In this millennium Political Parties dominate the political landscape and everywhere you look the electorate is buying into a very short list of ideological views when they hit the polls. Does it have to be this way? Was it always this way?
Actually, Political Parties aren’t even a part of Canada’s Constitution! Mostly, Political Parties just make everything a little easier for both voters and government — when they don’t complicate everything immeasurably!
Let’s look at what political parties are:
“an organization one of whose fundamental purposes is to take part in public affairs by endorsing one or more of its members as candidates and supporting their election.”
So, a political party is nothing more than club or clique. It is a group of people, large or small, with the same beliefs and goals acting together to build enough political power to form a government and get things done their way. Political Parties are about power and control. Historically and globally, organizations of a political nature have been passive or violent, or a mix of the two. A democratic venue is not a prerequisite for a Political Party to exist or flourish. It just needs a fan club as this spoof from ‘This Hour Has 22 Minutes” demonstrates:
Political parties do not need democratic venues and they also do not have to espouse any democratic ideologies. They simply need to get elected and preferably (for them) keep getting elected.
Political parties have always existed in one form or another. If a particular party is around long enough, they are like any weed, a prevalent part of the political landscape.
Do Canadian Political Parties define our Democracy?
In a word, NO. As recent, and not so recent, Canadian history has proven, they can actually be an impediment to the democratic process. It all depends on how you read the history of how policy shaped the Canadian landscape. Chronological history cannot factory in what could have been, it is up to individuals to dig through what the alternatives were, and speculate on what could have changed. Any way you cut it, the defining measure of a democracy is the right to vote and the effectiveness of that vote.
Canadian Political Parties were not even recognized by the Canada Elections Act until 1970, although most candidates running for office after Canadian Confederation were connected to a political party to some degree. Before 1970, you had to follow the election campaign in your riding (electoral district) to know if a candidate supported a particular political party either directly or indirectly. After 1970, a candidate could show Party affiliation on the actual ballot.
For more information about Canadian Federal Parties:
A few years later, Political Parties gained another advantage. In exchange for disclosure of contributions and expenditures the registered party received various benefits from the Federal Government in the name of Canadian Citizens a.k.a taxpayers. You can get a broad overview of the current credits and reimbursements that keep political parties viable on the Elections Canada website, but the information is bare bones and can’t explain how political parties have grown more and more sophisticated in their party financing practices over the last half century.
Political Parties in the 21st Century
Political parties were born of the need to establish a link between voters of similar ideologies and goals for governance of the public and national or provincial good. Most Canadians believe that political parties still serve that good because the system continues to depend on, and function through, political parties. Nevertheless, over time, things have changed.
Today, national (and provincial) political party survival depends, almost exclusively, on a party’s ability to generate revenue for their ‘brand’. A political party’s policies and actions are compelled by the need to generate sufficient revenues to establish, maintain, and build sufficient voting public support to achieve , preferably absolute, power dominance in government.
Under our current majoritarian (FPTP) voting system, a political party has only to ensure that 1 in 4 eligible voters shows up at the polls to vote for their party in order to win a majority government. In short, a party has to discover which voters are mostly likely to go to the polls and where, determine which policies and platforms are mostly likely to yield financial contributions, and build party policies, platforms and media spins that can pull it all together.
Political parties thrive based on their financial viability and their ability to get their base out to the polls.
In modern democracies political parties no longer need to have strong party organizations. Instead of building support through formal party membership and participation, parties can use the media to link with voters in a broader and more demographically targeted manner. Parties can on public opinion polls as a means of assessing voter preferences, rather than rely on their own party members to develop new policies. Party strategists can target party ‘messages’ to key ridings and voters by prioritizing overall goals based on safe or swing ridings for example.
Currently, political parties rather than constituency groups of like minded voters, determine election campaign issues and party platforms. All too often those campaign issues and platforms have everything to with the most financially sound, and message marketing astute political party agenda-for-the-win, rather than the needs of constituents.