A new book, Fixing Canadian Democracy, released
today by The Fraser Institute, argues that multiple significant
reforms are available to restore voter confidence in our public
Fixing Canadian Democracy
points to a variety of ways to improve our governance system. The book is the result of a major Fraser Institute conference on
democratic reform during which some of the finest practitioners
and thinkers from British Columbia and Ottawa were brought
together for presentations on selecting and empowering
representatives, the place and limits of direct democracy,
constitutional constraints, and how to make any of the above a
Some versions of democracy work better than others. Gordon
Gibson, the book's editor and a contributing author, points out
that Canada's democratic system is one of the most primitive in
the western world and that Canadians are -- for all practical
purposes -- governed by four-year elected dictators as things
"We ought to be the most prosperous and harmonious country on the
face of the earth, yet clearly we are not," says Gibson, senior
fellow in Canadian Studies at the Institute. "Our living standard
is much lower than in the US or many other smaller countries and
the public is broadly cynical and apathetic with respect to our
political process - and rightly so."
To counter this, the book begins by focusing on three of the most
basic principles that are seldom mentioned at all by democratic
reformers: the optimal size of government, subsidiarity, and
Gibson argues that the search for the optimal size of government
should be the first consideration for any democratic reformer.
Given the far superior characteristics of the free market in
terms of efficiency, transparency, competition, and liberty, any
error in finding the optimum should be on the lower side. This is
the most basic, and often most painful lesson for would-be
The second fundamental is subsidiarity -- or, in common parlance,
a bias toward "government closer to home." The division of powers
among governments enhances the liberties of the citizen, and
smaller governments are easier to understand and control.
The third fundamental is constitutional constraints, the rules
that bind government. The rule of law is the oldest of these
ideas, and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms one of the newest
Fixing Canadian Democracy
argues that a truly muscular Freedom of Information regime and
required "supermajorities" to do certain things (such as overrule
balanced budget legislation, or invoke the "notwithstanding"
clause), as well as a constitutionalized right to private
property should be added to this list.
"Since each of these considerations essentially seek to constrain
government power, it may be that reformers enthusiastic for ways
to expedite and give legitimacy to government action choose to
overlook them, but the prudent citizen must not," says Gibson.
As well, the book contains a thorough treatment of the more
traditional themes of democratic reform, namely, electoral
reform, parliamentary reform, and direct democracy.
Electoral reform is the current favourite democratic reform
initiative, with significant progress being made in several
provinces. The leading province in this regard is British
Columbia with its Citizens' Assembly. The book includes a major
presentation by BC Attorney-General Geoff Plant on the democratic
reform philosophy of the current government, which has already
legislated fixed term elections, and a seminal presentation by
Nick Loenen of Fair Voting BC.
Peter Dobell, founder of the Parliamentary Centre, canvasses
parliamentary reform. Professor Barry Cooper of the University of
Calgary, and Director of the Alberta office of the Fraser
Institute, leads the discussion of direct democracy in a
scholarly presentation that will enlighten even the experts.
Freedom of Information Commissioner John Reid and Professor Herb
Grubel consider constitutional constraints, and Canada West
Vice-Chair David Elton gives an outline of the new technique of
"deliberative democracy." These and other excellent
contributions, including many by politicians who have "been
there" make this book essential reading for those who care about
the current problems with our democracy, and want to know how to
go about solving them.
"The most fundamental check on government springs from citizen
knowledge. We must know what governments are doing, and why. We
must know this in a timely way. Then, as soon as possible after
the deeds are done, we need measurement of the results. And our
representatives need to be able to genuinely call the government
to account. No board of directors of even a medium-sized
corporation would settle for anything less. Why should we not
demand the same -- and more -- of our government?" concludes