I think Governments should consult with the people. The amount of public involvement with our federal democracy is essentially voting in a general election once every four years. We call our political system “free and democratic”, a rule by and for the people. For me, electing over three hundred people who are being sent to Ottawa to agree with one of three policy sets is not nearly enough consultation. If we are sincerely interested in a democratic government, then we must believe on some level, that as a whole Canadians can adequately govern themselves. I believe that rather than simply voting for a representative who will be our proxy in policy votes (but will amount to little more than a face in a caucus) Canadians ought to take a more active role in major policy decisions our Government intends to pass. In short, I believe in comparatively frequent (perhaps yearly) referendum, lending increased accuracy (and therefore legitimacy) to our national system of Government.
There are valid objections standing in the way of such an ambitious plan. Fiscal concerns, “how much would this cost the tax payers” are perhaps the weakest. We ought to have the best representation possible, if our government is to be an adequate democracy. With every Member of Parliament comes costs in the form of their salaries, pensions, expenses, their staffs and offices (both in Ottawa and in their own constituencies). I will take freedom and liberty over increased costs if the choice needs to be made.
A stronger argument is one that calls the majority unfit to claim more power over itself. An objector can claim that masses get carried away with popular passions, disposing of prudence and sober reason due to demagoguery or the influence of money in politics or some other reason. I do not find such an argument convincing. To such objectors, I argue that If as Canadians we trust ourselves enough to give up natural rights and select our government while still believing in the legitimacy of our government, why not trust ourselves to go one step further and decide the fate of our own major policies?
A third argument I can see raised against increased referendum is that rather than believing the public can adequately rule over itself without “enlightened” representatives, Canadians would not care enough to actually vote in such resolutions—referendum results would be wildly unrepresentative. First, even if this is true, then the same arguments van apply to our elected governing bodies. Why even hold general elections? Second, most Canadians simply believe our political system is unrepresentative, and could be spurred to democratic action if they felt voting could amount to something substantial. Rather than shouting at the apathetic that every election is important and every vote counts (which are tired lines at this point and do little to help the problem) we can get them directly involved with our nation’s policy making and major decision-making.
Aside from the obvious benefit of making our policies more representative, there are spinoff benefits. MPs might be more inclined to advocate policies on conscience rather than with party if their vote will be in the general election with thirty million others rather than in a body of three hundred. Important policy will be highlighted in the media as voters prepare to decide whether or not to kill the legislation. Citizens will become better informed of the happenings of their government. Citizens will start scrutinizing, deliberating, philosophizing, talking and debating amongst each other. The country will become more democratic which is always a step in the right direction.
I believe in the wisdom of the people. Call me a hopeless optimist, but more often than not, the inherent goodness of people outweighs utilitarian or greedy potential gains. The will of the people is not perfect and can be confused; however, more often than not, the public demonstrates its good judgement. We can and should trust ourselves. It is our Government after all, we ought to start acting like it.