This is a new blog that is dedicated to looking at what is going wrong with democracies in general and specifically what can be done. I will first admit that my focus maybe general but as I live in Ontario, Canada some of my examples will have a focus on hereabouts, although in general, I think you will find these examples reflected all over western democracies. What is happening here is happening to them all and I believe mainly for the same reasons.
Right now every day we hear all the news about how bad things are. And they are. And they’re getting worse. This blog is trying to be a space where we can seek the truths behind the daily chaos by illuminating somewhat one of the darker corners and hopefully find a way forward without it.
There exists a preponderance of statistics that confirm, what everybody already knows is true: A few people are getting richer and richer and most people are not. Indeed they are working harder and harder and getting no further ahead. Sure there will always be lottery winners, but they will never be most people. Not close.
The consequences of the so-called “free trade” agreements and “deregulation acts” is the inevitable concentration of wealth in fewer hands. That is what they are designed to do–allow the rich via their corporations and write-downs to get more and the not rich to get poor or poorer. Working-class neighbourhoods become ghettoized because of their isolation from any economic means to do otherwise, erstwhile middle-class neighbourhoods become poorer and more working-class – and both are having the inevitable problems of suicides, drugs and gangs. Big social problems.
What do the rich do? Well, they move into neighbourhoods that secure them and keep them safe. And of course, it does not end with moving house. It continues in a multitude of other ways they insulate – their kids go to private school because public schools lack resources and are unsafe (or public schools in wealthier neighbourhoods where they exist). They shop at upscale grocery emporiums that only they and the similarly ‘garnished with greens’ would go to and they only vacation where the money makes you. In other words, they start to become as insular as royalty and the high society of the eighteen hundreds in England were. And honestly who can blame them. I do not. If you had it you would use it too.
So why is it that we are reverting to less democratic and more privileged society? Well, again there are many theories that abound: end of the Industrial Revolution, the information age, the GiG economy and Global free trade to name a few. And all have their part to play in this trend.
Just for an example, national corporations become trans-national yet it’s interesting to note that the majority of goods traded between Canada and the United States, prior to either of the trade agreements (FTA, NAFTA) were not tariffed. Free trade in goods is mostly what we had anyway. What mostly changes is the rules around services: financial movements and the controls over it. Who did that benefit? Well mostly not the average citizen, yet it is defended and declared great.
But more how did it happen? Well, the mainstream consensus is that it happened by some sort of magic. Nobody is quite sure how and nobody is quite sure why, but it happened. Like an accidental trade international trade agreement, really just sort of happened.
Below is a quote from Charles J. McMillan Professor of Strategic Management at Schulich School of Business – York University which was published in a Policy Options article in 2007 in Policy and Options wrote for the then-impending 10th anniversary of FTA, which sums up that sense of magical wonderment surrounding this:
“It remains a para- dox that neither the Americans nor the Canadian population were pushing for this agreement, and it wasn’t the primary goal of either political leader in 1984. Indeed, the forces pushing the US administration were quite different than the policy drivers in Canada, and conventional ideology, economic or nationalist, weren’t directly central. So why did the agreement succeed?”
Why did such a fundamental change to our democracies happen if most of the public and the public figures involved were not really interest in this? Well, let me expatiate. Mr. McMillan asks his question while looking at one side of the coin. But there were two sides. A huge change to our countries and nobody was interested in this? Sounds pretty fishy right? Well on the other side of this issue was me. I remember at the time, travelling to Ottawa to protest these negotiations taking place and I met thousands and thousands of other Canadians from across the country that had also travelled to the capital to voice their deep displeasure as well. Most of us back then thought that a free trade agreement would undermine our democracy in the ways that it turns out it has.
Poles at the time showed that most Canadians were very opposed to so-called free trade. In the so-called free trade election, most Canadians did not vote for Brian Mulroney or the PC party. But despite the majority voting against them in the November election (52.3% against 43.02% for) and noting that a vote for any other party was a vote against free trade as all other parties were opposed to free trade the Progressive Conservatives won a majority of seats as is often apt to happen in a first past the post electoral system and then declared that by virtue of winning they had been mandated to make “free trade” happen. So…on January 2, 1988, the Canada–United States Free Trade Agreement (CUSFTA) was signed.
Yet the other side of the coin to the free trade that nobody in Canada wanted is plenty of opposition to the Idea of it. The “paradox” as presented by Charles J. McMillan above is nobody really wanted it. But in fact, most Canadians did not want it and it happened against their will. Much more sinister in nature than the -it happened for no particular reason – statement. How could the majority be ignored in a free and open democracy?
Canadians showed their anger to the PC’s and their free trade decision by decimating the party, leaving them with only two seats and that subsequently led to the eventual demise of their party entirely. A resounding rejection.
But now it gets even spookier.
The Liberal party which had stood against free trade during the previous election and won the next election mostly because everyone voted against those free trading Progressive Conservatives, suddenly changed their minds. Now Free trade was okay with them. In fact, all mainstream parties were suddenly on-board. So although they basically could have given the notice to let NAFTA lapse in six months time, they were no longer interested in that. But were Canadians feeling different also? Not really. After the trade agreement was in place support for it increased since many people thought well it’s here we might as well get used to it or give it a chance, but over the years I would say that we’re probably back to about 52 or 53 % opposed.
So let me make this point again: – nobody really wanted it and in fact, most were opposed – yet it happened anyway. If that sounds like this democracy is a sham, well that’s because it is. Somebody did, in fact, want it very much, but they did not want to be too forward and obvious in there desires. This was no accident.
It is also interesting to note that after the economic crash of the late 2000’s that was ushered in a Laissez-faire attitude (e.g.: Alan Greenspan at Federal Reserve Board) to business controls and markets that came along with this same Free trade ideology (‘the markets will correct themselves’). Under this agenda, governments were beggared by these same free trade agendas and the need to not tax Trans national enterprise or it will go away. But our governments now mostly continue to defend this practice. Why?
Now we are seeing an increase in populism. That is I believe the result of voter anger and frustration. Donald Trump may be turning America into the Bananas Republic and here in Ontario, we have a new premier Doug Ford who although it is early days is being referred to as Thug Ford due to the heavy-handed poke at Toronto. Trump, we hear about every day and Ford who was willing to abuse the constitution by using the notwithstanding clause the so-called nuclear option in government just to pass a bill an ordinary bill through the legislature which he has majority and controls because the Court of Law said it was a bad idea. Crazy stuff. But why?
Both Donald and Doug Ford as populists don’t have much of a platform but do have slogans MAGA and RTTP respectively. And both feel totally entitled to do whatever they feel is right because they won an election. It’s as if they think that the purpose of a democratic election is to select our next dictator. They won they get to whatever they want. More autocracy in that than democracy.
When you think about how free trade happened, IE: nobody wanted it and many did NOT want it, but it went ahead anyway, is Trump or Ford wrong in thinking we are a dictatorship?
So what is really going here?
The real reason behind these seemingly inexplicable changes is the bond between big money/business and political decisions. Most importantly is the glue in that relationship – the political parties.
There are I believe many things that can be done to negate the harmful effects to democracies and can put us back on a course where we were at one time headed, but one of the greatest villains in this story lives mostly in the shadows. Unelected, private, and unrecognized, they play by the rules of their own choosing. They determine our political course, suborned the laws and pervert political will and the politicians who must serve them, yet they are never accountable to anyone an Estate on their own – the political parties.
It is true political parties have members and members get to vote for party leader (most of the time) but the party chooses who can run for leader, who can become a member and when and how voting will take place, so party politics is not in any true sense democratic. It is a wholly partisan activity lead by whoever has control of the party. And the party is usually controlled by those who can give the most or who can raise the most. It is often dirty with deals and backroom maneuvers that at their best are like to a soap opera and at their worst skulduggery akin to a pack of marauding thieves. Kind of fascinating, quite scary, winner takes all and none of it democratic.
We need better democratic alternatives so that we can reach better democratic outcomes. Is it time to bring these parties to an end. I think so.
So that’s what this blog is about finding a way forward-moving Toward Better Democracy*. It is partly a review of our political options and partly a call for change. I hope it inspires discussion.
It has always been true that he who pays the piper picks the tune. But when it comes to democracy that can never be; or democracy fails.
Civil comes to English from the Latin “Civis” meaning Citizen by way of the Old French civil. If you google it you find it has three main meanings:
- relating to ordinary citizens and their concerns
- courteous and polite
- Fixed by custom or law rather than being natural
So this one five letter word pretty much sums what this site is about: societal discourse that is relating to ordinary citizens and their concerns, in a courteous and polite manner about what can be Fixed by custom or law.
So my intention is to write articles that are informative and perhaps in some way actionable by you and me about what political parties are and just who is it they serve and most importantly that we can do without them.
But it is also, I hope a discussion. I welcome any contributions or comments from the reader’s anything that is pertinent and thoughtful will be happy to reference here or even publish here, with your permission. I will only act as editor in making sure that we stick to the main theme:
“Our democratic civil societies and their betterment”
* I chose to call this blog ‘Toward Better Democracy‘ because the initials TBD are often used to represent the words To Be Determined, which I think is apropos given that nothing in our democratic future can be said to be determined. And therein is the double edge of the sword. On the one hand there is a trend lately which is pretty negative and on the other hand, there is the possibility of a much better democratic future!