Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A Reluctant Republican?

I am a monarchist. It is my evaluation that a constitutional monarchy is the best form of government available. In reality the form of government is only marginally important. Republican, monarchial, presidential or parliamentary – they are all valid and can produce healthy democratic systems. In addition, I feel the Windsor family, the royal family of Canada, has led Canada with great dignity, particularly in the person of Queen Elizabeth II.

I am still satisfied with most of the elements of our system of governments, but there is a growing issue at the core of our government that concerns me.

Political scientists in Canada like to point out that the office of the Prime Minister is perhaps the most powerful executive in the Western world. Very few countries grant their leaders the sweeping powers and strict control that the man or woman at 24 Sussex Drive possesses. Canadians often consider the United States’ President to be an incredible powerful leader. The truth is that the President has influence, and his or her power is only exercised with the cooperation (or resistance) of the two other branches of government (Senate/House of Representatives and the Supreme Court).

In Canada the Prime Minister is restricted by the courts, and the need to command a majority in the House of Commons. However, the House of Commons has been significantly cowed by our Prime Ministers, dating back to the leadership of Mr. Trudeau. Since that time there has been a worrying concentration of power in the person of the Prime Minister. Dan Gardner on CTV’s Question Period recently quipped that Canada has a presidential system without the checks and balances. Andrew Coyne, in a remarkable debate with Sheila Copps (Does power corrupt Canadian Prime Ministers?) said that Parliament has in effect become an electoral college for the Prime Minister. The person  leading the party with the most seats because President/Prime Minister of Canada, to rule unperturbed until the next election.

But, in our system of government the Prime Minister is not the head of state. The office is a servant to a far higher power, our monarch, and sovereign. The Kings and Queens of Canada have long ago abandoned governing Canada directly. Instead they relied upon their agents, the Governors General to act on their behalf. Sadly, as power waned from monarchy the levers of control exercised by our monarchs fell into the hands of the Prime Minister. The Governors General fear to act because they lack legitimacy as political appointees to an unelected office.

What on paper should constrain our head of government is no more than words on paper. The Senate, the House of Commons, and the Governor General fail to properly provide the restraint needed in a proper democracy. I have a hard time finding fault in Richard Poplak’s article against Mr. StephenHarper and the anti-democratic nature of Canada. At minimum, I sympathize with Mr. Poplak’s concerns, and share his deepest fears.

The acquisition of power of the monarchy to the Prime Minster should be, and must be, reversed. Governor General David Johnston sadly cannot simply begin to act as though this is the nineteenth century and exercise his constitutionally enshrined powers – he simply does not have the legitimacy. In Canada, like most democracies (if we can still bear the name), rely upon the vote to instill legitimacy. Perhaps then it is time to be rid of appointed Governors General and created elected Presidents. The manner of election would have to be decided by greater minds than me. I have heard suggestions that perhaps an election by all of Canada’s legislatures would be valuable, or a simple national popular vote, similar to France’s. Hopefully we would not repeat the mistakes of the past and impose a First-Past-the-Post system. Our presidential elections could be non-partisan. Candidates for the high office should perhaps be drawn from the bar, or the bench, and only those with constitutional expertise could hold office.

Does electing our head of state mean an end to the monarchy? What if we elected the Governor General and kept the Kings and Queens of Canada to preside overall. I have no other objections to monarchy as a system, and I still favour it – so long as we can amend it to create a more democratic nation. This is not a partisan concern. The centralization of power, erosion of parliament and weakening of democracy is something that should concern all citizens. Power is not easily wrestled back once surrendered, but it is critical that it is.