What Canada, and other countries, will gain if they adopt the territorial and governance changes making Switzerland the most successful democracy ever

I believe the territorial organisation of a country is critical for direct democracy measures to work, the measures by themselves are not enough. But, how do you do it? I believe the Swiss, deliberately or by “historical luck”, have found a better way.

One key criteria: no province or municipality should have so much population that its voters decide who runs the country. A second criteria: each province and municipality area should have as much self governance as its inhabitants consider practical.

This means we want to create many more and much smaller provinces and territories in Canada.  We also want to create many more municipalities. We want them all to have more self-rule.

Do not worry about having more politicians. Because of the smaller governments, many more politicians would work part time, because of direct democracy, the voters will control politicians much more effectively.

 

Having more, does not preclude cooperation among the newer and smaller provincial and local governments in many areas such as garbage pickup, fire, police.

This is how things will change; Switzerland has 26 cantons for 8.5 million people. If we apply the same ratio, Canada would have roughly 125 provinces and territories. As for municipalities, if Canada adopted Swiss criteria, it would have 5500 municipalities, 50% more than it has now.

It is also possible that Canada’s vast territory would require even more provinces and municipalities; it is quite possible that Canada is more diverse than Switzerland in many ways.

“Breaking up and pushing down” governance serves two purposes; it dampens the “tribal” tendencies, often reinforced, when a group sharing a culture-language, sometimes religion too, is much larger than the rest. It also enhances the particular characteristics of each of the smaller territories.

I also believe that if Canada had the territorial organisation Switzerland has, Quebec separatism or “Ontario dominance”, “Ontario and Quebec dominance” would not have risen; there would be many much smaller French-speaking and English-speaking provinces; the French would not feel dominated by English Canada, the West would not resent the East, and the Maritimes would not feel they count for little now, in spite of being the original core of Canada. The perpetual puzzle of how to treat Native Americans would have been solved long ago too.

The Swiss system respects local identity more because even in areas with a single language and culture, people of different areas are different, we all know that.

Within each of new smaller Provinces and Territories of Canada, we should also give municipalities, towns and villages more decision-making power.

This “break up and push down” also will help give Native Canadians a stronger identity and a stronger voice, instead of being “under ministries”, some of them with, to me, almost demeaning names, like “Ontario’s Ministry of Indigenous affairs” and the not better “Federal Ministry of Crown-Indigenous Relations”.

Under the new system, the 1,6 million Native Canadians would have several provinces of their own, and many municipalities. They would speak as equals at all levels. We would also do away with the scent of patronizing charities many services established to help Native Canadians have.

With their own provinces and municipalities Native Canadians will speak, by themselves and for themselves, at all levels of government. We would not need either the regular CBC programs about “how badly we treat Native Americans”, etc. They would not be necessary because, with their own provinces and municipalities, Native Americans will have more power at all levels.

The changes will benefit Native Canadians, and rest of Canadians too, because every Canadian will have a more direct voice in local, provincial and national affairs.

Let us not worry about having too many territories, or too small either. In Switzerland, the smallest canton, Appenzell Innerrhoden, has 16 000 inhabitants. Switzerland also has municipalities with as few people as 30 inhabitants, and many with less than one thousand.

The reorganisation to strengthen local identity and power, together with direct democracy measures, will go a long way to improve governance in Canada. One effect would be to bring the level of satisfaction with government in Canada up to Swiss levels; from 46% to the Swiss level of 75% (OECD study).

The improvements will make Canada even more stable and prosperous.

In the next post I will look at the new provinces-territories and municipalities  and where they will be located, if Canada adopts the Swiss model. We will also look in more detail at how Switzerland handles being a multicultural, multilingual country (very different from Canada, and with far less friction).

Victor Lopez

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