An educated and informed citizenry

Rob Paterson thinks that Canada and its government are moving beyond the nation-state and that coalitions may become the main model for future governments.

Meanwhile, the Internet, airwaves and coffee-shops across the nation are engaging in a sort of dialogue. Unfortunately it is not always an informed dialogue and this is a sad state of affairs. How can the electorate engage in the political process when too many do not understand it? In New Brunswick public education there are no classes on civics or government. Our sons learn about politics at the dinner table; thankfully. For instance, there is a lack of understanding about the duty of the Official Opposition, as they’re not just the party that came in second place:

The duty of the Official Opposition and other opposition parties is to “challenge” government policies and suggest improvements, and present an alternative to the current Government’s policy agenda.

There have also been many comments based on the “fact” that the current PM was elected as such. Our Prime Ministers are not elected, only Members of Parliament are elected, and the government’s right to govern is based on the confidence of those members:

The Prime Minister and the Cabinet are responsible to, or must answer for, their actions to the House of Commons as a body and must enjoy the support and the confidence of a majority of the Members of that Chamber to remain in office. This is commonly referred to as the confidence convention.

If the Government is defeated in the House on a key (“confidence”) question, then the Government is expected to resign or seek the dissolution of Parliament in order for a general election to be held. It is not always clear what constitutes a question of confidence. Motions which clearly state that the House has lost confidence in the Government, motions concerning the Government’s budgetary policy, and motions which the Government clearly identifies as questions of confidence, are usually recognized as such.

There is no doubt that a democracy depends on an educated and informed citizenry. We now have easy access to information, but we need to continue with the education.

9 Responses to “An educated and informed citizenry”

  1. Shaun

    There is a big problem with public perception and a basic understanding of our political system. There is a huge civics lesson in here. I should talk to some 5th graders and see how much smarter they are.

    There are some huge opportunities for learning, between the economic melt-down from predatory lending and now a coalition government there are a lot of lessons to be learned from the headlines.

  2. Censurer General

    What kind of politics would you have the children learn? Anything beyond the basics and it sounds to me like we’re talking sex-ed with an emphasis on technique rather than biology or health issues.

    We’ve seen the effects of too many totalitarian regimes to blindly turn over political ideology to the state. The native ‘boarding’ schools are only the most obvious example of how education has been unscrupulously used in Canada for political ends – attempting to indoctrinate children and destroy social and cultural bonds.

    Unfortunately, the ones with that spark who might resist have been systematically medicated into a zombie-like submission in our current school system.

    So, again, specifically – what should our Children learn beyond the structure and mechanics of government and their individual legal rights, as shaky as both are these days?

  3. Harold Jarche

    Well, Censurer General, if you are a regular reader of this blog then you know where where I stand on curriculum, especially content-driven curriculum and I won’t go too far into that (just use the search function). I am a proponent of process-centric education, with a focus on critical thinking, and this political event would be an opportunity to examine all of the assumptions at play.

    To answer your first question, I would focus on Canadian politics, within a broader context of other political systems. Learning about our governance systems is one area where many cognitive skills can be developed and this post was to underline the fact that too many Canadians don’t understand the basics of how our constitutional democracy works.

    As much as I am a critic of our public school system, I would not say that it has been unscrupulously used for political purposes. Most people working in the system are well-meaning, even though the system has some major design flaws. I am in favour of public education, as the opposite only benefits the rich.

    As a side note, my wife used to teach pre-natal classes and more sex ed in schools sure would have been helpful to many of her students.

    What should our children learn? To think for themselves in an informed manner, using cognitive tools such as logic and the scientific method.

  4. Robert Paterson

    The Greeks and Romans saw education as the preparation for being a citizen and a viable member of society. Still a good ambition. Ours seems to be a baby sitting service.

    This crisis shows clearly that most Canadians don’t have the first idea how a parliamentary system works

    Maybe this will be the lesson?

  5. Emma Hamer

    Hold on, there. Coalition governments are very familiar to me, having lived in The Netherlands for most of my adult life. Coalition governments happen in countries where there is proportional representation, and the various parties submit a national slate of candidates. The popular vote decides who got the most votes, and that party can subsequently attempt to form a government. Generally, no single party can actually win an outright majority (there are way too many parties for that to ever happen). As a consequence, the voting public is very aware of what the *possible* coalition might look like. In fact, very often, two – or sometimes even three – parties will have negotiated their policy positions BEFORE the election, and the voting public will have had an opportunity to learn about the various potential permutations. If this were the case here in Canada, I’d be all for it. Coalition governments make for stable economic and social societies (eg. The Netherlands).

    However. And this is a BIG however: By all accounts the Conservative party DID get the most votes – more than the Liberals, and more than de NDP. (We won’t even discuss the Greens). If the voting public had known that the Liberals and NDP intended to climb into bed with one another, would they still have voted as they did? Or would many a fiscally conservative Liberal have chosen to back the Tories, instead? The NDP do have a reputation (certainly here in BC) for being the BIG spenders …

    My point is: this is not a legitimate coalition – and definitely not if it requires the Bloc Quebecois in some form to participate in it. Name me one jurisdiction in the world, where a party that only runs candidates in one province, and whose “raison d’etre” is to secede from the Federation, is included – NAY – funded (!!!) by the Federal Government?

    This is a power-grab by the power-hungry wannabe PM Jack Layton, and the Liberals who yearn for the good old pork-barreling days. Coalition governments cannot exist in a “first-past-the-post” system. If the Official Opposition doesn’t like the government’s actions – it can say so, and the government will fall – which means a call for another election. And Canada did NOT elect the Libs, nor the NDP. It returned the Conservatives to power, with an increased number of seats.

    Frankly, I agree with the Tories that parties that are too inept at raising funds from their members should sink or swim on their own. Harper’s mistake is one of timing, not judgement.

  6. Harold Jarche

    Excellent points, Emma, but this is not the Netherlands. The confidence of the House is what matters. We, the electorate, only elect MP’s; nothing more. I’m not sure if a coalition is best for the country and I think that the PM may try to prorogue Parliament and then it will up to the Governor General to decide. That is our history and our parliamentary process. No matter what we think is best, Parliament rules.

  7. Barb Weeden

    Well said Emma.
    The inclusion of the Bloc, is what I believe has most people up in arms that appose the coalition. I personally doubt if we would had this same reaction to an NDP/Liberal coalition. Also, had Michael Ignatieff been selected as the Liberal leader, I doubt if this conversation would be taking place.

  8. Harold Jarche

    We are not governed by plebiscite, thankfully (Prop 8 in California showed us what can happen with the tyranny of the majority) so it’s up to our MP’s to decide what to do. Parliament Rulz! [and yes, Bloq MP’s are MP’s just like the rest of them]


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