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The City State: Part two of three

The City State Part II of III (This is a follow-up of last Sunday’s column – an airing of thoughts on tax reform.) Whenever I get to whining about government, my wife quotes me Classical references – this time Plato and the Greek City State.
The City State

Part II of III
(This is a follow-up of last Sunday’s column – an airing of thoughts on tax reform.)

Whenever I get to whining about government, my wife quotes me Classical references – this time Plato and the Greek City State. In their quest for an ideal model of governance Sparta, Corinth and Athens each created their own variation of the City State. After the Athenian experiment in radical democracy failed, Plato envisaged an ideal state ruled by a Philosopher King.

Would the City State model work in present day Canada? This tossing around of ideas could probably be enhanced with a bottle of good wine and a copy of Plato’s Republic at hand, but let’s look at it as an exercise in governance.

First, let us assume that we want to continue as a nation with the same set of values on which Canada was founded and has developed since Confederation. As a nation, we have been the envy of many and it would be only proper to continue to take our prominent place amongst the nations of the world.

In my dream model, the Federal government would comprise two houses, an upper house (elected Assembly) for making laws and treaties, and an Administrative house for national and international operational departments.

The Assembly would make and pass laws and regulations that cover how we function as a nation. They would set policy for: Charter of Rights; Trade and Transportation; Bank of Canada; Criminal and Social Law; Environment and Natural Resources; Health and function Welfare; Education, and Foreign Aid - policies that would be uniform across the country. They would not administer any of these functions. Note that there would be no Federal Assembly employees other than the support staff.

The elected Assembly would serve for four years, with half of the assembly being elected every two years. This would ensure some continuity in the Assembly but also give the electorate a chance to boot out non-performers. The political party system could continue as now. I toyed with the idea of censure and exile, but Ellesmere Island would soon overflow with discarded politicians and that would be unfair to Ellesmere.

The Administrative Departments (like the five Ephors of Sparta), each headed by three Directors (borrowed from the Roman Triumvirate) selected from the Assembly, would be: Finance (to collect all national taxes and pay national and international expenses); Defence (to maintain the military); Foreign Office (Ambassadors and Foreign Aid); Justice ( RCMP, CSIS and a Supreme Court), and Compliance (Auditor General and Inspector General).

The afore-named Administrative Departments would continue with the appropriate staffing similar to now. But there would be no Department of Public Works or Human Resources, for example, to create the former boondoggles experienced under Chrétien.

There would be no system of Federal Grants – economic development would be the responsibility of the City States – no more Shawinigans (or, en anglais, shenanigans). No more foreign aid – Canada would become known for funding disaster relief and peacekeeping, not for throwing dollars at what used to be called third world countries (now ‘Developing” nations, to be PC). Let the Wal-Marts of the world fund some social programs while they are exploiting cheap labour. The Foreign Office would assist City States with immigration.

The City States, municipalities comprising of, for example, a minimum of 1 million inhabitants, would administer all of the federal Assembly policies. They would raise whatever funds they needed through income taxes, sales, trade and property taxes.

There would be no Provincial government or employees. No Provincial politicians and their entourage of advisors, lobbyists and hangers-on.

Would the number of civil servants decrease? There is certainly some duplication of effort now as municipal, provincial and federal employees trip over each other’s feet, so I do see a reduction in the number. I envision economies of scale at the City State level as we reduce the number of paid local politicians across the country.

In fact, we could follow the Athenian model of selecting the ‘councilors’ by lot, although that system needed some artificial demographic and geographic adjustments to get a proper representation of the people. The adjustments were necessary to the selection of those serving as the government since the farmers and fishermen were often too busy to serve and could not afford the financial burden of lost pay or production.

Bill Walton

About the Author: Bill Walton

Retired from City of North Bay in 2000. Writer, poet, columnist
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