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The Cardus Daily

The Curious Case of Canadian Democracy

Brian Dijkema  |  October 25, 2012  |  Health, Politics

Democracy in Canada is sick. Our legislatures are presenting strong symptoms including multiple prorogations, maniacal behaviour, repeated eructations of talking points in legislative houses, carbuncular omnibus bills, and gangrenous construction contracts in Ontario and Quebec which reek badly of almonds. The applications of the medicinal leeches of deficit budgets across the country have only made the problem worse, sapping the lifeblood out of the country’s treasuries and forcing our governments to justify more and more outrageous behaviours in pursuit of the modern fountain of youth known as “economic health.”

So bad has the disease become that Chantal Hebert says, “Today, I mostly wish I could look away.” Her sparring partner, Andrew Coyne, doesn’t have a much brighter outlook:

And so the virus spreads . . . In truth, parliamentary government in Canada has been in decline for many years, and at an accelerating pace; as each new power is eroded or prerogative overridden, a precedent is established and a defence is removed, to the point that, well, what point have we reached?

What’s going on here? Everyone realizes that all parties are to blame. The more partisan among us might shriek “but they’re worse” but a glance at the newspapers shows that while certain muscles smell worse than others, the rot has run right through most of the Canadian democratic meat.

There’s been a lot of talk among the chatterati, including at Cardus, about solutions to fixing the problem, but most of them fail to account for one of the more curious aspects of this situation. Namely, that the corruption of Canadian democracy is occurring simultaneously with the highest standard of living, the greatest access to education, and the most wealth Canadians have ever had. In other words, our financial and educational lives have never been better, but our democracy has (arguably) never been worse. What gives?

I blame liberalism. Not the Liberal party, not liberals, but the philosophy to which all parties (save a few nutbars) pay homage on a daily basis. It is the supposed consensus that government’s exclusive role is to ensure greater choice for its citizens in their private lives, to the explicit exclusion of asking the big questions about who we are, what we’re for, and how government should act in pursuit of some deeper, shared conception of the good. This is the problem.

In other words, there is a feedback loop between political institutions in a democracy and the people who run them. Good citizens lead to good government and good institutions, and vice versa. We are living with the institutional legacy of peoples who knew that the political health of their country was directly related to the choices between different conceptions of the good, and the social institutions which weave together to make that good. But today, the majority of our citizenry and our politicians do not care to have that debate. We want candy, and don’t care too much about what politicians do, so long as we get it. Sadly, too much candy will turn our once proud democracy into a failed state.

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