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Democracy and the Canadian political system : an analysis of the responsiveness of the political system to pressures to increase citizen participation in policy-making Lyon, Kenneth Redmond Vaughan

Abstract

The central value of democracy is citizen participation in the political process. Canadian democracy is characterized by a high level of political apathy. This study analyses the likelihood of a political party instituting policies to raise the level of citizen political activism. A partial answer is sought to the question of whether the existing political system possesses a dynamic quality which will cause its evolution toward a more complete form of democracy. The analysis is based on the record of three political parties whose stated purpose was to raise levels of political participation in their respective jurisdictions where they formed governments. The United Farmers of Alberta, in office from 1921 to 1935, promised to institute a wide range of democratic reforms to put control, of public policy in the hands of the people. The party advocated an extensive restructuring of existing political institutions to achieve its democratic goals. The CCF, which formed the government in Saskatchewan from 1944 to 1964, also committed itself to giving the citizens control over public policy. Unlike the UFA, some of whose proposed reforms were intended to move the system toward direct democracy, the GCF proposed that citizens should rule through a democratically structured mass political party. The Liberal party took up the cause of participatory democracy in the 1968-1970 period, and promised to make it possible for a wider range of groups and individuals to influence the formation of government policy by giving those interested in public questions greater access to the decision-makers in the cabinet. An analysis of the records of the parties revealed that the overriding goal of each was to gain power and that they had still other objectives which were more important to them than raising the level of citizen political activism. Each of the parties implemented its commitment to participatory values only to the extent that doing so furthered the paramount goals of the party. Once each party was securely in office, and able to at least try to implement the participatory programs it had advocated, it reneged in part, or completely, on its commitment. There were two basic reasons why the parties acted in this way. First, the participatory proposals which were helpful in enabling the parties to gain office, or to consolidate their hold on it, if implemented, would have forced the legislative hierarchies of the parties to share their authority with others. Sharing authority would have deprived the leaders of some of their power and the full use of the political machinery of the state to achieve other objectives— objectives which might not be shared by those with whom the party leaders would share power. The second major reason why the parties did not implement participatory values was the constraints imposed on their doing so by the political system in which the parties operated. For example, success in the competitive party struggle was incompatible with the values of intra-party democracy. It was also incompatible with developing a body of well-informed, politically rational citizens willing to participate in the system. Further, the parliamentary system gave the political group whose power would be threatened by a program to increase participation the power to veto it. The study concludes that participatory values will only be advocated and implemented by a political party when such action will further its aim of maximizing power. This aim will be served by the implementation of participatory programs when the demand for increased participation by individuals and groups on whom the party depends is sufficiently intense that the party will share power with them in order to secure their support.

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