Wednesday, March 14, 2012

How Did We Get Government By Bad Apple and What Can We Do?

Humans, by nature, are optimistic. When we face a range of choices in any situation, we try and choose the best, hoping it gives us a positive outcome. The simpler the choices we have available, the less chance we have to choose a smart one.  Politics, especially when it comes to how we choose our government, relies on providing all of us with the simplest choice available. "My party is right, will fix everything and contains only saints, your party is wrong, destroys everything,  and contains only crooks."

Are we just lazy? Being human and optimistic, I really don't believe so. We certainly devalue the shares of lazy companies pretty quickly. Most of us wouldn't think of telling our children not to work hard in school.  Even when it comes to our own health, I don't think anyone seriously considers being a couch potato is the sensible approach.

So, if we want smart outcomes, why have we only given ourselves simple choices? I believe it is because we have become lazy. The Westminster system of government has been a work in progress for centuries.  Take the Magna Carta as an example. Most of it is no longer considered just or necessary. The whole idea of Common Law, too, relies on incremental change. Its very nature partially sprang from the idea that situations change and responses need updating. So why haven't we changed parliament to get the smartest, most democratic, results?  I believe we have chosen the simplicity of tradition, allowed politicians to practice what they know, allowed political strategists and hacks to determine agendas based on the simplicity of how government is chosen,  and, most importantly, become drunk on the ease of politics providing us with blanket statements on good and evil. In the end, we are left with a government based mostly on the fact that a previous government appeared to be more evil then the one that replaces it. We throw the baby out with the bathwater!

In the Westminster system, as it now exists in Canada, the legislative and executive arms of government are combined under single ministers who may influence votes in the House of Commons and Senate through a party whip. To me, this seems to be a glaring conflict of interest. Since when is creating good policy had anything to do with good day to day operation of government departments? Business understands this. There is widespread belief that separating a board of directors and upper management is ethically and financially necessary.

In business, the buck tends to stop with the individual making a poor decision. Employees are hired and fired based on merit. If a VP in upper management has poorly performing areas of responsibility, that VP rather than all of upper management will likely get the axe. Only when there appears to be signs of upper management joining to make unethical, highly and continually unprofitable, or illegal decisions, will a board act to remove management, en masse. Unfortunately, this is exactly what we don't do with our government. We give out decision making power, en masse, to new people, based on the stink of corruption which tends to be caused by a relatively few bad apples. The number of Liberals implicated by the Gomery Commission was a relatively small number in a relatively small geographic area. It is likely that even if shown to be an organized effort, those responsible in the 'robocall' affair will be a small group of bad apples, too. Unfortunately, we may, yet again, use this as evidence that the whole government is guilty.

The short term election cycle we currently have adds another major flaw. The short election cycle tends to make it better for politicians to make decisions based on short term answers. I don't think any Canadian, in his or her right mind, would say that short-sighted decisions lead to good outcomes.

So who benefits from the constant throwing of babies out with bath water? I believe it is nothing more than job security for pundits, lobbyists, political strategists and hacks, and pollsters. It is these, so called professionals, who tell politicians whether what we think is good or bad in order to press our buttons. In this way their employers can win an election based on emotion and not evidence of smart and rational results or lack thereof. We get our simple choice. It is for this reason that politics has degenerated into an exercise of fear mongering and the stoking of anger.

So what can we do to ensure we have the ability to select a government based on evidence an rational thinking?

Perhaps removing ministers from the legislative decision making process can let us determine when a problem exists in policy and not administration and vice versa. We would have to do so in a way which goes far beyond the American approach since that approach is still a little too emotional for my liking. Perhaps we should elect government ministers under an elected Governor General as chief executive. Neither ministers nor the Governor General would have any legislative authority, except in, perhaps, demanding change of legislation from Parliament. For instance, if an act of Parliament is determined by this separate Cabinet to need change, Cabinet may submit an amendment for debate and implementation.

So can we base our government on the skills and intelligence of those we elect and, at the same time, remove those, who make a living by preying on our emotions, from the decision making process? We could elect our MPs and my proposed elected Cabinet in a staggered fashion. We end the general election entirely. We can then stop choosing those who represent us based on party affiliation and simplistic political ideology. Instead, we will get meritorious debate and decision. We don't have to look far to see the result of this type of democracy.  Many municipal governments in Canada work quite well without partisan political politics.  They certainly get things done. I'm in no way saying we should outlaw political parties. We just need to remove some of the political spin they tend to generate.

To reduce the tendency for short-sighted ideas, perhaps we could do two things. To reduce pressure on those we elect, we could substantially increase term limits. Obviously, doing this alone would probably not be a good method to dissuade corruption so we would also need a robust method of recall. You're hired because we trust you.  You're fired because you're a crook. We will give you a look every now and than, though, so we can give opportunity to fresh ideas and new blood.

Dealing with the parasites living on the host that is politics, in this country, would inevitably take care of itself as a result. Strategists would have to study real issues of importance to Canadians. Lobbyists would have a much harder time advancing ideas since the number of those who effectively exercise power would grow immensely. So here is a conservative idea: smaller government.  To the pundits and hacks, I'm sorry to say, you would be made redundant--goodbye and good riddance.  We could become a far more efficient and competitive country if they all had to get useful and productive jobs, instead!

The citizens of Canada are not lazy and simple-minded.  It is high time to create a structure for government which assumes we are hard working and smart.

I would like to thank and credit the following for adding their ideas:

 for reminding me to mention lobbyists. How could I have forgotten those parasites?


  1. Electing cabinet members and the Governor General as a chief executive would likely be a step backward. It would smack very strongly of a switch to a more American form of government (which as we can see, is even more distorted than our own) and also a restoration of old royal authority.

    Keep in mind, the only Westminster style democracy that experimented with directly electing its Prime Minister was Israel. The experiment was a catastrophic failure, and they switched back almost immediately. A cabinet must be able to command the confidence of Parliament or we are abandoning the basic principle of responsible government.

    1. Thanks for your comment.

      As I mentioned, the American method of selecting executives doesn't go far enough. It becomes highly politicized because the legislators benefit by attacking the politician making the decision. By putting the choice of choosing executives in the hands of all citizens, this becomes quite difficult. This also addresses the royal authority issue.

      To address the issue of Parliament's confidence in Cabinet under my suggested system, I'd suggest confidence motions recalling individual ministers. Perhaps, the minister could be replaced by the runner up until the next election. This is easily done if elections use ranked voting with instant run-off.

      Believe me, I, in no way, wish to see responsible government degraded. That very occurrence is part of my provincial history. The Dominion of Newfoundland voted its own responsible government out of existence.

      What I am interested in is citizens being able to determine the merits of individual policy and individual politicians rather than the deluge which we currently face from general elections.

      I read this a little while ago:

      It points out that individuals just don't have the capacity to judge the complexity presented by politics. What do we end up using when we can't judge on rational thought? Emotion. I am trying to put forward ideas that account for just that problem.

      Do you have any ideas to improve politics so that we all can make better choices?

  2. You raise a lot of good points, though this isn't my area of expertise.

    The thing that stands out the most for me is the notion of longer terms. It is definitely a problem that politicians have to constantly think about getting elected, which is in many ways a popularity contest which puts a lot of trivial things ahead of substance. Campaigning is also about making promises to wealthy special interests and power brokers. Term limits also can have a negative effect, if they force out a politician who is doing a good job. We see that they can serve a vital function in preventing the rise of tyrants, especially in extremely powerful positions like President. But maybe there are better ways to achieve some of these objectives.

    My area of focus is on the voting system. One system I promote is called Approval Voting. It uses a Plurality Voting ballot, but simply removes the restriction that you most vote for just one candidate. You may vote for as many candidates as you wish, and the one with the most votes wins. It's described in greater detail here:

    This system could solve some of the problems that term limits and recalls are meant to solve. Consider the incumbency problem with Plurality Voting. Imagine you're a progressive voter who feels very let down by Barack Obama. There are a myriad of candidates you'd prefer to him, but there are no assurances that any of them could win in a general election against the Republican challenger. Therefore, even if there is a candidate who would be widely preferred to Obama and to the Republican nominee, no one will vote for that candidate. So Obama has little incentive to appeal to his base. All he has to do is be a little better than the Republicans, and he'll still get their votes, except for the ones who are so disaffected that they'll "throw away" their votes on an independent or Green Party candidate, for instance.

    Approval Voting would radically change this. Say that several would-be Democratic nominees ran in the general election, against Obama and the Republican. You could vote for any of them that you found preferable to Obama. You'd also vote for Obama, to maximize the chance of not getting a Republican.

    The effects would be that:

    1) The more progressive candidates that you prefer to Obama would get a realistic measure of support, that would serve as a testament to their real support, and
    2) If any of them actually had more support than Obama, he or she could still beat Obama, despite any concerns of being "unelectable".

    With Plurality Voting, an incumbent can continue to win just by being a tiny bit better than the opposite party's nominee. This can allow very bad or even "tyrant" politicians to remain in office, even when they are not well liked. It's a coordination problem where the people voting for them can't easily pick a more likable (but still electable) candidate to vote for, and then all agree to vote for that candidate and keep their promise. Approval Voting just instantly fixes that problem. And it's incredibly simple. And then term lengths and limits could be perhaps be loosened a bit, because voters would have a far less arbitrary recourse. They could just prevent those bad candidates from being re-elected.

    1. Thanks for the comment. It is a wonderful explanation and certainly an interesting idea to consider.