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Political Power - Checks, Balances, Accountability and Transparency

Northern Light

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May 20, 2007
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This is a general political thread for the policy wonks here at UT.

It is not inherently specific to any level of government or even any one country.

Its a discussion of how one structures government so as to deny unfettered power; and to expose abuses of what power is delegated to a given individual or party for a term; yet allow government to still function effectively.


To try and give the discussion/debate some shape, I want to look at this in different ways.

1) Electoral Reform. I don't want to focus here, as I think its a well discussed subject at UT, but its absolutely worth mentioning in passing. Any system that essentially awards 100% of the power or something close there to, to people/parties obtaining well less than 50% of the votes, among less than 60% of the people voting is surely an undeniable part of the problem.

2) Constitutional/Legislative power restraint. This is where we look at the process of passing a law, including a budget, and ask what should be necessary to do that? This can involve having a bicameral legislature (a House and a Senate); though I'm not a fan of that choice.....
But could also involve other ways of limiting bill passage. (for instance, we allow bills to pass with less than a majority in a legislative body in Canada, but merely a plurality. (ie. in a 100-seat body, a bill can pass 40-30, with 30 person not voting or the seats vacant). We could choose to create a higher threshold of bill passage (I support this)

3) Transparency. All the mechanisms to control rampant abuse of power breakdown when one does not know how that power is actually being used at all. This occurs in multiple ways. Budgets that are opaque, giving you general, high-level numbers without breakdowns by program/ministry etc; but also when any number of laws leave the details to Ministerial or Cabinet regulatory fiat. Why should anyone have to ever file a Freedom-of-Information request to know what it is their government is doing? They really shouldn't even have to ask, it should be public. We all get that there are personnel items, or diplomatic or espionage matters that may need to be redacted, in whole or in part, but these should be the well justified exceptions to the rule.

4) Accountability. How does one go about penalizing abuse if one finds it? Right now, the only routine mechanisms, barring a Minister of the Crown being charged with a criminal offense, is one of either waiting til the next scheduled election to vote the problem out; or expecting the legislature to vote no confidence/impeach the sitting government. None of these a likely or timely way to hold governments or their officials to account.


I've seeded the above with some of my outline, but not my policy prescriptions in any detail, I'll offer those in due course. But lets get the discussion going with @TheTigerMaster