The US and Canada should butt out

By IndepthAfrica
In Uncategorized
Jun 13th, 2012
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Rafe MAIR

The US. and to a lesser degree Canada, have little to teach, let alone preach about democracy. I know something of this from personal experience because I sat in the British Columbia Legislature and in its cabinet for five years. It didn’t take long for me to learn that our cabinet are responsible to the House which can at any time turf out a government by a simple majority but such is the party discipline, it never happens. The only occasion I know of where a majority government got tossed out was in 1873, nearly 150 years ago. when Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A, Macdonald and several ministers were caught with their hands in till. This was before ironclad party discipline took over the legislatures.

It’s important to note that in the 2011 election over 25% stayed home so that the Conservatives got 100% of the power with less than 40% of the eligible voters namely about 25% of eligible voters.

It’s not that there haven’t been plenty of times governments should have been tossed out on their ear – or perhaps on another part of the body. It’s that, staying with earthy similes, the Prime Minister has them, ahem, by the balls.

(Incidentally, what I say here applies to both the provincial and federal systems.)

It’s a carrot and stick situation.

The carrot is the absolute right of the Prime Minister to appoint back-benchers to Cabinet or one of the lesser offices which pay more and have greater prestige – such as deputy speaker, party whip and other jobs adding an extra bit of pay. He has an untrammelled right to fire them too. Simply put, every backbencher believes they should be in cabinet – as Napoleon put it ”very foot soldier carries a marshal’s baton in his knapsack” thus bank-benchers know that the way to promotion lays in being a good boy. And once in, they have no desire to leave.

The prime minister carries one big stick – he can toss any MP who won’t come to heel, out of caucus then refuse to sign his election papers meaning he the miscreant cannot run on party’s banner and must run as an Independent. This puts an end of his political life.

In Canada, then, Democracy means the ability to vote in a five year dictator without a majority of the votes cast. Moreover, because our elections are “first past the post” not proportional representation, it is all but impossible for smaller parties like the Greens to elect a member. Here’s the real rub – only about 70% of eligible voters bother voting so that in 2011 the Conservatives got a large majority on less than 40% of eligible voters meaning he has a comfortable majority with less than 25% of those eligible to vote..

The US has a brilliant constitution created by men of undoubted genius, They saw the peril of a King emerging out of the Revolution so set up three branches of government; the executive (president) the legislative (Congress) and the judiciary (Supreme Court) to balance each other off. Sadly, these great institutions have seen better days.

Money talks.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics.

In 2007 the field of presidential candidates for ’08 raised $582.5 million and spent $481.2 million. That exceeds the total fundraising and spending in each election from 1976 through 2000—the last time both parties had competitive fields. In 2000, George W. Bush, Al Gore and the other candidates who ran collected $528.9 million and spent $343.1 million, including public financing. In 2004, Bush, John Kerry and the rest of the field raised $880.5 million and spent $717.9 million. In 2012, the candidates alone will raise more than $1 billion—the first time a U.S. presidential election will cross the billion-dollar mark.

Congressional elections are no better

The average House seat costs more than $1 million, and Senate seats can go for tens of millions. Here, you can see how the candidates in a given congressional race stack up. For challengers and candidates vying for open seats, we have analyses of their fundraising similar to what you’ll find for incumbent members of Congress.

Obviously donors expect something out of this and it can surely be said that the President and Congress are the best money can buy.

Moreover, even in the Senate it only takes 40 of 100 Senators to block legislation. In my lifetime two presidents have won under very questionable circumstances, John Kennedy in 1960 with and George W. Bush in 2000. If it’s a democracy, it’s a badly flawed one not to be copied or boasted about.

The United States and Canada are in Afghanistan to bring democracy to the country. I’m a “democrat” and would love to see such a system in my own country, for like the US, our constitutions looks good on paper but not in practice. How, then, can we expect countries where there is no history of democracy to see the light and become the slightest bit interested in a system they have never had in their history?

Moreover, as time passes I find myself asking “what business is of ours how other countries govern themselves?”

The oil rich nations scarcely need to understand how “money talks”, US variety, when they have long experienced the same thing in their own country.

The clash between European culture and the world of Islam goes back over 1000 years yet George W. Bush went into Iraq with no understanding that two branches of Islam were at each others’ throats, with the minority branch ruling, let alone the plight of the Kurds.

Canada has gone from a respected “peace keeping” role to a “peacemaking” role and thus has cast aside the reason she was respected.

The United States doesn’t understand that whatever trappings of democracy exist in the Muslim world, they will invariably see a strongman emerge once again. Most of us are in dismal ignorance of the Muslim world; the unhealed wounds of the Crusades and the later stealing of oil. have created and encouraged hostility (to weak a word, perhaps) that certainly will not go away. Add that to their experience with what they see an intruders, Israel is a constant reminder of their impotence made all the more galling in light of the enormous the muslim contribution to western culture. Clemenceau once said “America is the only nation in history which miraculously has gone directly from barbarism to degeneration without the usual interval of civilization”. Overstated it may be, there is truth in it. To this day, the US is culturally in kindergarten and doesn’t bring to foreign policy a personal feeling for history other than their own. Nor does Canada.

Why, then, are we Canadians and Americans evangelists for a system elsewhere that that we can’t even make work ourselves?

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