The Democratic Quality Vector and
the New Social Agreement

Radical Transparency


Canadian Crown corporations first emerged in the 1870s and are flourishing today, with hundreds such bodies delivering services and they account for billions of dollars of revenue. Most often, the creation of semi-autonomous governmental bodies is a response to pressures that require action on the part of governments. In many of those instances governments have initiated the formalization of public-private partnerships, Crown corporations, are defined as “institution[s] with corporate form brought into existence by action of the Government[s] of Canada to serve a public function.” As such, Crown corporations reflect the values and practices of Canada’s public policies while making use of the relatively more flexible and efficient practices of the business sector. As these bodies operate within, or parallel to, governmental processes, a prescribed legal framework dictates the way governments can set Crown corporations into motion. The initial impetus for the CBC was to help combat what many perceived as harmful and dominating American cultural incursions into Canadian territory – geographical and abstract. Second, the public broadcasting system was to fill a cultural gap left open by private media companies whose mandates had more to do with immediate financial returns than with the large-scale cultural and nation-building projects. Government intervened into transportation by establishing the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), after private enterprise had assessed this epic project as too risky. Indeed, they intervened after multiple railways failed. The federal government, in establishing the CPR, employed a type of “defensive expansionism” to counteract the impact of the American empire within Canadian territories. A failure to deliver on the promise of a national rail-line would have risked the possibilities of British Columbia becoming a sovereign entity to compete with the confederated Canadian provinces or of B.C. joining with the American federation.

Although construction of the CPR took place between 1881 and 1885, the Crown corporation that oversaw this project did not become established officially until 1922. No fewer than two-hundred railway companies became insolvent prior to its establishment, which was the prompt the national government needed to intervene. Thus, the Canadian National Railway company (CNR) emerged at a time, in the early 1920s, when fear of American intervention was at a comparatively lower ebb. The creation of the CNR responded to the ineptitude and risk-adversity of private corporations as well as the enduring need of an efficient network for the transport of people and goods. In formalizing its relationship to the national government in 1919, the CNR became the first of Canada’s many official Crown corporations.

In the preceding examples, the perception of large-scale public needs justifies the presence of Crown corporations in Canada’s institutional landscape. These needs include essential services (such as a national rail-line), cultural information (reliably provided by the CBC), or, more rarely, emergency services. But defining what is an emergency service should not be abused, as this does have the potential for serious problems.

Crown corporations, and other like entities, offer governments a relatively swift and self-sufficient platform for organizing public activities and enacting public policies. Passionate politicians frustrated by a slow-moving democracy that have to adhere to old public policies are attracted to the easy way to engineer around the failing democratic structure. The imperative means that crown corporations enjoy many of the efficiencies of the private sector while still being required to adhere to modest governmental standards of transparency and fairness. Crown corporations, therefore, undergo forensic accounting procedures, as governments do, and report directly to legislative or executive branches of government. However, on most occasions, a narrow financial audit has simply not been enough to detect unethical behavior. However, this inadequate technique for distancing a company from old policy and of engineering around a slow democratic process is trending.

In essence, the quickly turning world of technology has left Democracy struggling to keep up. The management of aligning our civic duties to the exponential change we see in the world has forced the increase of small pockets of strong leadership. Strong leadership, in some places, is a term that is equivalent to dictatorship. One of the parts of the government where this outsourcing is most concerning is in the legal system. Oversight of court officers is outsourced to a private organisation call the “Law Society”. The Law Society is a group that is directed through strong leadership as opposed to a democratic decision-making organisation. In this case, democracy offers the court offices special trust and responsibility to conduct business on the behalf of the government, but also to approve a dictatorship like system to run a large portion of its governance. Unfortunately, this current system of governance is open to unfortunate abuses.

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