The rigid, top-down nature of our political parties must be changed.
In the past two elections, Canadians have sent a big message to the two biggest parties.
The popularity of the Trudeau Liberals has declined precipitously since their win in 2015.
From 39.5% of the vote, they’ve fallen to 33.1% in 2019, to 32.6% in 2021.
The Conservatives have also struggled.
In 2015 they lost their majority, and were pushed out of government entirely, with 31.9% of the popular vote.
In 2019, they recovered slightly, winning 34.3% of the vote.
Then, in 2021, they dropped slightly to 33.7%.
But it’s even worse than that.
The raw vote total tells the true story.
In 2015, the Liberals received 6.9 million votes. The Conservatives received 5.6 million.
In 2019, the Liberals received 6 million votes, while the Conservatives received 6.2 million.
In 2021, the Liberals received 5.56 million votes, while the Conservatives received 5.74 million.
So, in six years, despite the Canadian population increasing by about 2.5-3 million people, the Liberals are down over 1.3 million votes, and the Conservatives are stagnant.
The ‘main’ parties are receiving a smaller share of the overall possible vote (considering eligible voters), with voters unwilling to give the Liberals another majority, and also unwilling to trust the Conservatives.
In 2021, the only party to receive an actual increase in raw votes was the PPC, the party that most opposed the establishment.
Beyond declining raw vote totals for most parties, there is also a deeper disconnect between the main parties and the broader population.
The Liberals are certainly disconnected from many Canadians, which is why they had to resort to a desperate and divisive campaign to keep their hold on power.
The Conservatives are also disconnected, with many of their core supporters feeling betrayed, and much of the public unsure what the party actually stands for.
In the 2021 election, that disconnect reached new heights with Erin O’Toole – who having campaigned for the leadership as a ‘True Blue Conservative’, embraced a carbon tax (despite repeated promises not to do so), promised to run deficits for another decade, and shifted the parties position on guns to align more with the Liberals after heavily courting the firearms community.
As you saw above, the CPC did even worse after all of that, dropping in both popular vote percentage and losing about 450,000 votes compared to 2019.
Now, the party is predictably in a state of turmoil, with O’Toole loyalists using threats – and expulsions – to try and keep him in control, while much of the base (and certainly some MPs), want new leadership that actually puts forth conservative ideas.
The problem of centralization
To make this point best, I will quote at length this discussion of the danger of centralization from the AcademyofIdeas:
“As the population of a society grows, the potential power of its government grows with it. For like a parasite whose growth is checked by the size of the host, the growth of state power is checked by the number of subjects under its control. As populations expand more economic resources are placed at the disposal of those in charge, more bodies can be used as cannon fodder to fight their battles, while an ever greater disconnect emerges between the citizens and government officials. Furthermore, in the attempt to cope with the immense complexities of a populous society, those in government always see the solution as more government control – thus further increasing their power.
If this growth in government power is unchecked a dangerous tipping point is reached whereby those in charge come to believe they are so powerful that their actions are immune from any form of retaliation. This is the point of no return, or what Kohr calls the ‘critical magnitude of abuse’, as this amount of power corrupts even the most virtuous among us. “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely”, Lord Acton famously observed, while Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn echoed this sentiment writing: “Unlimited power in the hands of limited people always leads to cruelty.” (Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago) The combination of the corrupting influence of power, and the immense social complexities of a large society, makes tyranny inevitable when this power is placed in the hands of fallible beings who try and control multitudes of people.
If this hypothesis of Kohr’s is true – that excessive size of the social unit is the primary cause of tyranny due to the growth in government power that it breeds – then it follows that the best way to counteract tyranny is through decentralization. Shrinking the size of the social units – which in the modern world would entail the breakdown of the massive nation-states – would greatly limit the potential power of any one government. But in addition to the limitations on power that arise from smaller populations, decentralization also checks the growth of power by creating competition between social units. If a community becomes too oppressive residents can easily vote with their feet and relocate to one of a multitude of other communities. As people flee oppression, the people doing the oppressing will soon lose their power and thus their ability to commit social predation. This happens to a degree in the modern world of nation states, but clearly the competition will be far more impactful with a proliferation in the number of sovereign communities.
Decentralization also minimizes the impact that morally corrupt or even psychopathic individuals can have on the world. In Robert Hare’s classic book on psychopathy, Without Conscience, he lists the most prominent traits of psychopaths; psychopaths he explains are egocentric individuals who lack feelings of remorse and guilt, lack the ability to empathize and are skilled at deception and manipulation. In other words, psychopaths possess traits very useful to those who desire power. The best way to deal with the threat these people pose is to limit the power they can obtain, and thus the damage they can do – and again, this is best achieved through decentralization. As Kohr explains:
“There is nothing in the constitution of men or states that can prevent the rise of dictators…Power maniacs exist everywhere…The only difference lies in the degree of tyrannical government which, in turn, depends once more on the size and power of the countries falling victim to it.” (Leopold Kohr, The Breakdown of Nations)”
Now, this is not to compare Canada’s political leaders directly to ruthless dictators. However, it is to point out that the more our political parties are centralized – and the more our central government takes power from the provinces – the more authoritarian our society becomes, and the more freedom is reduced.
Clearly, when it comes to an economy or political system, decentralized power and authority is far more conducive to freedom and success, and limits the prospect of the abuse of power.
Unfortunately, Canada’s political system is highly centralized.
While our politicians love to talk about freedom, the system they operate in is profoundly authoritarian.
Party leaders such as Justin Trudeau and Erin O’Toole are effectively dictators within their parties.
Thus, O’Toole could promise to be one thing to get the CPC leader job, then reverse many of his promises, while using the immense power of his position to try and stay in that role despite the outrage he generates.
Justin Trudeau could get elected on the basis of a ‘Sunny Ways’ image, and then purge his party of anyone (like Jody Wilson-Raybould), who was able to see through his dishonest facade.
Dissenters are removed. Public disagreement is silenced.
Conformity, submissiveness, and prostration before power is rewarded.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way.
Decentralize Canada’s political parties
Ironically, political parties already largely have the theoretical structures in place to be far freer.
Consider for a moment what our political system would be like if party leaders or the central party apparatus lacked the authority to remove people from the party, and lacked the power to appoint/reject candidates.
What if that power resided solely at the local riding association level?
That would instantly empower local party members.
Furthermore, it would encourage more people to get involved, since they would see an opportunity to have real influence that couldn’t just be overridden by the central party.
Additionally, it would encourage our parties to be much more open to discussion and different ideas.
For example, if the Conservative Party was trying to run on a statist, big government platform, but many local MPs pushed back, the party wouldn’t be able to remove them unless the local riding associations wanted them removed. And of course, the local riding association would likely side more closely with their MP than with a central party apparatus trying to move far to the left.
Over time, parties would thus become more responsive to what their supporters and communities wanted. Parties would become far more democratic and free, rather than the quasi-authoritarian machines they are now.
Of course, no party is likely to embrace this at the present moment, since it would mean the central apparatus losing a bunch of power. But if enough individual party members and supporters speak up for true reform within their parties, a shift in perceptions will take place that can slowly begin to erode the rigid and broken political parties that Canada has been afflicted with.