The term democracy comes from two Greek words: the word demos – which means people – and the word kratos which means rule. When these two words are put together, it makes sense that the word democracy means rule by the people.
Democracy in its purest form is a kind of government in which people rule themselves and an ideal. It isn’t so possible in modern times though. Having 35 million Canadians have a direct say on every law or government question would be chaos. Instead, the public is ruled by representatives and these are people elected to make decisions in government on behalf of the citizens.
Winston Churchill, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, once said, “Democracy is the worst form of government I know – until I consider the alternatives.” So, just because we cannot get democracy to work perfectly, we should not just throw it out.
ELEMENTS OF DEMOCRACY
1. The constitution – A constitution is a set of rules that represent the essential principles (ideas/values) of the nation that both the government and the public must follow.
1. It severely restricts what the government can and cannot do. It limits the powers of all levels of government. If the elected government oversteps its authority, the courts can rule that decision is a violation of the constitution and the decision is revoked.
The constitution is so critical to a democracy because between elections the government because has so much power, and the constitution ensures that the government does not abuse this power. If they do, the citizens and the courts will be able to use a process to hold them accountable.
2. Human rights are protected or enshrined in the constitution, and called civil rights. Laws are easily changed and the constitution is difficult to change so rights and freedoms must be in the constitution. In Canada, these rights are found in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
3. Regularly scheduled, multi-party elections are held in a democracy. Without giving the voters a real choice between at least two political parties in the electoral process, democracy cannot function.
4. Universal suffrage or the right to vote is practiced in a democracy. All adults should be able to vote – even prisoners, those with a disability and all politicians. Only two people in Canada cannot vote at this time – the Chief Electoral Officer and the Deputy.
5. The courts or judicial system and the parliamentary roles of government are separated. For example judges in Canada cannot be removed from office unless they commit a criminal offence. This prevents a government from dismissing a judge if that person rules against the government.
However, Canada does NOT have a perfect system. For example, the elected Justice Minister of the elected federal government is also the protector or Attorney General of the legal system which is supposed to be a neutral, non-political position. So a key government politician has power to make political changes in the justice system.
6. The Canadian constitution carefully defines the powers of each level of government. In Canada we have municipal or local, provincial and national government. We also have territorial governments.