Posts Tagged ‘The Democracy Papers: Part II’

Vote Reform Primer: FPTP.

Monday, June 20th, 2016

The following is an updated primer on First-Past-the-Post voting from the Democracy Papers of 2007. This is the fourth of the vote reform series.

First-Past-the-Post (FPTP) voting is an electoral system that we have known for hundreds of years. While some people tell us that FPTP is flawed it is hard to pin these people down to exactly what is wrong.

We should start with the misconceptions about FPTP. A vote under this system is never wasted. It is not wasted when you vote for someone who loses, nor is it wasted when the person you vote for already has enough votes to win. All votes are counted and all votes are important to the candidates.

The one complaint that is considered valid is that in a large field of candidates, a winner can be declared with a plurality rather than a majority. With Internet voting today, we can have inexpensive run-off elections to determine the majority choice. This is much better than preferential voting where the voter numbers the candidates as 1, 2, 3, etc. While an attempt at making the party representation more representative of the actual vote, preferential voting tends to over-inflate the winning party’s representation.

But it is the simplicity of FPTP voting that is its most important feature. It is your best guarantee of democracy. It reflects the concept of one person-one vote. It is the easiest system with which to vote and the simplest to count. There is no ambiguity.

One of the most important benefits of our FPTP system is that we are voting for people. You can vote for a specific party if you wish but it is the person who will represent you in the parliament or legislature or council. That person is responsible to you and your neighbours. They are there to take our concerns to the seats of government. They are your advocate.

It is important to always remember that government is there to serve people. You will find that when things are going well and people are complacent, they tend to be more casual about voting. If you want to increase the voter turn-out just have the government make some mistakes that annoy large groups of voters.

Your individual vote for your candidate is your direct contact with government. Other systems where you only vote for a political party, you are part of a large mass of votes for the party you selected and you lose all connection. Nobody has to deal with your concerns or your ideas. FPTP guarantees you that your representative will be able to present individual bills or by-laws of direct interest to constituents.

FPTP has been able to withstand real and imagined criticisms for many, many years. It is a system that has served us well. It works.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

 

The Democracy Papers.

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

This is the ninth of the Democracy Papers written in 2007 in answer to the Ontario referendum that year on electoral reform.  The referendum was defeated but the need for reform continues to rankle.  We believe Canada must have an elected Constitutional Conference.  Electoral reform is just one of the topics to be brought to the gathering.  For this reason, the Democracy Papers are being updated and rerun.

Chapter 9  –  To be a ‘No’ committee is no easy task.

It started with the announcement that the Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform had decided to support ‘mixed-member proportional’ (MMP) voting in Ontario.   Nobody really cared until we found out what that meant.   This generated a flurry of e-mails to other political people in our network to the effect that we should launch a ‘no’ campaign.  Some thought this might be fun, so we started talking seriously about it.

Our first problem was that very few of our potential financial backers knew what we were talking about.   We had to explain the citizens’ assembly.   For a representative group of voters, one from every riding in Ontario, the citizens’ assembly was remarkably apolitical.   It was supposed to examine Ontario’s electoral system and it chose a system that has been causing headaches for New Zealand voters for the past 11 years.   The assembly thought the idea was progressive.   It is based on appointing people to the legislature according to the per cent of popular vote for each political party.

The first problem voters have with that is that there is nothing progressive about appointing 39 out of 129 members of the legislature.   Ontario did that 200 years ago and it led to the Upper Canada Rebellion.   Allowing anyone a seat in the legislature who is not elected by the voters is anathema to those who believe in democracy.   And nobody wants another senate.

But arguing the case was not getting us closer to forming our ‘no’ campaign.

One problem with forming a ‘no’ committee, we were told, was that ‘no’ seemed so negative.   The advice was to make the ‘no’ sound like a ‘yes.’   That gave us food for thought for maybe 30 seconds.   If people think we are saying ‘yes’ then we could by accident make them think we were in favour of what is a really dumb idea.

We were rescued from that dilemma by Elections Ontario.   In its wisdom, this body declared that it would not ask the voters a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question on election day, October 10.   Instead the question will be something like: do you approve of staying with the old-fashioned ‘first-past-the-post’ election method or do you approve of this new mixed-member proportional idea from the citizens’ assembly?   We were going to complain about how the question was worded but the ‘yes’ proponents beat us to the punch by complaining because theirs was not the first option.   We figured that it must be fair if Elections Ontario is being berated by both sides.

But we are a bit concerned about Elections Ontario.   That body has been charged and given a blank cheque to explain the options to the voters of Ontario.   Assuming that, at this stage, maybe 15 per cent of the population of Ontario would have the slightest clue what this referendum is about, Elections Ontario has a tough job.

Any editor or reporter could tell them the problem they face: There is no such thing as being impartial.   The very act of trying to explain the two options creates a conundrum. They are being forced to pose two options as though they are alternatives.   They are giving credibility to the idea of mixed-member proportional representation that it does not deserve when it is only one of many possibilities.

And to make matters worse, you had to be there to believe what Elections Ontario told us was necessary for us to be a ‘no’ committee.   Nobody, of sound mind, would want to play in that sandbox.

You may register, we were told, but if you spend more than $500 on (what they determine to be) advertising, you will report to us every penny you collect and where and from whom you got it.   Further, you will then declare where you spend this money and if there is any left over, you will promptly give it to us at Elections Ontario.

That would likely be on the same day that our pet pigs learn to fly.

This caused a serious right-about face on our plans to be an official ‘no’ campaign.   ‘Please do not send us your money,’ was the gist of an immediate series of e-mails.   (We were assured by a few of the e-mail recipients that we need not have been concerned.)

If it was any consolation to most of us, we were on the ‘no’ side of the last federal referendum.   That was an easy one.   It was the Charlottetown Accord.   Do you remember that all the party leaders supported that fiasco?   It lost.   Maybe that is why the two main political parties are keeping quiet on this referendum. They have enough problems without backing another loser.

And, while we have no intention of being complacent, this referendum looks like it is also heading for the dumper.   If Elections Ontario spends enough of our money to get more than 60 per cent of the population to understand the options, they would likely have to bankrupt the province.   Besides, someone with more brains than the average politician made sure that it would require 60 per cent of the total votes in favour MMP voting and with more than 60 per cent of Ontario’s ridings voting in favour to be approved.

©Copyright 2007, 2011, Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

The Democracy Papers.

Sunday, May 8th, 2011

This is the second installment of The Democracy Papers that were written in 2007 in answer to the Ontario referendum that year on electoral reform.  The referendum was defeated but the need for reform continues to rankle.  We believe Canada must have an elected Constitutional Conference.  Electoral reform is just one of the topics to be brought to the gathering.  For this reason, the Democracy Papers are being updated.

Chapter 2 – The wasted vote and other myths.

In 2007, there were many myths told as to why we should have mixed-member proportional (MMP) voting in Ontario.   This form of proportional representation was on the ballot for the provincial election.   The referendum question was: whether the voter favoured the first-past-the-post electoral system or would they like to have MMP voting that was proposed by Ontario’s Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform?

The first of the myths told by the pro-MMP people is the suggestion that you have been wasting your vote when your candidate does not win.   This myth is spurious.   They are saying that your opinion has been treated as worthless.   You went to vote so that your voice would be heard.   You went to vote to express your belief in democracy.   You went because you and the other people in your area had a choice to make as to who would represent you.   Win or lose, you were expressing your democratic opinion.

You can be pleased when your candidate wins.   You can be disappointed when your candidate loses.   Your vote is never worthless.   Candidates, politicos and statisticians spend many hours pouring over those results.   Winning and losing candidates learn from them.   They can help the loser to be a winner next time.   They can show trends.   They can be extrapolated by parties to forecast results in newly formed ridings.   They are used for years to help academics learn from the past to forecast the future.

The most seriously flawed myth is that the selection of list candidates (the people whom they want to appoint to the legislature to represent parties) will be open and democratic because the parties have to disclose their process of selection.   The process of choosing all parties’ candidates has been corrupted for years.

The rule in Ontario is that no person can be a candidate for a party without the signed approval of the party leader.   That means that despite the occasional attempt by a riding association to make the decision on their own, the leader’s campaign committee is the de facto selection committee.  Any other explanation is nothing more than window dressing.

In most cases of mixed member proportional voting, you can count on a list that consists mainly of persons running for election in electoral districts.   These are people the party leader and advisors want to be sure are in the legislature.   If they lose in their electoral district, the list will be their second chance.   It guarantees that many of the list candidates to be selected are losers.   They have been rejected by the voters in their electoral district and are now available to be appointed.

The silliest myth of all is the one that the selection of list candidates will bring more women and minorities into the legislature.   The implication is insulting.   The political parties have done a much better job in recent years of encouraging women to run for office.   The financial barriers have been mainly overcome with the use of taxpayers’ money.     Many well-qualified women have run for office and won in their ridings.   If you think there should be more, get to work and be sure they are nominated and then work even harder to make sure they are elected.

Minorities are a different matter.   This has good and bad implications.   There are no barriers.   Ethnic background, race, religion, sexual persuasion or physical handicaps are not a problem but only representing a specific minority group is a problem.   Every group is welcome vote for whom they wish to be in the legislature but, in the legislature, these elected people need to deal with many diverse issues and they need to be able to represent everybody in their electoral district.

The myth that is the most confounding is the one that proportional voting systems such as MMP promote broader participation in government and more ready acceptance of government policies.   That, they believe, would seem to make it very worthwhile.   It would, if we really want a lacklustre, do-nothing government.

The myth continues that MMP-type government will feature bargaining, will be inclusive and will include compromise.   There are a few ingredients of good government that are missing.   They forget about ideas, drive and ambition.   And they forget about leadership.   If you want this bland, non-competitive type of representation, you could have got the same thing by making the citizens’ assembly that selected it the Ontario government.   The assembly would do just as good a job.

©Copyright 2007, 2011, Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

#58 – Choosing the Queen’s representative.

Friday, July 9th, 2010

The choice of Waterloo University’s David Johnston as the next Governor General of Canada is unusual. Obviously it is a better choice than television’s William Shatner, in terms of the dignity of the office, as Johnston brings outstanding academic credentials to the post. It is those academic credentials that are unusual. He will not be expected to use them on the job.

What he will wish he had was Michaëlle Jean or Adrienne Clarkson’s show business background. The role is 98 per cent ceremonial. There is no opportunity for someone pro-active other than in the circumstances of a political crisis. It just is not likely that Prime Minister Stephen Harper will want to anger Canadians again with another prorogued House of Commons. It will just be regrettable that a mind such as Johnston’s will be wasted in the position.

It helps make the point that we should be rethinking the job. What do Canadians want to do about choosing their head of state. As ageless as Queen Elizabeth II might be, some day, Canadians will have to face the fact that her son Charles, with the dowdy wife, is the new King of Canada. The fact of the role of the Queen’s representative, the Governor General, currently being nothing more than an elegant ribbon-cutter, medal pinner, plaque unveiler and throne speech reader will have to be dealt with.

Some people see an elected president for head of state as the answer. Whether the role will be just a ceremonial one as is the governor general’s role or a true head of state will take much thought and debate. There will be Canadians who would expect their president to have powers such as the President of the United States. That is unlikely as the tri-partite government structure of the United States of America was set in very different times than today. Giving one person so much power without considerable checks and balances would not please everybody.

One problem solved with the American’s style of presidency, Canadians would no longer be confused about who is commander in chief of the Canadian military. Since the days of George Washington, the first President of our neighbour republic, American presidents have jealously guarded their role in commanding the military. The best we can do in Canada is have a politician act as though he or she runs our military as Minister of National Defence. The sovereign and other royals can get to be an honorary colonel-in-chief of regiments or squadrons but they never get to wave their sword in anger.

No matter what powers are vested in our head of state, Canadians likely to want the person to be elected. The same is most likely to be true for the Senate, if we keep it. Again, Canadians might not give quite as much power to a senate as the Americans. All of this has to be determined.

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Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to peter@lowry.me

#52 – “The centre cannot hold.”

Monday, June 21st, 2010

The Center Cannot Hold is an alternative history by American author Harry Turtledove in his American Empire series. In this version of American history, Turtledove supposes what would happen if the South won the American Civil War and the North allies itself with Germany against the Southerners and England.  In addition, the North allies itself with an independent Quebec and wages a long war of attrition with the rest of Canada. Dr. Turtledove’s view of Canada is neither overly accurate nor flattering but then he is an academic from far away California.

This is by way of saying that academics can be somewhat brutal in their suppositions, posits and dissertations. One can only wonder if that is the space from which academic and Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff got his thinking on Liberal-NDP relationships. Just to review, he said “What (the Liberal Party) will not do under my leadership is merge with anybody.” Despite the fact that is not his decision to make, most people in the room were very pleased that he had shown some spunk as leader.

Some listeners might have said—to themselves, of course—That is too bad Michael, you will be missed.

But that is not the point. The point is and the reality is that the Liberal Party can no longer find this rampant middle ground that it always brags about. And if it could find the middle ground, the Conservative zealots would probably steal it from them.

The Liberal Party has not trod on any middle ground since 1984. Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau stepped down and took the middle ground back to Montreal with him. If he was falling down drunk and the middle ground came up to hit him in the face, Mr. Trudeau’s successor, John Turner, would never recognize any middle ground.

Jean Chrétien, in turn, Turner’s successor might have accidently found some middle ground but not as long as Hon. Mitchell Sharp was around to tell him what to do. He actually did pay Sharp a dollar a year for his advice and the few left wing liberals left at the time felt that was about what his advice was worth. While Chrétien never seemed to like Paul Martin, Sharp would have seen the younger Martin as the perfect scapegoat for the draconian cuts in social programs and transfer payments to the provinces during Chrétien’s tenure.

Paul Martin, as Chrétien’s inept successor, would have had to resurrect his father from the grave in Windsor to find him some middle ground. While Martin’s successor Stéphane Dion was supposed to be the middle ground between Bob Rae and Michael Ignatieff, the convention that chose him forgot to see if he had any credentials as a politician. He had none: end of that opportunity.

The fact that Bob Rae once led Ontario’s New Democratic Party as leader and then Premier of Ontario scared many members of the Liberal Party from him. Despite the strong support to make him leader of the federal liberals, he would need a long series of injections of political smarts to make him a good choice.

Surprise, the Liberal Party ended up with Michael Ignatieff leading the party in 2009.

But the Liberal Party he leads has a broken wing, the left one. And until that wing heals, the centre cannot hold.

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Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to peter@lowry.me

#51 – An introduction to the Babel Manifesto.

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

We come from many lands. The stone-age nomads from Asia, the venturesome from Europe beginning over 300 years ago and then from the green British Isles, the wind-swept steppes of Asia, the crucibles of middle Europe, lands embracing the Mediterranean, people of Africa and Asia. the sub-continent and points between. We come as Babel, to share this bounty, this land, this Canada.

As countries go, ours is a young nation but it certainly has reached its age of majority. As a nation, it has to choose a route to the future. Not just what it will be, for it has already shown the world its capabilities, but what form of governance will enable it to build that future with confidence and caring.

In 2017, Canada will have had 150 years of development as a country and yet it still clutching vestiges of a colonial past. Canada is governed as a constitutional monarchy but with all real power in the hands of a single person, leader of the political party in power and selected as prime minister. The role of the monarch is played by a faux Governor General, appointed every five years by the then prime minister.

But Canadians are no longer satisfied with this governance. It is not clearly articulated but the unease with the current system has been building for many years. Since the days of Le Front de Libération du Québec to the roll call of new political protest parties in the west, Canada has been dealing with an increasingly schizoid love-hate between its component parts.

There is no question but that Canadians love their country. It seems that the more recently people have come and adopted Canada as theirs, the greater is their love. Whether it is the grandeur of the scenery, the vibrancy and opportunity of the cities, the fairness of the people, the concepts of justice, the freedom and the opportunities for education, newcomers are caught up in this country. It comes as no surprise that around the world, Canada is perceived as a kinder, gentler, more generous and modest America.

While some worry about Alberta’s schizophrenic tantrums, it is Quebec that will cause the most problems if it goes off its meds and holds another referendum on separation. The control exercised by what are known as ‘les notables’ –the elected and non-elected francophone leaders in the province—over the francophone population, could push the ‘yes’ vote over 50 per cent and create serious problems for the future of the country. Francophone Canadians refer to their country as ‘winter’ and a yes vote could spell winter for all of Canada, its people’s hopes and aspirations.

Canada is one. It is not divisible. It is not to be hacked at by petty squabbles, avarice and greed, power trips and political ambitions. It is a country of reasonable and warm peoples, willing to accommodate diversity, language, race, origin, culture and you are welcome to share. It is a country tolerant of many religions but we do not welcome hatreds, exclusions, intolerance or ancient feuds to our shores. The official languages are English and French. The unofficial languages number in the hundreds.

Despite many attempts through the second half of the 20th Century, Canadian governments have failed to address the concerns and needs of Canadians for a more stable form of governance for the country. For the situation to be allowed to continue the way things are is a disservice to Canadians and a recipe for failure.

The Babel Manifesto attempts to address the need for a future for a truly great country. It cannot happen overnight but it can enable us to plan, to work towards a common goal.

Barrie, Ontario June 2010

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(Note: The Babel Manifesto will be published late in 2010.)

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to peter@lowry.me

#49 – Merging the Liberals and NDP: Whose decision is it anyway?

Saturday, June 12th, 2010

Hold on a minute. Now we have former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien supposedly arguing with current Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff over the proposal to merge with the NDP. Why? They, of course, have the right to an opinion but it is not their decision to make. The question of merging of two political parties has to be decided by the parties involved. It is not for present or past leaders to decide.

Stephen Harper’s manoeuvring the takeover of the Conservative Party by the Reform party was so obvious a move that people who understood the situation wondered why it took so long. The two parties had become locked into regional positions and it was an easy process to put them together.

A Liberal-NDP merger is a far more complex situation. The Liberal Party of Canada has always been a centrist party. It was lucky over the years to have some key centre-left thinkers working within the party that gave it moral character. People such as parliamentarians and cabinet ministers Herb Gray and Lloyd Axworthy contributed much of the humanitarian appeal of the party over their years of service.

But they had to do their work amid colleagues from the right of the political spectrum. There was little they could do in the 90’s when Chrétien gave then Finance Minister Paul Martin the green light to gut programs such as unemployment insurance and transfer payments to try to balance the books in Ottawa. It also left little choice for the voters in 2004 between Stephen Harper’s new Conservative Party and Paul Martin’s right of centre Liberals. The Liberal Party might have chosen Stéphane Dion next as leader but the right-of-centre parliamentarians left him to blow in the wind of ugly attacks by Stephen Harper in 2008.

When the Liberal Party next gathered in convention in Vancouver, the parliamentary rump had Michael Ignatieff firmly settled into the leadership role. The party, expecting a fast election, felt there was no other choice and the selection was confirmed.

But what the party really got was a pig in a poke. The party had no idea where Ignatieff sat on the right or left but gave him control of party policy. So far, there has been no policy and no election. Is it any wonder that the news media report that the natives are getting restless?

The one thing that is very clear is that if the Liberals do not carve out a different space in the political spectrum than Mr. Harper, they might as well surrender early. A merger with the NDP can solve that problem.

While people think of the NDP as a socialist party, it is nowhere near as socialist today as it was in its inception. Today, the NDP is more of a socially conscious party and that is what the Liberals desperately need. The NDP no longer needs the unions to hold it up as a party. It no longer needs the socialist rants of past centuries. Today, it needs to become more forward thinking, more environmentally tuned in, more humanitarian in its outlook. It can do that within the Liberal Party.

And the Liberal Party desperately needs that.

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Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to peter@lowry.me

#43 – A constitutional house cleaning.

Sunday, May 30th, 2010

People challenge you when you tell them you want to have a constitutional assembly. They want to know what it is you want to change. They want to know if you agree with them on one aspect or another. The only problem is there is so much detritus from almost 150 years of Canada’s nationhood, you can be at a loss as to where to begin.

Most people mention doing something about the Senate of Canada. They think the senate and its occupants should fill the first shovels full going out the door onto the lawns in front of the parliament buildings. Despite knowing many of the fine people who have sat in the pews of that chamber over the years, there is certainly a need today to dispense with or dramatically change the process of choosing senators and their function for the people of Canada. We can thank Prime Minister Harper for making it clear to all Canadians that the old process is no longer functional. In packing the Senate over the past while, he has made a mockery of what the Senate is supposed to represent. It is no longer a chamber of ‘sober second thought’ but now a chamber of ‘Harper thought.’ Packing the senate has always been an option for a Prime Minister facing an obdurate senate but he has no excuse for such action when he does not have a majority in the Commons. That he is being allowed to do this is to the shame of all Members of Parliament.

Other interested people question what should be done with the governor general. They eye you and are ready to pounce on your answer. Many fear that Canada will go the way of the United States of America with an imperial form of president as head of state. Some would like to see the role of the head if state as a ceremonial role such as governor general fulfills today. The other side of that is a highly politicized role as commander-in-chief of the armed forces and being the third leg of the administration, balancing a house of representatives and a house of the provinces And others want something in between. Also charging into this fray will be some monarchists. They might not matter.

There are those who have strong opinions on the Supreme Court, its participants and its powers. A few want to curtail the ability of the court to determine the rights of the citizen under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. And there are others who want to strengthen it.

At the deep end of the pool is the question of our provinces. Are they sacrosanct? Does Prince Edward Island rate a minimum of four Members of Parliament? Are our northern provinces-cum-territories a fait-accompli? What does Quebec want? What should Quebec get? What rights does any province have in the new world of the 21st Century?

And there is even the question of change itself. Does change require a super majority of 60 per cent approval or is approval still 50 per cent plus one? Do all provinces have to agree or just all Canadians?

All of these questions need rational discussion. They are unlikely to be resolved overnight. Telling a friend in the senate of these ruminations, he was asked if he had any problems with the possible demise of the senate. He responded that he has six more years before retirement. He knows he will be long gone before any constitutional change can take place. In his honour, we should start now.

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Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to peter@lowry.me

#42 – A direction for democracy.

Thursday, May 27th, 2010

Listening to Justin Trudeau, MP, son of the late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, the other day, he posed a challenge for Canada’s 150th birthday that will take place in 2017. He explained that it would be an important year for our country. He suggested that it would be an ideal year to target setting a stronger identity for Canadians, new directions in politics and a more positive future.

That could be excellent timing. Setting new directions in Canadian politics is certainly overdue. Our politics have been going down a steep ramp into American style politics for too many years. While we learn much of our political communications techniques from south of the border, we have no need for the nastiness, the corruption, the questionable ethics, and the stifling of ideas and opportunity practiced so blatantly by our American cousins.

The reality is that there is no question that new directions take time to decide. It is a process that is not safe to rush. To reframe our country takes a long stretch of serious thought, discussion, consensus and a high level of agreement. We have no such process in place today. We will not agree on the process overnight.

But Canada must find the beginning of change. We need to find a process that will work for us. We need people to stand up and be counted. We need voices. We need books and blogs and scripts and magazine articles and newspaper opinion pieces and talk show discussion. No one person has the ideas alone. No one person can accomplish what must be accomplished.

It is likely that we need a constituent assembly. This would be an elected assembly of citizens from across Canada, chosen for their interest, expertise, determination and willingness to meet, discuss, compromise, challenge and bring forward a means to make our country more progressive, more democratic, more sensitive to the needs of our citizens and to meeting the needs of future generations of Canadians. How this assembly is elected, its mandate, the pressures it will have to abide and the time frames for it to meet and discuss are open to discussion.

We have to allow politicians to have a say, because they are our voice, but this is not what we elect them to federal or provincial office to discuss. Theirs is a finite term of office and a constituent assembly deals with a responsibility to the future.

Once the constituent assembly has issued a report, it must be open to discussion and amendment. It must be able to test its ideas in public opinion. If it is autocratic, it will fail. If it vacillates, it will fail. If it fails to communicate with Canadians, it will fail. The greatest challenge is to succeed.

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Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to peter@lowry.me

#41 – “The 24th of May, the Queen’s birthday.”

Monday, May 24th, 2010

Are you old enough to remember when children sang the ditty: “The 24th of May, the Queen’s birthday. If we don’t get a holiday, we’ll all run away”? Or if a bit younger you might remember it as “The 24th of May, firecracker day. If we don’t get a holiday, we’ll all run away.

The Harper Conservative government chose the eve of this celebration of Queen Victoria to announce that the royals are again coming to visit their Canadian subjects. Queen Elizabeth and her husband intend to so honor us. There are many Canadians who do not share in the enthusiasm for this outmoded demonstration of fealty. It is not only inappropriate in the 21st Century but it sends a very wrong message to everybody as to what we are as Canadians.

The fact of being a Canadian sovereign is based on the law of primogeniture which is no longer valid law in most of the world’s jurisdictions. It is a law that passes all possessions and titles to the eldest male offspring. It is not even valid in Canada. It would be impossible, under Canadian law for the Queen’s son Charles to claim her estates, possessions and bank accounts without a specific will provided by her to that effect and with agreement by her husband and her other children. As for her titles, there is no provision provided for their transfer under Canadian law.

While our laws allow the monarchy to exist, it is, at best, a polite fiction. You are not supposed to tell people that because it is considered rude. Those of us who have served the Canadian monarchy (in the right of Canada) in various capacities, ranging from police and jurists to the military and to privy counsellors have had to swear allegiance to this mystic Canadian phenomenon. It is assumed that this allegiance is quietly voided once your term of service expires—with the exception of privy counsellors who are appointed for life.

But in this time, in this century, in this modern world, the monarchy makes no sense. It should no longer be countenanced or even quietly ignored. Try explaining the law of primogeniture to your daughter and you will deserve the kick in the shin she should give you. Try to explain why the guy with the big ears is prepared to take over as King Charles III and you will be considered ridiculous by a kindergarten class.

Nobody but the most foolish despots and business tycoons try to pass power from parent to offspring today. Does Kim Il Sung’s leadership of North Korea being passed on to his son Kim Jong Il inspire confidence in that country?

Fairy story time of kings and queens, princes and princesses is over. Canada needs to strike out boldly to create a new future. The first step is to structure a constitutional assembly. This must be an elected assembly that reflects its electors. It will need time to consider the future, discuss alternatives and to choose a path. Whatever the assembly decides then must be approved by a clear majority of Canadians after a reasonable period of discussion and consideration. What is decided might become a model for the rest of the world.

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Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to peter@lowry.me