Monday, February 11, 2008


A pair of examples about "democracy by convenience":

1. From the National Post, via ABCer:

Government officials beg to differ. Conservative House leader Peter Van Loan has said the fixed-election law doesn't prevent the prime minister from asking the Governor General to dissolve Parliament.

"There is nothing in the law that takes away the Crown's traditional and usual prerogatives on this matter," he told reporters at a news conference to announce the motion last week.

Say what? So, the law calls for fixed elections...except when the PM wants an early one? I know Steve hates the Senate but, after this, you have to wonder if his Senate reform plan calls for an elected Senate...except when the PM wants to appoint a Senator.

2. Meanwhile, back in Alberta:
It came after the Alberta Liberals noted that four returning officers appointed by the government have extremely strong Tory connections – including one officer who has openly criticized the Liberal candidate in her riding on a blog.

Now, it's no secret that these positions have a certain patronagy aspect to them at least usually try to pretend that the individuals are unbiased. In Calgary North-Hill, the returning officer is a member of the Tory riding executive and in Calgary Currie the returning officer ran, and lost, for the Tory nomination. In one case, the returning officer trashed both the outgoing Liberal MLA and current Liberal candidate on her blog.

Then again, don't listen to me. I might just be angling for the Vegreville returning officer job under a Liberal government...

UPDATE: Oops - Vegreville's already been filled by an individual who donated money to Ed Stelmach's leadership campaign. Can't say I did that, although in retrospect, I probably should have...

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  • Alberta is a third world country until it gets true democracy.

    By Blogger JimTan, at 11:43 p.m.  

  • When I go to vote in my rural ontario riding, the poll attendees look like a liberal party rural caucas meeting, maybe not as blatant, but just as obvious.

    they are lib paid members who belong to the association, so there is not a big difference.

    By Blogger susansmith, at 2:09 a.m.  

  • This has always been the problem with the fixed election dates thing. It sounds great in the abstract but makes no sense in practise, as soon as there's a whiff of political advantage they can be thrown out the window.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:37 a.m.  

  • I agree with V. There is nothing to stop Stevie from asking the Governor-General to dissolve parliament. It is the GG's prerogative to decide if an election is warranted or if she could as Stéphane Dion to lead a coalition of Liberals, NDPs, and Bloquistes.

    The fixed date election law is a farce for all practical purposes. It's like a future law that proposes to ban party floor crossings by MPs. If enacted, a disgruntled MP would not need to cross the floor. He or she would only need to vote against his or her own official party all the time. Even when kicked out by the official party, that MP could claim that he or she did not cross the floor voluntarily.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:05 a.m.  

  • Bravo Mé - you understand it all. The whole Conservative platform is full of these don't-make-sense proposed legislations. Media people usually don't understand the workings of our instutution and don't take these people at their bluff. It's the same for fixed election date, which makes no sense in a parliament such as ours.

    Forgotten in all of this is that Stephen Harper, as Leader of the Opposition, wrote a letter to the GG jointly with Duceppe and Layton asking that the GG not call a snap election in the event of a confidence vote situation.

    "The government has a minority - it has an obligation to demonstrate to Canadians that it can govern. That it can form a majority in the House of Commons. If it can't form a majority, we look at other options, we don't just concede to the government's request to make it dysfunctional. I know for a fact that Mr. Duceppe and Mr. Layton and the people who work for them want this Parliament to work and I know if is in all of our interests to work. The government has got to face the fact it has a minority, it has to work with other people."

    By Blogger Loraine Lamontagne, at 6:35 a.m.  

  • The opposition can't stymie the government and bring it to a sreeching halt and then complain when the government decides enough is enough.

    The opposition killed the crime bill in the last session of Parliament. They're doing it again this session with the help of the senate.

    It makes me laugh how afraid the Liberals are of elections. In 2005Martin kept saying that Canadians didn't want an election. (Martin and the Liberals didn't want an election.) In 2007 Dion kept saying that Canadians didn't want an election. (Dion and the Liberals didn't want an election.)

    If the Liberals don't want an election then let the governement govern instead of obstructing it. Obstructing the government's legislation while refusing to bring it down is incoherent.

    Dion will have to make a decision. Support the government or defeat it. And we know for Dion it's not easy to make decisions of any kind.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:39 a.m.  

  • Frances may care to explain to me how calling an election will speed up the process of passing the crime bill in the Senate? As far as I know, if the governement falls on this, so does this bill. The governement killed its own bill when it prorogued parliament last fall - and for what? What was so important in the Throne Speech that the government found it should take precedence over the crime bill?

    By Blogger Loraine Lamontagne, at 9:00 a.m.  

  • I actually like the fixed election date legislation...obviously it's a bit trickier in a minority government but I still think it has some value.

    But it only really works if people follow it.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 9:05 a.m.  

  • jimtan,

    How is Alberta not a true democracy?

    By Blogger sir john a., at 10:58 a.m.  

  • Just be thankful you don't live in Dannystan.

    By Blogger WJM, at 11:47 a.m.  

  • What strikes me is that the Wildrose Alliance is the only party to favour fixed election dates. Perhaps someone can explain to me why the other parties in Alberta aren't interested.

    By Blogger Brian Dell, at 12:14 p.m.  

  • The Alberta Liberals also support fixed election dates:

    The Greens do too:

    I couldn't find any democratic reform policies on the NDP website.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:33 p.m.  

  • Yeah, ALP have been big supporters of fixed election dates, a citizens assembly, and a ton of other democratic reform and transparency proposals for a while. Hell, Taft even wrote a full book on that topic.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 1:58 p.m.  

  • What is a democracy? It must have elections. But, that is not sufficient. By that definition alone, Russia under Putin is a democracy. In the western tradition, democracy is not merely about majority rule.

    Democracy is also about tradition. The Magna Carta abolished the absolute rule of the monarch. To this day, the state has eminent prerogatives. But, its rule is not and cannot be absolute.

    Another value is the separation of the state from political factions. Western Canada has a tradition of long single-party rule. Nonetheless, most people do not want perpetual rule by one faction.

    In this respect, Alberta resembles a third world country because the ruling party is consolidating power through intimidation and creep. To be honest, Alberta resembles the neo-Confucian State. You can do whatever you like as long as you don’t oppose the state or the ruling class.

    Alberta has failed in the final test for democracy. The price for freedom is eternal vigilance

    Why has there been no unrest similar to third world countries? Alberta is a province within Canada. Therefore, the federal state provides much protection and services for Albertans.

    For example, Alberta was forced to follow suit when Parliament passed the same-sex marriage bill. Interestingly, America refuses to pass a constitutional amendment to the same effect. But, American politics is decentralized and vigorous.

    Japan has lots of elections. Yet, the LDP (Liberal Democratic Party) has formed the ruling coalition since its founding in 1955 for every government except one.

    Japanese politics is tribal and factious. Coalitions are never stable. Pork barrels are given to constituencies of the ruling and opposition parties. Prime Ministers are limited to the number of terms they can serve. And Prime Minister Shinzo Abe resigned because of voter backlash.

    I would argue that modern Japan is democratic within the tradition of Asian consensus, while consensus is now alien to the Alberta Conservative Party.

    What about Afghanistan? The neo-conservatives are trying to transform a medieval society into a democracy with “international” values. Can they succeed?

    Japan transformed itself from a medieval society into a proto-industrial economy in a single generation after the Meiji Restoration. IMO, Japan is the greatest success story of the 19th Century.

    It succeeded because locals and insiders were in sole charge and they retained the Confucian structure of Japanese society. And, women are still not equal to men, even in the Tokyo offices of western companies.

    By comparison, the neo-conservatives reject the equivalent in Afghanistan. Is Afghanistan a democracy because Karzai was elected? Is it not a democracy if a fundamentalist is elected in 2009?

    By Blogger JimTan, at 2:00 p.m.  

  • Does any provincial political party in Alberta favour re-distributing seats so that the cities get fair representation, instead of rural voters being over-represented?

    By Blogger nuna d. above, at 4:01 p.m.  

  • Yes, the Liberals said so in the Legislature. See the second page of this Hansard.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:19 p.m.  

  • Japanese politics is tribal and factious. Coalitions are never stable. Pork barrels are given to constituencies of the ruling and opposition parties. Prime Ministers are limited to the number of terms they can serve. And Prime Minister Shinzo Abe resigned because of voter backlash.

    No, presidents of the LDP are the ones who have a limited term in office... not that they usually reach that point!

    I would argue that modern Japan is democratic within the tradition of Asian consensus, while consensus is now alien to the Alberta Conservative Party.

    Another crucial difference is that the LDP has governed in coalition with other parties since the early 90s. When was the last minority or coalition government in Alberta?

    By Blogger JG, at 10:26 p.m.  

  • “No, presidents of the LDP are the ones who have a limited term in office... not that they usually reach that point!”

    I stand corrected. Currently, the LDP President is limited to two 3-year terms. So, only one Japanese Prime minister since 1955 has served six years in office. And, most have served for two or three years.

    Would you consider Japan to be a modern democracy despite the lack of sympathy for women?

    Washington Post Foreign Service
    Friday, March 2, 2007; Page A09

    TOKYO -- During her many years working for a major Japanese trading company, Michiko Koseki said, she and her female co-workers have suffered a series of indignities both small and large. But the 59-year-old clerical worker was nevertheless shocked a few years ago when her company suddenly decided to move all the men in her department to nicer offices while keeping the women in the old work space.

    The affront, she said, did not end there. Koseki, whose job involves handling invoices and customs forms, was then ordered to trek down the hall to serve tea to male employees and visiting customers. The logic: There were no female employees in the new work area, a problem in a country where women in the office are still expected to pour beverages during business meetings.

    "I bitterly complained, but my boss said, 'We can't hire a new woman just to pour the tea,' " said Koseki, who has joined five other women in a broad sex discrimination suit against the company, Tokyo-based Kanematsu Corp. "And of course, there was no way a man was going to do it."

    She continued: "Women in this country were supposed to be taking a big step forward. But for many of us, it feels like a step back."

    In Japan, home to the world's second-largest economy, women have entered the workforce in record numbers over the past 15 years. The phenomenon was once heralded by many as the start of a new era of sex equality in a country where women have long lagged a step behind men professionally.

    But leading academics and workers rights groups say the vast majority of Japan's 27 million female workers have instead encountered a far different reality: a system of corporate discrimination based on sex.

    As many Japanese companies have sidestepped weak labor laws, they have relegated women to "administration tracks" with substandard pay and fewer prospects for promotion, while channeling men into "career tracks" with greater opportunity for upward mobility and higher compensation

    By Blogger JimTan, at 11:54 p.m.  

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