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Democracy: who's stupid idea was this anyway?

I was very pleased about the outcome of the last federal election. The Conservatives increased their seat count and it…

By Jesse Kline , in Minority Reports: Politics and power in Canada , on January 29, 2009 Tags: , , ,

I was very pleased about the outcome of the last federal election. The Conservatives increased their seat count and it appeared as though none of the opposition parties would have any incentive to force another election anytime soon.

“But didn’t you want a Conservative majority?” I was asked the next day, after expressing my approval of the election results to one of my colleagues. No, not really. I quite like the idea of minority governments.

I’ve never been a big fan of a legislative branch with few checks and balances placed upon it. One of the primary roles of parliament is to create laws. Laws are rules and regulations that are imposed upon society. In other words, they generally limit our freedoms in one way or another. Legislatures, by definition, must legislate. How can they not? It’s right there in the name. Since our parliamentary democracy has very few checks and balances, a minority government is a good way to slow down the process, to ensure that the legislation that does pass gets a little more consideration than it would if the opposition did not posses a veto.

Another thing that parliament does, as has become abundantly clear in recent days, is spend our money. And it would seem as though a minority parliament does not stop the government from doing that. In fact, quite the opposite. On Tuesday, the government released its budget, which projects a $64 billion deficit over the next two years. The Conservatives have been flying around the country for the past little while telling us why they think a massive economic stimulus package is needed, but don’t believe them. Don’t believe a word they say. This budget has very little to do with economics and everything to do with politics.

The return to big government and massive deficits goes against everything that Harper and his former Reform colleagues believe in. Here’s an excerpt from the Reform Party website in 1996:

We’ll reduce the size of government and lower taxes, to create real jobs… Overspending, over-taxation, and bureaucratic inefficiencies must be eliminated if we are to prosper and create real jobs. A Reform government is prepared to liberate the economy from excessive government, creating a future filled with growth and opportunity.

Wait a second. Reduce government spending to create jobs? But I thought we had to increase government spending to create jobs. So what happened? The answer is simple: the constrains of our democratic system got in the way.

When the opposition threatened to topple the government, Harper realized his political career was on the line. At this point, he had two problems. First, Ignatieff gave Harper a choice: introduce a budget with massive increases in government spending or be defeated by the coalition. Second, with the American media and Canada’s opposition parties comparing the recent economic downturn to the great depression, Harper was forced to take a more pessimistic view of the economy. Dan Garner explains:

This is a grand demonstration of one of the problems of democracy. Democracy’s wonderful, but it ain’t perfect… If one politician is talking in alarmist tones and you don’t join in and you say actually I don’t think the problem’s that bad, everybody should calm down. Of course you will get hammered for being callus, for not seeing how serious the problem is.

There are inherent biases built into our democratic institutions. It’s hard to reduce the size of government because of our electoral system. People like it when the government buys them things and politicians know this is a sure-fire way to win votes. Likewise, it’s hard to stay principled when your job is being threatened and hard to remain calm when your enemies are spreading fear among the populace. John Ivison sums up the situation:

In the life of every ministry, there comes a moment when convictions have been worn down by the constant pressures of power, leaving the government on all sides of every issue, standing for everything and nothing. Stephen Harper’s government may well have reached that point with this budget.

So Harper gets to keep his job and our children are left to pay off the debt leftover by his socialist economic policies. How unfortunate.

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