How the Prerogative Powers Are Used to Determine Electoral Outcomes
– Anna Di Carlo –
The ruling elite present the leaders’ debates as an important, if not the most important means for guaranteeing the right to an informed vote during an election campaign. To shore up the fiction that the vote is free and fair, an impression is deliberately created that the Leaders’ Debate Commission, which organizes the debates is an independent body. This is not the case. The Commission and its orientation were mandated by an Order-in-Council of the Liberal Cabinet in power. The mandate makes sure that the cartel parties, the government, the state bureaucracy with its police, intelligence and security forces, and the monopoly-controlled media dictate what views are worthy of being heard and who is allowed into the debate.
The creation of a government Leaders’ Debate Commission was a 2015 election promise of the Liberal Party, which was miffed at the time because former Prime Minister Harper did not agree to participate in various debates. The Liberals declared that this deprived Canadians of the most important event during an election. An independent commission, they said, would ensure that “twisting the rules for political advantage” and “partisan gamesmanship,” would be eliminated.
The Liberal Party subsequently used its prerogative powers to establish a Leaders’ Debate Commission by Order-in-Council on an exclusionary basis. It dictated that the Commission must make sure that the “leaders’ debates” include only political parties that the state determines can form a government. This was a significant development since it enacted by decree Justin Trudeau’s infamous apologetics for retaining the existing first-past-the-post cartel party system when he did not get his way on how to reform the voting system.
“If we were to make a change or risk a change that would augment individual voices — that would augment extremist voices and activist voices that don’t get to sit within a party that figures out what’s best for the whole future of the country, like the three existing parties do — I think we would be entering a period of instability and uncertainty,” Trudeau pompously declared in Yellowknife on February 10, 2017.
The Liberals initiated the creation of the commission by directing the Committee on Procedures and House Affairs (PROC) to study the matter in November 2017. This led to all the cartel parties singing hosannas to the importance of leaders’ debates to the democratic process. Even before PROC tabled its May 2018 report, the Liberals announced a $6 million fund for the Leaders’ Debate Commission in their February 2018 budget. The debates commission, the budget stated, “would ensure that federal leaders’ debates are organized in the public interest and to improve Canadians’ knowledge of the parties, their leaders and their policy positions.”
It added: “In the coming months, the Minister of Democratic Institutions will bring forward potential approaches to leaders’ debates. The Government may introduce legislation to implement the approach taken to establish the new process for leaders’ debates.”
The Liberals never introduced legislation for the creation of the commission. By right, the creation of an official body responsible for organizing leaders’ debates should be treated as an amendment to the Canada Elections Act, the legislation that is supposed to govern all electoral matters. Instead, in October 2018, the Liberals issued Order-in-Council P.C. 2018-1322, using their prerogative powers to establish the commission. Why they did this is worth exploring. The Order-in-Council was not simply a matter of appointing a Debates Commissioner, which is a matter of normal business for the Privy Council and Cabinet appointments. It spelled out in a lot of detail how the debates must be organized.
The Order-in-Council declares the debates should be “effective, informative and compelling” and “benefit from the participation of the leaders who have the greatest likelihood of becoming Prime Minister or whose political parties have the greatest likelihood of winning seats in Parliament.”
It includes an Annex that specifically sets out the criteria to be used by the “independent” Commissioner. Only those parties that meet two of three criteria are to be invited to participate: 1) having a Member of Parliament who was elected as a member of that party; 2) endorsing candidates in at least 90 per cent of electoral districts; and 3) the party’s candidates received at least 4 per cent of the valid votes in the last election or “based on the recent political context, public opinion polls and previous general election results, the Debates Commissioner considers that candidates endorsed by the party have a legitimate chance to be elected in the general election in question.”
No matter how the elite try to spin the significance of the leaders’ debates, their exclusionary character reveals them as anything but democratic. Far from rescuing what are called the liberal democratic institutions, the debates and the entire undemocratic electoral process quickens their demise. They clearly reveal the need for the working people to take up history’s call to renew the democratic process so as to exercise control over the decisions that affect their lives.
Anna Di Carlo is the national leader of the MLPC. She is also the MLPC candidate in Mississauga East—Cooksville.