Canada is divided; millions of Canadians consider the truckers heroes, millions of other Canadian consider that truckers nuts, selfish. The Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, even called the truckers people who hate women and nazis.
I do not know if it was before or after he said that but in social media many people seem to be in line with Trudeau’s thinking. Sympathisers of the truckers accused of totalitarian, etc.
I do not know if Trudeau’s actions are legal, the courts will decide that once the legal challenges work their way through the justice system.
What I am presenting to you here is how Canada would have handled the people who oppose the vaccine mandates and the trucker’s protest if the country had direct democracy at the national level.
The most important thing to know is that the trucker’s protest would not have happened if Canada was a direct democracy. Yes, it would not have happened, one or more key reasons.
First, let me briefly tell you what direct democracy is.
Direct democracy means “government by the people”. Well, that is the meaning of the word “democracy”. In Ancient Greece citizens made all the important decisions; they met in a public place, debated different issues, proposed laws, they voted and tin this way theyant executive and legislativ made most significative decisions. They did not have politicians or political parties, each individual decide based on his understanding of what he considered the best decision for the common good and himself.
That it what democracy is; the people decide in an orderly manner and without politicians deciding for them, or telling them they should vote this or that way because of some ideology or because what the politician thought was the best decision for the nation.
But do we have to use the term “direct democracy” as if it was another form of democracy? Because, in fact, the only democracy is direct democracy. Representative democracy is democracy only when the people vote to elect representatives. Once elected, the politicians behave as an electe oligarchy because, as a class or group, the have all the executive and legislative power.
In representative democracy, depending on the results of elections, the government sometimes has control of the executive and legislative. Besides that, in many representative democracies, the government appoints the judges to the highest court in the land.
The term “direct democracy” would not be necessary if it during the French Revolution, when clumsy attempts to (direct) democracy never succeeded and degenerated into mob rule and dictatorship, even terror.
To bring things under control, some leaders of the French Revolution decided that direct rule by the people did not work because they believed the average person was not capable of deciding correctly and because the country was too large or the people to make all important decisions directly.
Among those leaders, one of them, Robespierer said: “The Revolution should aim to establish a democratic or republican government; these two words are synonymous”. He also said that democracy was not “a state wherein the people continually assemble to manage the public affairs all by themselves. Democracy is a state wherein the sovereign people, guide by the laws of their own making, does all that it can properly do, on its own, and does by delegates all that it can not do itself”.
When he said that he redefined democracy. Until then “democracy” meant democracy as practised by the Ancient Greeks in Athens and in dozens of other independent Greek city-states; the people decide all important issues, and the people decided which issues were important by bringing them up before a public assembly of thousands in the case ot Athens. The popular assembly listened to arguments for and against and then voted to decide how to address the issue.
Others felt that democracy, as practised by the Greeks was not feasible in large countries with large populationbecause Athens, the largest Greek city-state, had approximately 250 000 inhabitants,
The Ancient Greeks proved is that democracy, real democracy, direct democracy works, that it had nothing to do with the “mob rule” of the French Revolution.
Greek democracy did not die by degenerating into a mob or a dictatorship. Greek democracy died the same way democracy in France, Belgium, the Netherland died when they were invaded by the Nazis; it died when the Macedonians invaded the Greek city-states.
Just in case you do not know, the Macedonians were no democrats, they were ruled by a king with absolute power, much like the French king beheaded by the French revolutionaries.
Alexander the Great was Macedionian, he was no democrat, he was an absolute ruler who through military conquest created a huge empire. Under democracy, neither Athens, nor the other Greek city states created an empire. Perhaps they didn’t because in a real democracy, where ordinary people decide, the people are not very interested in initiating wars where their children or themselves would die. In a real democracy, people go to war only if attacked. They are not interested in fighting to conquer or having control of far away places in search of gold, oil, or whatever because they would voting for their own deaths.
But let us go back to the French Revolution. Robespierre and others prevailed; “the people are not fit to decide and the country is too big for democracy (Greek style). One result was that Robespierre himself emerged as one of the rulers “representing the people”.
But already during the French Revolution, one of the deputies in the Assembly, Pierre Francoise Joseph Robert, pointed out that representative democracy is an impossibility. He said: “There is no democracy with national representation, and those who wish to adapt the principles of democratic government to a representative government are either imbeciles who disrupt without knowing it, or rogues who knowingly disrupt in the hope of not losing the fruits of anarchy”.
Robert was right because soon, the so-called representative democracy degenerated into a totalitarian regimeof terror. Representative democracy was such failure that the French Revolution got rid of absolute rule by the King but ended up with an Emperor. Many say Napoleon was an enlightened emperor, but an emperor, not a democrat.
Soon, Robespierre himself, with his behaviour, showed that Robert was right. Robespierre, the proponent of representative democracy demonstrated that “representative democracy” was not democracy.
In a short time, as the elected leader “representing the people” of The Committee (of the Revolution) for Public Safety, he became the leader of the “Reign of Terror”, a bloody dictator.
That could not have happened in Ancient Greek democracy because nobody was elected to any comparable post, no way anyone would have been given the powers the leaders of the French Revolution and Robespierre had.
Representative democracy has become a guge improvement over absolute oppressive rulers. In representative democracy, the people have freedom of expression and have the power to decide who will govern, but is not democracy because the people do not govern, neither do they have the power to kill policies and laws passed by the politicians. They do not have the power to tell the policians that they must put in place policies and laws the people may want to increase taxes or reduce taxes to individuals or business, institute universal health care, affordable education at all levels, reduce or increase the size of the armed forces, etc.
To “protect” the Revolution and, presumably its ideas of “freedom, equality, fraternity”, Robespierre ordered or encouraged the execution of approximately 17 000 French people, another 10 000 died in prison. The 17000 executed were killed in less than 10 months, from September 5, 1793 to July 28, 1794. This means that, on average, every day 57 people were excuted, as “enemies of the Revolution”.
The terror ended when even Robespierre’s “colleagues” had enough with blood spilled, literaly spilled, because the execution was by guillotine. On July 28, 1794 Robespierre and his associate Louis Antoine Leon de Saint-Just (what a name for a murderer!) were executed, “before a cheering crowd”, such is the degeneration possible in a representative democracy.
First Robespierre misused his powers to kill the “enemies of the Revolution”, then other “democratic” leaders decided it was time to excite the people and kill Robespierre.
But that is not the only time representative “democracy” degenerates into chaos or “order” under terror. German representative democracy degenerated into Nazism; it is even a more terrifying example.
But those are not the only examples; plenty of countries around the World had representative democracies that so polarized the country that they ended up in civil wars, coups and dictatorships of the Left or the Right. Right now we have several examples.
But no direct democracy has degenerated into terror, chaos, etc. The French during the Revolution had the intention of establishing a direct democracy, real democracy but, for a number of reasons, were unable to do so.
Had France been a direct democracy, Mapoleon would not have the powers he had. It is also unimaginable that if the people had the opportunity to decide, they would have authorized the sending of French soldiers (themselves) to their deaths all over Europe.
The death of Robespierre ended the “Reign of Terror”, but did not bring democracy or peace, it brough the “White Terror” against Robespierre’s party and followers. It was not nearly as bad as Robespierre’s terror, but it was terror.
The root problem in representative democracies, in countries where the people elect their representatives, continues to this day. The problem is that the elected politicians have too much power; the people only have the power to vote or not vote for politicians but, once the election is over, the people have not the formal, orderly, established process to exercise their power and stop the politicians from doing something most citizens oppose, or to force the politicians to do what most people want them to do.
In other words, in a representative democracy, once the election is over, democracy is over until the next election.
So, the regimes we have in Canada, in the US, the UK, Germany, Japan, France itself and all other representatives democracies is system that as Deputy Robert would say, it is not a democracy. The Ancient Greek wpul not recognise any oth those countries as democracies, they would consider them elected aristocracy, elected oligarchy, not democracy.
It possible also to have a system that is formally a hybrid of direct and representative democracy. You can have direct-representative democracy.
This is how it works, the people continue to elect representatives, we have political parties and elections just like we have in representative democracies, but there is a huge change; the people have veto power over any law or policy formulated by the politicians, the executive and the legislative. The people can also direct the politicians to adopt new policies and pass new laws. Furthermore, the people can make changes to the constitution and must approve any change to the constitution that the elected politicians propose.
Because of those powers of voters, if Canada had a direct democracy, it almost certain the situation with the truckers would not have happened. The truckers would not have gone to Ottawa and clog the city, neither would they have blocked some border crossings.
This is how the situation would develop if Canada had a direct democracy;
The government, like governments in representative democracies would have put in place the various emergency policies necessary to deal with the pandemic two years ago, and adapt them as the effects of the virus on the health of Canadians evolved. the government would act immediately, without asking people to decide in a referendum. That would not be different, but the nature of the policies would be very different.
One reason is that as government of direct democracy, the Canadian government would have acted taking into account public opinion much more carefully; it would know Canadian voters could set the wheels in motion to challenge, in a binding referendum initiated by the people, the government policy or laws the government might have developed to deal with the virus.
The government would have in mind also that the people could relatively easily collect the approximately 250 000 signatures necessary to have a referendum, within the required 3 months.
The Canadian government, the executive and the legislative, would also know that after the collection of signatures a binding referendum would take place. The government, even if all politicians unanimously agreed, could not stop the referendum.
For example, if the voters decide not to support the government measures, the measures; policies or laws, would stop.
But the Canadian government also would know that up to two years can pass from the time the signatures are collected to the date of the referendum. This means the government could say: “it is not important what the people decide, by that time we will stop the policies”.
In some cases, it is possible the referndum would happen too late if the Covid crisis were to be over. But the government does not know that. This means that it would be interested in adopting policies and passing laws that not too many people would oppose, in order to prevent triggering a referendum.
Most policies and laws are not not temporary, so the goverment, and this means the executive and the legislature have to be careful to make sure most voters support what government does.
But direct democracy brings about another very interesting change; because politicians do not want their policies and laws killed by the people, the majopr parties negociate until they reach a compromise their voters will back or accept, and not actively oppose.
In time, that realisation also pushes all the major parties, not just to negotiate individual policies or laws, but to always govern in coalition. This also means 70-75% of the voters are represented in the negotiations. When the policiy or law comes out it is highly probable it will be accepted and supported by the majority of voters.
But governing in coalition also has another effect, it eliminates the bitter fights among parties and politicians we see on the parliaments of representative democracies and in the media. In a direct democracy, the parties have different opinions but they do not want to use words so extreme that makes it difficult to later sit down and work together with rival in a constructive team atmosphere. In representative democracies, the major parties are always on “electoral mode”, they do not want to cooperate with rivel parties, they want to discredit them because there are always on “election mode”.
The intensity of those fights is not caused by the disagreement on the issues but because in representative democracies, politicians have a lot more power than in a direct democracy and, logically, they fight to win is more agressive.
In representative democracies, parties also fight hard because to win, they believe it is essential to discredit the other party and each of the politicians of the other parties.
For example, on abortion, Democrats and Republicans in the US were unable to negotiate a compromise supported by the majority of the people. As a result, abortion ended up in the US Supreme Court. In 1973 the Court decided that abortion would be legal in the United States.
Supporters cheered, opponents experienced other emotions; anger, frustration, indignation. In other words, the issue was legally settled, but not politically.
The collective failure US politicians on abortion is of such magnitude that in 2022, almost 50 years later, those who support abortion fear that the “conservative Supreme Court” the US has now, could reverse the decision. If that happens, the Trucker’s convoy in Canada will look like nothing…
That is another problem in representative democracies; too much power in the hands of the highest courts.
The net effect is that judges, non-elected officials, but often appointed by poiliticians, end up making new laws.
This brings us to another advantage of direct democracy; in a direct democracy the constitution is a live, constantly changing document because the people, regularly, propose and execute changes to the constitution.
The result is a continuous but gradual and calm evolution of the constitution that reflects the changes in society.
In a direct democracy the constitution is not treated as a holy document; the constitution is, like ordinary laws, a reflection of the continuously evolving values and beliefs of people.
But in a direct democracy the poltical atmosphere is calmer because referendums do not happen “next week”. For example, the established procedures do not make possible to have a referndum, next week or next month, on the dealth penalty because a mass murderer or political terrorists killed a large number of people.
That is not possible. First the people who want to have a referendum need to collect the signatures, that takes time. Once they do that, they present the signatures, then some more time passes before the vote takes place.
For example, perhaps tha country mignt establish it is not practical to have referendum many times, and on different dates, thorougout the year. This means that the referendums can take place only one or a few times each year so that the people decide several issues at once.
The time between the initiaction of the collection of signatures and the date of the referendum, gives the voters plenty of opportunity to hear arguments in favor or against, of knowing what experts, for or against, say. Voters have plenty of time to digest and reflect on the inormation.
So, if Canada had direct democracy at the Federal level, the Trudeau Liberal government would not be the Trudeau goverment, it woul be the Liberal-Conservative-NDP government.
The point of view of the truckers and many others who oppose or support the vaccine mandates, would have been considered in far more detail. It if turned out, as some polls indicate, that 2/3 of Canadians support mandatory vaccination for the truckers and many others, the leaders of the Conservative Party would know that many of their supporters are for mandatory vaccination. This would mean that it would be very unlikely those disagreeing would want a referendum they had few chances of winning.
But if they did pursue a referendum, and lost, what could they do? It would be absurd to organize a protest convoy to force the government to change its decision; they would know the government could do nothing, that once the peoiple decided to support the measures, the decision was a gold-plated, a truly democractic decision that te Canadian governement could not ignore or reverse.
Nobody could challenge the decision in the Supreme Court either. This is because in a direct democracy, the Suppreme Court would be forbidden to evaluate the results of a referendum on constitutional grounds. Remember that the people make the constitution as the values of the people change.
Some people are scared that, in a direct democracy, the majority of people may make the wrong decision, that they will oppress minorities, etc. The experience of the Ancient Greek democracies shows is not that at all.
In a direct democracy there is no “majority” in the sense there is a majority in a representative democracy. In a direct democracy, the people vote each issue on its merits, not in terms of progressive of condervative ideologies. Ideologies that are futile attempts to predefine solutions based on ideology for every problem.
In a direct democracy, the majority may vote “progressive” to have universal health care. A different majority may vote conservative on immigration. Direct democracy is far more flexible.
Minorities have nothing to fear in a direct democracy because direct democracy brings political stability, it delivers good government. When tha country is free, stable and well governed, minorities are safe. Minorities are in peril in representative democracies because too often the elected politicians do not govern in tune with the people. When that happens, the system becomes unstableL we all know what happens to minorities when there is turmoil.
In a direct democracy, because voters know they are responsible for the consequences of their decisions, this pushes them to vote very responsibly. In a direct democracy, voters can not later blame the politicians; they have the power to stop the politicians and to tell the politicians what policies and laws they must put in place.
Conclusion: Canada would not be submerged in the polarising mess it is now if it had direct democracy; the goverment would have have made a more thoughtful decision because the decision would represent the consideration of the three major parties. The truckers would not have organised the protest because they would have known that the politicians representing the vast majority of voters were behind the law. It is very unlikey they would organise the protest convoy. because it would be clear to them the majority of Canadians would not support them.
At most, what they would do is collect the signatures and organise the referendum. If they lost it, that would be it. If they won, the government would have to come with new policies that would exclude mandatory vaccination for the truckers and perhaps everyone else.
How do I feel so sure about how things would work out in a direct democracy? Because that is what happened in Switzerland, where they have direct-representative democracy.
Many Swiss oppose the policies the Swiss government put in place to fight the Covid virus. They collected the required number of signatures, 50 000 and forced a referendum. This past November the Swiss voted and 62% decided to back the measures put in place by the government. As long as the government does not make any major controversial change, nobody will dare to protest the measures.
Switzerland does not have manadatory vaccinations and it seems the controversy over Covid measures settled.
It is not often that the people challeng the consensus-based policies and laws the Swiss government puts in place, but sometimes it happens, as it did in this case.
The option the people of direct democracy have to force a referendum acts as the final safety valve. If the majority of voters agree with them, the government has to withdraw the law oer policy. If the voters disagree with the proponents of the referendum, the issue is closed by the most democratic of decisions; no more protests, no more “convoys”…
After a referendum, the issues is settled and people move on.
What has happened in Canada’s representative democracy is the opposite; division has grown, the government will be challenged in the Supreme Court, the truckers and others are angrier because, until know, they “only” felt the government had imposed excessive covid measures, from now on they feel gthey have been mistreated; detained, their bank accounts blocked, could end un in prison, tremendous economic hardship.
It can not be ecluded that even more people have been antagonized by the Canadian government because themajor political issue now might have evolved into one related to unjustified use of an emergency law not meant to deal with, basically peaceful although annoying to many, political protests of this magnitude.
In view of the situation, whic direct democracy would have prevented, I hope many Canadians will feel motivated now to incorporate key elementsof direct democracy into Canada’s representative democracy.
That is precisely what the Swiss did, more than 150 years ago and, coincidentally, also as a result of the mismanagement of another pandemic by the politicians of the representative democracy Switzerland had at the time.
I do not have to tell you Switzerland is the most stable, better governed country in the World. In true direct democracy fashion, Swiss voters sometimes become a majority of “progressives”, that is why,for example, Switzerland has universal health care, best in the World, affordable university education, excellent pensions, legalized gay marriage, they have a wealth tax, etc. But sometimes they vote “conservative”; turned down a proposal to increase taxes to business, banned having the face covered in public, banned the minarets of mosques above a certain height, they control immigration, etc.