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The Article

Politics in a democracy is the people’s business, and in a representative constitutional democracy like Canada, politics is even more about people and what it says about them.

A constitution in a democracy like ours is the fundamental set of rules people have arranged for themselves, setting out what is lawful and what is not.

Democratic politics—irrespective of the number of parties contesting for votes—is constrained by constitutional requirements and limited to differences among parties that are mostly marginal, however consequential these differences eventually might add up to be over time.

Occasionally democracies might face grave issues, such as wars, economic crises like the Great Depression of the 1930s, threats to internal order like the FLQ crisis in Quebec of the late 1960s, or the question of how to respond to the possibility of a clearly demonstrated wish of one segment of the people (Quebecers) to separate from the rest.

When such a grave issue arrives, people set aside minor differences. But in normal circumstances, democratic elections are occasions for people to participate in a political cleansing process for a healthy renewal of democracy.

The superiority of a democracy over any other political system is its capacity to engage in renewal through periodic elections—with people voting for a change of government as a necessary requirement of sweeping clean the unavoidable accumulated political dirt—without incurring any cost to the constitutional workings of the society.

Our current election is a moment for such political cleansing, by removing the Liberal party—exhausted, stale, burdened by corruption and with a questionable record on key issues of national unity, health care, foreign and defense policies—after more than 12 years in power.

National unity has been the Liberal party’s calling card to power in Ottawa. Ironically, over the past generation Canada finds itself increasingly divided, and it is predictable that the Liberals, being most responsible for this situation, will be reduced in this election to fringe-party status in Quebec.

For Liberals, therefore, to insist they are the only party in Canada equipped to manage the national unity file when they have been part of the problem stretches the credulity of thinking Canadians.

The arithmetic of this election indicates voters will settle for another parliament where no party holds a clear majority of seats—just as in 2004.

It is also predictable this situation will not change soon, and as a result Canada will enter a cycle of minority governments for the next little while—until the electoral situation in Quebec changes to permit a federalist party again to elect enough members to make a difference nationally.

But this situation is not a constitutional crisis. Rather, it is a reflection of how Canadians have allowed their democracy to wither into a one-party dominant system with the resulting miasma of corruption and cynicism—unhealthy at best of times.

The oft-quoted formula offered by Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, that a democracy is a government of the people, by the people and for the people, only works when the people take their democracy seriously.

A test of this seriousness is the confidence with which people reject the stale rhetoric of a tired and arrogant party in favour of renewing their constitutional democracy.

Salim Mansur
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