comments on "who should govern"

Well, I am done with the course. ( I assume you all know what I am talking about by now) I may turn in some rewrites of assignments just for practice and to see if the nutty professor comments on it. This was a very, very, interesting course, worth all the rest of the "political science" crap. But as I think I have said a couple of times, too much in too short a time, when I am having some health problems, too. As well, I had a lot of trouble figuring out just what I was supposed to be handing in.

I will be sending to this list some analyses of documents I have pondered in the course of the course, which are worth while reading for any democracy reform person. The point of voting reform is democratic reform, or there is no point to it. Many of them, I will want to put up on the new information web site I am planning, dealing with democratic reform. I wonder whether I should check with the authors of some of these pieces. I have not had trouble so far, but information is becoming more "proprietary" these days. Some university faculty have no control over what they have produced; it becomes a product for somebody else to try to market.

But I am going to start with this piece by Grace Skogland, who is a professor somewhere within the bowels of U of Toronto. It is now a decade old, written before the Steve Harper counter revolution. This makes it an even stronger argument for proportional representation, to reverse the toxic legacy of Harperism and prevent another such situation.

Remember that I do not believe that PR is the final solution for financialist seizures of power. As shown recently in certain European countries, these people are very good at getting control of left as well as right political parties, or intimidating non compliant governments. A capacity for rapid intervention by the electorate when even a PR legislature goes off the rails, needs to be built into the political system. Skogland is some support for this view.

She notes that a big problem with government in Canada is that power descends from above; it does not rise from below. It is hard to see who is really in control, and there seems to be no way to amend the system so the public has full control. My own view of it is that real "deliberative democracy" is about the public gaining control, not of the everyday details of government, but of amending the constitution and the rapid interventions when required which I mentioned above.

Skogland wants more deliberative process "grafted" onto the representational democracy we have now in order to give decisions more legitimacy. Deliberative means; a dialogue between the public and other "stakeholders". The term "stakeholders" is the modern euphemism for what used to be called, pejoratively, "special interest groups". I think of stakeholders as holding a stake to drive through the heart of democracy. But this "stakeholders" trope describes an oligarchy. In a real democracy, the only stakeholder is the public.

But we can have deliberations and then we can have a vote. Skogland quotes another smart old broad, Simone Chambers, "talking and voting do not mix well". Voting is adversarial. If people know there will be a vote at the end of the talking, they are less open. So any deliberative process must be kept off to the side of the representational goings on. The thing is, government also has to be effective; it has to be able to act, not just talk. So the deliberation is about structures and broad principles, although it still has to be seem as legitimate.

To be legitimate, public deliberations must be effective; it is about making power flow up, not down. Or as some put it, about making shit run uphill, not down. The "establishment" cannot be able to just ignore it when it does not suit them. Imagine if the attempts at deliberative democracy which we all know about, the Ontario and B.C. citizen's assemblies, had the power to enforce their decisions.

Skogland talks about input and output legitimacy. Output legitimacy = policy made by credible experts according to the public interest. Input legitimacy = made after fair consultation with, and input from, all the effected groups in society. It is a lot harder for interest groups to attack decisions if they have both input and output legitimacy.

Paul Martin when he was prime minister was actually putting a lot of these ideas forward; just as a way of trying to make government more functional. If people do not see decisions as being made on the best advice, and in a fair way, and with input from all, then government is much more difficult. He got a lot of gripe from it from within his own party. This seems to be a lot of what the internal feuding in the Liberals has been about. But they have lost power and Harper has some very different ideas about effective government. I have a much better view of Paul Martin these days.

Grace Skogland thinks that PR is a good idea. It will increase incentive for deliberative government, without reducing the effectiveness of government. I am inclined to agree that the way to a more deliberative system is through PR. However, the way to more PR is also through more deliberative democracy; a "chicken or egg" kind of proposition.

A big reason why government has become increasingly ineffective and illegitimate in recent years has been that the rise of market ideology and demands for a market based political system. In other words, neo-liberalism or globalization. Gracie is a bit naive when she appears to have the idea that marketing boards and supply management are examples of "market based authority". The Harper bunch do not agree with her.

However, an infusion of "popular authority" into our present state centered and expert driven system will be an antidote to the destructive effects of globalization, and help to revitalize government in Canada. Also, to move it from the nineteenth into the 21st century more quickly.

abstract of the Skogland Article

This article examines the contemporary basis of legitimate governance in Canada by identifying and documenting four different bases of political authority: state- centred, market-based, expert and popular authority. The co-existence of these competing bases of authority, traced to cultural shifts and developments associated with globalization, creates conflicting domestic and international norms of procedural and substantive legitimacy. The article argues that effective and legitimate governing in Canada requires greater incorporation of elements of popular authority, and reform, not abandonment, of state-centred authority.

last paragraph of Skogland article.

State-centred authority remains our best bet for effective and legitimate governing in Canada.To capitalize on that bet, however ,our representative institutions must be reformed to become more authentic chambers of representation and deliberation. A full discussion of what these reforms might ,single-member electoral system with one incorporating principles of proportional representation would strengthen the numerical position of opposition parties vis--vis the governing party. Arguably, as well, it would enhance the quality of representation in the legislative and executive chambers by resulting in a more diverse and more experienced body of elected members. Loosening party discipline would allow for this more plural universe of views to be openly articulated and championed. The greater likelihood of coalition government under a system of proportional representation would increase the incentives for not only aggregative politics but likely deliberative politics as well.Depending on the mode lof PR chosen, these salutary effects could be achieved without diminishing the capacity for effective governing(Massicotte,2001).Others will disagree about the priority of these two reforms and their effects for effective and legitimate governing. The point remains: if Canadians' answer to the questions of "Who should govern?" and "Who governs?" are to be one and the same, the practices of representative democracy in Canada must be brought into better alignment with the value Canadians place on open, transparent and accountable governing.