democracy evolves in step with economic, social and cultural changes.
The first column will summarize the principles and the institutions that are the foundation of democracy in Canada. The second column will analyse the duties and the responsibilities of those to whom we have delegated our decision-making power, the elected officials. It will also analyse the evolution of the political parties and their role in Canadian democracy. Finally, the third column will analyse the current state of Canadian democracy and identify some trends for the future.
The origins of Democracy
The roots of democracy lie in ancient Greece, specically in the reforms undertaken in the sixth century B.C. in the city of Athens. The term itself comes from ancient Greek and means the power, the sovereignty of the people. At this time it was a form of direct democracy because all the citizens of the city, around 40,000, were entitled to speak and vote at citizen meetings (Ecclesia). However, it should be mentioned that women, slaves and foreigners did not have political rights.
In democracy, citizens have the sovereign power and express their will through the ballot, according to the principle “one person, one vote”. They can exercise this power directly or they may temporarily delegate their power to those elected (representative democracy). In representative democracy all elected officials exercise the power within the assembly that brings them together. The debates within this assembly are of critical importance in democracy because, through discussions, these representatives are supposed to find the best solution for the entire population.
Democracy in Canada
Canada is a constitutional monarchy and a parliamentary democracy. The head of state is the Queen of Canada, who is also Queen of Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand and several others countries.
The 1867 Constitution Act provides that “the executive government of and over Canada is declared to be vested in the Queen.” Usually, the Queen acts through her representative, the Governor General, whom she appoints on the advice of the Canadian Prime Minister.
The principles of Canadian democracy
Canada is a federal state which consists of ten provinces and three territories. A central government deals with issues common to all parts of the state, while provincial or territorial governments take care of issues pertinent to each component.
The Responsible government principle is the principle that the Prime Minister and the Cabinet members are responsible to the House of Commons and the House of Commons is accountable to the people. Every act of government is done on behalf of the Queen but the authority to act comes, in each case, from the Canadian people.
The Rules of law principle means that everyone is subject to the law. Indeed, nobody, however important or powerful they might be, is above the law; neither the government nor the Prime Minister nor any other Minister nor the Queen nor the Governor General nor the officers of the armed forces nor the Parliament itself. All these individuals or governing bodies don’t have any other powers than those conferred to them by law.
Moreover, it should be mentioned that the courts are protected by the fundamental principle of judicial independence. This principle, older than that of responsible government, has existed for over 300 years, since the time of the adoption by the British Parliament in 1701 of the Act of Settlement, as a result of the English Revolution in 1688.
Any Canadian citizen who wants to exercise and defend democracy in Canada should know and follow these basic principles.
The institutions of democracy in Canada
Legislative power is vested in the Canadian Parliament which consists of the Queen, the Senate and the House of Commons.
The Queen, the Head of State, is represented by the Governor General. It is the Head of State, or her representative, who summons the Parliament. No bill becomes law if it doesn’t receive “Royal Assent”.
The Senate usually has 105 Senators appointed by the Governor General on the recommendation of the Prime Minister. The Senate may present any bill, except for the expenditure of public funds or taxes. It may amend or reject any bill as often as it sees fit. No bill can become law unless passed by the Senate.
The House of Commons, consisting of 308 members elected by the people in the 308 ridings in Canada, is the main legislative body of our country.
Following a national election, the Governor General asks the leader of the party who has obtained the largest number of seats in the House of Commons to become Prime Minister and form the Cabinet, commonly called the government. It is the Cabinet which initiates most of the legislation. It is the only body which can prepare and introduce bills in anticipation of government spending or taxes.
Members of Parliament (MPs) and Senators may propose bills, called private bills, that don’t have financial implications.
The executive power belongs to the Queen, represented by the Governor General, the Prime Minister and the Cabinet.
The Prime Minister chooses the ministers and they become members of the Queen’s Privy Council. Members of the Privy Council are appointed for life by the Governor General on the recommendation of the Prime Minister. The members of the Privy Council are all current and former ministers, the current Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and his or her predecessors, former Presidents of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Commons. For all intents and purposes, the Privy Council does not ever meet. The active part is the Cabinet, called the Committee of the Privy Council.
Collectively, the Prime Minister and Cabinet ministers are responsible to the House of Commons for the policies and actions of the entire Cabinet. If a minister does not agree with a policy or a government initiative, he or she must either accept it anyway and defend it or resign. This is called the “collective Cabinet responsibility,” one of the fundamental principles of our system of government.
The judicial power is vested in various courts including the Supreme Court of Canada, created by an act of Parliament in 1875. The same act created the Federal Court of Appeal, the Federal Court of Canada and the Tax Court of Canada.
The provisions of the Canadian Constitution preserve the independence of judges according to the principle of judicial independence.
Without a good understanding of these principles and institutions, one can’t understand how democracy has become the target of populist leaders and manipulative politicians. Canada is a parliamentary democracy and without proper functioning of its institutions, including Parliament, it is not a real democracy, even if we continue to vote occasionally.
Excellent piece. Looking forward to the rest. This stuff should be taught in our schools.
Hmmm….thinlking it was taught in schools….
I see where this article is heading…..
Your right Ed, great read. Thanks Jamie for keeping your web-site so interesting. I love it.
Maybe it is Stella. It wasn’t when I went to school a million years ago, or possibly I wasn’t paying attention.
Where is this article is heading?
Excellent article! Thank you for creating, preparing and presenting your well researched article. I am looking forward to your next two contributions. They will be educational. What did we learn in this first article. Democracy is dependent upon Sovereign individuals voicing their decisions on choices for themselves.
///In democracy, citizens have the sovereign power and express their will through the ballot, according to the principle “one person, one vote”.///
Sovereign individuals must voluntarily consent to the Rule of Law that the sovereign individuals accepts as their Rule of Law. Various Rules of Law compete for volunteers to perpetuate said Rule of Law. Volunteers are free to choose among competing Rule of Law as volunteers are free to choose among various Rule of Religion.
The Queen as a Sovereign has implemented her territorial Rule of Law upon her commonwealth by imposing her territorial Rule of Law upon all Sovereign individuals within her claimed domain. Now, all Sovereign individuals within the Queen’s domain no longer have freedom of Rule of Law.
In order to achieve freedom of religion, sovereign individuals separated the Rule of Religion from the Sovereign state of the individual. In order to achieve freedom of law, we shall separate the Rule of Law from the Sovereign state of the individual. This will take longer to achieve, as we still are challenged with the concept of Freedom of Religion. Why are some religion laws imposed upon non-followers of said Laws of Religion?
Corneliu, stop leaving the glue bottles in Lamoreux Park.
Great read -looking forward to the next article.
Canadian’s need to understand our legislative process -but I believe but few understand this process.
It would serve Canadians well to understand HOW a democracy works and how they as an individual can play a part in it .
It is apparent that the citizens of OUR type of democracy no longer feel represented by our politicians hence we now see voter apathy being very predominant in our society .
House of commons used to be filled with commoners and represented the dominion as a whole!
Fantastic article! I hope some mention is made about the Iroquois Confederacy and how it is the longest running ‘participatory’ democracy in existence. Cheers to the Haudenosaunee!
I`ll take parliementary democracy over totalitarianism anyday of the week…… all stuff i was taught in Law class and sociology classes.. well presented for the layman Corneliu…without some forms of controlled effective democracy we would have anarchy…
It also serves well to know the the Charter of Rigths and Freedoms was a direct evolution to this idea of democracy in Canada.. a sense of self in the whole electoral picture is important too..
Since Vimy and the days of conscription Canada has marched to its own drumbeat really without too much hassles from Royal Assent vetoes…
Correct me if I’m wrong but I don’t believe there ever was conscription in Canada. In both WW’s Quebec politicians threatened to shift the balance of power if the Federal government voted for conscription.
“les habitants” mentioned about a totalitarian society and this is what Agenda 21 is all about. Every country in the world will be under this system. The banksters as in gangsters which they are took over the world and we are gradually sliding into this system. People have to wake up and know what is going on instead of leaving things up to certain people to look after. Harpo is well aware of this including all others. Read the book called “Group Bilderberg” by Daniel Estulin and you will see Trudeau’s name in there from past years. People need to be awaken instead of in their deep sleep thinking that we are living in a democracy and freedom. It doesn’t exist. You should listen to former comedian George Carlin when he speaks about the American Dream – “you have to be asleep to believe it” and how very true that is. Wak up people we are no longer living in freedom unfortunately. This is “1984” by George Orwell aka Eric Blair. Read folks. I thought that book 1984 was so rediculous and a real nightmare – well welcome to 1984. This is hardly the beginning of the nightmare to come.
since you asked Reg, Military Services Act in January 1918. was enacted after alot of mixed messages and disagreements on both sides of the Canadian stance…. A lot of loopholes in a new Act however… farmers all over Canada exempted as well as many other reasons… ….buts its in our history..
to add to the comment about military service . many soldiers were part of the “Van Doos” nicknamed of the 22ieme regiment based in Valcartier and Quebec city in 1914…..At the time Hughes was enacting regulation 17 wich banned all french language learning education and culture from Ontario Canada.. i would not want to go back to those days .. so to expect french canadians to forfeit their lives and sacrifice for a cause that told them they were no good.. !!??I see the point entirely to some of the apprehensions of french culture during those terrible years, yet many still volunteered…. facts are more than just one side of the story……
and yes conscription took place during WW2 in 1944 but those conscripted were not sent overseas..unless they asked for overseas duty..
Yes les habitants, that is so true. And the French people in Quebec were still considered second-class citizens after WW2 right into the Sixties. I know that because I was there. It’s no wonder that the backlash against Anglo rule was so fierce and so long-lasting.
The animosity between Anglophones and Francophones goes way back and some of the darkest hours in Canadian history is because of the difference in attitude towards WW1. I found this in Wikipedia. The reference is taken from The Peoples of Canada, “A Post-Confederation History”, J.M. Bumstead
“Almost all French Canadians opposed conscription: they felt that they had no particular loyalty to either Britain or France. Led by Henri Bourassa, they felt their only loyalty was to Quebec. English Canadians generally supported the war effort as they felt stronger ties to the British Empire. The Conscription Crisis of 1917 caused a considerable rift along ethnic lines between Anglophones and Francophones.”
Excellent timely article and discussion. Good for CFN. Special kudos to Cory Cameron for his reminder of the Iroquois Confederacy and participatory democracy.
yes Reg would you give your life for a cause that does not allow you the same rigths and privileges to education and laws and healthcare and freedoms as the English side of Canada? regulation 17 in Ontario had more to do with the rift.. Sam Hughes was an orangeman with very anti french ideas even though he wanted french canada to fight fort the British subjectiveness of Canada! You really should try and read deeper into the issues … Sir Robert Borden was indeed under the pressure politically…
i`m sure the many brave lads and lasses from Valcartier who appreciated being called second class yet were expected to jump up and fight for that privilege!! there is more to our colorful history than just wikepedia subjected to human errors of participation…lots of french canadians fought ..and died too!!
Les Habitants, if I understand you correctly then you are saying that discrimination in the past justifies the discrimination today. If it was wrong in the past it’s wrong today and the only difference is that it appears that Francophones have the upper hand.
Upperhand !! Where? your typing in English aren`t you, you have a business in Cornwall don`t you? you have accesss to english education and health care and freedom of religion and tax direction in English don`t you?? you can take a walk and read signs in English and order in a restaurant right? you can call any office federal, provincial municipal and be served in English right? why not accord the same rights and privileges to your fellow Franch canadians and other cultures.. ?? it is not taking any direction away from Anglophones! So what of there is a french clinic full to capacity in serving that stripe of the area? They pay taxes too? right? Not all employment areas are “Bilingual’only!! false information.. Mechanics, doctors, dentists, self employed business men..and women…racecar drivers, priests, lawyers you name it can be unilingual and succesful ! what`s the point of blaming a whole part of Canadian culture. ? , so what if some government jobs are bilingual ! check the stats lately being bilingual does not give anyone any protection from layoffs..
No sir Francophones do not have the upperhand…. Ontario francophones are playing catch up to legal rights and services since regulation17 in Ontario ,without cramming anything down anyone elses throat… History shows the value of Canada`s heritage and it just is not about unilingual in some regions.. as frustrating as that might be for some that is a respectful reality…have a good day Reg…
to clarify my “tax direction” comment.. I mean you can chose to send your education taxes to english public or English caholic board if so desired… and yes francophones pay taxes too surprise!
Ontario francophones are playing catch up to legal rights and services since regulation17 in Ontario…(les habitants)
You mean on the offensive!
les habitants……tres bien dit!!! Comme d’habitude tu as fait les recherche necessaire. French do not have any more rights then the english thats for sure if anything we had to fight tooth and nail to become who we are today….a proud, caring and peaceful group.
So les habitants, then you do believe that discrimination of the past justifies discrimination today. Your reply only describes what your understanding of what upper hand is.
i`ll ask you again reg! why not accord the dame rights ,privileges and services to your fellow Franco – Ontarioans or french Canadians..?? How is what they ask for discrimination against anyone? The discrimination stripe comes from the attempt to abolish those rights!..Who started that battle cry?
Les Habitants, I’m sorry but did you answer my question? I couldn’t tell.
Here’s a great idea:
How about on our taxes we are asked if we wish to fund English or fund French.
Now that would be fair!
highlander that could work… or choose both ..! 3 choices.. choices are good … you can now fund the english school public system or the french public system and the catholic system english or french catholic the same way!!pick which one even if you are renting your home, you can still change the direction of the education taxes…
Libertarians would love that idea Highlander .. that is their whole idea .. a taxpayer only pays for the services they want…!!could be complicated , run for Libertarians …
les habitant or itaintperfectbutitsours never answers direct question Reg. Ever. He just repeats himself or ignores questions posed to him. Names might change, but the pattern never does. lol
Interesting that my last rather innocuous post was blocked.
Carry on, as usual.
Ed……yep it does happen. What is hard to understand is that many on this site have a right to say anything and everything they want about anyone where in some cases it ruined a person’s reputation and in some cases their business, that was alright and allowed. It seems it depends on who you is posting and what side of the fence they are on.
It’s sad to read the comments that say this stuff should be taught in school, when it is thoroughly taught in schools in civics and law classes.