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
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
There are three main forms of 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
Rooted in a populist suspicion of elites and experts (“the common sense of the
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)
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