The Will of the People

Frye in The Great Code:

For us democracy, as a source of loyalty, does not mean only the machinery of elections or a greater tolerance of religion and art or a greater relaxation of leisure, privacy, or freedom of movement, but what all these things point to: the sense of an individuality that grows out of society but is infinitely more than a social function. (CW 19, 119)

It is a truism that the results of any election must be respected.

But the fact that 60% of the electorate voted against a government that seeks to polarize the country as a deliberate political strategy, and routinely demonizes the opposition through co-ordinated smear campaigns, says a lot about where we are today. The solid majority of voters who cast ballots against this government may have to respect the results, but they are not required to pretend those results are fully representative of the will of the people. The built-in flaw of our first-past-the-post system is that minority governments more comprehensively represent the majority, while majority governments almost invariably represent a minority. We accept the results, but we understand their limitations and push back against them by way of our constitutional guarantees of free speech and free assembly.

Given their past behavior, the Conservatives will almost certainly press a legislative agenda that will offend the majority that made a particular point to vote against them. It is especially important to remember therefore that democracy is not just about what happens on election day. It is an everyday process. It is a full-time commitment. This government, like all governments, needs to be monitored and the concerns of the majority of citizens who voted against it must be articulated so that they will not be ignored. The next election when it comes ought to be an extension of what we are willing to do from this point on to protect our interests and to support our democratic traditions and institutions. Stephen Harper has tellingly made reference in the past to “real Canadians,” an unacceptable formulation. All Canadians are real Canadians, even if they do not vote for the Conservatives and will continue to vote against them at every opportunity.

It’s worth repeating: government is not our master but our servant. Those who govern may not always remember that, which means that we can never allow them to forget it.

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2 thoughts on “The Will of the People

  1. Joe Adamson

    The election: uggh….but what a great showing by the NDP–Frye’s party after all. He was of course a “bourgeois liberal,” but in the vein of John Stuart Mill; in other words, a social democrat to the core.

    A Mexican acquaintance of mine rightly observes that at least in Mexico no-one is naive enough to think they live in a democracy, but in Canada we continue to labour under the illusion that we do, even though time and again we are ruled by governments that represent only a minority of the population. It is time we recognized that the votes of more than half the population just don’t count.


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