The Swiss, again, show to Canadians and all others how it can be done, democratically, with no protest caravans

As you know, right now there is a huge caravan of trucks in Ottawa, the Canadian capital, because many truckers are upset at the Canadian government’s requirement that unvaccinated Canadian truckers to be tested AND quarantine after they return to Canada from driving in the US. American drivers do not have to do that.

I do not know if the truckers are angry because of the requirement by itself, or if they are angrier because American truckers do not have those requirements when they return home.

This is just another notorious example of the controversies many governments in democracies have created with their vaccine policies. In dictatorships, as we know, there are no controversies, we bless such countries with omniscient leaders who can do no wrong and therefore, only “fools” or “evil” people dare to protest.

There has been lots of confusion, which is not reduced by trying to silence or dismiss as lunatics those who disagree with government policies. Even in some social media has become acceptable to delete the account, or demand that it be deleted, of someone who questions the measures enacted by governments to deal with the virus.

I am vaccinated and believe in vaccines; the issue is how those who disagree are treated by governments, by most media, and perhaps even by most of the people who believe in vaccines. What I see and hear I dislike, but is just my opinion.

What is important is to see if direct democracy provides less controversial ways to deal with those measures.

Th intolerance of some pro-vaccine people has reached such madness that even demand medical doctors, who do not oppose vaccination but some of the control measures, should be silenced. This is absolute madness. How is the public going to form an opinion if they can not know different, even opposite opinions, to the prevailing ones?

I do not know if it is just ignorance or an irrational desire to see everything in absolute terms; true-false, good-bad, right-wrong. Too many people seem to mistake the opinion of scientists for science. An opinion is an opinion. Scientists often disagree because we can interpret the data in different ways.

In a free country, we have to listen to different opinions; to suppress opinions is to kill democracy. What freedom do we have if opinions are censored? What is then the difference between a dictatorship and a democracy? The only difference would be that in a democracy, you elect the dictator. I am not sure it is a radical improvement.

So the truckers are mad. Why are they mad?, basically because they do not accept the decision of the Canadian government, they disagree with the government; they feel the government is unfair, that it is imposing a decision without justification.

The truckers might be mad because they believe the measure is not medically justified. Perhaps they have listened to some of the medical experts banned from social media. Or perhaps they believe the measure is unfair and punishes them more that others, for example, their American counterparts.

Perhaps the government could have prevented the protest if it had invited representatives of the truckers and others to discuss the intended measures. It is likely the government could have learned something to make the requirements more palatable to the truckers. From the discussions, the truckers could have also learned the pressures on government. It is likely a compromise could have been reached and the current conflict avoided.

So, how can you reach a decision that is controversial and ensure that everybody complies without triggering a protest like the one the Canadian government faces? It is easy, yet difficult. The answer is: make the decision transparent and democratic.

The most democratic decision in representative democracies is when we vote to elect our representatives. What is even more democratic is when in a direct democracy, we vote in a binding referendum to decide an issue.

Canada would save itself the current trucker protest if it did what the Swiss do; let the people decide. After calm, informed discussions and debates, the voters go to the polls and decide.

One significant advantage of the people deciding issues, instead of the politicians, is that the decision is fully democratic. The truckers would have no credibility to protest against the measures if their fellow citizens had approved them. They would not organise any convoy either, or show at Trudeau’s door. They would look like fools; it is absurd to refuse to accept a decision made by majority of the people. It would also be foolish for the truckers to pressure Trudeau because in a direct democracy, the politicians can not overturn a decision by the people.

Sometimes, such as the current pandemic, there may be no time for the people to decide which are the measures they find reasonable. This means that, even in a direct democracy, government has to act quickly.

When that happens, how can the controversy, such as the one with the Canadian truckers, can be avoided? It is simple, give people the chance to organise a referendum on the validity of the measures adopted by the government.

When people know they can organise a referendum challenging the government measures, and the results of the referendum are mandatory, that government has no choice but to follow them (ordered by voters), that not even parliament or the highest court in the land can overturn the decision by the people, then the people can easily accept the emergency measures, as they know they can kill them if enough of their fellow citizens support what they propose.

If Canada had the Swiss system, instead of protesting, the truckers could have organized a national referendum.

This is exactly how the do it in Switzerland; the Swiss government passed several measures to control the damages the virus causes. Essentially, the Swiss government did what the Canadian one did, but via a significantly different process, because of Swiss direct democracy. Because the Swiss government knows the people can organise a referendum that could kill the measures, they normally negotiate with relevant parties until consensus is reached, but in this case perhaps there was no time. In such cases, a referendum is like a safety valve; those opposing the measures can persuade voters to kill the measures.

Perhaps more important is the fact that Swiss politicians of the 4-5 major parties, representing 70-75% of voters, long ago realised the best way to avoid people-initiated binding referendums, is to negotiate among themselves; if 70-75% of voters feel that a reasonable policy has been agreed to, it is unlikely anyone will challenge it.

Among the measures, the Swiss government passed is one requiring vaccination passports to access restaurants, etc.

But, perhaps the consultations were not thorough enough, perhaps there was no time. The result was that  many people in Switzerland disagreed with several of the measures. They set up a group with the aim of forcing a referendum on the measures the government enacted on September 2020 and on March 2021.

The organisers of the “protest” referendum collected the required 50 000 signatures within the required 100 days.

The referendum took place on November 29, 2021, 62% of the voters rejected the proposed rejection of the measures and sided with the government measures.

It is obvious many Swiss, truckers or not, disagreed with the measures; after all, 38% of them voted against them. But these people lost a fully democratic contest. They had time to explain their point of view. There were plenty of debates in the media, with co-workers, among family members. They heard the opinions of experts for and against the measures. Each voter received an information package to prepare for the referendum. In the package, the proponents of the referendum to kill the measures explained their position in their own words. In the same package, the government presented its arguments defending the measures. It was a fair contest.

Once the proponents of the referendum, and their supporters, saw most voters rejected their arguments, they had no other option but to accept the result. If they organised protests after having a fair hearing, they would look like fools and sore losers. Besides, their protest would have no effect on the measures because, how could the government back out of measures the voters, democratically, supported?

In this example, I believe it is clear why direct democracy is superior so representative democracy or any other system; it produces better thought out decisions because there is more open discussion than the usual hyper-partisan ones we see in representative democracies. Besides that, the decision made through a referendum has a democratic quality that no decision by politicians can have.

A referendum is therefore the most rational solution to important or controversial issues; it prevents conflict and produces better results and more acceptability.

Swiss style direct democracy can be scaled to smaller and larger countries, just like representative democracy has been successfully scaled.

Victor Lopez

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