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We deserve better than the shell of representative government we’ve been given

Photo by Rebecca Potter

Recent events in Canada and the United States have shown that something is irrevocably broken about our democratic systems.

Think the critiques are harsh? Unjustified? How else can you explain the United States government simply shutting down? How can a government claim its superiority as justification for forcefully establishing their version of democracy throughout the world when elected officials are willing to just sit out and pout?

Partisanship in the U.S. has become more important to its political leaders than making sure the citizens they represent have a budget on time. Rather than using their good judgment to hammer out their differences, elected Democrats and Republicans perform their best impression of nine-year-olds engaged in a schoolyard fight over who gets to use the tetherball court.

Canada isn’t doing any better. The Senate’s many scandals this past year have shown that more than just simple reform is needed. An institution that was created to check and balance the powers of the executive and parliament is useless.  While some members bill the public for expenses that have nothing to do with their duties as a senator, others don’t even visit the areas they are said to represent. That’s not OK. That’s not something we should shrug off and say, “Oh well, it’s always been a useless institution.”

It hasn’t always been this way.

Both the U.S. and Canadian governments were established on a three-pronged framework of governance that institutionalizes the conflict between the rulers, the elite, and the public into the formal institutions of the executive, the Senate, and the House of Commons, or Congress in the U.S. These institutions possess an equal amount of power to ensure that each level of government can check and balance the interests and influence of the others.

But it seems like we’ve come to what Machiavelli recognized as the inevitable death of these systems of government. Machiavelli warned that the end of democratic republics occurs after their institutions break into factions more concerned with protecting their own interests than that of the common good. He foresaw that the executive, Senate, and House of Commons would engage in unproductive conflict that, because of their equal amounts of power, would result in a crippling standstill.

With the government shutdown in the U.S., this standstill has taken a concrete form, and in Canada we’ve seen a similar phenomenon as our parliament is again prorogued, a measure the current administration has employed more often than any other in modern history.

I’m tired of seeing our senators turned into laughingstocks, our prime minister into a bully, and our legislation into omnibus metaphors. I’m tired of shrugging off signs that the democratic process isn’t being followed, that the concept of an informed electorate is a thing of the past, and that our government is broken.

We deserve better.