POL112 - Forms of Democracy.docx

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Political Science
Justin Bumgardner

Forms of Democracy There has been an ongoing debate regarding how democratic Canada really is:  Lord Bryce published “Canada: An Actual Democracy” in 1921 (It was generally a positive assessment of Canadian democracy with a few exceptions).  Contemporary views point out numerous shortcomings in Canada’s democracy:  Ex. PM Stephen Harper prorogued parliament until March 2010…how much power should the PM really have? Is it increasing?  Ex. Kevin Page produces independent analyses on the government budget’s position which are usually highly critical of the government.  This debate displays several lessons regarding democracy:  Standards of democracy change (what is perceived to be democratic today may be different than the perceptions of people in the past).  People shouldn’t be complacent because democracy is very vulnerable.  Positive change is always possible (ex. Women getting the franchise).  One cannot evaluate a democracy without a clear conception or definition of democracy itself:  However, there is no single or clear cut definition of democracy…it all depends on the assessors views.  In order to do this, people resort to adjectival democracies (ex. liberal democracy, people’s democracy, etc.) The different types of democracy share many similarities but also have differences:  All democracies share the same views on the following points:  Rule by the people: The people largely decide what government does.  Probity: A notion of honesty; things are done without corruption, etc.  The importance of a free and active press that will hold the government accountable and force it to be transparent.  Equality: All people are equal under the law.  Rule of Law: Due process of law is extremely vital for any democracy.  All democracies have different views on the following points:  Conception of society: Is society composed of individuals or groups?  Political philosophy: What do people think the role of the state is and how intrusive should it be?  Decision making: Is there something inherently correct about majority rules? (ex. what if there is a significantly large minority?)  To what extent (if any) should the public be involved in the decision making process. There are three main forms of democracy:  Representative Democracy  People elect representatives to govern  People delegate extensive powers to their representatives  Elections must be free and fair  There must be mechanisms for accountability and transparency  There must be a balance between majority rule and minority rights  Many variations exist:  Parliamentary vs. Congressional systems  First-Past-the-Post vs. Proportional Representation  Direct/Plebiscitary Democracy  Rooted in a populist suspicion of elites and experts (“the common sense of the common people”).  The people should have direct control over elected politicians:  People should have more power than just electing representatives  Elected politicians should be delegates and not representatives:  Representative: People elect politicians trusting in their ability to take the best action best on their best judgment.  Delegates: People elect politicians who are under their direct instruction and supervision.  The expression of public will should be binding (i.e. the debate is over). The public can express their views in a variety of ways:  Referendum and Plebiscites: The difference between these two is that the former is legally binding while the latter is not.  Recall: A procedure by which, if large group of citizens are not content with the performance of an elected official, they can remove him or force him to stand for reelection  A substantial number of voters in the district must agree to this (ex. through signing a petition.)  This is more prevalent in America than in Canada  Initiative: A process by which a group of people come together and propose a particular route of action and, if it has enough support, it is voted on during the next election.  Has a strongly individualistic and majoritarian view of society and politics.  There are often black and white alternatives (zero-sum games)  Often anti-government  Deliberative/Participatory Democracy:  Although this is a recent term, the ideas behind it are relatively ancient.  Citizens of ancient Athens (and modern day town hall meetings) got together and discussed issues concerning the city.  The actual process of decision making is very important:  Decisions are best reached through public deliberation and extensive part
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