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There are many things that were disturbing to many about the occupation of Ottawa and other places around the country by insurgents that encamped our bridges, communities, and nation’s capital. Make no mistake, the unsettling feeling we share is a direct threat to our democratic values.
Insurrections have happened many times throughout history. Our Founding Fathers were keenly aware of the possibility of militant groups disrupting peace, order, and good government. They deliberated extensively over the kind of government that would protect us best, and they carefully chose one that has so far withstood the test of time.
One of the major tenets of our parliamentary system is the idea that parliament should reign supreme. Parliament in the Westminster sense consists of Monarchy, aristocrats, and commoners all brought together under one institution: parliament. The underlying theory is that each part of parliament would act as a check against the other and that decisions taken in our society can only happen when all three are in accord. Yes, it is true that even unbridled democracy needs to be checked against the potential for majority rule to infringe on minority rights.
Parliament is said to be supreme, and it is important that it remain so. Dicey reminds us that parliamentary democracy is supreme because of four crucial features. First, it can make and unmake any law it pleases. Second, that no other institution can surmount the legislative will of parliament. Third, is that there is one law and that the rule of law promotes the idea that no one person or group is above the law. Lastly, periodic elections ensure that the pulse of the nation is checked at guaranteed intervals so that the will of the people is heard and understood.
Our Founding Fathers deliberated at length over what form of government they wanted for our country because they knew what they were trying to protect. One of the biggest sources of influence on them was the democratic experiment that was taking place in the United States. There, our British North American Act drafters saw potential for chaos. They witnessed rebellion and were concerned about factions developing and challenging the laws and the orders that had been established.
If you are reading this and thinking, “Hey, wasn’t this convoy a faction? Aren’t they challenging the laws and the peaceful existence of a section of land?” Why, yes, the convoy would fit the very definition of a faction.
The concern over faction has strong 18th– and 19th-century roots. Indeed, even the Americans were concerned about it. In “Federalist Paper No. 9”, Alexander Hamilton argues that checks and balances, along with strong central government, are essential to defeating factions within society. In “Federalist Paper No. 10”, probably the most famous of the Federalist Papers, James Madison goes into great detail about the importance of controlling factions.
Madison defines factions as “a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.”
Madison argues that there are two ways of dealing with faction: remove its causes or control its effects. He suggests that removing its causes is problematic because it is inherent in people that they will disagree, that they should be able to do so, and limiting people’s disagreement is worse than the problem of faction itself. We’ve been debating this problem with the invocation of the Emergencies Act.
That leaves us with controlling its effects. Here, Madison argues that representative government, not “pure democracy” (or what is more commonly referred to as direct democracy) is the answer. The reason for this is that the broader public elects people who are then expected to balance our competing interests to determine the common good of everyone. Sir Edmund Burke called this deliberation between interests—local, regional, and national—to be a central feature of those elected to legislative assemblies.
The need to eliminate faction is best done through representative government. A minority fringe hijacking the public agenda should not be tolerated. As Dicey says, parliament alone can make the laws. We all have to live with the laws that parliament makes. No one group or organization can replace parliament in making laws for any part of a country. And, if we’re not happy with the laws that are being made, we get a chance to vote the representatives out of office when the time comes.
Our freedom is linked to our democracy. Our democracy is linked to parliament and the virtues of representative government. A mob cannot be for freedom if it is against democracy.
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