The American editor and essayist Lewis Lapham has delineated the three hallmarks of democracy. Michael Harris refers to them in a piece he wrote for ipolitics:
Lewis Lapham, author and twice editor of Harper’s Magazine in the United States, made the same point. Democracy, he wrote, announces itself in three fundamental ways: an honest public discussion about issues; accountability of the governors to the governed; and equal protection under the law.
By Lapham's yardstick, Canada is not a democracy -- "let alone a parliamentary democracy. It is an oligarchy with a few well chosen friends and millions upon millions of people to ignore, vilify or bamboozle."
Consider the matter of whether or not there is public discussion of government policy:
For several years, the Conservative government lied its brains out about the F-35 program. They lied about whether there had been a competition, about whether there was a contract, and most spectacularly, about how much these jet fighters would cost the poor saps who have to pay for them.
But contrition is for little people. Oligarchs never say they’re sorry. After being outed by the Parliamentary Budget Officer, by the auditor general and then by independent accounting firm KPMG, the prime minister told a national TV audience that the accounting firm’s report “validated” the government figures for the F-35, and that an “assumption was just made” that Canada would buy these aircraft. This, of course, is the stuff that makes the grass turn green.
And then there is the issue of accountability to the governed:
Jim Flaherty’s last budget, the Agatha Christie budget, brought down billions in cuts. But the mystery of what was cut — where, and by how much — endures. The lion’s share of federal departments haven’t responded to requests by Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page for the precise nature of the Harper government’s slashing.
If opposition MPs and parliamentary officers don’t know the details, it is impossible to debate the cuts — which is, of course, pretty much the idea.
Finally, there is the question of equal justice before the law:
This is a very important question because as the Harper oligarchy suppresses the rights of the political opposition, unions, officers of parliament, environmentalists, scientists and aboriginals, it finds itself more and more before judges.
The PM’s view is that you win some, you lose some. Actually, he’s lost quite a few and will probably lose more in 2013 because of the alleged unconstitutionality of much of his justice legislation as contained in poorly-debated omnibus bills. And that is a universe the prime minister is comfortable in — the winner-take-all world of expensive court rulings and a grinding process — life as an elitist joust where he with the longest lance usually prevails.
Theresa Spence's hunger strike is an attempt to do what Canada's opposition parties have been unable to do -- replace oligarchy with democracy.