03/22/2017 04:03 EDT | Updated 03/22/2017 04:03 EDT

How We Know Our Governance Systems Are Working

Los Angeles, USA - July 12, 2016 -  Black lives matter protestor put their fists in the air as a sign of 'black power' on City Hall following ruling on LAPD fatal shooting of African American female Redel Jones
br-photo via Getty Images
Los Angeles, USA - July 12, 2016 - Black lives matter protestor put their fists in the air as a sign of 'black power' on City Hall following ruling on LAPD fatal shooting of African American female Redel Jones

If instead of being a Canadian citizen living in Quebec, I had been born a US citizen living in West Virginia, today my USA-doppelganger might well be a hardline, capital-C conservative, a bible-reading Christian, someone who believes homosexuality is an abomination and who genuinely believes that anyone "different" is dangerous. I might easily believe that well-armed, closed borders are a good thing and that "global warming" is just a myth.

During Obama's reign in the USA, my US-clone would have been incredibly frustrated seeing manufacturing jobs going to Mexico and China and illegal immigrants "flooding" over the Mexican border to take the few jobs that remained. The growth of LGBTQ-rights and the legalization of "gay" marriage would have seemed sacrilegious. He would have been livid to see the country run by, and for, Liberals on both the East & West Coasts.

Today, under a Trump presidency, it is the turn of the US Democratic "majority" to feel those same resentments. It is now their own moment of (hard) truth. Just as Republicans had to "suck it up" during Obama's reign, it is now their turn. Now they are feeling that four (possibly eight) years of Donald Trump rule, is untenable and that the very DNA of the USA will be severely harmed should this worst nightmare continue to roll-out. It is not easy to accept.

Here in Canada, during the years of Stephen Harper's rule in Canada, I must admit I felt little connection to his vision of Canada, his politics and decisions, nor his style. His more military-leaning version of Canada, his disdain for Kyoto, the UN, the parliamentary office and process, the gagging of scientists, his unblinking support for commodity exports, Israel, Bill C-51, and his ignoring of Quebec in general, made him almost insufferable in my eyes.

I felt quite frustrated, powerless even. However, even though a seemingly endless run of successive Harper governments made me feel disenfranchised, I knew that it would not last forever, that there was a system of governance in place that would eventually bring about a rebalancing of Canadian politics.

It is at times like this we can surely appreciate the power of this system. Thank goodness that the USA & Canada are not countries where absolute power lies in the hands of one man or woman. For fellow left-leaning Liberals in the US, much as it seemed Obama had his hands tied behind his back trying to do the things I would have liked him to do, Trump is already finding the same system is resisting his desire to reset US politics radically to the Right.

Although at times, when our preferred Party is in power, it must seem tempting to eliminate/reform the senate or to demean the Committee or Parliamentary processes or to undercut the judiciary, it is exactly that system of independent "checks and balances" (Governance) that makes the world's truly democratic societies effective and sustainable. Any, and all, systems of "sober second thought" (preferably multiples ones), however damaged, ineffective or inefficient they may appear, are what protects us from the extreme points-of-view and actions of the likes of Trump, Harper and, yes, Trudeau. (That is the point: You may not see them as "extreme" - but others do)

We are witnessing the absence of such systems in other countries as a crisis around the world today. Aspiring dictators, believing they warrant life-long mandates, muzzle the media, throw possible opposition political candidates in prison, prohibit public gatherings, undermine or jail the judiciary, buy the alliance of the military/police, rig the election process etc. The difference between a Kim Jong Un, Putin, Duturte, Al-Assad, Maduro, Erdogan etc and Trump (or Obama or Trudeau) is not the man, it's the strength and the rigour of the counter-balancing system.

The beauty of an effective system is that if the pendulum does swing too far, to either the right or to the left, sooner or later there will be a rebalancing. The Left will be replaced by the Right. The Right will be replaced by the Left etc. In the meantime, although when in power, each may believe that their plans are impeded and that they should have unrestricted access to the reigns of power, it simply illustrates that the governance system is working.

Under Mr. Harper, for some, Canada moved far too quickly too far to the Right. Under Trudeau, for others, Canada will probably move too far to the Left.

In the end, the Trumps & Trudeaus will come and Harpers & Obamas will go. We can live with that. What we must never accept is the deliberate weakening of the governance systems that we have in place. The recent Federal Liberal nomination outcome in the riding of St.Laurent, Qc is yet another small but important example of the system prevailing - despite being challenged.

The true measure of the legacy of any leader should really be the degree by which they have succeeded, despite themselves, to strengthen their country's governance systems and institutions.

Stephen Harper made a half-hearted effort at Senate Reform. Justin Trudeau recently made an even weaker effort at electoral reform.

Both claimed their motivation was to strengthen Canada's institutions. If true, their respective attempts should continue to be harshly criticized. If they were both seeking to simply increase their own power while in office, the rigour and resistance of those systems should be given credit and loudly praised.

Particularly in a time when increased surveillance and privacy invasion concerns are on the rise, our role, as citizens, irrespective of our political stripes, should be to continue to press for our governments to be putting in place even stronger systems of independent, institutional governance, of checks and balances.

When our favourite party is in power, we might end up feeling a little frustrated; when in opposition, we will undoubtedly feel very, very relieved.

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