Voting is inadequate

2007-11-05

in Canada, Politics, Rants

A post over on Shifting Baselines got me thinking about voting. People often equate voting with being politically engaged and argue that falling voter turnouts demonstrate the failure of democracy. While that is a potentially valid interpretation, another possibility comes to mind. Namely, that the complexity of contemporary policy issues makes voting for a political party too blunt an instrument by which to express yourself meaningfully.

When voting in the Canadian system, the first question is whether or not to vote for a hopeless party. That is to say, anybody except the Liberals, Conservatives, NDP, and perhaps the Bloc depending on where you are. Voting for a different party – or for one of these in a riding where that party has no chance of winning – does demonstrate a kind of clear political preference. Even so, the message is ambiguous. For example, it is unknowable to anybody else whether you voted Green because you like their policies the most, because you liked their local candidate most, or because you wanted to protest the behaviours or policies of alternative parties. The Green Party, other parties, the media, and others could interpret your action in any of those ways. As such, your vote hasn’t sent a clear message to anybody.

Voting for a party with a chance of winning is even more problematic, when it comes to determining what your vote implies. Voting Liberal in a riding that pitches a plausible Liberal candidate against a plausible Tory candidate suggests that, overall, you prefer either that particular candidate or the Liberal Party in general. You may actually support more Conservative Party policies than Liberal ones but have certain points of irreconcilable disagreement with the Tory platform. You might prefer NDP policy on every front, but have chosen to reduce the chances of a Conservative victory, rather than expressing that preference in a more obvious way.

In short, it is impossible for anybody other than a particular voter to derive much information from a vote. Voting isn’t useless in this situation: it allows the electorate to turf out particularly corrupt, scandal-laden, or incompetent legislators or parties. What it does not do is allow voters to meaningfully signal their policy preferences through the act of voting alone. In situations where no plausible candidate is overtly unacceptable and all available choices are flawed, choosing not to vote may not be a betrayal of democratic ideals. Indeed, the idea that 100% voter turnout would be the epitome of a politically engaged populace really misses the extent to which a choice that is so constrained is so devoid of politically actionable content.

Being politically engaged thus means being much more overt about supporting or opposing particular policies during the time between elections: writing letters or articles, attending protests, calling your Member of Parliament, etc, etc. By itself, voting gives you very little meaningful voice in a Parliamentary democracy. Contributing to the political life of your state simply requires a lot more effort.

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{ 56 comments… read them below or add one }

Tom November 5, 2007 at 7:08 pm
Sarah November 5, 2007 at 8:20 pm

The David Emerson case provides a caution for those considering tactical voting: he ran on a slate of ‘support me instead of the NDP so that we can defeat the Conservatives’ and promptly switched to the Conservatives in exchange for a cushy, climate-destroying ministry. While one should not over-generalise, it does suggest the need for the left to exercise caution in tactically supporting Liberal candidates (especially given the Liberals’ recent record of corruption, dishonesty and floor-crossing MPs).

Litty November 5, 2007 at 10:29 pm

While the above may be true, it may be incorrect to think that politicians are smart enough to understand it.

If they see that only 20% of 18-25 year olds vote, they don’t think “these kids are aware of the limitations of our voting system.” They think “these kids do not care, and they do not mattter. Their concerns are meaningless, when it comes to getting elected.”

Tristan Laing November 6, 2007 at 12:00 am

Voting is pointless. Either you elect the best person for the job for reasons of competence and policy, in which case the election was superflulous, or, you elect someone based on an “election issue”, i.e. something that doesn’t matter, in which case the election is horrible. Also, elections only grant a feeling of empowerment to voters that is inversely proportional to the number of votes cast.

Tristan November 6, 2007 at 1:05 am

“Voting isn’t useless in this situation: it allows the electorate to turf out particularly corrupt, scandal-laden, or incompetent legislators or parties.”

this is just patently false. There are mounds of evidence that both U.S. parties participated in extensive voting fraud during the last U.S. election.

Also, Bush was obviously “particularly corrupt” and “incompetent”, and he won the popular vote by a landslide.

Maddie November 6, 2007 at 1:20 am

isn’t it this very dilemma which gave rise to the significance of spoiling your ballot?

Ben November 6, 2007 at 4:30 am

On Schumpeter’s view, the electorate shouldn’t be deciding policies – elections are about choosing governments and it’s left to those experts to make policy, including log-rolling to serve all groups’ interests equitably.

You’re right that the vote is a very blunt instrument though. If I vote for the Conservatives, for example, one further respect in which it’s unclear is whether I’m voting against Labour based on past performance or for Conservatives because I think they’ll be better over the next 5 years.

If only there was some kind of voting reform that made all votes, rather than merely a few marginals, matter. Someone should write a thesis on that…

Litty November 6, 2007 at 8:29 am

It would be help if we could make our votes contingent on following through with particular promises:

“I vote for Ontario’s Liberals, but my vote is withdrawn if they do not keep their promise to phase out coal power by X date.”

It would be completely unfeasible to let people make up their own conditions, but a short list for each party could be drawn up and included on the ballot.

Anon November 6, 2007 at 9:38 am

Also, Bush was obviously “particularly corrupt” and “incompetent”, and he won the popular vote by a landslide.

He was to you, perhaps, but not to a majority of American voters.

One of the problems with the American system these days is how polarized it has become. If you are dead-set against ever voting Republican, you may need to vote for a corrupt and incompetant Democrat. The same is true in reverse.

Anon November 6, 2007 at 2:12 pm

isn’t it this very dilemma which gave rise to the significance of spoiling your ballot?

While Canadian federal elections do not allow a ballot to be refused, the provinces of Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Ontario and Alberta, as well as the Yukon Territory, all allow voters to “refuse” their ballot at a polling station, which is then recorded as having been refused.

During the 2000 Canadian federal election, a number of voters (chiefly in Edmonton, Alberta) ate their ballots, as part of what they dubbed the Edible Ballot Society, to protest what they saw as inherently unfair elections. The stunt led Elections Canada to propose that there be legislation allowing federal ballots to be officially refused.

Anon November 6, 2007 at 2:13 pm

All forms of protest involving Elections Canada ballots are currently recorded as spoiled, along with the ballots accidentally spoiled by people who do intend and try to vote. So it’s impossible to get a true reading of the level of federal protest votes that way – just as it’s impossible to know how many of the hundreds of thousands of eligible voters who stay away from the polling station on the big day do so out of protest as opposed to apathy or ignorance.

Tristan November 7, 2007 at 12:35 am

Voting is not a meaningful exercise of power on an individual level, because a single vote is a drop in a bucket. That’s suppose to be alright, because its an exercise in collective power. But that’s a joke, because peoples heartstrings are tugged by the media, and people can’t be expected to act rationally, its simply not the way they are being produced currently. Appealing to individual moral duty is not only invalid in the case of diagnosing a collective illness, it’s irresponsible and unconsciously defeatist.

We would be much better off with constitutional monarchy in which the leader is neither chosen nor choses to be leader, but is simply the leader randomly – by birth. Otherwise, perticular interests make it impossible for them to will the universal.

tristan November 7, 2007 at 12:51 am

I think it’s also appropriate to think how easy it would be for 40 or so monarchs to sit down, agree to limit carbon emmisions stringently, and impose force on any other small states which refused to do so. Especially since those rulers did not have particular interests, they were not in politics to gain power or to make money for their friends.

Milan November 7, 2007 at 2:35 am

Tristan,

I think a lot of these comments go too far.

1) There are problems with the way voting works in the Canadian system.

2) Voting nonetheless provides an important form of political input.

3) Other ways to engage in the political system exist.

4) Voting does not infringe on anybody’s ability to seek to influence policy in other ways.

Benign dictatorship can often look appealing to those who are already personally convinced about what should be done. What they cannot do is address the differences that are essential in a free society. Democracy is ultimately essential because it is the only reasonable way to protect liberty, given the reality of difference.

Anon November 7, 2007 at 2:43 am

The democratic process is a decision-making process based on the will of the majority, irrespective of the beliefs of any particular individual.

To support a particular decision-making process is to support all the decisions produced by that process.

To support the democratic process is to support all the decisions produced by that process, irrespective of one’s beliefs.

To support the democratic process is to support all the decisions produced by that process, irrespective of one’s beliefs.

It is unprincipled to support decisions irrespective of one’s beliefs.

It is unprincipled to support the democratic process.

Tristan November 7, 2007 at 11:16 am

1) Democracy does not protect liberty because power is subject to perticular interest.

2) We have good leaders in democracy inasmuch as people run not for subjective reasons but simply because they occupy the position of people “who run for office” – this is as arbitary has monarchy by birth.

3) The voting system in Canada is entirely adequate because it is not a principal of democracy that a vote ought to have, of its own accord, any meaningful impact on the result. The “deficiencies” with the Canadian voting system are just the inadequacies with voting itself. Voting is ridiculous, vote, or do not vote, it doesn’t matter either way.

Tristan November 7, 2007 at 11:19 am

I think Anon has thrown down a gauntlet. Democracy produces an internal contradiction inasmuch as you conflate your subjective particular desire to support one party or other with your desire to support a system whereby a party or other can be chosen through a fair voting system. Either you can support a democracy, or you can support a political party, but if you support democracy your allegiance to any political party at any time has to be inessential, and if you support a party your allegiance to democracy can only hold inasmuch as the party you support is elected.

Tristan November 7, 2007 at 11:27 am

Elections are never decided by the political issues that matter to people. They are decided by “election issues”, like funding catholic schools. Saying whoever gets voting in should be in power amounts to saying whoever has enough resources and/or entrenched identifiability to produce a desire in people to vote for their party rather than the other ones, can be in power. B.C. is a better example of this than Ontario in terms of provincial legislature because in BC there has actually be switchover between which parties are vying for power (i.e. where is the Social Credit party?).

We’ve all known democracy was a joke for ages, but we’ve been duped by this claim that “it’s the least worst political system we know”. I really think that monarchy (which is not the same as dictatorship, that’s autocracy), is probably the better option. Especially after 1848.

AnotherAnon November 7, 2007 at 11:34 am

Tristan,

When did you last actively try to influence the political process? That is to say, wrote a letter or called your MP or attended a rally or handed out flyers.

Angrily condeming the electoral process (along with dangerous mutterings about the preferability of dictatorship) doesn’t serve much useful purpose.

. November 7, 2007 at 12:00 pm

Simplify the rules if you want more Canadians to vote

ANTHONY WESTELL
Special to Globe and Mail Update
November 7, 2007 at 1:54 AM EST

Why did only a miserable 52.8 per cent of potential voters actually vote in the recent Ontario election? Theories range from young people just aren’t interested in politics, to democracy is a dying form of government, to the sky is falling. The correct answer, or at least part of it, may be much simpler: New regulations made it harder to vote.

As Elections Canada also is changing the rules, as required by Parliament, it’s worth taking a second look at how the new system worked — or maybe didn’t work — in Ontario.

R.K. November 7, 2007 at 1:23 pm

The democratic process is a decision-making process based on the will of the majority, irrespective of the beliefs of any particular individual

This whole chain of reasoning is copied directly from this site.

It isn’t a very strong argument, in any case. It really falls on the second premise. When I am with a group of friends who all want to go to one restaurant while I want to go to another, it is not unprincipled to agree. It is simply part of being a reasonable participant in a group enterprise.

Tristan November 7, 2007 at 6:04 pm

R.K., that only holds for transient preferences, like which restaurant to go to. Political preferences, if they mean anything, run much deeper than this.

AnotherAnon,

The entire point of my argument is that individual political involvement is a mistaken idea. It doesn’t matter who is elected, and it doesn’t matter what people say to their representatives, so it’s a mistake to engage in politics. Do you think writing your senator is “useful”, or campaigning for the person you want to win, is “useful”? As in, “does it have an effect”? Of course it doesn’t. Individual wills have no power. To believe otherwise is to miscomprehend the system. Although, it seems to be the case the system only survives due to its own miscomprehension.

Tristan November 7, 2007 at 6:08 pm

Another Anon,

Monarchy is not dictatorship. Dictatorship means totalitarianism, and it means no constitution. You can have a constitutional monarchy without democracy. Magna Carta is the first example.

Should ideas be discouraged because they are dangerous? What if the dangerous thinking were right? Or, can you just dismiss possibilities a priori?

Anon3 November 7, 2007 at 6:41 pm

Two people in these comments equivocate “monarchy” with “dictatorship”. At least one of them has a higher level degree in political studies.

Kerrie November 7, 2007 at 9:13 pm

The saddest thing about your wholesale rejection of democracy, Tristan, is that when enough people share it they create a self-fulfilling prophecy. For example, electoral reform in BC failed by a very narrow margin, a margin that could have been filled by educated, impassioned people such as yourself giving a rat’s ass.

It is always a chore, especially for people of our generation, to break out of the pattern of trendy cynicism, and take the extra effort to engage in the political process whether it be formal or informal. While you may have some valid criticisms of the failures of democracy as a system, your ideas are doomed by their own apathy.

Kerrie November 7, 2007 at 9:22 pm

Monarchs are not “randomly” chosen. They are born and raised to be leaders by the unjustly privileged rulers already in place, which comes with its share of advantages and horrible disadvantages. I mean at least in Canada I get to choose my own unjustly privileged white male leader, right?

Also, I have not come across any information in my own studies that has convinced me that life under any monarchy didn’t suck for the majority of the subjects. Chinese emperors claiming their bullshit heavenly mandate, Swazi kings picking 17-year old wives on sight, English monarchs persecuting whichever religious denomination has lost stock that decade, are you kidding me?

In fact why stop your argument there, why not go back to the medieval Catholic Church? Man they sure knew how to run the show. I want to tithe a share of my income to a bunch of quacks who would probably burn my type at the stake. Gee, tie me up and light my toenails-anything, anything is better than giving a damn!

Milan November 7, 2007 at 11:34 pm

Two people in these comments equivocate “monarchy” with “dictatorship”. At least one of them has a higher level degree in political studies.

Either a monarchy is a purely symbolic waste of resources (Canada and Britain now) or it is a dictatorship. All ‘dictatorship’ means is the absence of the rule of law and the division of powers within government. A monarch not subject to both those constraints is a dictator.

Milan November 7, 2007 at 11:35 pm

Tristan,

I think your cynicism is almost wholly unjustified. The solution to limitations in the political system is more engagement, not egotistical and unproductive complaining.

Tristan November 8, 2007 at 12:23 am

Milan,

Your comprehension of monarchy is, and I’m sorry to say this, shallow. And it probably has everything to do with your training as being overly biased to twentieth century politics. It’s simply not the case that either monarchy is dictatorship or democracy. There lots of examples of constitutional monarchy which are not democratic, or in which suffrage is so un-universal that we would not call it properly democratic today. If 1848, and the relation between monarchy, dictatorship, church and state, and democracy don’t immediately relate for you, then that’s a scary deficiency in the IR programs.

Kerrie,

I voted for election reform in B.C., and the way in which the government responded to the results they did get makes their mandate plainly a joke. But this isn’t that surprising, I don’t think any mandates granted through elections can be considered serious, because elections simply are not serious things, they are always about fringe issues, things that don’t really matter.

Both,

No one has thought to offer any real arguments for democracy in these comments, and that is telling. You can’t speak against democracy because it occupies the entire discourse. It’s like language, you can’t speak it without confirming it. Well this is just rediculous, obviously there are other possibilities, and to reject them outright is to cease thinking politics, and to think only calculation. (Not the political question, “what ought be the basic form of the state”, but the calculating question, “How ought the state be run, both efficiently, and in harmony with its democratic essence”

Milan,

“the solution to limitations in the political system is more engagement”

Alright, a monarchist in 1848 can make this same exact argument, and it has exactly the same weight. And then you have to side against democracy. How does that feel? Exactly, it feels stupid, because you are making an argument that depends entirely on the status quo and not on reason.

Kerrie November 8, 2007 at 12:44 am

There are at least three people in this thread with political science/IR degrees. The reason we are not offering a spirited, detailed defence of democracy is twofold. One, I think everyone here would agree it has its limitations. Two, you are not offering any criticisms worth taking seriously.

Democracy occupies our entire discourse? Not if you’re Chinese, Cuban, Russian and older than 25, Congolese and older than 10, Nigerian and older than 7, South Sudanese and older than 5, Nepalese and older than 2. Give me a fucking break. I’m not reacting to your statements because I’ve been roused from my comfortable ignorance by your Socratic gadflying. I’m reacting because it angers me that you have somehow managed to be both blindingly ignorant and morally superior at the same time.

Milan November 8, 2007 at 1:09 am

Tristan,

I basically agree with Kerrie on this one.

Your position is akin to that of a teenager wearing a Che Guevara shirt: motivated by a kind of counterculture aesthetic, but lacking in meaning.

On some level, you must understand the value of democratic society. Philosophy just encourages you to wander around in interesting ideas, losing perspective as you do so.

Tristan November 8, 2007 at 4:07 pm

Milan,

Saying my position is akin to a teenager wearing a Che Guevara shirt is about as insulting a thing as you can say.

I have made a serious criticism of democracy, as you did in your original post. None of my arguments have been taken seriously, because “of course I realize the value of democracy”. That is not an argument.

If stepping outside the position from which democracy appears as the only viable option is “losing perspective”, then you have forgotten what perspective is.

There is a total lack of discussion here.

Tristan November 8, 2007 at 4:10 pm

Kerrie,

You simply re-affirm in your “rebuttle” that democracy occupies the entire discourse, precisely that democracy, in fact, OCCUPIES THE ENTIRE DISCOURSE. If every other option other than democracy shows itself as dictatorship, as awful violence, then democracy itself is no longer something that can be put into question.

Offer a spirited defense of democracy against the criticisms I’ve made of it, or admit that politics is over and all that’s left is get everyone their voting rights and their VCRs. If democracy cannot be put up for question, then political science is pure technology in the vulgar sense of a means to a pre-determined end.

Tristan November 8, 2007 at 4:17 pm

Kerrie,

You don’t get to choose the leader of the country. The leader is chosen by a dynamic relation between advertisers (political campaigns) and diagnosable patients (voters). Individuals choose who they should vote for, sometimes in good faith. But that does not produce anything like “the will of the people”.

The mistake is to conflate the individual will with the general will. The individual will is the person as citizen. The general will is the totality of person as psychologically analyzable unfree subject. To deny this is to appeal to how humans should be, not to how they are, and it is a position of political disaster to believe this (except, inasmuch as it creates the myth which produces its own fulfillment out of people as psychologically analyzable subjects).

So, the advantages of voting, you can spell out. The disadvantages are that the leader is chosen for reasons that have little to do with how well s/he will represent the interests of the persons in the state. It might end up being the case that you get a good leader, but it’s purely random since the reasons why someone is elected has little to do with how well qualified they are, and certainly nothing at all to do with them being the most qualified.

Tristan November 8, 2007 at 4:22 pm

The advantages of Monarchy,

Can only be reaped once the “dictatorship” aspect is mitigated. This can be mitigated. A “dictatorship” occurs when a leader has both absolute power, and a subjective, personal will.

a) by choosing the person at random (i.e., by birth)
b) by raising the birth-leader to have as his particular will the interests of the subjects in general (this is the objective general will, unlike the subjective general will which is manifested in elections)
c) by a constitution, that limits the powers of the monarch, and which requires him to be advised by appointed or elected representatives of classes or guilds.

Tristan November 8, 2007 at 4:26 pm

“Also, I have not come across any information in my own studies that has convinced me that life under any monarchy didn’t suck for the majority of the subjects.”

You can replace “monarchy” with “non-egalitarian democracy” and get the same answer.

You can have a monarchy which takes as its duty to protect the best interests of all its subjects. You can have a democracy which believes that people have to stand up for their own rights and we don’t need a court challenges program. There is nothing essentially egalitarian about the form of democracy, only its genesis. And there is nothing essentially libertarian about monarchy. In fact, since monarchy is much less libertarian than democracy, egalitarian monarchy would be much better for the least well off, in terms of empirical conditions of life.

AnotherAnon November 8, 2007 at 4:31 pm

Existing monarchies (not including purely symbolic powerless examples)

Bahrain
Bhutan
Brunei
Jordan
Kuwait
Monaco
Morocco
Oman
Qatar
Saudi Arabia
Swaziland
Vatican City

Mostly pretty bad places to live, aren’t they? Especially if you are of the wrong sex, religion, or sexual orientation. Or a journalist.

Arguments against monarchies

Tristan November 8, 2007 at 5:20 pm

Hey, ya you know

How good a political system is can be determined by the average quality of life calculated from all the countries that use it!

YOUR INSANE.

Tristan November 8, 2007 at 5:42 pm

http://www.episcopalcafe.com/daily/war_and_peace/every_day_diplomacy.php

Example of why democracy is no guarantee of freedom. It’s an institution. Institutions are fluid, they change with the subjective wills of the people in charge. A monarch has much less reason to believe they have a mandate to change a constitution or a tradition precisely because they are not elected as a subjective manifestation of the general will, rather they are given the unending task of making their general will the will that manifests the interests of the subjects.

Kerrie November 8, 2007 at 6:44 pm

So, a democracy is no guarantee of freedom (not that anyone here has argued it is), because it CHANGES WITH THE SUBJECTIVE WILLS OF THE PEOPLE?

Perhaps if YOUR people had to fight like dogs just to have voting rights, you wouldn’t turn your nose up at the “fluidity” of institutions that change over time just like technology, economics and culture does.

Finally, to clarify my basic stance: I do believe there are alternate political systems to democracy that can be equally or more effective. Consensus processes such as those used by pre-colonial Iroqois and Cherokee people, for example, seem like a fairly just form of rule-at least from the outside. The question for me is how those systems could successfully be implemented in a world full of populous, technologically advanced nation-states. But if I’m being painted into a corner where I only have a choice between a monarchy and a democracy, I’m going to choose democracy for the simple reason that I am not a monarch. If I was maybe I’d feel differently.

And Tristan, I say this as a friend: don’t fucking lecture me on the political process in Canada. Read my “employment information” on Facebook. I don’t need to be patronized like that. This is my last post on this thread.

Tristan November 8, 2007 at 10:31 pm

This is a joke.

No one here is willing to take seriously what monarchy could look like in the future rather than what it actually looked like in the past. Plenty of people are willing to do that for democracy, and frankly, it’s all pathetic. It’s all based on how people “should” act rather than on how they do. Any political theory that appeals to how people “ought to” act is falling prey to utopia. Serious thinkers of democracy begin with how people actually act, and the best they can come up with is Derrida’s notion of a “democracy to come”, which is Jewish, messianic redemption, nonsense.

Concensus building. You’re right to question that this could be implemented in a society where each persons subjective influence on the political scheme divided by the whole = 0 to any significant digit.

That point of the appeal to monarchy is to give up on the idea that your vote counts.

The “lie” of democracy is that it’s already monarchy, except the monarch is chosen every 4 years through a process which has no connection with the interests of the subjects.

Tristan November 8, 2007 at 10:46 pm

“Why we should take punk slogans that say “Democracy’s a joke” seriously”

Kerrie,

“So, a democracy is no guarantee of freedom (not that anyone here has argued it is), because it CHANGES WITH THE SUBJECTIVE WILLS OF THE PEOPLE?”

What is “the subjective wills of the people”? Do you mean their fleeting desires, or their objective interests as subjects? The former is the principle which the leader must appeal to under democracy, the latter is what the sovereign has as duty to make his will identical with.

A good example of this is Clinton after 2 years in presidency. He had promised tax cuts and more social programs, but after seeing the finances of the USA, it turned out he couldn’t have both, so he forgot about the tax cuts. However, as the bi election approached, he realized he was going to lose horribly, so he put through the tax cuts, cut the social programs, and went on vacations that were the favorites of swing voters. He did well in the bi election.

So, you see, leaders aren’t selected by people’s objective interest but by fleeting desires, mostly unconscious.

I’ll agree that compared to any existing monarchy, this crappy system looks pretty good. But not compared to a monarchy that’s living up to its own standards. And how fair is it to judge democracy by a bad example?

It’s certainly possible that monarchy has structural flaws that make it impossible, just as democracy has structural flaws that make it impossible. But no one has pointed out what those flaws are. And it wasn’t because of structural flaws that we got rid of monarchy, we got rid of it because democracy looked so amazing. And it just isn’t.

tristan November 8, 2007 at 10:49 pm

People do not fight like dogs to get voting rights. They fight like dogs because they think voting rights means the people who hold office will act in their best interest. They would only fight like dogs if they lived under a corrupt monarchy, dictatorship, autocracy, regime or whatever.

The danger of democracy is that when people realize their interests are not being taken into account, what can they “fight like dogs” for? They can’t depose the leader and install a new one.

Democracy is the most dangorous political system because it appears to be the last one.

Anon November 9, 2007 at 1:12 am

This whole conversation is getting crazy…

TimeCube crazy.

. November 9, 2007 at 3:07 pm

In recent times, a few Canadians and some members of Parliament have begun to question the powers the Canadian Constitution confers on the prime minister. In particular, their goal is to find ways to change the decayed role of elected members of the House of Commons, to create a Parliamentary committee to review appointments to the Supreme Court, and the need to abolish or radically restructure the appointed Senate. A 2001 book, The Friendly Dictatorship, by national affairs columnist Jeffrey Simpson, pointed out the potential dangers by detailing what he argues to be near absolute power vested in the prime minister.

The main case given in favour of Prime Ministerial power has to do with the federal structure of the nation. Canada is one of the most decentralized of the world’s federations, and provincial premiers have a great deal of power. Constitutional changes must be approved by the provincial premiers, and they must be consulted for any new initiatives in their areas of responsibility, which include many important sectors such as health care and education. In light of regional forces such as the Quebec sovereignty movement, some have argued there is a need for a national counterbalance to these pressures.

Neal November 9, 2007 at 9:47 pm

(from MSN)
Tristan: What do you think of democracy?
Menninkäinen: I think democracy is a good alternative to Pakistan

That is all.

tristan November 10, 2007 at 3:39 am

I also think shooting yourself in the foot is a good alternative to pakistan.

Edward November 10, 2007 at 11:42 am

I know this thread is dying down, but I’d like write something from the perspective of someone who has never taken any political science in his life. But the vast majority of people won’t have, and that doesn’t preclude them from the debate you’re having.

Sure, it seems that the actions of democratic institutions don’t necessarily correlate well with the wishes of the people – I accept that. No two people will agree on every single issue all the time. When you exponentiate this to 30 million people, it isn’t entirely surprising that there are differences in opinion on many important issues.

When we elect someone, it is unreasonable to assume that they will represent our precise view on every single issue that arises in the next three to five years. We hope that they make good decisions, and when we feel they don’t, we have the opportunity to throw our support elsewhere. I humbly suggest that governmental elections aren’t about supporting ideas alone; often we are simply supporting people who we think will do a good job at running the province or country.

Unless there is a broad consensus on an issue, politicians tend to move slowly on issues. They might not act swiftly when there is only 51% support on an issue. They might not even act when there is 60% support on an issue (particularly if the bulk of their support lies with the remaining 40%). But I would be highly doubtful that any of the real players in politics would dare to defy the vast majority of voters on any major issue for very long, and if they did, they would not likely survive the next election.

I agree that voting alone doesn’t give people much of a say in political affairs. But nor is it the only mechanism for political participation. I agree with Milan’s assertion that it is simply more effortful to influence public discourse. You can’t just simply sit on the couch and complain, go to the ballot box in four year’s time and expect to have all your concerns addressed. It doesn’t work that way.

If writing to the MP doesn’t seem to get you anywhere, it doesn’t mean that democracy has failed. You can talk to other people, go to the media, or perhaps run for office yourself. That you can do this is a combination of democracy and freedom. Whether you choose to put in the hard work to change public opinion or whether you choose to continue with grumbling at the water cooler is, of course, up to you. Freedom means that there isn’t anybody forcing you to care.

Edward November 10, 2007 at 11:45 am

Milan,

Sorry to have used this thread on your blog as a personal soapbox. I’ll step off it now…

Edward

Tristan November 10, 2007 at 12:46 pm

Edward,

I agree with your post. However, what I’m challenging is the idea that it’s important for people to have a say in the political discourse. I think now, people basically don’t have a say, and the differences between our current form of leadership and forms that we find perverse are much smaller than we would like to think.

I believe that what makes a system right is that it produces decisions that manifest right, and that it allows people to manifest themselves as free. Since people freely elect their democratic leader, democracy seems like the obvious choice – “give me liberty or give me death” becomes right to vote battle cry. However, it turns out that democracy isn’t that special, I think, for guaranteeing that you’ll live in a free society. Mostly because the people elected have perticular wills. And, frankly, your idea that politiciens act more or less decisively, and only when they have more than 50% concensus, is a lie because hardly ever does one political party ever get more than 50% of the vote.

Tristan November 10, 2007 at 12:54 pm

I just want to point out one way our society is not manifesting freedom very well, the RCMP. If there are abuses of power, the reviews are conducted internally. The RCMP does not have in its interest finding out that it is corrupt, so even if it were, it wouldn’t report it.

There is nothing about Monarchy which would say the police should police themselves. Maybe some of the IR scholars can tell us about how the police in England and France were horribly corrupt in the 18th and 19th centuries. They were especially after the death of the Sun king. However, when the Sun king was in power in France, external reviews of every department were conducted by the King himself.

. November 12, 2007 at 9:48 pm

Bertrand Russell

“A stupid man’s report of what a clever man says can never be accurate, because he unconsciously translates what he hears into something he can understand.”

E. B. White

“Democracy is the recurrent suspicion that more than half of the people are right more than half the time.”

Anonymous November 12, 2007 at 9:50 pm

Maybe some of the IR scholars can tell us about how the police in England and France were horribly corrupt in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Nope. The discipline of IR begins with the First World War.

. November 15, 2007 at 10:25 am

Median voter theory
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Median voter theory, also known as the median voter theorem and the median voter model, is a famous voting model positing that in a majority election, if voter policy preferences can be represented as an points along a single dimension, if all voters vote deterministically for the politician that commits to a policy position closest to their own preference, and if there are only two politicians, then if the politicians want to maximize their number of votes they should both commit to the policy position preferred by the median voter. This strategy is a Nash equilibrium. It results in voters being indifferent between candidates and casting their votes for either candidate with equal probability. Hence in expectation each politician receives half of the votes. If either candidate deviates to commit to a different policy position, the deviating candidate receives less than half the vote.

. November 15, 2007 at 10:25 am

Willingness to pay for your right to vote

I know this isn’t environmental, but we spend a lot of time talking about what people are willing to pay (or give up) to preserve environmental amenities. We’re often mocked, ridiculed and demeaned for even thinking of putting monetary values on something as precious as the environment and frankly it hurts my fragile feelings. So what if you were asked what you would be willing to accept to give up a basic American right, the right to vote. Students at NYU were asked, and it looks like the price of not voting is fairly high

Milan December 16, 2007 at 12:17 pm

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