How the people of Canada, and other stable representative democracies, could calmly, peacefully, introduce and generalise direct democracy institutions and practices.

I like to start with Canada because it is a stable country with a rich tradition of representative democracy, a country raised in the British Isles tradition of compromise, a country not given to extremes, it is also the country where I live.

I know the Canadian people can make direct democracy work because they have the political temperament for it. Canadians have a political culture of tolerance, of pragmatism, not given to ideological extremes of the left or the right.

Direct democracy in a country like Canada does not mean revolution or riots, direct democracy is only the natural next step to advance democracy in all stable representative democracies.

I will make now make several observations about what turning to direct democracy would mean for Canada and, for other countries too:

Canadian voters will continue to elect representatives at the national, provincial, territorial and local governments, just like they do now.

Elected representatives will continue to form the government; the executive and parliament.

Politicians in the executive and the legislative, in all levels of government, will continue to develop policies, legislation and regulations.

The executive and the legislative will continue to be able to start changes to the Canadian Constitution.

It will be necessary to revise the Canadian Constitution and the laws that govern the Canadian provinces (the Canadian provinces do not have constitutions) will have to be changed. Local laws will also need revision.

Besides voting in elections, voters will also vote on the policies, laws and changes to the constitution the elected politicians propose. But they will only vote when the people decide it is necessary to stop a policy, a law, a regulation or a change to the constitution. Most of the time the people will not intervene because in direct democracy, and precisely because of it, the executive and the legislative will govern in tune withe will of the people, as it must be in a democracy, specially in matters of importance.

To trigger voting by the people, at all levels, on policies, laws, regulations and the Constitution will require that signatures be collected first. The number of signatures required for a decision by the people would be 1% of eligible voters. They will have to collect the signatures in a practical period.

The results of the referendums will be binding for the executive and the legislative; these are not consultative referendums or plebiscites.

The executive and the legislative may not call referendums. Referendums will take place because the people start them, but political parties, unions, citizen’s groups and other may also start them if they collect the number of required signatures. Governments should not call referendums because the control of the content and timing will be conditioned by the tactics to win the next election, not by what is best for the overall good, as we se how they are now.

Besides being able to stop the politicians, the people may also propose policies, laws and changes to the constitution if they collect the required number of signatures within the required time. Like in the case of stopping the government, these initiatives will be selective.

Canadian courts, including the Supreme Court will not rule on the constitutionality of the results of any decision by the voters. This may surprise to some, but direct democracy is about the people having the right to decide and also the obligation to face the consequences of their decisions, both go together.

In a direct democracy there must not be a Supreme Court to rescue the people from their bad political judgement, or to mess things up big time, like when the US Supreme Court make the absurd decision to give corporations the same political rights of individual citizens.

It is an absurd decision because with big, corporate and rich people, money dominating campaigns, the money contributions of ordinary citizen mean almost nothing. We could say that US political campaigns, at all levels, have turned into a game of “how to use big money to persuade voters to vote for a candidate or a party who needs the big money to get elected”.

It is obvious the US Supreme Court has created a catch 22 situation for US politicians; they have to serve the people, the average voters, but they need the money of rich corporations and rich individuals to get elected. It makes no sense because the interests of the big donors and ordinary people often are mutually exclusive, no wonder the people are turning to “the Trumps” and “the Sanders”.

In Canada, the situation with donors may not be as bad but still the lobbies and pressure groups have too much influence on politicians because of the absence of direct democracy institutions and processes.

My next blog will be about how the Canadian Province of British Columbia introduced fake direct democracy provisions.

There is also a town in British Columbia, Rossland, that introd.uced direct democracy measures at the local level in the 1990s but I am not able to come up with anything about direct democracy and Rossland now. In the towns website I am not able to see any reference to citizen’s initiatives or referendums. Perhaps direct democracy died out in Rossland. Let us know what the situation is if you can, I will try to contact the town, but that will be in a few days.

I will also write in other blogs about how Canada, in theory, practices some aspects of direct democracy, but they are not effective because “the devil is in the details” of the execution.

You should investigate what happens in your country; there may be provisions to practice direct democracy to some extent, but the elected politicians and the lobbies have managed to keep them largely irrelevant because of the details of implementation. What they do is as if you put a powerful motor in a car but, out of view, the brakes are always on, they slow the car down an the driver gives up.

Victor Lopez


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