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Is Canada becoming less democratic?

Is Canadian democracy eroding even while we try to promote democracy in places like Afghanistan? Columnist James Travers looks back as far as the Trudeau years, and sees us becoming a less democratic, more authoritarian country.

Writing in Saturday's Star, Travers describes the quiet unravelling of Canadian democracy.

Laughter or disbelief would have been my '80s response to any gloomy prediction that within the next 20 odd years Canada's iconic police force would twist the outcome of a federal election. I would have rejected out of hand the suggestion that Parliament would become a largely ceremonial body incapable of performing its defining functions of safeguarding public spending and holding ministers to account.

I would have treated as ridiculous any forecast that the senior bureaucracy would become politicized, that many of the powers of a monarch would flow from Parliament to the prime minister or that the authority of the Governor General, the de facto head of state, would be openly challenged.

Yet every one has happened and each has chipped away another brick of the democratic foundations underpinning Parliament. Incrementally and by stealth, Canada has become a situational democracy. What matters now is what works. Precedents, procedures and even laws have given way to the political doctrine of expediency.

Travers cites David Emerson's political career evidence of how Canadian politics have failed:

In 2006, Emerson ran for re-election in Vancouver-Kingsway, winning easily as a Liberal. Weeks after promising to be Stephen Harper's "worst nightmare," Emerson was named to the Conservative cabinet in the trade portfolio he had long wanted and was well-suited for. His rationale was simple: There's no point in being in the capital if there's no real possibility of influencing the nation's course.

Emerson is an honest man and his motives genuine. But in severing the link between ballots and voter choice, he made nonsense of the electoral process.

The bloggers so far responding to the Travers article have tended to agree with his thesis.

Glenn Penner, an evangelical Christian and Conservative supporter, writes: "We have allowed parties to abandon their principles for the sake of gaining or maintaining power. We keep voting for parties (if we bother to vote at all) more out of loyalty than on platform. "

Chrystal Ocean at Challenging the Commonplace agrees with Travers but complains that he doesn't mention problems in our voting system:

"And surely democracy is too important to allow it to be shaped by media outlets which try to block citizen movements, such as those advocating proportional representation. "

"The Star is a case in point. While it positions itself as a progressive, left-of-centre paper, it stubbornly, unaccountably and steadfastly argues against a voting system which would distribute fair choice and representation to all voters, not just to members and supporters of the powerful elite."

Chrystal Ocean also runs a blog titled Yes for BC-STV, Mid-Island.

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

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