In the past two weeks, “democratic reform” has been on everybody’s lips within the spectrum of federal politics, from Trudeau’s supposedly “bombshell” announcement that Liberal senators would now sit as “independents” in the upper chamber of Canadian parliament or the dreaded Fair Elections Act which was tabled this week by Pierre Poilievre, Minister of Democratic Reform.
Now all this talk about democratic reform would be fairly encouraging if it wasn’t just mere talking points concocted by an array of political spin-doctors. Both Justin Trudeau and Pierre Poilievre’s “blueprints” for democratic reform are the epitome of double-speak, a perfect representation of how the debate to reinvigorate democracy in Canada has been hijacked by buzz words and catch phrases.
The fact is that it seems, that within the Liberal and Conservative parties, there is a severe lack of courage and imagination. The question to be asked is how can the Liberal and Conservative parties truly understand the profound systemic change that Canadian democracy is itching for, when the system in place has benefited them time and time again?
The polarization of Canadian political life between a centre-right wing Conservative Party and a centrist –whatever that means- Liberal Party has been the configuration of the Canadian political spectrum since time immemorial.
The first truthful challenge of this system came with the rise of the Reform Party in the 1990s. The Reform Party challenged in many ways the homogeneity of Canadian political life; the ascendency of this unorthodox political formation of libertarians, social-conservatives and neo-liberals repositioned the point of equilibrium of Canadian politics towards the right.
This movement of transformation of Canadian political life wasn’t initiated by Stephen Harper. It was continued by him and since last election has found in his government its apogee.
But the Reform Party and later the Canadian Alliance had to conform to this Canadian binary vision of politics and thus, throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, Progressive Conservative Parties on provincial and federal levels were increasingly infiltrated by the “new right” until the final merger of the Progressive Conservatives and the Canadian Alliance in December of 2003.
During the period from the 1993 election and the final merger of right-wing forces in 2003 the Liberals reign was undisputed in Parliament. The Reform Party and its successor the Canadian Alliance had indeed profoundly changed the political discourse in Canada but unfortunately within the boundaries of a First-past-the-post voting system, the potency of your message doesn’t count when a majority can be achieved with merely 38% of the vote.
The right-wing forces compromised and this gave birth to the biggest political re-branding (or takeover, which ever you want to call it) in Canadian history, the birth of the contemporary Conservative Party. But the newly anointed Conservatives in many ways were caught at their own game.
Moral of the story: yes the point of equilibrium of Canadian politics had shifted with the “Reformist Revolution” of the 1990s but in joining forces with Progressive Conservatives, the ideological “unity” of their group was compromised. Their “radical ideas” such as abolishing the Senate were thrown to the dustbin of history; they adopted a new position, which was an elected senate.
Then this newly formed coalition started winning elections and now shortly after the mid-mark of their first majority mandate it looks like the Conservatives have adopted status-quo as their modus operandi when it comes Senate affairs. Status quo was saved.
This is the question that isn’t addressed by either of the so-called reforms introduced in Parliament in the past two weeks: the question of representation, the representation of divergent political ideologies, of every single Canadian voice. Trudeau’s idea of an “independent” but still non-elected senate is the brilliant idea that wasn’t.
It quite simply puts a fresh shade of paint on a collapsing structure, because independence is nothing when you’re accountable to no one but yourself. Who would an “independent” unaccountable Senate represent but themselves as they already do quite well.
When it comes to the Fair Elections Act, it’s anything but fair. The changes give accrued importance to money and disenfranchises scores of Canadians.
The system of first-past-the-post has a twisted way of self-preservation; it excludes the “unwanted” voices, banishes them to the sidelines thus upholding the status quo. This is how this morally bankrupt system and has survived since the days of Confederation.
The senate scandal is merely the most recent manifestation of a crisis of democracy in Canada, not the crisis itself. And the only solution to this crisis is to reopen the debate of defining a system that truly represents all Canadian voices, all political affiliations and all groups within the boarders of this Canadian federation.