Politics of Canada
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politics and government of
The politics of Canada function within a framework of parliamentary democracy and a federal system of parliamentary government with strong democratic traditions. Canada is a constitutional monarchy, in which the Monarch is head of state. The country has a multi-party system in which many of its legislative practices derive from the unwritten conventions of and precedents set by Great Britain's Westminster Parliament. However, Canada has evolved variations: party discipline in Canada is stronger than in the United Kingdom and more parliamentary votes are considered motions of confidence, which tends to diminish the role of non-Cabinet Members of Parliament (MPs). Such members, in the government caucus, and junior or lower-profile members of opposition caucuses, are known as backbenchers. Backbenchers can, however, exert their influence by sitting in parliamentary committees, like the Public Accounts Committee or the National Defence Committee. The two dominant political parties in Canada have historically been the Liberal Party of Canada and Conservative Party of Canada (or its predecessors), however, as of the 2011 election the social-democratic New Democratic Party (NDP) has risen to prominence. This rise of prominence mirrors a historic decline in the Liberal party's popularity. Smaller parties like the Quebec nationalist Bloc Québécois and the Green Party of Canada can exert their own influence over the political process.
- 1 Context
- 2 Summary of governmental organization
- 3 Federal-provincial relations
- 4 National unity
- 5 Political conditions
- 6 Elections
- 7 Judiciary
- 8 Government departments and structure
- 8.1 Problems and Limitations
- 8.1.1 Canadian Policy Institutions
- 8.1.2 Canadian Political Culture and Ideology
- 8.1.3 Globalization
- 8.1.4 Political Parties and Other Policy Actors
- 8.1.5 Social Welfare Policy
- 8.1.6 State-Society Relations and Macroeconomic Policy
- 8.1.7 The Electoral System and Voting
- 8.1.8 The Political Executive, Legislature and Bureaucracy
- 8.1.9 The Politics of Identity and Power: Multiculturalism
- 8.1 Problems and Limitations
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 Further reading
- 12 External links
Canada's governmental structure was originally established by the British Parliament through the British North America Act (now known as the Constitution Act, 1867), but the federal model and division of powers were devised by Canadian politicians. Particularly after World War I, citizens of the self-governing Dominions, such as Canada, began to develop a strong sense of identity, and, in the Balfour Declaration of 1926, the British government expressed its intent to grant full autonomy to these regions.
Thus in 1931, the British Parliament passed the Statute of Westminster, giving legal recognition to the autonomy of Canada and other Dominions. Following this, Canadian politicians were unable to obtain consensus on a process for amending the constitution until 1982, meaning amendments to Canada's constitution continued to require the approval of the British parliament until that date. Similarly, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in Britain continued to make the final decision on criminal appeals until 1933 and on civil appeals until 1949.
Summary of governmental organization
- Canada (for conventional and legal use; "Dominion of Canada" remains legal but rarely used)
- Type of government
- Westminster style federal parliamentary democracy within a constitutional monarchy.
- Ottawa, Ontario.
- Administrative divisions
- Ten provinces and three territories*: Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Northwest Territories*, Nova Scotia, Nunavut*, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Saskatchewan, Yukon*.
- National holiday
- Canada Day, July 1 (known until 1982 as Dominion Day).
- Legal system
- English common law for all matters within federal jurisdiction and in all provinces and territories except Quebec, which is based on the civil law, based on the Custom of Paris in pre-revolutionary France as set out in the Civil Code of Quebec; accepts compulsory International Court of Justice jurisdiction, with reservations.
- Citizens aged 18 years or older. Only two adult citizens in Canada cannot vote: the Chief Electoral Officer, and the Deputy Chief Electoral Officer. The Governor General is eligible to vote, but abstains due to constitutional convention.
- Participation in international organizations
- ABEDA, ACCT, ACS (observer), AfDB, APEC, AsDB, Australia Group, BIS, C, CCC, CDB (non-regional), Council of Europe (observer), Commonwealth of Nations, EAPC, EBRD, ECE, ECLAC, ESA (cooperating state), FAO, La Francophonie, G-8, G-10, IADB, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICC, ICCt, ICJ, ICFTU, ICRM, IDA, IEA, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, IHO, ILO, IMF, IMO, Inmarsat, Intelsat, Interpol, IOC, IOM, ISO, ITU, Kyoto Protocol, LRTAP, MINURCA, MINURSO, MIPONUH, MONUC, NAM (guest), NAFTA, NATO, NEA, NORAD North American Aerospace Defense Command, NORTHCOM, NSG, OAS, OECD, OPCW, OSCE, PCA, UN, UN Security Council (prior/temporary), UNCTAD, UNDOF, UNECE, UNESCO, UNFICYP, UNHCR, UNIDO, UNIKOM, UNMIBH, UNMIK, UNMOP, UNTAET, UNTSO, UNU, UPU, WCL, WFTU, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WTO, Zangger Committee.
- Description of national flag
- A red maple leaf centred on a Canadian pale: three vertical bands of red (hoist side), white (double width, square), and red, with a length twice that of its height.
- Ministers (usually around thirty) chosen by the Prime Minister and appointed by the Governor General to lead various ministries and agencies, generally with regional representation. Traditionally most, if not all, cabinet ministers will be members of the leader's own party in the House of Commons or Senate (see Cabinet of Canada); however this is not legally or constitutionally mandated, and occasionally, the Prime Minister will appoint a cabinet minister from another party.
- The monarchy is hereditary. The Governor General is appointed by the monarch on the advice of the Prime Minister for a non-specific term, though it is traditionally approximately five years. Following legislative elections, the leader of the majority party in the House of Commons is usually designated by the Governor General to become Prime Minister.
Currently, the Senate, which is frequently described as providing "regional" representation, has 105 members appointed by the Governor General on the advice of the Prime Minister to serve until age 75. It was created with equal representation from each of Ontario, Quebec, the Maritime region and the Western Provinces. However, it is currently the product of various specific exceptions, additions and compromises, meaning that regional equality is not observed, nor is representation-by-population. The normal number of senators can be exceeded by the monarch on the advice of the Prime Minister, as long as the additional senators are distributed equally with regard to region (up to a total of eight additional Senators). This power of additional appointment has only been used once, when Prime Minister Brian Mulroney petitioned Queen Elizabeth II to add eight seats to the Senate so as to ensure the passage of the Goods and Services Tax legislation.
The House of Commons currently has 308 members elected in single-member districts in a plurality voting system (first past the post), meaning that members must attain only a plurality (the most votes of any candidate) rather than a majority (50 percent plus one). The electoral districts are also known as ridings.
Mandates cannot exceed five years; an election must occur by the end of this time. This fixed mandate has been exceeded only once, when Prime Minister Robert Borden perceived the need to do so during World War I. The size of the House and apportionment of seats to each province is revised after every census, conducted every five years, and is based on population changes and approximately on representation-by-population.
Majority and minority governments
Canadians vote for their local Member of Parliament (MP) only. The party leaders are elected prior to the general elections by party memberships. Parties elect their leaders in run-off elections to ensure that the winner receives more than 50% of the votes. Normally the party leader stands as a candidate to be an MP during an election.
The election of a local MP gives a seat to one of the several political parties. The party that gets the most seats normally forms the government, with that party's leader becoming prime minister. The Prime Minister is not directly elected by the general population, although the Prime Minister is almost always directly elected as an MP within his or her constituency.
Canada's parliamentary system empowers political parties and their party leaders. Where one party gets a majority of the seats in the House of Commons, that party is said to have a "majority government." Through party discipline, the party leader, who is only elected in one riding, exercises a great deal of control over the cabinet and the parliament.
A minority government situation occurs when the party that holds the most seats in the House of Commons holds less seats than the opposition parties combined. In this scenario the party leader whose party has the most seats in the House is selected by the Governor General to lead the government, however, to create stability, the leader chosen must have the support of the majority of the House, meaning they need the support of at least one other party.
In Canada, the provinces are considered co-sovereign; sovereignty of the provinces is passed on, not by the Governor General or the Canadian parliament, but through the Crown itself. This means that the Crown is "divided" into 11 legal jurisdictions; into 11 "Crowns" – one federal and ten provincial.
Federal-provincial (or intergovernmental, formerly Dominion-provincial) relations is a regular issue in Canadian politics: Quebec wishes to preserve and strengthen its distinctive nature, western provinces desire more control over their abundant natural resources, especially energy reserves; industrialized Central Canada is concerned with its manufacturing base, and the Atlantic provinces strive to escape from being less affluent than the rest of the country.
In order to ensure that social programs such as health care and education are funded consistently throughout Canada, the "have-not" (poorer) provinces receive a proportionately greater share of federal "transfer (equalization) payments" than the richer, or "have", provinces do; this has been somewhat controversial. The richer provinces often favour freezing transfer payments, or rebalancing the system in their favour, based on the claim that they already pay more in taxes than they receive in federal government services, and the poorer provinces often favour an increase on the basis that the amount of money they receive is not sufficient for their existing needs.
Particularly in the past decade, some scholars have argued that the federal government's exercise of its unlimited constitutional spending power has contributed to strained federal-provincial relations. This power, which allows the federal government to spend the revenue it raises in any way that it pleases, allows it to overstep the constitutional division of powers by creating programs that encroach on areas of provincial jurisdiction. The federal spending power is not expressly set out in the Constitution Act, 1867; however, in the words of the Court of Appeal for Ontario the power "can be inferred" from s. 91(1A), "the public debt and property".
A prime example of an exercise of the spending power is the Canada Health Act, which is a conditional grant of money to the provinces. Regulation of health services is, under the Constitution, a provincial responsibility. However, by making the funding available to the provinces under the Canada Health Act contingent upon delivery of services according to federal standards, the federal government has the ability to influence health care delivery. This spending power, coupled with Supreme Court rulings – such as Reference re Canada Assistance Plan (B.C.) – that have held that funding delivered under the spending power can be reduced unilaterally at any time, has contributed to strained federal-provincial relations.
Quebec and Canadian politics
Except for three short-lived transitional or minority governments, prime ministers from Quebec led Canada continuously from 1968 to early 2006. Québécois led both Liberal and Progressive Conservative governments in this period.
Monarchs, governors general, and prime ministers are now expected to be at least functional, if not fluent, in both English and French. In selecting leaders, political parties give preference to candidates who are fluently bilingual.
Also, by law, three of the nine positions on the Supreme Court of Canada must be held by judges from Quebec. This representation makes sure that at least three judges have sufficient experience with the civil law system to treat cases involving Quebec laws.
Canada has a long and storied history of secessionist movements (see Secessionist movements of Canada). National unity has been a major issue in Canada since the forced union of Upper and Lower Canada in 1840.
The predominant and lingering issue concerning Canadian national unity has been the ongoing conflict between the French-speaking majority in Quebec and the English-speaking majority in the rest of Canada. Quebec's continued demands for recognition of its "distinct society" through special political status has led to attempts for constitutional reform, most notably with the failed attempts to amend the constitution through the Meech Lake Accord and the Charlottetown Accord (the latter of which was rejected through a national referendum).
Since the Quiet Revolution, sovereigntist sentiments in Quebec have been variably stoked by the patriation of the Canadian constitution in 1982 (without Quebec's consent) and by the failed attempts at constitutional reform. Two provincial referendums, in 1980 and 1995, rejected proposals for sovereignty with majorities of 60% and 50.6% respectively. Given the narrow federalist victory in 1995, a reference was made by the Chrétien government to the Supreme Court of Canada in 1998 regarding the legality of unilateral provincial secession. The court decided that a unilateral declaration of secession would be unconstitutional. This resulted in the passage of the Clarity Act in 2000.
The Bloc Québécois, a sovereigntist party which runs candidates exclusively in Quebec, was started by a group of MPs who left the Progressive Conservative (PC) party (along with several disaffected Liberal MPs), and first put forward candidates in the 1993 federal election. With the collapse of the PCs in that election, the Bloc and Liberals were seen as the only two viable parties in Quebec. Thus, prior to the 2006 election, any gain by one party came at the expense of the other, regardless of whether national unity was really at issue. The Bloc, then, benefited (with a significant increase in seat total) from the impressions of corruption that surrounded the Liberal Party in the leadup to the 2004 election. However, the newly unified Conservative party re-emerged as a viable party in Quebec by winning 10 seats in the 2006 election. In the 2011 election, the New Democratic Party succeeded in winning 59 of Quebec's 75 seats, successfully reducing the number of seats of every other party substantially. The NDP surge nearly destroyed the Bloc, reducing them to 4 seats, far below the minimum requirement of 12 seats for Official party status.
Newfoundland and Labrador is also a problem regarding national unity. As the Dominion of Newfoundland was a self-governing country equal to Canada until 1949, there are large, though uncoordinated, feelings of Newfoundland nationalism and anti-Canadian sentiment among much of the population. This is due in part to the perception of chronic federal mismanagement of the fisheries, forced resettlement away from isolated settlements in the 1960s, the government of Quebec still drawing inaccurate political maps whereby they take parts of Labrador, and to the perception that mainland Canadians look down upon Newfoundlanders. In 2004, the Newfoundland and Labrador First Party contested provincial elections and in 2008 in federal ridings within the province. In 2004, then-premier Danny Williams ordered all federal flags removed from government buildings as a result of lost offshore revenues to equalization clawbacks.  On December 23, 2004, premier Williams made this statement to reporters in St. John's,
"They basically slighted us, they are not treating us as a proper partner in Confederation. It's intolerable and it's insufferable and these flags will be taken down indefinitely.... It's also quite apparent to me that we were dragged to Manitoba in order to punish us, quite frankly, to try to embarrass us, to bring us out there to get no deal and send us back with our tail between our legs."
Western alienation is another national-unity-related concept that enters into Canadian politics. Residents of the four western provinces, particularly Alberta, have often been unhappy with a lack of influence and a perceived lack of understanding when residents of Central Canada consider "national" issues. While this is seen to play itself out through many avenues (media, commerce, and so on.), in politics, it has given rise to a number of political parties whose base constituency is in western Canada. These include the United Farmers of Alberta, who first won federal seats in 1917, the Progressives (1921), the Social Credit Party (1935), the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (1935), the Reconstruction Party (1935), New Democracy (1940) and most recently the Reform Party (1989).
The Reform Party's slogan "The West Wants In" was echoed by commentators when, after a successful merger with the PCs, the successor party to both parties, the Conservative Party won the 2006 election. Led by Stephen Harper, who is an MP from Alberta, the electoral victory was said to have made "The West IS In" a reality. However, regardless of specific electoral successes or failures, the concept of western alienation continues to be important in Canadian politics, particularly on a provincial level, where opposing the federal government is a common tactic for provincial politicians. For example, in 2001, a group of prominent Albertans produced the Alberta Agenda, urging Alberta to take steps to make full use of its constitutional powers, much as Quebec has done.
Canada is considered by most sources to be a very stable democracy. In 2006 The Economist ranked Canada the third most democratic nation in its Democracy Index, ahead of all other nations in the Americas and ahead of every nation more populous than itself. In 2008, Canada was ranked World No. 11 and again ahead of all countries more populous and No. 1 for the Americas. (In 2008, the United States was ranked World No. 18, Uruguay World No. 23, and Costa Rica World No. 27.)
The Liberal Party of Canada, under the leadership of Paul Martin, won a minority victory in the June 2004 general elections. In December 2003, Martin had succeeded fellow Liberal Jean Chrétien, who had, in 2000, become the first Prime Minister to lead three consecutive majority governments since 1945. However, in 2004 the Liberals lost seats in Parliament, going from 172 of 301 Parliamentary seats to 135 of 308, and from 40.9% to 36.7% in the popular vote. The Canadian Alliance, which did well in western Canada in the 2000 election, but was unable to make significant inroads in the East, merged with the Progressive Conservative Party to form the Conservative Party of Canada in late 2003.
They proved to be moderately successful in the 2004 campaign, gaining seats from a combined Alliance-PC total of 78 in 2000 to 99 in 2004. However, the new Conservatives lost in popular vote, going from 37.7% in 2000 down to 29.6%. In 2006 the Conservatives, led by Stephen Harper, won a minority government with 124 seats. They improved their percentage from 2004, garnering 36.3% of the vote. During this election, the Conservatives also made major breakthroughs in Quebec. They gained 10 seats here, whereas in 2004 they had no seats.
In the 2011 election, the Conservatives won a majority government with 167 seats. For the first time, the NDP became the Official Opposition, with 102 seats; the Liberals came in third with 34 seats. This was the first election in which the Green Party won a seat, that of leader Elizabeth May; the Bloc won 4 seats, losing Official Party status.
Realignment: Conservatives in power
The Liberal Party, after dominating Canadian politics since the 1920s, has been in decline in the 21st century. As Lang (2010) concludes, they lost their majority in Parliament in the 2004 election, were defeated in 2006, and in 2008 became little more than a "rump", falling to their lowest seat count in decades and a mere 26% of the popular vote. Furthermore, says Lang (a Liberal himself), its prospects "are as bleak as they have ever been." In the election that occurred May 2, 2011, the Liberals suffered a crushing defeat, managing to secure only 18.9% of the vote share and only 34 seats. As a result, the Liberals lost their status as official opposition to the NDP.
In explaining these trends, Behiels (2010) synthesizes recent major studies and reports that "a great many journalists, political advisors, and politicians argue that a new political party paradigm is emerging"; that is, that Canada has recently undergone a watershed political realignment, the sort of political upheaval that happens rarely and often lasts for many years. In terms of the results of the national elections of 2004, 2006, and 2008, as well as Stephen Harper's political endurance, many Canadian experts, says Behiels, are generally agreed. They see a new power configuration based on a right-wing political party capable of sharply changing the traditional role of the state (federal and provincial) in the twenty-first-century. Behiels says that unlike Brian Mulroney, who tried but failed to challenge the long-term dominance of the Liberals, Harper's attempt has proven to be more determined, systematic and successful thus far.
Bloomfield and Nossal (2007) suggest that the new political alignment has reshaped Canadian foreign policy, especially in improving relations with the United States, taking a harder line on the Middle East conflicts, and backing away from the Kyoto Protocol on global warming. In terms of domestic policy, Doern and Stoney (2011) have explored how the realignment has reshaped spending policies, especially stimulus spending on infrastructure that has kept Canada immune from the economic recession battering the U.S. and the EU.
Many commentators after the 2011 election stressed the theme of a major realignment. The Economist said, "the election represents the biggest realignment of Canadian politics since 1993." Lawrence Martin, commentator for the Globe and Mail said, "Harper has completed a remarkable reconstruction of a Canadian political landscape that endured for more than a century. The realignment sees both old parties of the moderate middle, the Progressive Conservatives and the Liberals, either eliminated or marginalized." Maclean's said, the election marked "an unprecedented realignment of Canadian politics" as "the Conservatives are now in a position to replace the Liberals as the natural governing party in Canada."
Party funding reform
Funding changes were made to ensure greater reliance on personal contributions. Personal donations to federal parties and campaigns benefit from tax credits, although the amount of tax relief depends on the amount given. Also only people paying income taxes receive any benefit from this.
A good part of the reasoning behind the change in funding was that union or business funding should not be allowed to have as much impact on federal election funding as these are not contributions from citizens and are not evenly spread out between parties. They are still allowed to contribute to the election but only in a minor fashion. The new rules stated that a party had to receive 2% of the vote nationwide in order to receive the general federal funding for parties. Each vote garnered a certain dollar amount for a party (approximately $1.75) in future funding. For the initial disbursement, approximations were made based on previous elections. The NDP received more votes than expected (its national share of the vote went up) while the new Conservative Party of Canada received fewer votes than had been estimated and has been asked to refund the difference. The province of Quebec was the first province to implement a similar system of funding many years before the changes to funding of federal parties.
Federal funds are disbursed quarterly to parties, beginning at the start of 2005. For the moment, this disbursement delay leaves the NDP and the Green Party in a better position to fight an election, since they rely more on individual contributors than federal funds. The Green party now receives federal funds, since it for the first time received a sufficient share of the vote in the 2004 election.
In 2007, news emerged of a funding loophole that "could cumulatively exceed the legal limit by more than $60,000," through anonymous recurrent donations of 200 dollars to every riding of a party from corporations or unions.
- House of Commons – direct plurality representation (last election held May 2, 2011)
- Senate – appointed by the governor general on the advice of the prime minister
- Election results
|Party||Party leader||Candidates||Seats||Popular vote|
|2008||Dissol.||2011||% Change||% seats||#||# Change||%||pp Change|
|New Democratic||Jack Layton||308||37||36||103||+178.38%||33.44%||4,508,474||+1,993,186||30.63%||+12.45pp|
|Bloc Québécois||Gilles Duceppe||75||49||47||4||−91.84%||1.30%||889,788||−490,203||6.04%||−3.93pp|
|Independent and no affiliation||61||2||2||—||−100%||—||72,731||−22,113||0.49%||−0.19pp|
|Christian Heritage||James Hnatiuk||46||—||—||—||—||—||19,218||−7,257||0.13%||−0.06pp|
|Marxist–Leninist||Anna Di Carlo||70||—||—||—||—||—||10,160||+1,595||0.07%||+0.01pp|
|Progressive Canadian||Sinclair Stevens||9||—||—||—||—||—||5,838||−22||0.04%||−0.00pp|
|Canadian Action||Christopher Porter||12||—||—||—||—||—||2,030||−1,425||0.01%||−0.01pp|
|Animal Alliance||Liz White||7||—||—||—||—||—||1,451||+924||0.01%||+0.01pp|
|Western Block||Doug Christie||4||—||—||—||—||—||748||+553||0.01%||+0.00pp|
|First Peoples National||Will Morin||1||—||—||—||—||—||228||−1,383||0.00%||−0.01pp|
|Source: Elections Canada (Preliminary results)|
- 1. André Forbes of Manicouagan was nominated as a Liberal, but lost party support after being nominated, and continued to run as an independent; he is listed here as a Liberal rather than an independent, as he was listed as a Liberal on the ballot.
- 2. The Rhinoceros Party contested the previous federal election under the name Neorhino.ca.
- 3. People's Political Power Party of Canada failed to run candidates in the 2011 election and was deregistered by Elections Canada on April 13, 2011.
Political parties, leaders, and status
Ordered by number of elected representatives in the House of Commons
- Conservative Party of Canada – Stephen Harper (Majority Government)
- New Democratic Party – Thomas Mulcair (Opposition)
- Liberal Party of Canada – Justin Trudeau
- Bloc Québécois – Daniel Paillé
- Green Party of Canada – Elizabeth May
- Forces et Démocratie – Jean-François Fortin
|This section needs additional citations for verification. (April 2011)|
Leaders debates in Canada consist of two debates, one English and one French, both produced by a consortium of Canada's five major television broadcasters (CBC/SRC, CTV, Global and TVA) and usually consist of the leaders of all parties with representation in the House of Commons.
The highest court in Canada is the Supreme Court of Canada and is the final court of appeal in the Canadian justice system. The court is composed of nine judges: eight Puisne Justices and the Chief Justice of Canada. Justices of the Supreme Court of Canada are appointed by the Governor-in-Council. The Supreme Court Act limits eligibility for appointment to persons who have been judges of a superior court, or members of the bar for ten or more years. Members of the bar or superior judge of Quebec, by law, must hold three of the nine positions on the Supreme Court of Canada.
Government departments and structure
The Canadian government operates the public service using departments, smaller agencies (for example, commissions, tribunals, and boards), and crown corporations. There are two types of departments: central agencies such as Finance, Privy Council Office, and Treasury Board Secretariat have an organizing and oversight role for the entire public service; line departments are departments which perform tasks in a specific area or field, such as the departments of Agriculture, Environment, or Defence.
- Significant departments include Finance, Revenue, Human Resources and Skills Development, National Defence, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, and Foreign Affairs/International Trade.
Problems and Limitations
||This section reads like an editorial or opinion piece. (June 2014)|
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (June 2014)|
Canadian Policy Institutions
The legalization of politics refers to the role of courts in Canada's political process. One issue with Canada's judicial branch is that court judges are not elected; this ultimately does not adhere to Canada’s democratic process. The judicial process in Canada has seemed to surpass the political process and this perpetuates the notion of the centralization of power in Canada’s government. Due to the fact that judges can interpret the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms at their discretion, judges in the Canadian court system are often accused of favoring individualistic ideals over collective welfare for a given community. This results in unrepresentative and unaccountable judges which ultimately skews the democratic process. Canadian federalism refers to the two distinct jurisdictions of political power in Canada: the federal government and the ten provincial governments. Despite its tremendous democratic value, Federalism is often criticized. For instance, the federal government has spending power over the provincial government because the federal government receives more tax money from the citizenry of Canada than the provincial government does. Due to this spending power, the federal government is able to use the promises of funds to guide or alter the actions and decisions that the provincial government makes, even if that decision is supposed to be solely within the power of the provincial government. This is undemocratic because power is being taken away from the democratically elected provincial representatives and is, instead, allowing the federal government to intrude on provincial matters.
Canadian Political Culture and Ideology
Canada’s political culture is one that is non-violent, passive, and deferential to authority (Dyck, 2012). This is often attributed to Canada's historically peaceful separation from Britain. This passive nature has, in turn, allowed globalization to have a negative effect on Canadian democracy, specifically in terms of popular legitimacy. Due to globalization, political power in Canada has moved up to elite figures, namely supranational organizations and transnational corporations. To rebel against this decentralization of power, Canadian citizens must assemble and take to the streets to protest the denial of their well-being and the loss of the democratic state. However, political action in the form of protests is not consistent with Canadian culture. Instead of fighting the loss of popular sovereignty, the majority of Canadian citizens accept it. This is exemplified by the small amount of anti-governmental protests that occur in Canada and the small turnouts when protests do occur, such as in the G20 protests. Due to Canadian culture, Canadians are willing to leave the power of the state in the hands of unelected elites, ultimately leading to a loss of popular sovereignty and a less democratic state.
It can also be noted that Canada's political culture emphasizes the decentralization of Canadian government in favor of stronger provincial or regional identities, specifically in Quebec, Newfoundland and Alberta. However, when there is such a disassociation within the national government, it becomes hard to identify with federal agencies.
Globalization, commonly defined as the liberalization of trade and money and an increased prominence of new supranational organizations, impacts Canadian democracy. Due to globalization, authority is being restructured, giving power to unelected and non-Canadian transnational corporations and supranational organizations. Like most western democracies, Canada relinquishes a certain amount of governmental power to supranational organizations, such as NAFTA and the WTO, in order to protect international firms from the intervention of the Canadian government who might favour domestic interests over business interests, cooperate internationally, and foster economic growth and stability. The transfer of state authority to supranational organizations and transnational corporations has eroded democratic sovereignty and, as Jackson notes, has limited Canada’s policy tool kit for economic growth and development. Overall, globalization leads to large corporations having much power, resulting in a reduction of the legitimacy of the democratic process. Others see globalization as a force that fosters international economic, political, and military cooperation, greater access to technology and knowledge, and the expansion of economic opportunities.
Political Parties and Other Policy Actors
The traditional view of political parties assumes that parties act as transmission belts, taking the wants and needs of society and turning them into policy. If one party fails to successfully turn the wants and needs of the citizentry into policy, they will be voted out and another party will take their place. However, Brodie and Jenson reject this traditional view of the role of political parties, and believe that the connection between political parties and the people is not a democratic process. They argue that the political parties in Canada are class parties and represent business interests. With this, Brodie and Jenson suggest that political parties in Canada support a capitalist ideology and distort the interests of the working class. A shift of power from the hands of the people to corporate and business elites weakens the overall democratic power of the citizenry, as it breaks down the power relations between political parties and the people. This ultimately leads to a non-democratic state because there is not a direct association between the state and society.
Social Welfare Policy
Prior to the rise of globalization, social policy was influenced by Keynesianism during the "post'war consensus". The systematic economic reforms following the Second World War were inspired by Keynesian policy, and essential in creating the Welfare State. This can be referred to as social liberalism—and a combination of better investments in social spending by the government and less competition from foreign firms in Europe and Asia after the Second World War produced a high standard of living in Canada. Today, mainstream social and economic policy is for the most part based on the ideas of Neoliberal and Keynesian economics. Along with the rest of the western world, the government is involved with both insuring a general degree of social welfare for its citizens, while maintaining the productivity and competitiveness of its economy.
State-Society Relations and Macroeconomic Policy
For the last 80 years, two basic macroeconomic ideas have guided policy making in Canada: Keynesianism and Neoliberalism. Each of these ideas have a different theory of state and society relations. Keynes's demand theory gained popularity in Canada from 1950s-1970s. According to this model, economic growth and development is a function of demand, meaning that high wages and low unemployment are desirable economic conditions. In order to achieve high demand, however, government intervention to support consumption is periodically required due to the instability of capitalism. Neoliberalism emerged in the 1970s as a replacement, offering a critique to the Keynesian paradigm, as well as a reaction to government involvement in industry, slowed economic growth, rebuilt markets in Asia and Europe, and inefficiency in labor markets. Neoliberalism focuses on economic policies which further economic expansion and liberalization of trade, deregulation of overly regulated industry, and laws which promote efficiency and productivity in the private and public sector. It has generally been accepted into mainstream political and economic thought.
The Electoral System and Voting
The Canadian electoral system currently works within the First-Past-the-Post voting process. In this voting system, the candidate with the most votes wins and they become a member of parliament. Canada is divided into 308 regional constituencies and the party that has the most winning candidates in these constituencies becomes the governing party of Canada. However, when all the local results are calculated nationally, the proportion of seats a party wins does not necessarily bear much relationship to its overall share of the popular vote. This system is often criticized as being faulty because the one ruling party becomes over-represented while rarely gaining the majority of the vote. This leaves most of the population unrepresented. The First-Past-the-Post system leads to tactical voting, as voters vote not for the candidate that they most prefer, but against the candidate that they most dislike. A major weakness of the First-Past-the-Post system is that it undermines the democratic integrity of the voting process. It does this by giving a higher proportional advantage to the ruling party, and not enough to minorities. The emphasis on plurality has made this system one that does not properly represent the people of Canada as a whole, thus limiting democracy.
More democratically sound methods of electing representatives include the Proportional Representative (PR) method and the Mixed- Member proportional representation (MMP) method, which is a hybrid of the representative and First-Past-the-Post systems. Many European democracies use the system of Proportional Representation. In this system, constituencies are eliminated and each party receives as many seats in each province as its popular vote dictated. This allows for a more true translation of the voting percentages into seats of parliament. Similarly, in the Mixed- Member proportional representation system, a certain number of seats are distributed by regional jurisdiction, with a certain number also reserved to be distributed according to popular vote. This system alleviates the representational inequalities of First-Past-the-Post, but also still allows for regional accountability, thus making the system more democratic and representative of the entire population. Both of these voting methods ultimately result in a more democratic voting system.
The Political Executive, Legislature and Bureaucracy
While Canada originally adopted a Cabinet Government style from British tradition, it has evolved into a style dominated by the Prime Minister, and the exertion of his or her special powers and privileges. One could argue that the main critique of Canadian parliament revolves around the power balances innate to the top-down structure of a Prime Minister centred office. Ability to choose cabinet ministers, appoint senators, and retain control of political elites through incentives, has skewed the concentration of power. In regards to the cabinet, many speak to its unimportance, with a shift into “court government” run by a handful of key players. Party discipline also has its problems as the democratic system becomes one of observers and instigators within a majority system, as the political process becomes controlled by those holding the most votes. This ultimately limits Canada’s democratic nature because power is being concentrated in the hands of a few individuals.
The Politics of Identity and Power: Multiculturalism
Understanding multiculturalism and its various political and social meanings constitutes a very complex issue in Canada, specifically in terms of policy. The term "visible minority" is often used in Canada to describe those who are "persons, other than Aboriginal peoples, who are non- Caucasian in race or non-white in colour", as defined in the Employment Equity Act (Dyck, 2012). Today in Canada, visible minorities constitute 16.2 percent of the population—that is over five million people (Dyck, 2012). Multiculturalism, in political terms, is referred to as the official recognition of the diverse cultures in a plural society. This translates into a democratic state that must constantly be protecting minority rights and addressing issues of inequality.
Originally designed as a democratic aid in ensuring equality rights, multiculturalism has since mutated into an exploitive policy structure benefiting elites: instead of serving the democratic interests of the people, multiculturalism in Canada is and has historically been driven by group politics, business interests and competitiveness, and anti-racist politics. As an important democratic institution, multiculturalism struggles to conclusively state whether or not to have other cultures assimilate or to recognize them for their cultural differences. However, since multiculturalism has significantly increased in the past few decades, it calls into question exactly what has become of true Canadian culture, and what it means to be Canadian. Bannerji (1996) suggests that diversity and multiculturalism in Canada is just a superficial celebration of non-Anglo-European citizens; it has become a top-down strategy of disguised colonialism designed to let the state exploit immigrants and devolve the immigration process.
- Australia–Canada relations
- Canadian nationalism
- Conservatism in Canada
- Council of the Federation
- Federal political financing in Canada
- Liberalism in Canada
- List of Canadian federal general elections
- List of Canadian federal electoral districts
- List of Canadian political scandals
- List of political parties in Canada
- Political culture of Canada
- Socialism and social democracy in Canada
- Ten Percenter
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