Donald Trump isn’t the first Western politician to attack the judiciary, muzzle scientists, erode evidence-based decision making by making up alternate facts, disenfranchise voters, create two-tiered citizenship, push a corporate agenda, insult the very government leaders he needs to help him achieve his vision, and wage a divisive Islamophobic campaign to shore up core support.
Stephen Harper has been there and done that and would have continued to “do that” but for the election cycle which forced him to go to the people to refresh his mandate.
We dodged a bullet in 2015, but we may not be so lucky the next time around, particularly if a mini-Trump becomes the leader of the CPC and (god forbid) slides into power with a majority.
What can we do to stop the erosion of democracy if this happens?
Checks and balances?
Our democracy rests on a balance of power exercised by the three branches of government: the executive, the legislative and the judiciary.
If a maniacal über conservative prime minister comes to power with a majority government, the executive branch will be eating out of his hand. He’ll appoint loyalists and sycophants to Cabinet posts and the instinct for self-preservation will override any desire on their part to derail the PM’s agenda.
The legislative branch is made up of the House of Commons and the Senate. The MPs who form the PM’s majority government will be reluctant to thwart the man who brought them back into power.
The Senate on the other hand is a wild card.
Senators are appointed by the prime minister. Presently the Senate is composed of 40 Conservative appointees, 37 independents, and 21 “Liberals” (they called themselves the Liberal Caucus notwithstanding the fact they were expelled from the party by Justin Trudeau). If Trudeau appoints another seven independents, the total number of Liberal/independent senators climbs to 65. This majority could veto any piece of legislation sent to them by the House of Commons, although the Senate hasn’t used its veto power since 1939.
The third branch of government is the judiciary. The Supreme Court will not hesitate to kill any piece of legislation that violates the Charter. Harper lost five cases in six weeks just before he attacked the integrity of Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin. No wonder he was cranky.
In a nutshell, our democracy rests in the hands majority MPs who likely lack the courage to buck an all-powerful PM, a bunch of independent (quasi Liberal) senators we’ve never heard of and the Supreme Court of Canada.
Given that it takes time and money to launch a lawsuit and wait for the Supreme Court to render a decision, our best bet is to re-engage with our elected MPs and the Senate to stop undemocratic policies before they become the law.
This is where the American experience becomes relevant.
Americans are resisting Donald Trump’s agenda by protesting in the streets and, more importantly, re-engaging in the democratic process at the local level.
One of the best advocacy guidebooks I’ve come across is the Indivisible Guidebook. It’s the brainchild of a group of former progressive congressional staffers who are using the tools developed by the Tea Party to fight Trump’s “racist, authoritarian, corrupt agenda.”
Indivisible starts with the premise that activists should focus on their local representatives and that all politicians want to be re-elected (even those in safe seats fear a challenger). Politicians want their constituents to like them and the press to flatter them. They hate to look weak or vulnerable.
Indivisible dissects politicians. Politicians care about disgruntled constituents, not outsiders; an interest group’s endorsement, not one person’s analysis of a proposed bill; personal emails, phone calls and office visits, not form letters or Facebook comments; and a “concrete ask” not a laundry list of all the issues that bother you. They want good local press not a town hall meeting or photo op turned gong show.
The tactics for effective advocacy at a town hall meeting or photo op are straight forward: engage with a small group of like-minded constituents; meet up in advance of the town hall or photo op to determine who is going to ask what (keep questions simple, no long rambling diatribes); spread out in the crowd and don’t carry a sign if you’re going to ask a question because you won’t be called on by the meeting organizer; video the entire exchange, post it on social media and send it to the local press (who are easy to contact through social media).
“Indivisible” in Canada
Indivisible sets out some simple tactics for effective advocacy. These can be applied in the Canadian context to ensure that Canadians won’t be taking to the streets in four years to save themselves from far-right conservatives who are emboldened by Trump’s victory.
So here’s a suggestion.
Ask your local Conservative MP whether they support federal Conservative leadership candidates who profess to “unite” us by dividing us based on our Canadian identity or those who intend to “fix” the federal government by privatizing most of it and running what’s left like a CEO answerable to no one.
Then keep asking these questions so you’ll be ready when these conservative politicians pop up at town hall meetings in your riding seeking your vote in the next election.
The best way to get rid of an autocrat is not to elect him in the first place, but if he (or she) has a shot at getting into power, the best way to thwart an autocrat is to influence the people they’ll need to make their agendas a reality.