(((((Ital precede))))) “Pa don’t even like the word writin’. Ever’ time Pa seen writin’, somebody took somepin away from ‘im.”
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If I didn’t know that Pa was American writer John Steinbeck’s creation, and that he lived on a 1930s Oklahoma homestead, I could have sworn that he belonged in 2012 and he witnessed the writing of Harper’s omnibus Bill C-38. Its 425 pages make changes to dozens of laws, give more power to the already powerful, take the power away from the already powerless.
I’ve found it startling (also refreshing, encouraging, exciting) to see so many related letters in the newspapers. “It’s an affront to our democracy as Canadians,” they yell, outraged. Excuse me? What democracy? It never occurred to me one day I’d boast about such a thing, but I was born in a dictatorship… and I recognize one when I see one. The difference here? Only that we elect our dictatorial leaders. Get used to the idea — we live in an elected dictatorship and we’re not alone; it’s the same story in many countries around the world. Difficult to comprehend? Not really, take a look in the dictionary.
Democracy, the government by the people, means that each and every one of us must be able to have our say on all issues of the day. But there are so many of us, and this is unrealistic, right? That’s why we came up with the idea to have representatives who would understand our passions and fears, gather our opinions, compile the information, and put it on the decision-making table. There, it should be regarded with the respect it deserves, because politicians aren’t supposed to be our masters, but our servants instead.
However, when was the last time you thought your opinion counted at all? All you get to do is elect your representatives every so many years, and in between elections, you step aside and let your reps decide. Big problem; they have little incentive, and no obligation by law, to base their decisions on your wishes or your thoughts. This is the way our so-called democracy works. Great, eh? And I’m tired of hearing that we should be content because what we have is much better than anything else out there. Ha! Who could be telling us that? Perhaps those who benefit from having things the way they are? There are much better and fairer democratic systems in operation; Switzerland’s is one that calls for a great deal of admiration.
The Swiss also vote to elect their reps, but here popular sovereignty is never taken in jest. It’s the Swiss citizens’ legal right to question any law and put it to a general vote. They can propose constitutional amendments, and they have the last word on any legislative changes. Gathering signatures is all it takes. Well, that, and a lot of interest in political affairs — the Swiss stay engaged and participate. With almost 3,000 autonomous municipalities, equalling 3,000 constitutions in the country, the system offers measurable results: the areas where citizens are more inclined to take matters into their own hands enjoy a better quality of life, they have wonderful public services, and their economies are strong and healthy. While no system would fit all, there’s obviously a lot we can learn and a lot of change we can make. An omnibus bill would be considered ridiculous among the Swiss.
Our political house is in need of renovations, and speaking up is already a great start. We don’t like omnibus bills? Let’s keep telling them that. But let’s not give Harper credit that he doesn’t deserve; our system was failing long before he got into the Prime Minister’s chair. Omnibus bills are not Harper’s, or the Conservatives’, invention. Let me take you back to Trudeau’s 1969 Criminal Law Amendment Act. Omnibus Bill C-150 proposed to decriminalize homosexuality, allow abortion and contraception, and regulate lotteries, drinking and driving offences, cruelty to animals, misleading advertising and gun possession. Hhmm, I quite like the sound of this stuff… but the process is no more democratic because of that.
Over 40 years later, our system isn’t any better. Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird says that Bill C-38 is a plan for long-term economic growth, for prosperity for all. Well, “there is a failure here that topples all our success,” Mr. Baird. That’s what Steinbeck said, and I couldn’t have put it better myself.