STRUCTURE OF GOVERNANCE IN CANADA (REDESIGNING)
[“Trust the people. Leave them alone.”
(Attributed to Lao Tse in the Tao Te Ching, c. 300 BCE)]
A. Who’s In Charge Here?
Two conditions describe a free people:
1. Free people have the power to control what their governments do.
2. Free people have the power to control the authorities in their governments.
These are also the essential conditions for democracy government controlled by the people. In a democracy, free people set the terms and conditions of their own governance.
Governance was invented to do the things that persons and families couldn’t do, or do as well, by themselves. It’s a tradeoff with a cost. Governance is a “fair trade” or “good buy” insofar as it enables people to exercise their abilities to the limits of their ambitions in a peaceful and orderly environment that works.
The original deal of governance was that people would agree to delegate some of their own personal authority to another person or persons on the understanding that they would still have the ultimate power and control in the group. More explicitly, governors could gain and maintain positions of authority only if the members of the group let them do so. Governors were expected to serve and support the people who gave them their positional authority. If they didn’t, they lost their positions.
This fundamental concept governors controlled by the governed – originated far back in the misty dawn of governance among all pre and proto civilized peoples all over the world. It remained the guiding principle of governance for thousands of years among the nomadic tribes that roamed back and forth over the vast plains and forests north of the chain of mountains, from the Pyrenees to the Himalayas, that divides the Eurasian continent north and south. It reached a high level of application among the Scandinavian and Germanic tribes around the Baltic Sea. Their “Moots”‘ and “Things” foretold the principles of the British parliamentary system of responsible, accountable, representative government.
This “northern” way was rooted in the personalist principle that the individual was the basic human value.
Civilization, based on settled agricultural communities, began in a few river valleys south of the Eurasian mountain chain and, for thousands of years, existed only there.
A new concept of governance emerged in these sedentary, southern civilizations that governors had their authority from the gods, not the people. Those in positions of authority began to identify themselves as agents of the gods. They alone could interpret the will of the gods, and therefore, were accountable only to the gods for their actions. After all, who could know better than gods what was good for the community? This “southern” concept of governance was driven by the socialist principle that the group/
collective/community was the basic human value.
It was a total reversal of the original deal of governance. Its origins were probably no more complicated than that the need for defensive and other public works in settled communities required more organizational authority than did life among free wheeling nomads, and, power is tasty and those who acquire the powers of positional authority tend to become keen to keep them. From the village chief who favours the warriors, gofers and shamans who kiss up to him, to the dictator surrounded by elaborate structures of aristocrats, bureaucrats and theocrats hanging together in leach like support of him and each other is only a step of magnitude, not of kind.
From Sumer, Egypt, Babylon, Persia, Greece and Imperial Rome, through Gaul to the ancien regimes of France, this top down, “southern” concept of governance contended with, then overwhelmed, the people up, “northern” concept in “civilized” communities.
Oligarchy top down control of the institutions of the state by a small number of people has been, and still is, the form of governance in virtually every nation on earth. The fact that in some countries the citizens are occasionally allowed to elect someone from among party selected slates of ins and wannabes does not alter the fact that most governments are controlled by elitist minorities who think they are better able to decide what’s good for the community than the people are. Governing/establishment elites believe that some higher authority has ordained them to rule. They truly believe in government of the people by better people – themselves.
Today’s “true”, “real” or “neo” conservatives still subscribe to the ancient notion that 90+% of the people are a careless, ignorant, unprincipled mob that is incapable of self government. Conservatives continue to believe that the people can be pacified by bread, circuses and the vote and that they only need to be ruled and controlled by a small, self selecting circle of wiser, better persons to be happy. The idea that governors should be responsible to citizens is enough to make contemporary conservatives choke on their oysters.
While today’s liberal/socialist “progressives” claim they believe in the natural goodness and common sense of the people, in practice, they merely substitute the more saleable “will of the people” for “will of the gods” to justify the actions of their elites when they take control of the state’s institutions. For contemporary “progressives”, the populist card is just a ticket to power.
Lost amid the blare of competing conservative and “progressive” elites claiming to know what’s best for the community is the fact that, when fully informed and properly consulted, there is no stronger force for good in the community than the common sense of the people in it. Self interest impels free people to self govern themselves sensibly. Particularly in western Europe and North America, citizens have long been struggling to restore the original “northern” deal of governance.
It is instructive to read and ponder the implications of the preamble to the BNA Act (now the Constitution Act). It starts: “An Act for the Union of Canada, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick and the Government thereof: Whereas the Provinces of Canada, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick have expressed their desire to be federally united into one Dominion…” Nowhere does the preamble refer to the people of the colonial provinces. Provinces don’t/can’t have desires! If only the preamble had reflected a different reality, eg: “Whereas the people of the provinces of … desire to be united in one Dominion…”
If Canadians have seemed unaware of, uninterested in, or indifferent to the constitution of their country it is probably because they had no part either in writing it or approving it. It was a deal done by colonial and British governors and officials behind closed doors in fact out of the country. Canada came into being by an Act of the British Parliament. The colonial legislatures, never mind the colonists, didn’t even get to rubber stamp the deal.
The Act itself was a pretty good description of which governments were to do what. It was not a constitution in which the terms and conditions of their own governance were defined by the Canadian people.
The constitution of a free people in a democracy describes the activities their governments are authorized to undertake and the structural institutions for exercising that authority.
Only the people of Canada have the right to decide Canada’s future. In fact, no constitution should be considered legitimate or binding on Canadians unless it has been written and approved by Canadians.
A constitution is not supposed to be an agreement among the governing/establishment elites as to how they will share their powers over the people.
Canadians have endured a century and a third of having no control over the governance of their own nation. The backroom deals, arrangements and compromises have been made mostly by unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats meshing their interests with other establishment groups and securing “official” approvals from Party reps in parliament or the provincial legislatures. National and provincial politicians and officials simply replaced British and colonial governors and officials.
Governance in Canada has descended into a one party, one person dictatorship system. An invisible cabal of unelected, unaccountable operators in the Prime Minister’s Office, party big shots, other influentials, and bureaucrats, set the agenda, decide the result they want, then force the back benchers of the majority party to vote the party line for appearances’ sake. Our nation’s governments are being run by interchangeable teams, with quarterbacks who are told what to do by the coaches, managers and owners and who are backed up by motley crews of benchwarmers. The perverted “my way or the highway” rigidity of Canada’s current party system is another major contributor to the death of parliamentary democracy in Canada.
Canadians have become increasingly aware of the damage that has been done to their country by their out of control governments. They are tired of being told what to do by people who don’t seem to know what they’re doing. Little if any attention has been paid to the needs and desires expressed by the Canadian people during the crazy years. Governance has all been about competing camps of governing/establishment elites promoting their own positions. Canadians are really frustrated by their inability to get their hands on those who have so grossly misgoverned the greatest country in the world. 2
A constitution is the basic instrument for describing the terms and conditions of life in a community.
Up to now, Canada’s constitution making has been the exclusive preserve of the governing/establishment elites. 130+ years ago, the only way to create Canada was for the British government to forge a union of its existing colonies. Today, Canadians are numerous, experienced and sensible enough to decide the terms and conditions of their own governance. There is a growing sense in the land that nothing will change for the better until the “Constitutional Debate” is taken over by the people of Canada.
We need a Citizens’ Assembly whose members will write a Canadian constitution for approval by the Canadian people in a binding referendum.
Particularly since the rejections of the Meech Lake agreement and the Charlottetown Accord, an increasing number of business leaders, editors, politicians, city councils, commentators and individual citizens have called for a Citizens’ Assembly to write a new Canadian constitution. Too often, though, their point is weakened when they say that the Assembly should be made up of “prominent” or “eminent” Canadians. Good grief, they’re the ones who put us here!
What is really needed is an Assembly of citizens elected by citizens. Such an Assembly could consist of 105 elected citizens one from each of the fifteen natural regions in each of the seven natural territories in Canada. No past or present national or provincial politician would be eligible to stand for election to the Assembly. Input from any source would be at the sole discretion of the Assembly.
A Citizens’ Assembly could be charged with writing a new constitution in six months for section by section approval or denial by the citizens of Canada in a binding referendum. A standard for acceptance could be 2/3 approval overall, and at least 50% approval in 75 of the 105 regions.
The Assembly could operate by the authority of the Governor General’s office, be administered by Elections Canada and be financed by the Canadian people via the national government.
The first principle that describes any democratic group is that its leadership can be controlled by the members of the group. Authority resides in the position, not the person. The question is ancient do the citizens control the authorities who control the institutions of the state, or, are the citizens controlled by the authorities who control the institutions of the state?
From the resolution of this question flow all the policies and practices of governance security of person, property, interests and rights; rule of law; personal freedom and responsibility; economic abundance; income distribution; social service; and so on.
In order to be a free people in a democratic nation in which they set the terms and conditions of their own governance, Canadians have to create a constitution in which the people are the supreme authority and in which control over the institutions of the state is exercised by a Parliament that is controlled by the people who elect and pay for it.
Parliament’s purpose should be to enact legislation and regulations that are acceptable to the people; the bureaucrats and public service workers should deliver the services, directed and supervised by Parliament, in a manner that satisfies the people; and the justice system should be subject to a Parliament controlled by the people.
Extracted from Essay 3 (completed Nov.1999), one of six essays in “Personalism v Socialism”Tags: authority, conditions, terms