October 15, 2015
As a Canadian, I am expected to write about Canadian things. As you may know, dear reader, we in Canada are currently in the midst of an election. I want to tell you why I’m not voting.
“Mr. Shannon, this hardly seems like a topic of European affairs” you announce in shock. No, you are justified in your concerns. My argument isn’t strictly concerning Europe, but as Western Democracy struggles with low voter turn out, the topic can hardly be call of low importance or interest.
I have always been a very political person. I grew up with video games tasking me to run governments and economies, so by the time I reached the age of majority and received the right to vote, I’m afraid to say that I was already fervently plotting the socialist overthrow of the capitalist plutocracy. Being a middle class intellectual, nothing ever came of my fervor and I outgrew my revolutionary ideals, but I didn’t outgrow my political ideals.
I’ve worked in two elections and campaigned in another. I have studied politics across two degrees. So how could someone as political active as myself, wading through politics from a practical and theoretical level, turn my back on the election?
Simply put, I do not have faith in the health of our federation and by not voting and negatively impact voter turn out, I am most effectively voicing political will.
Some of my concerns are those I’ve voiced when I’ve previously talked about Federalism: namely, the House of Commons’ goal to centralise power. Since that article, the government has come on board to the idea that the senate should be abolished. This means that the HM’s Government and HM’s loyal opposition both think that checks on the House of Commons are fine in theory, but not in practice. In Kantian terms, the House of Commons seeks to create a despotic government, by eliminating its rivals within the system– an extremely lopsided system, wherein Ontario and Quebec (which gained 20 of the 30 new seats added) control 199 of the 335 seats. The judicious mind will note that means that 20% of the members of the Federation control 59.4% of the seats in the house of commons. With British Columbia, the share grows to 241 seats and 71.9% between three of the ten provinces.
The senate is the only way Canada retains any semblance of federal structure. Otherwise, the imbalance in population strips entire regions, each dwarfing European countries, of any sort of representation. This is not to say that the senate is a functioning political institution at present. It is a chamber of patronage that isn’t even allowed to do the job outlined in the constitution. Fortunately, abolishing it requires constitutional amendment, which requires unanimous support of the provinces, which seems unlikely considering I’m not alone in my view.
The lack of a balance in powers in Canada has planted the seeds of destructive disinterest. After all, “checks and balances” are a cornerstone of liberal democracy. Without effective challengers from the other branches of government, the super legislation/executive combination of a majority government, with the self-righteous smugness that follows the exclusive representatives of the people becomes oppressively overwhelming. The idea that one will always get their way because there is more of them is despotic and completely illiberal. Moreover, it is a sin against the very Canadian notion of good government as a virtue because it is unnecessarily and unproductively creates grievances, when the government (but not specifically the sitting government) should be seek to generate good will.
To bring it back to Europe, I would just reiterate my earlier point: a working balance of power is as important today as when liberal order emerged dominant in Europe two hundred years ago. In a political system (at least between institutions themselves) hegemony should be avoided, not because it is unachievable, but because it is entirely achievable. However, those structures were built for a purpose and undermining them undermines, not only, their ability to fulfill their purpose, but also the country as a whole.