Green Island Backgrounders

Oct 2006

Managed Elections In Canada

In Canada, the whole electoral system you use to elect your "representatives" is highly undemocratic, in almost every way - it is 'democratic' in that you do get to cast a vote (although the number of people choosing to do so continues to fall, to around 60% lately, indicating that many people may be thinking similar things to those written below, and not seeing much point in it...), and the votes are fairly counted (unlike in a certain country to the south of us, where many people are denied the vote and what votes are cast are 'counted' rather mysteriously with 'electronic' vote counters with top secret code!!, with mysterious results that do not seem to be in accord with exit polls, for instance, and other such things that are normally used to evaluate the legitimacy of a vote counting process - google "Diebold" if you haven't heard of this, as you won't if you have been relying on the Canadian MSM for your info) - but what happens before and after that?

Management technique 1 - Money and Media
Before you cast your vote there in Demcratic Canada, it is true that in theory pretty much anyone can run for election in Canada - but are all candidates equal, with, in the practical sense, a fair chance of being elected, based on a comparison of a fair hearing of their ideas along with the ideas of other candidates, as would, it seems to we Green Islanders, be the case in a true democracy? Well, "fairness" does not seem to be a part of the Canadian political process, at least according to a number of things that seem odd to people used to real democracy. For instance, in a capitalistic country where Money is required for everything, it is very obvious that the party candidate beginning with the 'brand recognition', and then a couple of hundred thousand dollars in the campaign chest and splashy advertisements in the local newpaper every day has a far, far greater chance of being elected than the independent candidate with a couple of thousand dollars and no money for such advertisements whatsoever in the local papers, or a member of a small party whose national leader may even be excluded from the national debates. (One may think at first that being a candidate from a known party with that 'brand recognition' would be beneficial - but why would it be so, when, for instance, in the last election, people despised the Libs for the Adscam situation, and yet many others were very concerned about the far-right agenda of the Harper party? - one might be excused for thinking that NOT being associated with these negativities might be an advantage - and so it might, if the rest of the situation was fair and equal - but it was not, as we will see following...)

Candidates in the modern Canadian election must pass two gatekeepers before they get any public exposure at all - the gatekeeper of money, and the gatekeeper of the media, which is money-related in the sense of paid advertising, but also the media, virtually acting with one will in such things (you need to think about who actually owns the media, and if there is any sort of 'class' connectivity among such people that might make them lean together in a certain direction - ...), decides who will be considered by the busy voters who depend on the media for their information as a credible candidate and who will not, simply by the amount and type of coverage given to the people running, outside of paid advertising - where do Canadians turn to for information about everything, including their political candidates? So if some candidates are presented as 'credible choices' with major coverage from day one and some as marginalized from the very beginning in a short campaign with virtually no coverage of their position on the various issues or even stories belittling them in some way, the voters are very obviously being herded in a certain direction by the media. Even if some voters resist the herding, most at least trust the media to a substantial extent, and follow along with their suggestions, understanding that although several people may be standing for election, the "real" choice is only between candidates A, B or C, and D, E and F can be ignored (even if, as we often see, the candidate from Party A is a known liar and promise breaker and has done all sorts of things Canadians really dislike, and Candidate E is speaking sincerely about all of the things Canadians seem to approve of - even if Canadians seem to dislike both Party A and Party B, the media will push them both, basically telling the voters to choose the lesser of two evils among the two candidates they dislike because they represent the only 'real' choices, and telling them to ignore the other candidates who might be speaking for them, who are running as proof that Canada is a 'real' democracy, but surely no significant number of people are going to vote for such candidates). You can make any arguments you want about the desirability of party-sanctioned candidates, or wanting people with a certain financial standing in the community, or whatever - but you can NOT argue that this gatekeeping process the media undertakes is in any way truly democratic. It tilts the balance very much in favor of certain candidates and against others - and it should not be up to the media, in any true democracy, but to the citizens themselves, to decide who is credible and who is not. We'll look a bit more at the media later, and their role in Canada's 'democracy' - but you need to consider that elections are very much like a Las Vegas casino, and you do not need to control every throw of the dice or spin of the wheel, you only need to have a small house edge and in the long run you will clean up. This media promotion of certain candidates and parties, and marginalisation of others, is more than enough 'house edge', along with the other things we will look at, to guarantee that the elections will go in a certain direction, the direction desired by those running the casino game called 'elections' in Canadaland..

Management technique 2 - FPTP
And then, after the voters have cast their ballots, most good citizens in line with the urgings of the gatekeepers and voting for tweedledee or tweedledum, we have the post-ballot stage.

The FPTP (first past the post) system of choosing MPs etc is highly undemocratic in any political system with more than two parties, at least insofar as "democracy" is thought to mean majority rule (only 2 or 3 modern western democracies still use this old system, most having changed to some form of 'proportional representation', which means that the parties running are awarded seats more or less in the same proportion as the number of votes they received). In Canada, with this antiquated FPTP system which works fine in 2-party systems but is of little use in the multi-party systems found in every modern democracy (not in the US you say?? well, we never accused the US of being a democracy, actually....), we are normally governed here in Canada by a party being awarded a "majority" government while receiving well under 50% of the popular vote - and with decreasing voter turnouts, that means it is possible, and usual, for a political party to get a majority government - meaning essentially carte blanche to do as they please for the next 4-5 years - with the support of some 25% of the Canadian voting age population (and considerably less if you count the young adults of ages say 14-21 who are not allowed to vote - you might think about the reasons for this). This is, for instance, approximately the support the Mulroney government had for its strong "majority" government in 1988 that passed the very unpopular Free Trade Act - a majority of voters actually voted against this, and an even larger majority of Canadians opposed it, but because of the very undemocratic way the FPTP works, Mulroney got his "majority", and Canadians got the FTA - against the wishes of most of them, this very major new constitutional amendment was forced on Canada (I know it wasn't billed as a constitutional amendment, more shell games, but when you figure that after the FTA and NAFTA, corporations were more or less officially running the country, it can be seen as little else than the enshrining of a Corporate Bill of Rights in the Canadian constitution). And I ask you - Democracy? How so?

There are many arguments that are made in favor of this electoral system - but it is difficult to see how anyone can claim it is democratic, in the usual sense of that word which always has "majority of the people" in its meaning somewhere, given that under this system, governments with 'majority' powers are almost always elected by no more than 20-30% of the overall voting age population, and then do as they please for the next 4-5 years, no matter how many people dislike what they do.

Management technique 3 - the Party System
"A 'party,' as the term was commonly understood, was nothing more than a 'faction,' meaning an organized minority whose very purpose was to undercut the public will, usually by devious and corrupt means. To call someone a member of a political party was to accuse him of systematic selfishness and perhaps even outright treason." - an American writer named Ted Lang in an interesting piece called America - A Failed Republic

So the method of electing our representatives is not very democratic - but they do get elected, and we wind up with an elected "party" forming the government (I won't bother tangenting into minorities, they are infrequent and always replaced in short order with a "majority" - probably because the powers that be are quite unhappy with minorities, as they are much closer to a proportional rep sort of government, and the few elected reps who actually speak for the people actually have a chance to exert some influence - all sorts of things the elites don't like manage to happen under minority governments in Canada) - so how democratic is the "party" system of "democratic government", actually? Well, not very at all, if you undress it a bit. Actually, there are some pretty strong arguments to be made that the party system is government of, by and for the elites. Let's look at it a bit, from a perspective you will not find in your civics book or the MSM.

The first essential point concerning "party democracy" is that, although this is never explicitly pointed out by the media or anyone else, by voting for a candidate who represents a party, the voter says they agree with that party's policies, overall (or perhaps as we often see they think the policies of the party they vote for are less objectionable than the other main opposing party which they do NOT want elected), and grant that party, should they be elected, the right to govern Canada as they wish for as long as they manage to retain a "mandate" - and with a "majority" government, that period can be extended to a full five years (and it will make no difference whatsoever to any of this discussion if this is reduced to four years as some of the 'fixed election date' people are talking about - what a red herring masquerading as useful "election reform" that whole idea is...), regardless of how drastically support for their policies may drop during that time, or what laws and regulations they choose to enact against the will of the people.

Now - this is quite unlike the theory of "democracy" we are taught in school or elsewhere, wherein the voters elect members of parliament from individual ridings, and those elected representatives go to Ottawa and speak for the people in their riding, concerning any issues that might arise during the life of the parliament.

In the party system as it actually functions in modern party politics, actual consultation with the constituents of the riding where the member is elected is simply not part of the package (although every candidate promises such things to get elected, and to maintain the myth of "democracy" none of the media ever talk about this - there are some meetings with 'the party faithful' from time to time, usually in a fundraising capacity, but these are in no way riding consulations). In reality, as we see constantly and is even admitted in various mainstream publications from time to time, the role of the average backbencher "representative" is to go to Ottawa and vote as the party leaders tell them to on issues of importance. From time to time they will also get memos from the party HQ on what the party plans to do, and then it is their job to take that policy or whatever back to the riding and justify or sell it to the constituents - all very much the reverse of what is supposedly meant by "representative" government, wherein MPs discuss issues with their constituents and go to Ottawa to present the resulting riding point of view to the national debate, and vote on any issue in the interests of the constituents they represent. Such a system, it should be very obvious, is very much NOT democratic, insofar as that idea means government of, by and for the people - not of, by and for the party which has won an election, regardless of the level of actual popular support (which, as noted earlier, usually does not exceed 25% or so of the voting population). "Opposition" parties behave no differently in terms of "representing" the people, although since they are not actually charged with passing whatever legislation the real rulers desire (usually more tax breaks or other things the corporate sector desires to increase their profit making ability) they are much freer to pretend to agree with what we the people are feeling about anything - but in the final analysis, those elected under the banner of these "opposition" parties have the same primary obligation - to represent their party's position in the parliament, not the wishes of their supposed actual riding constituents.

(it is a very regular occurrence when a party forming a majority government loses an election, the 'representatives" from each party simply trade positions on the major issues, with the new government assuming the policies of the former government, and the new opposition assuming the policies of the former opposition - blatant hypocricy, never, never, NEVER discussed in the media as it would expose the entire system for the farce it is - remember the Libs in 93 running against NAFTA, and thus winning the election - but then the 180 degree reversal and as the government SUPPORTING NAFTA, as the previous Cons had? And not a WORD in the media about this continuation of the NAFTA policy - the media, of course, all owned by the wealthy elite, supported NAFTA - this type of thing alone is powerful evidence of who really controls the Canadian government, which is why the media will not talk about it. In reality, the "governing party" is always controlled by the elite, and always speaks for the elite, regardless of their putative Lib or Con denomination, and the "opposition" party has the role of making the entire system appear to be a "democracy" by voicing opposition to the policies of the government, and the media has the role of pretending all of this is quite normal and not waking anyone up to the whole farce, and deriding anyone who manages to get any kind of public voice and tries to speak about what a farce it is....)

But back to the party system of "democracy". For starters, just how democratic is the party itself? Well, there are grassroots meetings in each riding, with riding associations and memberships supposedly open to anyone, (although various people have been denied membership indicating there is some hidden criteria from those who decide such things about which sorts of policies they are planning to promote, and also membership applications can be controlled from party HQ at times, again for very partisan, and thus non-democratic, purposes), and these riding associations do debate things with a certain degree of grassroots openness and send delegates to national policy conventions and leadership races, so it all appears fairly democratic. But that's all very much smoke and mirrors - a big spectacle with no real substance, and in reality the major parties are very much controlled from above. I would direct the inquiring mind, for one rather blatant instance, to the much balleyhooed Liberal Red Book, manufactured after such a process in 1993 to great fanfare, telling the citizens of Canada how wonderful the new Liberal government would be, and what wonderful things they would do for the people of Canada if elected in place of the hated Mulroney government - and then disgarded almost in its entirety following the election (the first thing they did, you may recall, was a complete reversal of course on NAFTA, as noted before - and also the GST which they promised to get rid off, and then, after people elected them on this basis, decided was ok after all - that it appears to be a central part of Canadian democracy that people can lie brazenly to get elected, and the people they lied to have no recourse other than to vote against them a few years later in the next election, is another issue of democracy, it seems to me, that I won't even get into here).

So, in the political party, if it's not the grassroots people setting the final policy, who is it, and is that democratic or what?

Well, the Liberal Red Book lesson noted above indicates pretty clearly the actual, rather than theoretical, influence the grassroots people actually have. So where then does the party policy, as it actually comes down in the House of Commons, actually originate? Well, this is something that is not part of the public record, so again we have to do a bit of inductive detective work, but it's not really too difficult to suss out with some confidence that one has the 'right' people (haha no pun intended) identified - if the anti-poverty people say "NO!" to "free trade", for instance, and the Business Council on National Issues says "Free trade is great!!!" - and the government, even though it has promised the voters they will cancel the NAFTA (Liberal Red Book, 1993) and a (Canadian haha) majority has voted for them on this basis, goes ahead and signs the NAFTA into law - well, it probably isn't the anti-poverty people they are meeting behind closed doors 50 stories above Bay St in Toronto about what policies they are going to implement. And if the major news media in the country do not make a fuss about the 180 degree reversal between election promises and government actions - it's not a big leap of imagination to suppose they were at the meeting. Behind closed doors. And are being somewhat dishonest with the people who read their papers when they support the NAFTA, but do not manage to divulge in the same story they were at that meeting.

Heck no, that would be a conspiracy against the Canadian people - and we all know they would never do that - they mock anyone who dares suggest such a thing, and we know they never lie to us.

Management technique 4 - the Emperor PM
So who makes decisions in the Canadian government, anyway? Well, according to what we see in the newspapers regularly, it's the Prime Minster, pretty much alone - it's a rare week that goes by without some new pronouncement by the PM, "We are going to do this!" or "We are going to do that!!" - all without any apparent consultation with parliament in any way, and certainly without any sort of consultation with the Canadian people.

Well, the Prime Minister or Party Leader is the main person, obviously, in any party. And in Parliament, it's very well understood that the Prime Minister is far, far more than "first among equals", as he or she is commonly portrayed. Again regardless of theory, the PM's word is effectively law in caucus and cabinet, if for no other reason than it is the Prime Minister who selects cabinet ministers and approves all kinds of other appointments to desirable places, and anyone who aspires to such places cannot afford to anger this most powerful individual. It is also well understood that so-called backbenchers in parliament have no power whatsoever, and are expected to follow the party line at voting time if so ordered, wishes of their supposed constituents of no consideration (again, the Prime Minister (or party leader) has the final say as to whether the individual MPs are allowed to run as a candidate for the party in any election, regardless of riding wishes which have been rather publically ignored with "parachuted in" candidates quite often in recent elections, which the media notes as something of interest but with no further commentary as to what it actually indicates as far as "democracy" is concerned - thus they stand to lose their job if they dare speak or act contrary to his (or her) wishes. So we see the 'representative" demococracy is not so at all, unless you consider the reverse idea, that MPs are there to represent the wishes of the party, which tend to be the wishes of the Prime Minister, who in turn holds his post at the pleasure of the People of the Money in Canada, to their ridings (likewise the opposition members, whose job is to explain party policy to those who support them).

(and why do politicians both big and small do this? again, no surveys address this, but you have to suspect sheer avarice combined with delusions of grandeur - it's a hell of a lot better as a job than most 9-5s, for instance. The perks of high level MPs are substantial, topped by considerable international travel and prestige amongst their "peers" in other countries and in the general unsuspecting public here at home (maintained by media boosterism, of course), not to mention excellent pension benefits after a very few years of "service" (and except for the well-connected few, the only way to get to be a high level MP is to start small and then work your way up through the ranks, proving your loyalty and reliability to the money masters on the way). And this also explains the competition amongst them at elections - even though there is no substantial difference in the way they plan to govern (they're all taking orders from someone else), they want their time on the gravy train, and losers don't qualify, and opposition perks are substantially lower than government perks - there's a real enough competition for these jobs, but their work is taking orders and putting a good face on a lot of bad stuff, not governing the country. And you can take all their wonderful talk about "public service" and measure it against what they actually do (how many voted against the salary increase never mentioned in the campaign but introduced imediately they arrived in Ottawa? - now would that be public or private service?), and make up your own mind what to believe. - as I write this (as I said, every day there is something!) - - MPs get hefty "expense allowance" increase - but but but - if these MPs work for "we the people" and in our democracy WE run the country - shouldn't WE be asked about this????? sure things are getting more expensive - but are WE getting COL adjustments in our pay???? is the minimum wage being increased to deal with this for the poorest people in the country???? Why should people in the top 2% of the income level get a COL for expenses when the average person is just expected to shut up and put up with it???? Who is working for who here???? - rhetorical questions all .....)

And in confirmation of this great power invested in the Canadian Prime Minister, we constantly read in the news stories about the PM declaring his (very rarely in Canada her) government is going to do such and such a thing - with no consultation from the caucus, let alone the people of Canada. Again, how can such pronouncements possibly be portrayed as the "democratic will of the people"? As noted in the first question, such policies regularly reflect, however, the desires of the wealthy lobby groups in the country - primarily the Canadian Council of Chief Exectutives (CCCE, formerly BCNI), or such think tanks of the wealthy neocon movement as the Fraser or CD Howe Institutes - but rarely, if ever, the actual 'will of the people", as expressed in opinion polls.

Management technique 5 - So who is pulling the PM strings?
And where then does the party get its policy directions, if not from the will of the people or their own members? Well, again there is no documentation of this process, and one can but speculate as to the source of such policies, perhaps using inference at times (which can be a very reliable method of arriving at answers to difficult questions, ask any particle physicist), relating policy directions with certain groups known to have called for such policies. There are many lobbyists in Ottawa - representing who? Not average Canadians at all, who cannot pay for such services - no, they represent corporate clients with big bank accounts, who are looking for what sort of legislation? And who do they lobby? When they lobby higher ranking MPs (with influence in major departments or important committees), are they asking those MPs to faithfully carry out the wishes of their supposed electoral constituents, or the wishes of whoever is paying the lobbyist, even if the two wishes might be contrary (i.e. higher vs lower corporate taxes, "free trade" treaties, etc)? For example, when a party decides a big new policy like Free Trade is needed in Canada - where did this come from? Rather obviously NOT we the people, as there was huge resistance to this idea. The elite policy groups, of course, wanted it - and got it. Democracy? Will of the people? Hardly.

So - when the government regularly passes laws or regulations or enters into treaties known to be favored by the wealthy elite, but opposed by most of the citizens polled - it is hard not to draw a line linking the two. As pointed out in the opening question - when the Canadian people regularly show their desire for a strengthened health care system, and a small group of elite businessmen regularly insist that health care spending be cut, and the government cuts health care spending - it's not a great leap to come to the conclusion that the government is not acting democratically in the interests of the majority of the people of Canada, and their expressed desires.

Management technique 6 - Lies 'R' Us....
And how then do these pseudo-democratic governments behave in terms of carrying out the wishes of a majority of the people? I have already noted the FTA, which was tested in a popular vote, rejected by a majority of the people, and enacted. The later NAFTA was exactly the same, rejected by a majority of the people, except this time the party opposing NAFTA got elected as the voters rose in anger to turf the most unpopular government in Canadian history, opposing again the NAFTA as they had opposed the FTA - but the new Liberal government promptly went back on their word and passed the very unpopular treaty it had campaigned against.

There doesn't seem to be anything about brazen broken promises in definitions of democracy, but insofar as the resulting action goes against the desires of a clear majority of the people, they would have to be seen as undemocratic, it would seem to me at least. (And yet various courts have ruled that voters have no redress against politicians who do not fulfill promises, raising questions about many other aspects of Canadian "democracy")

But this is the norm in Canadian elections - glowing promises made in election campaigns simply ignored once in power, if not brazenly reversed as with Chretien and NAFTA (or his promise to cancel the GST). The examples are legion, I need hardly mention anything specific. And then we have the many things NOT mentioned during any election campaign, and then enacted with no consultation of the people at all. No government ever ran a campaign on slashing health care budgets, for example, as noted, yet such was a regular feature of budgets for years. No government ever ran a campaign on such things as passing seatbelt laws, or anti-smoking laws, or raising their own salaries - or as I write the recent news that the feds are introducing laws concerning street racing and age of consent and have increased their expense allowance - we had an election barely six months ago, and they were not mentioned at all - but now, no consultation with we the people required, they are doing these things. It is true enough that a government may from time to time be faced with some sort of urgent situation requiring a speedy response with no real time to solicit the opinion of the people, but things such as those noted do most assuredly not fall into this category.

But again, the main point is looking at "democracy", government of, by and for the people, following the wishes of a majority of its citizens - how can the actions noted be called in any way "the will of the people" - when they most assuredly are not? And if the will of the people is not the central driving force behind a government - how can it be called democratic? Protestations that these or other laws or regulations are "good" or even "necessary" are completely irrelevant - the issue is simply democracy, and the will of the people.

So - what we see in Canadaland's managed elections is government of, by and for the elite of Canada, not we the people. Not a wild conspiracy theory - demostrable fact. For those who wish to know.

Party democracy is nothing more than a way to make controlling the people easier, while giving the appearance of democracy - far, far easier to control a few people at the top of the chain, who control a few more underneath them, than to try to control 300 independent MPs truly answerable to their constituents, or 30 million free-thinking, aware, intelligent citizens.

"A happy, hardworking, goods-consuming citizen [is] perfect... Otherwise the wheels stop turning... You're so conditioned that you can't help doing what you ought to do. And what you ought to do is on the whole so pleasant... that there really aren't any temptations to resist. And if ever, by some unlucky chance, anything unpleasant should somehow happen, why, there's always [the drug] soma... to make you patient and longsuffering... to give you a holiday from the facts." Aldous Huxley, Brave New World, 1932

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