Proroguing and the Left

By Kyle Buott

January 6, 2010

Proroguement: an Affront to Democracy?

Across the country, activists from social movements, unions, and various opposition parties are moving quickly towards a day of action on January 23rd against the proroguement of the Federal Parliament.

At the time of writing, events are being planned in 23 cities around the country and in Quebec.

The rallies are framed as an action to protect Canadian democracy, which is said to be at stake because the Prime Minister evoked his powers to prorogue parliament, shut down debate, and remove various pieces of legislation form the order paper.

While it is very true that using a parliamentary tactic to shut down debate on important issues like torture, the environment, economic recovery and the upcoming budget is totally anti-democratic, so-called “Canadian democracy” is in much deeper trouble than a simple proroguement.

Democracy in Canada has been suffering for a long time – since about ummm… say 1867?

Canada’s government continues to be based on the ridiculous First-Past-The-Post system. We continue to recognize a hereditary monarch as our Head of State. Money plays a huge role in our political process, and small parties are not given the opportunities to present their ideas to a broader audience.

When politics is reduced to personalities (ie: whether or not Harper is a “Strong Leader” or if Ignatieff is “Just in it for himself”) the debate becomes meaningless. It is no wonder that record numbers of Canadians are tuning out, and not bothering to vote or get involved in the political process.

Regardless of whether or not Parliament is prorogued, these issues must be contended with.

What is the Role of Socialists in the Current Struggle?

First and foremost, Socialists of all stripes should get actively involved and work to build the demonstrations on January 23rd. This is one of those rare opportunities that a broader audience is tuning into politics and there is a chance to engage more people.

Second, Socialists should push organizing coalitions to continue working after January 23rd. Raising questions about the state of democracy in Canada and Quebec. These demonstrations can potentially be used to strengthen organizations like Fair Vote Canada, or build local coalitions working towards a more democratic country.

Finally, we need to be presenting alternative policies that would allow for more democracy, choice and freedom for all, including:

  • Proportional Representation – including a two staged referendum, one which asks the question “Do you favour moving towards a system of Proportional Representation?” and a second which decides on the form that PR would take.
  • Abolition of the monarchy and the creation of an elected President.
  • Abolition of the Senate.
  • Economic Democracy – workers’ control and collaborative decision making processes in the workplace.
  • Further restrictions on political spending and increases in the public subsidies received by political parties. Restrictions must also be put in place on political advertising outside of the election cycle.
  • Lowering the voting age to 16.
  • Removing newly created restrictions that require multiple pieces of identification to vote.
  • Recognizing social rights like health care, education and freedom from poverty in the Canadian Constitution.

Socialists have an opportunity to try and engage with social movement activists on these important reforms. While these reforms alone do not a socialist society create, they would open new, public spaces for dialogue and discussion of issues. The Left has allowed the Right to dominate the public sphere for too long. Creating space for socialism must be a major priority.

Kyle Buott is President of Halifax-Dartmouth and District Labour Council