Canada is a democracy, like many other nations in the world. It is often referred to as first past the post which, works like this; in a riding you have multiple parties. Whichever of these has the highest vote share wins the riding. This means that even if you voted for a party like the Greens or the Peoples Party, as long as another party won, your vote wouldn’t really count. In Canada there are 338 ridings. The people who are elected then go to the House of Commons as MPs to represent their political party. They’re the ones who debate and pass legislation. If one party has the most seats then they can select the prime minister, the leader of Canada.
But this is just how elections work. Aren’t there other things the government has to do that are much more important? Take passing bills for example.
Canada is a democracy which means that everything has at least some democratic features in it, even if some groups and people are less represented than others. This may be good for the will of the people but is inefficient. For example, this is how bills are passed in Canada.
First an idea is discussed in the Cabinet with the Prime minister. Then it goes to the House of Commons where the members of the House read it and then discuss it. After that, the House of Commons votes on it and re-reads the bill. Once that is done, the House of Commons sends the bill to a smaller group of its members makes a more detailed examination of the bill and alters it. The revised bill is then voted on again by the House of Commons where the bill is either accepted or rejected. If the House of Commons votes ‘yes’ on the bill, it is sent to the Senate which discusses the bill and, most of the time, approves it. The bill must now be read by the Governor General for Royal Assent, on behalf of the Royals back in London, and if the Governor General signs it, it officially makes the bill law.
This has to be done for every major bill. Is it democratic? More or less. Is it efficient? No, not really.
Instead of having systems like this in place we could have governments which have our interests at heart but have the power to create laws and pass referendums in a matter of weeks, or maybe even days. Only an extremely well managed democracy or an authoritarian state could do such a thing. So why don’t we have a strong authoritarian state in place? We could implement things like a points system to encourage volunteering and helping others while discouraging things like saying stuff that discourages trust in things like science and society, using polluting modes of transport, and things that are generally bad. With it, Canadians can have some incentive to do better. A points system would be extremely hard to implement in a democracy because there would always be a group of people who it would negatively effect who would most likely block the vote for it and because the MP’s would argue forever about the fine print.
In an authoritarian system it would also be a lot easier for a small amount of hard working people to create a lot more change.
If you wanted to enact some change in todays political system, you would need to either, rise up through government, convince the public and the MP’s that they should vote for your party, or the party that supports this change, and get the government to pass the bill into law. You could also convince enough of the population to show the government that they want the change and make the government enact it.
In an authoritarian system, all you would need to do is become the person who controls the sector of the government in which your idea is. Then you’d just need to make the bill into law. Once you’re in that position of power you can do what you want until you upset your higher ups.
The latter seems a lot simpler and more accomplishable, especially when a large part of the population disagrees with your opinion.
So why don’t we live under an authoritarian state?
There are quite a few fatal flaws with authoritarianism. Among these, there are a few that stand out as being the worst.
The unchecked power and unaccountability of top officials as well as autocracy.
There are a few case studies on this topic, one of them being Russia. To understand why the leaders of Russia had such unchecked power we have to do some history. It all started with the Mongol invasion of Russia back in the medieval times.
Back in medieval times, Russia was centred around where the Ukraine and Belarus are now. When the mongols invaded, they slaughtered much of the population and destroyed much of Kiev which at that time was the European heartland of Russia and the centre of Russian economic and political power. With the destruction of Kiev that all shifted east to the landlocked planes of Smolensk and Rostov. These places had long been ignored and were now they and their Princes were at the centre of Russia.
At this time, throughout the rest of Europe, feudalism began to be evermore challenged. New commercial and political systems evolved. The people who were within them began to rewrite the feudal-social contract. The black plague also killed one third of Europe’s peasants which made the landlords start to compete for them by offering them monetary payment for the work they did. The peasants also had more options and started to move away from their feudal landlords to European cities.
Russia was untouched by these developments. During this time, it went into Mongol rule for more than 250 years and went in a completely different direction. Because all the mongols wanted was to extract wealth from the places they conquered, they used the Russian princes to collect taxes. The mongols hadn’t brought any laws and if the princes didn’t appeal to their mongol overlords they’d face harsh consequences. As a consequence of this, the Russian princes collected their taxes with evermore unopposed ruthlessness. The Black Plague only made this worse. The Russian Princes made the peasants bound to the land and made there be more peasants serving under less rulers. Unlike in Europe where, over centuries of feudalism they had put in place things like parliaments to limit the power of the monarch, in Russia the tax collectors were only accountable to the Lords and the Lords were only accountable to the mongols which meant that the higher up you were, or the more power you had, the less accountable you were. This meant that while Europe became ever more democratic, Russia became ever more exploitative of its peasants and authoritarian. The Russians also used the Black Plague to tie the peasants into ever bigger duchies. This led to an ever bigger peasantry and an ever smaller ruling class. Although the Russians did have to obey the mongols they weren’t the mongols. This meant that while mongols would have tribal values and rituals, the Russians would have one head of the large duchy with near unlimited power and some accountability to the mongols.
Throughout Russia there were four main duchies, the most powerful of which was the Duchy of Moscow which would be the one to rise up and kick the mongols out. By doing this they created a new Russian nation-state centred around Moscow. They still kept the socio-economic systems and political structures that had developed under mongol rule. These were the perfect conditions to create an absolutist state. For example, the army. In the European states, the army was incorporated within the aristocratic class which meant that the rulers couldn’t use it for whatever they wanted. In Russia, the army had been directly recruited by Moscow and was dependant upon the state for its pay and status. This means that the state and the leader of said state could use the army without any constraints. In Russia they also created a system that put the aristocrats up against each other for the liking of the monarch which gave the monarch even more power. All power was with the godlike monarch.
There was also the church. The Russian Orthodox Church was derived from the Byzantine church which was Caesium papist (the head of state decides who should be head of church). Which means that the church obeys the monarch or the ruler of the state.
An example of just how much power the monarch had can be shown by Ivan the Terrible who declared himself the first Tsar of Russia. Ivan’s reign of terror severely destroyed the Russian aristocracy to the extent that at the end, there were only nine aristocratic families left. Yet even after his death there was still unlimited power over Russia in the Russian leaders. It even continued after the fall of the Russian Tsars with Stalin, his politburo over which he reigned with an iron fist, and his reign of terror. This unchecked power within the Russian leaders is present to quite some extent even in Putin. This system also leads to corruption where you can do as much as you want and be as corrupt as you can as long as you don’t piss off your superior which means that the is government more corrupt, the higher up you go.
A good and most likely also, the only solution to this would be to make Russia become a truly democratic nation with the leaders being accountable to and elected by the people.
Political extremism and genocide.
There have been many genocides throughout history done by many political extremists but the most genocides are done by right wing parties such as Mussolini in Italy and Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. The only reliable way to make sure that the state would not become polarized would be to set in place a democratic process which would limit the extremism within the government. Any other kind of limit to power would most likely be easily abused with the extremists filling it up with their own.
Climate and health.
The best way to make sure that the government doesn’t disregard human health in the name of some other thing would be to create some kind of a democratic electoral process in which people could vote for different people or parties to lead the state. This would make sure that the leaders dont disregard human health to such an extent that it has far reaching consequences throughout the population. It would also be a good way fulfill the needs of the people while at the same time using the total power that authoritarianism gives the leaders in order to complete what the leaders wanted to do.
In the end you can see that I have debunked myself about authoritarianism and while you can get things done with authoritarianism, the best form of government to benefit the people would be democracy. The most widespread personal freedom one could hope to achieve would be created through social democracy because with social democracy, you have the social nets like welfare that make entrepreneurship easy to achieve and not as risky as doing it in a country where, if you don’t succeed you’d likely lose it all. Social democracies also limit the outreach that large cooperations have over the population which means that you will be far less likely to be in a situation like debt slavery (having to stick with an unsatisfactory job due to debt caused by rent and the cost of living), or having your community destroyed by things like pollution and other side effects of the ‘profits at all costs’ mentality of big business.
I encourage you to reach out and indulge in some research about politics and political ideologies. Watch some youtube videos, read some books, discuss with family, friends, or other peers, and get in touch with your local political candidates, maybe you share views with them and you could discuss their platform, and share your opinion. All in all, this was an interesting topic to write about and I hope you enjoyed.
Thank you, Jakub