Political Parties and Democracy in Canada?
Date: Sunday, November 19 2006
Political Parties and Democracy in Canada?
Op-ed by Catherine Whelan Costen
Canadian Action Party President & Communications Director
The Canadian public continually admonishes politicians because they feel the system is undemocratic or not accountable to the people. I assert that the system was founded with the ability to become more democratic as the country matured, but has not evolved into a more interactive system, in part because those who hold power are reluctant to share that power with the people they serve. Power is given not taken. Democracy is meant to involve the people. The word ‘politics’ was derived from the Greek root ’politeia’ meaning, ‘gathering of citizens’. Oxford Dictionary definition: ‘ORIGIN late Middle English : from Old French politique ‘political,’ via Latin from Greek politikos, from polit?s ‘citizen,’ from polis ‘city.’
It is time politicians understood this and the people gathered to involve themselves in the democracy of our nation, while we still can. Democracy ought to reflect the values, morals and aspirations of the people. As the word political becomes associated with corruption, and high powered games, the people naturally recoil in disgust, leaving a democratic deficit. Through my position with the Canadian Action Party I have witnessed first hand the desperate attempts of the empire builders to block the people from their Constitutional Right to self-government.
Canada is a federal constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary democracy. Comprising ten provinces and three territories, Canada has 308 federal ridings represented by 4 political parties voted into power by the people of Canada. Results of the 39th General Election show that of the 308 ridings, consisting of 30,007,094 citizens, and 23,054,615 eligible voters only 14,908,703 actually voted. That is 64.7% voter turnout, but only 36.3 % of voters voted for the voice represented by the present minority Conservative government. (23.5% of eligible voters voted for the present government) This means that 15,098,391 people in Canada do not have their voice heard, either because they did not qualify to vote or because they voted for another party. 35.3 % of eligible voters have a representative from another party, but the remainder has no voice. 820,875 eligible voters voted for a point of view that is not represented in Parliament. There are 15 registered federal political parties in Canada, Canadian Action Party is one. Everyone of these 15 parties must comply with Elections Canada rules and has the same structure as the others, the only difference is some hold seats in Parliament.
Parties holding seats in Parliament have historically fought against the rights of those parties who do not hold seats. This is a very real form of discrimination against the people of Canada who do not support the elected parties. It is displayed in their conduct during elections when established parties control candidate forums. Candidates (without party seats) are often prevented from offering the public another point of view in ‘all’ candidate debates/forums, either by totally banning other candidates or through biased, moderator-controlled events. Established parties (including the NDP) fight against fair distribution of Canadian tax dollars to the other parties, as is demonstrated with the recent appeal by the Attorney General of the lawsuit fought and won for $1.75 per vote regardless of party size or number of votes. No party with seats has spoken out on the people’s behalf!
‘An Ontario judge has struck down an electoral law that permitted large federal political parties to fill their coffers with public money at the expense of smaller parties.’ But the large political parties do not want competition. They do not want the truth to be exposed or for the people of Canada to have options in this democratic process otherwise they would not be appealing. Yet…
‘The federal government has appealed an Ontario ruling striking down a law that permitted large federal political parties to fill their coffers with public money at the expense of smaller parties.
In a brief filed with the Ontario Court of Appeal, federal lawyers maintain that the small parties should never have been granted legal standing to mount their Charter of Rights and Freedoms challenge against the electoral law in the first place… The federal brief also claims that the government was perfectly justified in drafting a law that requires small parties to prove they have achieved a certain level of public popularity before they can receive taxpayers' money.’
Superior Court Judge Ted Matlow said it was undemocratic, unequal and stunts the growth of small parties for no valid reason. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20061117.wxparties17/BNStory/National/home
The most popular kids in school weren’t always the brightest, and popularity is not the most prudent manner to run the country. Popularity is often dependent on visibility, and if those who do not want a view to be heard can block it, then democracy is blocked by popularity. Blocking of funding prevents alternative parties from ever getting their message to the public. Democracy works best with an informed electorate. Dictatorships, on the other hand, control free speech. Media broadcasting is another area which is dominated by parties with seats in the House.
We are not talking about a child’s game here, we are talking about our the ability as Canadians to make informed decisions regarding how we wish to live in our own country! If the only people allowed to speak are those who actively deny the rights and freedoms of other points of view, then Canadians do not have a real, living democracy. Small political parties, acting in the best interest of the people, are forced to fund their own legal challenges to this grossly unfair system, while the government of the day uses public money to fight against rights that should be guaranteed under our Charter of Rights and Freedoms!
Undemocratic practices include legislation, or changes to existing legislation, that tip the scales in their favour. This is contrary to the best interests of the people of Canada. We are seeing this with the current, proposed changes to the ‘Accountability Act’.
“Elections Canada says the Conservative Party may have violated sections of both the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act by engaging in a "cheque-swapping" scheme at its 2005 national party's policy convention in Montreal, a system that one legal expert says is designed to maximize revenue.” ( http://www.thehilltimes.ca/html/index.php?display=story&full_path=/2006/july/10/swap/&c=1 )
“The Conservative government is proposing to open a loophole in its vaunted accountability act by declaring that party convention fees not be counted as political contributions under the law.
The issue is a sensitive one for the Conservative party, which is under investigation by Elections Canada for failing to declare almost $2 million in fees paid by delegates to the party's 2005 convention.” ( http://www.mytelus.com/news/article.do?pageID=canada_home&articleID=2455586 )
The Conservative Party of Canada has been cited for their handling of funds for their party Convention; the party didn’t treat delegate fees as donations, as is required by Elections Canada. Rather than conform to Elections Canada regulations they are now attempting to change the law retroactively.
Canadian Action Party recently sent a letter of complaint to Jean-Pierre Kingsley, Chief Electoral Officer, asking him to investigate explicit instructions from Conservative Party headquarters to use Conservative MP's federally funded resources to support their candidates in the two by-elections of November 27, 2006.
These are clear examples of a dysfunctional democracy.
The people of Canada who support alternative political parties often make requests through their chosen party when they have concerns regarding matters in Parliament. Since the only difference is that one party has seats and the other does not, requests for information from unofficial opposition parties should be responded to in a respectful manner. If members currently holding seats do not respect the people’s choice, then they are not acting in a democratic fashion. Further unacceptable behaviour is seen in the response many citizens receive, should they write to an MP outside their riding. They are told to write to their own MP. If a Member of Parliament is unwilling or unable to respond to requests for information or take input from members of the public, then they should also refrain from voting on national issues which impact anyone outside their riding.
Our Supreme Court of Canada sanctioned the importance of small parties in Figueroa v Canada (Attorney General) 2003 SCC 37 it said in part…
"The ability of a party to make a valuable contribution is not dependent upon its capacity to offer the electorate a genuine government option. Political parties… act as a vehicle for the participation of individual citizens in the political life of the country. …Marginal or regional parties tend to raise issues not adopted by national parties. Political parties provide individual citizens with an opportunity to express an opinion on the policy and functioning of government.”
So while our democratic rights are enshrined within our Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Constitution is a solid document and tool for Canadians, they will remain simple historical documents unless the people of Canada breath life into them by actively using them and insisting that our Parliamentary system involve all the people of Canada. Full transparent, accountability cannot be gained without our vigilance and dedication to demanding it.
Canadian Action Party responds to the concerns of Canadians (regardless of their political affiliation or riding) as part of our pledge to serve the public good. We believe that 'public servant' is a term which requires reflection and action. Although we are not paid by the public, we maintain the position that as a legally registered federal political party we owe the public our best efforts to represent them within the limits of our resources. We could afford staff and better resources to serve the public interest, exposing truth, questioning decisions with public funding. That is primarily why those who hold the power prefer to keep us underfunded, out of public debates, off of national media and labeled as fringe parties rather than support real living democracy.
Through our awareness, our research and our ability to write to MP’s on behalf of citizens we serve the public good. If not for the Canadian Action Party the truth regarding the threat of Canada’s absorption into a North American Corporate enslavement would never have been exposed. The secret Traitorous meeting in Banff of unelected CEO”s and elected officials from Mexico, Canada, and the U.S. would not have received the attention it did, and the anti-terrorism Act which threatens all Canadians’ civil rights would not have been contested. No other political party is addressing these issues, and certainly none with a seat in the House of Commons! So while they are unapologetically feeding off the public coffers, they are not acting in the people’s best interest.
We expect MP’s to respect the democratic process enough to respond to our legitimate inquiries. We acknowledge the very important role of every political party in Canada as a reflection of the citizens who support them. We demand nothing less from our counterparts. The new Conservative Party of Canada held their first Convention in 2005. It is a new party, already involved in controversy with Elections Canada, and they are sitting with a shaky minority government gained with the support of only 23.5% of eligible Canadians; yet they are willing to challenge the rights of other political parties to receive fair funding.
Canadians deserve better!
Catherine Whelan Costen, CAP President & Communications Director email@example.com