CES Franks, of Queen’s University, has written an interesting essay describing the state of parliamentary democracy in Canada: “The Functioning of the Present-Day Canadian House of Commons: a paper prepared for the conference in honour of Peter Aucoin.” It focuses to a considerable extent on the reality of minority governments in Canada today, though also considers broader factors and long-term trends. For instance, the number of days per year in which Parliament is sitting has fallen by a third since the 1950s and the proportion of government bills eventually receiving Royal Assent has fallen from over 90% to just over 50%.
Franks also highlights the drift towards a bigger role for the provinces, with fewer national strategies and initiatives:
[M]y findings leave me with a sense of slight unease, and I am prepared to argue that the role of Parliament has diminished in recent decades and is continuing to diminish, to the detriment of good government in Canada. Further, much of the reason for this diminished role does not lie in the fact that we now have a Pizza Parliament with four parties and a likelihood of continuing minority parliaments. The causes lie elsewhere, and many are beyond the control of Parliament and government. They lie in fundamental changes in recent decades in the political economy of the Canadian Federation, in the increasing role of provincial governments as compared to the federal government, and in the unwillingness, rightly or wrongly, for better or worse, of recent federal governments to establish national programmes, policies, and national standards for the services Canadians expect from their governments.
In some ways, wider variation between the provinces doesn’t seem problematic. After all, there is nothing objectionable about populations with different perspectives being governed under differing rules, selected through democratic processes in which they participate. At the same time, there does seem to be reason for concern about the possible diminishing of the entity that is Canada. For one thing, there are major cross-cutting challenges that all provinces need to address, and it makes sense to do so in a cooperative way. For another, the temptations to make policy with only an eye turned towards the short-term consequences might be even greater for individual regions than they are for the confederation as a whole.