Friday, March 16, 2012

Canadian Federal System Clearly Undemocratic

In this statement on Canadian democracy, the United North America organization (UNA) presents strong evidence of the undemocratic and even dictatorial underpinnings of the Canadian federal system. The main undemocratic feature is the unilateral power of the Prime Minister, as outlined in the UNA statement:
  1. To appoint the Governor General of Canada (through whom the PM technically exercises most of his/her powers, some of which are listed below);
  2. To appoint Senators to the Canadian Senate;
  3. To appoint Supreme Court justices and other federal justices;
  4. To appoint all members of the Cabinet;
  5. To appoint the entire board of the Bank of Canada;
  6. To appoint the heads of the military, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and other government agencies;
  7. To appoint CEO's and Chairs of crown corporations such as CBC;
  8. To dissolve Parliament and choose the time of the next federal election (within a 5 year limit);
  9. To run for re-election indefinitely (no term limits);
  10. To remove Members of Parliament (MPs) from the ruling party's caucus;
  11. To deny any MP the right to participate in parliamentary debate or run for re-election;
  12. To dismiss individuals or groups of representatives from serving in Parliament;
  13. To ratify treaties; and
  14. To declare war.
The Prime Minister's powers are enhanced by a majority government. However, through the first-past-the-post system, a minority party can get a majority of the Canadian Parliament, as the Conservative Party of Canada did in 2011 with only 39.6% of the vote and 24.3% of the overall vote, and yet 54% of the seats in the Canadian Parliament. As noted by United North America, although there is discussion and debate in the Canadian Parliament, this aspect has time limits and comes down to a vote. With strict party discipline, the voice of federal MPs is nullified, and a majority party dominates the Parliament. This governance structure is reinforced by the fact that the majority of the MPs determine the Canadian federal election laws. These laws are shown to be self-serving by favoring significantly large, established political parties over small and new political parties and favoring major media over a pluralistic media (see the FDA Report on Canada). In addition, there are very few checks and balances on a Canadian majority government, except for mass public protest, intervention by the Canadian Supreme Court which the Prime Minister appoints, public law suits, and a public vote every four years or so.) As mentioned, the FDA believes that the public vote is canceled out by the self-serving and unfair nature of the federal electoral system. 

In regards to the US federal system, United North America overlooks that the US federal system is based on a defacto legislated two party system through extreme freedom in electoral finance and media laws, and resulting electoral inequality and unfairness. The US two party system cements the status quo in the USA, and in the process undermines American democracy.

Both the Canadian and US federal systems are undemocratic. To claim that they are democratic because of regular free and fair elections every four years or so, ignores many other factors (discussed above) which comprise democracy. What good is a fair count of votes when voters are uninformed and have narrow electoral choice? What good is a pluralistic party system, when large, established parties are significantly favored?

The FDA disagrees with the United North America's argument that the democratic failings of the Canadian federal system means Canadian provinces should join the US federal system. This argument overlooks that both systems are troubled, and that a troubled system does not mean people should give up their independence. Canadians need to reform the Canadian federal system, so that it is only about the Canadian people as a whole, rather than a minority political establishment.

The FDA believes that major reform of the Canadian federal system starts with disallowing members of parliament from determining the rules of their own election game. A non-partisan elected citizen group comprised of the regions of Canada should create the Canadian federal election laws. This reform is critical, because it will allow new voices to enter the Canadian Parliament, and hopefully through their voices lead to more change in favor of Canadians as a whole. (For more reforms see the FDA Report on Canada.)

United North American Organization on Democracy 

2011 FDA Global Electoral Fairness Audit Report on the USA

2011 FDA Global Electoral Fairness Audit Report on Canada


  1. What is the present rationale for allowing MPs to determine the rules of their own election game? If it is so objectionable, then how in the world was it allowed in the first place? We have three branches of government, yet not one has stepped in?

  2. The Canadian Supreme Court, which the Prime Minister appoints, does not think it is its place to determine the Canadian federal election laws. However, the Supreme Court conveniently ignores the fact that the majority of the MPs are in a conflict of interest. With a Canadian major media aligned with the federal government, most Canadians are uninformed about this serious issue. (See the Canadian Supreme Court case Harper for discussion of the rational.)

    The Senate is appointed by the Prime Minister, and it has minimal powers.

    As mentioned, control of the election laws helps ensure the status quo in Canada, just like in the USA, at the expense of democracy in both countries.

  3. Is it possible for the current Prime Minister to remove a sitting premier due to non confidence?


Thank you for sharing your perspective.