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Politics

Compulsory voting is only for show

Should everyone have to vote? This past September the polling group Research Co. asked 1,000 Canadians if voting should be made mandatory in all federal elections. 62% thought it should be. Why would so many want to make voting compulsory? Advocates argue that higher voter turnouts give a government a higher degree of political legitimacy. In Australia, where voting is required, the 2013 election saw roughly 80% of the voting age population cast a ballot.1 To put that number in context, over Canada's last three federal elections we’ve averaged about 65% of the electorate casting a ballot. Compulsory voting could increase those totals. How? By forcing the apathetic to get up off the couch: folks who were too lazy to get educated about their choices, or those who know and hate their choices but who are too sluggish to step up and offer voters an alternative. Now here's a question: do we even want them voting? We can force them out to the ballot box, but nothing we do can force them to get informed. Why would we want to make them eenie, meenie, miney, mo their way through the slate of candidates? Are we really making democracy better when one voter's thoughtful choice can be countered by a guy making selections based on his favorite number? “I’m going with lucky number 4!” Making voting mandatory will inflate the voter turnout, but that’s really only a sham: requiring someone to vote doesn’t mean they will be any more involved. Compulsory voting won't motivate the I-won’t–vote-unless-you make-me sort to also spend time studying the issues and researching the various candidate’s positions. That's why, the very last thing we need to do is force people who don’t care, who haven’t done their research, and who otherwise wouldn’t vote, to now go down and mark their utterly random “x” on a ballot. Endnote 1 The official figure was 93% but that doesn’t factor in that, despite the law, 10% of Australians aren’t registered to vote. When we consider all the people of voting age, and then see how many actually voted, we get 80%.

Politics

Even the world should agree…Christians activism is good for democracy

Many among the Left, and even some on the right would like Christians to just stay out of politics. These are the sort who will chant “Separation of Church and State!” and “Don’t force your morality on me!” We could critique the inconsistency in their thinking – they don’t have any problem forcing their morals on us. But in his book The Democratic Virtues of the Christian Right, Prof. Jon A. Shields rebuts this anti-Christian mob a different way. He notes that there are three main agreed upon measures by which political movements are generally evaluated. And by these measures Christians most definitely have a positive impact in the political realm. Or, in other words, Christian political involvement is good for democracy. Three measures So what are these three measures? 1) Does it foster participation? As Justin Trudeau considers just how he is going to remake Canada’s political process one of the changes that has been suggested is that everyone be required to vote. While that is a very bad idea (do we really want to force those who would otherwise be too lazy or uncaring to vote, to casually and carelessly cast a ballot?) it is based on the thought that the people should have their say. So the first measure, as to whether a political movement is a positive force in a democracy is whether the movement has been successful in mobilizing citizens into political participation... especially citizens who had previously been disaffected or alienated from politics. Is the movement getting more people out to the voting booths? Is it getting more people to visit or write their MP or MLA or city councilor? 2) Does it encourage civil discussions? The second measure is whether the movement encourages its adherents to abide by “deliberative norms.” Some political movements encourage screaming, shouting and even rioting. But if a movement encourages people to speak in a civil manner to their opponents, then we can agree that the movement is, in this respect, a positive force in our democracy. 3) Does it help the common good? The third measure is whether the goals of the movement enhance the common good. Unfortunately, this third criterion is not very helpful because the common good is defined very differently by people holding to different worldviews. Christian political involvement does help the common good but this is not something those on the other side will be likely to concede. So it would be best to focus on the first two criteria, which can be considered separately from the third. Participation Sheilds’ focus is on the American political scene, and there he notes that beginning in the 1970s and accelerating during the 1980s and 1990s, Christian organizations (notably the Christian Coalition) deliberately organized conservative Christians for political activity. This effort had a significant effect. Shields writes, “today conservative evangelicals are not only more engaged in politics than they were in earlier decades, they are also more engaged than other groups that they once lagged behind.” In Canada, we’ve seen the growth of conservative Christian involvement too. In the late 1970s and early 1980s groups like Campaign Life Coalition and REAL Women of Canada were founded. More recently, ARPA Canada has helped get many more active. Considering the first criterion, then, it is clear that conservative Christian organizations (or “Christian Right” organizations as Shields sometimes calls them) have effectively mobilized large numbers of previously uninvolved citizens into the political process. The Christian Right has, as Sheilds puts it, “helped revive participatory democracy.” This is a clear win for democracy. Deliberative norms The second criterion relates to how a political movement’s members conduct themselves in public. Do they treat others with respect and try to reason with fellow citizens? Or do they scream at their opponents? On this point Shields thinks conservative Christian organizations have done a good job encouraging their members to act and speak appropriately in public affairs. He writes that: the most universally taught deliberative norm in the Christian Right is the practice of civility. Christian Right leaders preach the virtues of civility because they want to persuade, not alienate, other citizens. Just as often, movement elites ground this norm in Christ’s command to love one’s neighbor. Pro-life example For his study, Shields focused particularly on the pro-life movement because it is one of the most important and long-standing causes of conservative Christian activism. He found that pro-life organizations frequently try to develop deliberative norms among their members that include “promoting public civility, practicing careful listening and dialogue...and embracing moral reasoning.” Pro-life organizations will help to train their members how to argue for the rights of the unborn. For example, they explain fetal development and why the “pro-choice” position is inconsistent with human rights. In this way, pro-life activists become educated about abortion and how to explain the issue to fellow citizens. This often strengthens the confidence of the activists and their willingness to engage others on this important matter. It makes them more engaged as citizens. The other side’s unwillingness to debate Interestingly, Shields discovered that pro-choice organizations tend to be unwilling to debate. Many pro-choice organizations with college or university campus groups have explicit policies of avoiding such debates. For example, the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) discourages its student activists from talking to pro-lifers supposedly because they won’t be able to change the pro-lifers’ opinions. The Pro-Choice Action Network refuses to debate because it claims that abortion is a basic human right and rights are not up for debate. Dialogue about abortion is therefore not possible. Thus while pro-life groups are instructing their members how to discuss the abortion issue, some pro-choice groups are discouraging such discussions altogether. Shields points out that this situation has: left abortion rights advocates severely handicapped in the context of public debates. When pressed by pro-life activists, they have no ready explanation for why fetuses become persons at any point between conception and birth. This fact may explain why an undercurrent of self-doubt runs through some refusals to debate pro-life opponents. Clearly, by the criterion of deliberative norms, the pro-life organizations are contributing much more to a functioning democratic society. ARPA Canada too On its website, ARPA Canada states that its mission is “to educate, equip, and encourage Reformed Christians to political action and to bring a biblical perspective to our civil authorities.” ARPA’s activities clearly fall in line with the two criteria for political movements that enhance democracy. It encourages participation in the political process. It also encourages deliberative norms by educating Christian citizens on important issues and equipping them to make use of that knowledge in contacts with public officials and other citizens. So a clear case can be made then, that ARPA Canada enhances democracy in Canada through its efforts, even aside from its specific impact on the issues it addresses. Its impact on those issues is above and beyond its positive contribution towards democratic participation. Conclusion Christians who engage in activism tend to become better democratic citizens. They usually increase their knowledge of public affairs and become better able to discuss those affairs with others. They are more aware of matters affecting society and more concerned about those matters. Time spent contacting public officials and discussing the issues with other citizens is time spent trying to make the country a better place. Democratic virtues are manifested in this way, even when government policies are not changed for the better. If the world appreciates everyone’s respectful participation in the democratic process, then they should need to acknowledge that Christian participation is good for democracy....

News, Politics

Backing away from Big Brother: government overreach doesn't just happen in China

Who should get to decide what information you see? And who would you trust with your own personal information? On the other side of the globe one government is taking on the dual role of data collector, and information gatekeeper. And while it is nowhere near that bad here at home, we do have reason for concern. Collecting and restricting information in China We've known for some time now that the Chinese government, via its "Great Firewall," restricts what information its citizens get to see. Social media giants like Facebook and Twitter have been blocked, as are many mainstream media sites like the National Post, New York Times and Wall Street Journal (though Reformed Perspective seems to have slipped past the censors' notice).  While search giant Google is also banned (as are their Gmail and Youtube properties) it's being reported that they are now willing to comply with the Chinese government's restrictions. Google plans: "to launch a censored version of its search engine in China that will blacklist websites and search terms about human rights, democracy, religion, and peaceful protest." The company that once had as its slogan "Don't be evil" is now siding with the government censor. In addition to restricting the access its citizens have to information, it's also being reported that the Chinese government is collecting personal information on its citizens so it can assign everyone a "social credit" rating – a three digit number – that would increase or decrease based on behavior both online and off. That "social credit" rating would then be used to determine what services a citizen would be allowed to receive. If you behave, you can book flights. But if, like journalist Liu Hu, you publish claims critical of the government, you may find yourself ground-bound. There is some dispute (even among writers appearing in the same magazine) about just how far along China is in developing this social credit system. It is a work in progress with the grand unveiling planned for 2020, even as local experiments are already taking place. But even in its unfinished state, there is interest from overseas. Venezuela is getting Chinese help to implement their own system and Reuters is reporting the information the Venezuelan government is collecting seems to include not only phone numbers and home addresses but "emails... participation at Socialist Party events and even whether a person owns a pet." Closer to home In the West we are still quite free, but even here the government's data collection is expanding. And the government also restricts our access to information. Starting in January, the Canadian government is planning to compel banks to give them the personal banking records of 500,000 citizens. It promises to use the information only to analyze overall trends, and not to look at any individuals. But it is doing so without the individuals' permission or knowledge. The same government asked businesses for information as to their position on abortion if they wanted to qualify for funding under the summer jobs program. And they only received the funding if they were pro-choice. When it comes to restricting information, the Ontario government tried to keep the province's abortion statistics secret, and it was only a successful 2017 court challenge that made that information available again. And whereas parental notification and consent is required for school field trips, in Canada and parts of the US abortionists don't need to tell parents when their underage children are getting an abortion. More recently, in Alberta the government has passed a bill banning schools from informing a child's parents that their child has joined a Gay/Straight Alliance club. That's information that the government has decided parents don't need to have. Bigger and bigger In China, the government manages every aspect of its citizens' lives, from where they might be allowed to live to how many children a couple is allowed to have. It's hardly surprising that a government that's already this intrusive doesn't recognize any limits on what it can do. Here in the West, our governments do less than the communist state, but perhaps more than we really realize. A partial list of what we expect from the government shows that in Canada, too, there is hardly an area of our lives untouched by the government. Canadians expect our government to: supplement our retirement income deliver our mail provide us with national radio and TV stations provide care for us when we are sick ensure there are affordable places to live when we are old create summer jobs for our teens verify the safety of our food build recreation centers and neighborhood playgrounds subsidize the creation of professional hockey arenas educate our children help provide daycare for them before school pay for abortion provide euthanasia Some of these responsibilities are small and some are enormous. It's hardly surprising, then, that Prime Minister Trudeau wants more information and defends his government's data grab by arguing government decisions need to be based on evidence. Can we really expect a government to mind its own business after we've invited it to take on some of the biggest responsibilities in our lives? It would seem our lives are their business. Backing away from Big Brother In China the government has taken on the role of Big Brother, dominating all of life...but that's not how it thinks of itself. Big Brother never thinks of itself as Big Brother - it looks in the mirror and sees a kind benevolent Nanny State whose only concern is the care of its citizens because, well, citizens aren't really capable of caring for themselves, are they? In the West we might think ours is still the kind and gentle Nanny State – we are grateful for its provision of free healthcare, and free education. But it is in those two roles - those two enormous roles - that our government is also doing its worst, providing the facilities or funding for the murder of one-quarter of its citizens. And that doesn't even include the murders it now manages of the elderly! The Alberta government wants to use its educational role to teach children that the State, not God, is supreme. That's a recent development, but for years now the government has been teaching our children the very opposite of God's Truth when it comes to sex, marriage, human worth, the environment, and much more. So if our Nanny State isn't already Big Brother, we can certainly see how natural the progression will be. What can we do about it? This is a massive problem, so there's any number of fronts on which we can take up this battle. But perhaps a useful first step is to consider the warning Samuel gives in 1 Samuel 8:10-22  against relying on the power of kings. If we demand that someone rule over us, rule they shall, but it's quite likely they will not rule as we hoped. When the government directed summer jobs funding to only pro-choice companies, Christians were outraged at the favoritism. But what few considered was, why were we expecting the government to fund summer job creation in the first place? To do it they have to take money from some companies – and doing so limits those companies' opportunities to create jobs – to give to other companies to fund their summer jobs. From the start, such a program involved the government rewarding some at the expense of others. And when we expect the government to pick winners and losers, why would we be surprised when it decides the winners need to think like they do? Lord Acton gave a warning that matches up well with Samuel's: "Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely." If we want a less arrogant government, it would help if we started asking for a much smaller one. This will appear in the November/December issue of the magazine POSTSCRIPT: A couple of points to ponder Q1: ARPA Canada and many other Christian groups protested the government's discriminatory summer job program requirements. If, as this article argues, the government shouldn't be expected to create summer jobs, was it misguided to protest the discriminatory nature of the program? Shouldn't the protest have targeted the program itself? A: When there are two wrongs to right, is it misguided to take them on one at a time? The discriminatory nature of the program was the far more topical issue and the more winnable one. It made good sense to take it on first. Q2: If we wanted a smaller government, where could we begin? Where could we ask it to do less? A: Two of the government's biggest expenditures are healthcare and education. Even if the government continued to fund both why do they need to provide both? If parents directed educational funding to the school of their choice that would put them back in charge of their children's education. That's a step in the right direction....

History, Politics

The rise and fall of Canada's most effective opposition MP

It’s hard to conceive of any way that a Christian politician could, in today’s Canada, win a mandate to turn the country in a Christian direction. So if seizing power seems an unreachable goal, is there any other means by which Christians could prove influential in the political sphere? Yes. As Svend Robinson proved, you don’t need to be in government to have enormous influence – you just need to be fearless, dedicated, hardworking, and outspoken. And did we mention fearless? Svend Robinson was by far the most influential opposition Member of Parliament in Canadian history. He was not a force for good, however; Robinson used his influence to push Canada to the Left, especially on social issues. He was the first openly homosexual elected politician in Canada, and also worked to expand abortion rights, and legalize assisted suicide. Robinson’s life and influence are chronicled in Graeme Truelove’s 2013 book Svend Robinson: A Life in Politics. Truelove is an adoring fan including only the occasional bits of criticism, and that from other left-wing critics, like some of Robinson’s NDP colleagues who did not appreciate his brash and publicity-hungry style. Still, Truelove’s book gives us a look at how much can be accomplished by a politician unconcerned with playing it safe. Early life Svend Robinson was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota on March 4, 1952. His parents were both left-wing activists and his father was an English professor. However, according to Truelove, Robinson’s father was also an alcoholic with an anger problem, and had a hard time holding onto a job. As a result, the family moved frequently, mostly within the United States. Then in 1966, in conscientious objection to the Vietnam War, Robinson’s family moved to Burnaby, BC where his father got a position at Simon Fraser University. From an early age Svend Robinson demonstrated that he was intelligent, driven and as Truelove puts it, he had a “monumental capacity for hard work.” In 1972 he won the University of British Columbia’s (UBC) most prestigious award. He was appointed to a BC government commission on post-secondary education in 1974 and subsequently to the UBC Board of Governors in 1975. He was still in his early twenties. For most of his student years at UBC Svend was married to a women, Patricia Fraser. Eventually, however, he gave in to his homosexual urges and his marriage ended. He graduated from UBC with a law degree in 1976 and then spent a year at the prestigious London School of Economics in England. All through this time Svend had been active in numerous left-wing causes and organizations including the New Democratic Party (NDP), as both the president of BC Young New Democrats, and as a member of the Provincial Executive and Federal Council of the NDP. NDP candidate Returning from England, Robinson became the NDP candidate for Burnaby’s federal riding in 1977. Working as a lawyer during the day, he spent much of his free time campaigning for a federal election that wasn’t held until 1979. As a young, first-time candidate, Robinson tried to get support wherever he could. Truelove notes that Robinson: "used his socialist background to personally convince the Burnaby Club of the Communist Party not to run a candidate against him, assuring him a handful of votes that could make the difference in a close race." On May 22, 1979, he won his seat in the federal election and became an NDP MP. His first private member’s bill proposed the complete decriminalization of abortion, which was still partially restricted at that time. Prime Minister Joe Clark’s minority government fell a few months later and a new election was held in 1980. Robinson was re-elected. Pierre Trudeau became Prime Minister again and renewed his drive to change Canada’s constitution. Robinson’s Charter influence One of Trudeau’s main goals was to have a Charter of Rights and Freedoms added to Canada’s constitution. A special parliamentary committee was formed to carefully review the proposed Charter and to reshape it as necessary. Robinson was one of two NDP MPs on this committee. In this role, he had a crucial impact on the shaping of the Charter. Robinson proposed numerous changes, some of which were adopted and some of which weren’t. His influence, however, was substantial. Truelove quotes journalist Michael Valpy as writing that Robinson, “perhaps more than any other opposition MP, has been the architect of the Charter of Rights.” Robinson proposed adding “sexual orientation” to the list of protected categories in the Charter. That was rejected by Justice Minister Jean Chrétien. However, Chrétien said that future courts were free to interpret the Charter as if sexual orientation was protected. That would be up to the courts to decide. Chrétien’s caveat ensured that “future courts would be empowered to take evolving social mores into account and expand the list themselves.” Today, few people remember the central role played by Robinson in the framing of the Charter. However, Truelove correctly notes that: "an examination of Robinson’s contributions to the debate at the time, and of the ways in which the courts have embraced his point of view in the years since repatriation, suggests that his name deserves mention among the movers and shakers who crafted this defining feature of the Canadian legal landscape." Stacking the witness list In 1985 the government of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney established a parliamentary subcommittee to seek public input on the Charter’s equality rights provisions. The committee would travel across the country holding hearings for this purpose. Svend Robinson was appointed to this subcommittee. He immediately began to contact homosexual activists across the country to get them onto the list of presenters to the committee. Truelove writes that this tactic of “stacking the witness list” is common across the political spectrum. Whatever the case, Robinson successfully stacked the list with activists who would argue that homosexual rights should be protected by the Charter. In this way, politically-active homosexuals had a disproportionate influence on the subcommittee. His tactic was very successful and the subcommittee’s report was overwhelmingly favorable to the homosexual rights cause. The Justice Department’s 1986 official response to the subcommittee’s report echoed its commitment to homosexual rights. This was a major success for the gay rights movement in Canada. Friend of Morgentaler Brian Mulroney and the Progressive Conservative Party had come to power in the federal election of 1984. Robinson had been re-elected at that time. Besides his efforts on behalf of homosexual rights, he also pushed hard for the liberalization of Canada’s abortion law, proposing bills to that effect. Furthermore, Truelove writes that Robinson: "worked closely with pro-choice advocate Dr. Henry Morgentaler (one pamphlet circulated by opponents in Burnaby called him Morgentaler’s 'best friend' in Parliament) and accompanied him to the Supreme Court in 1988 as Morgentaler appealed his conviction for performing illegal abortions." The 1988 Morgentaler decision struck down any legal restrictions on abortion in Canada. It came out in January, and the following month Robinson, for the first time, came out publicly as a homosexual. He was the first elected official in Canada to do so. Many people believed that his public “outing” would hurt his political career, but they were wrong. The culture had changed enough that a significant body of opinion supported him. In fact, donations to his NDP riding association poured in from all over Canada, and it raised more money for the 1988 federal election than any other NDP riding association. That would also be the case in subsequent elections. Assisting suicide Besides abortion and homosexuality, Robinson worked hard on behalf of assisted suicide. He supported a woman named Sue Rodriguez who had a debilitating disease and challenged the criminal prohibition on assisted suicide in court. She argued that the prohibition violated her Section 7 Charter right to security of the person. Rodriguez lost in a 5-4 Supreme Court decision in September 1993. The prohibition on assisted suicide was ruled to be constitutional. In spite of the decision, Rodriguez wanted to proceed with an assisted suicide anyway. As Truelove relates, she: "needed someone else to help her end her life when the time came, so she asked Robinson. He felt privileged to be asked, and despite the serious legal risk, he agreed to help." He was the only person with her when she died in 1994 but he was not charged with any crime due to a lack of evidence. He continued to push unsuccessfully for the legalization of assisted suicide. His 1997 parliamentary motion to create a committee to write legislation legalizing physician-assisted suicide was overwhelmingly defeated in the House of Commons. Leadership campaign In 1989 Robinson supported Yukon MP Audrey McLaughlin in her campaign to be the federal NDP leader. She won the leadership but the party lost most of its seats in the 1993 election. She resigned in 1994 and the following year Robinson launched a campaign to become NDP leader. He represented the most extreme left-wing faction of the NDP. Among his early supporters was future NDP leader Jack Layton. A Toronto city councilor at the time, “Layton was put in charge of fundraising, and the Ontario campaign was launched in the living room of the home he and Chow shared.” The leadership convention was held in October 1995. With three candidates for the leadership, Robinson finished first on the initial ballot ahead of second-place Alexa McDonough and third-place Lorne Nystrom. Nystrom intended to have his delegates support McDonough to block Robinson’s path to the leadership. Sensing defeat, Robinson decided to concede to McDonough before the second ballot was held as a way to unite the party. It didn’t work. McDonough and her people thought that Robinson was trying to upstage them by throwing the convention to her. This led to continuing rifts within the party between McDonough and Robinson. And many of Robinson’s supporters were outraged that he conceded defeat after winning the first round of balloting. Spinning a hiking accident On December 31, 1997, Robinson was hiking alone on Galiano Island in BC and fell off an 18-metre cliff. He was severely injured. Concerned he might die alone in the wilderness, thoughts of his Cuban lover, Max Riveron, inspired him to muster all of his strength to try to find help. He was successful and subsequently recuperated in hospital. This was a terrible experience, of course. But Truelove writes that Robinson saw a potential political benefit: "He hoped that he could use the story of his fall to demonstrate that the love between homosexual partners was as real and as powerful as the love between heterosexual partners." Homosexual rights achievements In the early part of the 2000s, same-sex marriage became a major issue in Canada. Unsurprisingly, “Robinson was acknowledged as one of the leaders of the same-sex marriage movement.” However, he was actually more concerned about adding “sexual orientation” to the law against hate propaganda. He introduced his own bill, C-250, in 2002 to accomplish this goal. Despite the fact that it was a private member’s bill, it was passed by the House of Commons in September 2003 and by the Senate in April 2004. According to Truelove, “Today he keeps a framed copy of the bill hanging over his desk at home.” Becoming a thief After years of highly effective political work, Robinson’s career came crashing down when he stole an expensive piece of jewelry. The spring of 2004 was a very significant time for Robinson. On March 20 a special event was held in Vancouver to celebrate his 25 years in Parliament. The speaker for the occasion was the world-famous left-wing American intellectual Noam Chomsky. The 2,500 attendees gave Robinson a standing ovation. This was the height of his career. However, three weeks later, on April 9, Robinson stole a ring valued at $21,500 from a jewelry auction in Vancouver. He just took the ring, put it in his pocket and went home. Subsequently, he was overcome with guilt and turned himself in, apologizing profusely for his crime. The fallout ended his political career. As Truelove relates: "If the Office of the Attorney-General had announced it was satisfied with Svend’s apology, and that he wouldn’t be charged, he might have run again. But no such announcement came, and he was left in limbo" A federal election was imminent and Robinson had to let someone else run in his place. Eventually he was charged. Interestingly, Truelove implies that the government was pushed into charging Robinson by a conservative organization: In mid-June an Alberta-based lobby group, run by publisher and former Reform Party activist Link Byfield, ran an ad in The Province which read, ‘Two months ago MP Svend Robinson was caught stealing. Will he be charged with theft?’ With one week to go in the election campaign, Svend was charged. Why did he do it? In the wake of this scandal Robinson was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. His supporters explained the theft as being a result of his anguished mental state, or the stress he experienced from encountering virulent homophobia. Strangely, despite being an ardent atheist, Robinson himself explained his criminal behavior in a rather Christian way. When asked about the theft by Truelove, Robinson replied: "In all of us there’s, you know, there’s bad and good. Maybe this was bad. Maybe I just, you know – temptation overcame me. I don’t know." Robinson tried to make a political comeback by running for the NDP in Vancouver Centre in the 2006 federal election. He was soundly defeated by the sitting Liberal MP. Subsequently, Robinson and Max (who got “married” in 2007) moved to Switzerland where Robinson works as the senior advisor for parliamentary relations at the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Conclusion Truelove is correct in writing that Robinson was “more effective than perhaps any other opposition MP of his generation.” His hard work and determination led to numerous accomplishments in pushing Canada to the Left. Robinson was a “superhero for left-wing activists.” Robinson’s success and influence in Canada are unmistakable. However, it’s interesting to note how Robinson’s career crashed and burned immediately after he reached the pinnacle of success. His 25-year parliamentary anniversary, with adoring crowds and celebrity endorsements, was soon followed by a criminal act that ruined his career and severely tarnished his legacy. Perhaps the end of his career can be compared to that of a political leader mentioned in the Bible who was also at the height of power when “he was brought down from his kingly throne, and his glory was taken from him” (Daniel 5:20, ESV). But there is a more important point to consider. What made Robinson so effective? And what can we learn from his approach? He succeeded because of his commitment to his principles. Make no mistake - Robinson is a godless man, but most certainly a principled one. And what his career demonstrates is that a clear commitment to principles, and a determination to advance those principles, can be an effective political strategy. He would not stop talking about the issues that mattered to him. His outspokenness meant he could never have become prime minister but it also meant that while others politicians were too careful, too tactical, or simply too cowardly too speak out, Robinson was being heard. A principled politician may not be able to rise to the highest positions of power, but what Robinson shows us is that such a politician can still be an influential player who makes a distinctive contribution to the direction of the country. We would do well to imitate his fearless, principled, outspoken approach....

Politics

Dethroning the dictator

A simple electoral reform that might actually make our democracy more representative **** Canada’s democratic system has been likened to a four-year “elected dictatorship.” Why? The fault is often lain at the feet of our First-Past-The-Post electoral system which allows a political party with only a minority of the popular vote to form a majority government. We saw that happen again in 2015, when the federal Liberal Party won a majority government – 54% of the seats in Parliament – with only 39.5% of the votes cast. But does this make Canada a dictatorship? No, not this alone. The bigger issue is the control that party leaders have over who gets to run for their party. Anger your party leader, and he won’t sign your nomination papers. Then your only option is to run as an independent. However, independents don’t win; there have only been two elected independents over the last three elections. So if you want a seat in Parliament, you’d best not do anything to annoy your party leader. That means that, while the Liberals control Parliament, Justin Trudeau controls the Liberals. That allows him to sets the agenda for Parliament. He also chooses who will get Cabinet positions, selects individuals to the Senate, and picks Supreme Court Justices. Three hundred and thirty-eight Members of Parliament are elected, but all the power of Parliament is concentrated into the hands of this one man. Canada is an elected dictatorship. This is a problem This would be a problem even with the best and most noble of men leading our country – unfettered power is a potent temptation to anyone. As Lord Acton put it, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Our neighbor to the south recognized this corrupting effect, and it led the American Founding Fathers to design a system of government that split power between three separate branches of government: Congress would vie with the President and with the Supreme Court. The three would compete with and hold the others in check to ensure that power was never concentrated in any one branch. But what holds the prime minister’s power in check? Theoretically, it’s the other Members of Parliament (MPs). The prime minister has only one vote, so if his MPs don’t like what he is doing, they could vote against it and stop him. But that’s not how it works. As party leader he has both carrots ands sticks with which he can control his party. An MP who stays loyal may eventually get rewarded with a Cabinet position. An MP who makes trouble may get demoted or even kicked out of the party. The result? MPs dare not disagree with their leader. More parties in control So what can be done? One frequently mentioned proposal is to replace our First-Past-The-Post electoral system with some form of Proportional Representation (PR). Though there are a number of different versions of PR, under the simplest version parties would receive seats in proportion to their popular vote. So if the Liberals received 39% of the popular vote across Canada they would receive 39% of the seats in Parliament. This would result in many more minority governments, forcing the PM to share his power with the other party leaders. Instead of dictating to them he’d be forced to cooperate with them to get his bills passed. The problem with Proportional Representation is that it most often involves voting for a party, not a candidate. A party puts out some sort of list, often with an order of their choosing. If they get enough votes for, say, three MPs, then the three people at the top of their list will get in. This gives the party leader even more power over his party because anyone who isn't willing to pick up his dry cleaning will get put far down the list, or not make it at all. It's true, PR would move us from a dictatorship, but to an oligarchy; instead of rule by one party leader we would be ruled by a council made up of two or three party leaders. However, those party leaders would have an even firmer grip on their parties. So that’s not much of an improvement. Empowering MPs A better option is to change the way a party leader is chosen. Presently, party leaders are chosen by the party members. This method means that, come the next leadership election, a party will be able to sell a lot of memberships. But this is what’s behind the power imbalance: a party leader still has his carrot and stick, and the MPs have no way to constrain their party leader because he is hired and fired not by them, but by their party’s membership. What if the party leader was chosen by the MPs? That’s how it used to be done in the United Kingdom, up until the early 1980s. Under such a system a party leader would still be able to exert considerable control over his caucus, but he wouldn’t be able to run roughshod over them. If he annoyed too many, then out he’d go. There would be some balance. Individual MPs might then feel free to occasionally vote as they think best, or as their constituents think best, and not simply as their party leader thought best. This is a change that the party membership can bring about, starting at the riding level, and the pushing it on to the annual convention. It would take time to win support – this would be a multi-year process – but it can happen. And if a party's membership demands this change, then we might well end up with a more representative democracy, and without any of the radical electoral reforms that have been proposed. Of course, in a sin-stained world a democracy isn't always ideal either: just consider how giving the people their say won’t put an end to either abortion or euthanasia any time soon. But a democracy is a step up from our dictatorship of one....