The Fair Elections Act proves one basic truth of Parliament. All attempts to improve or reform the House, the Senate or elections, only leads to making matters worse. When interviewed, Parliamentarians will spiel off a litany of wrongs along with ways to amend procedures. In 2003, the Library of Parliament conducted a survey of MPs called, “The Parliament We Want“. In over 12 years since not a single recommendation has seen the light of legislation. Why? Political Parties do not want change. Political Parties and their Politics have such a hold over Parliament, The House of Commons, the Senate and Elections, that Members of Parliament are not permitted to speak to the concerns of their constituents. And that is not democratic – that is a problem!
Reform was the reason the Conservatives were elected, what happened? All their motions either died on the floor or like the Fair Elections Act is no reform at all. The Liberals and NDP had near 6 years of minority government prior to 2011, what reforms did they propose? Nil, Nada, Nothing! NDP say they endorse Proportional Representation. Why then have they never brought the matter before the House? The Liberals, after 2011 election made a lot of noise over PR, now that they may form the government in 2015, Justin Trudeau has abandoned the notion.
We, the Canadian electorate, may have only one shot at bringing about reform to Parliament and elections and it won’t come via any particular party. Canada needs a contract between Members of Parliament and their Constituency. As of now, Candidates for election are under contract to their riding associations, hence, to the party. They are required to do the party bidding. We need to change that. MPs must be accountable to their constituents first, not the party.
Too much power in the Prime Minister’s Office
Nowhere in all the western world’s democracies has a Head of Government extracted so much power that he/she may overrule the elected assembly. No other democracy would concede the degree of control over the elected body such as been given the Prime Minister of Canada. Not in the USA, not in any European states nor Great Britain itself from which Canada inherited our Parliamentary system. This injustice has become so ingrained that a culture of corruption threads itself throughout the whole administration to where permissiveness has become a detrimental component of our political landscape.
The Prime Minister of Canada has almost dictatorial authority over Parliament from; choice of election candidates, to choice of cabinet, to size of cabinet, to Parliamentary schedules. The PM is able to compound non-related legislation, limit debate, appoint committees, appoint the Senate. At the Prime Ministers discretion he controls government advertising and the releasing government information -and the list can go on.
Over the last several Government administrations, the Prime Minister’s Office, PMO, has been usurping many of the checks and balances within Canada’s Parliament to the point where there is a definite deficit to democracy itself. The huge bureaucracy subsequent Prime Ministers have added within their powers is exceedingly costly both in dollars and in lack of democratic procedures. This unfettered rule over Parliament has eroded the trust the people of Canada have in our elected institutions. Time after time politicians from all parties and stripes have rallied against the exorbitant powers of the PMO but, through the years and several administrations no attempts to curtail the PMO have been introduced. For years all parties, Liberals, Conservatives, NDP and Greens, have with all vehement denunciation promised change but, in all those years no change has come.
When Parliamentarians won’t initiate the changes needed, then the voters must. Canada needs change.
and the winner is ……?
Fair Elections is the main discussion in politics this year. The election in 2015, although most likely over a year away at the time of writing this piece, underlies almost every conversation, legislation and procedure in Parliament with all political parties trying to gain one-upmanship upon the other. The newly introduced Fair Elections Act does near nothing to promote “Fairer Elections”. Many might argue that the bill sets democracy back.
and the loser is: the People of Canada? Once Again!
Regardless of the spin politicians spew out over the media, that is all it is, political spin, meant to be impressive but, in service to the public, – nothing – nada – zip.
If general elections do not provide an opportunity for voters to pass judgment on the views and performance of their MP (and her opponents), then there is little guarantee that members will use any increased power they may garner in the House of Commons to reflect the views of their constituents. Similarly, a party’s leadership is unlikely to cede authority to back bench members who lack a policy mandate from their constituents. The real dilemma then is not the role of the MP in the House of Commons, though this is certainly part of it, but rather the lack of opportunity for voters to first empower and then pass judgment on the job done by their MP. One way to rectify this problem is through reform of our electoral and parliamentary systems to allow voters to cast different votes for their preferred representative and preferred government.
When candidates are chosen by the party leadership and not local voters, it is impossible to argue that they have any mandate from their local voters separate from the party leadership. Similarly, when the governing party ensures the easy renomination of its incumbents, it provides little incentive for them to vigorously defend their constituents’ interests in their House of Commons’ work. Their renomination is automatic and their general election chances lie almost completely with voters’ views of their party’s performance and not with an evaluation of the job of the individual MP.
Latest suggestion for Redesigning Parliament to make it more relevant to Canadians: create a citizen-engaging deliberative body to advise and direct individual MPs. Vaughan Lyon, Professor Emeritus at Trent University outlines his idea for Constituency Parliaments to formalize the connection between MP and constituents, allow the MP to be truly representative and reduce the power of the party.
The one defining essential of democracy is the collective will of the nation. For that one needs discernment. Without the ability to evaluate and be considerate of the common interest, how can one represent. Government exists for the interests of the governed, not for those who govern. Sovereignty, the power to rule, is invested in the people, that is democracy. Those who have been duly elected to rule are the servants to the people by whom they were elected.
The fundamental duty of those elected is to improve and maintain the equality, rights and freedoms of those they serve. To be of service is to practice helpful activity, to make fit for use, to supply with assistance, to provide the means for necessities or services. For that one needs to be humble. He/she without humility cannot effectively serve.
To be of service is to be a humanitarian. One must be committed to finding common ground, to building peace, to advocating for the rights of all and advancing human freedom. To be a member of government is to lead, support, and collaborate within a broad network of efforts, ideas, and organizations that seek a common vision for a nation and further more, a world free of conflict and injustice.
“…. there really is a cultural, social, political and even moral choice we need to make together about what kind of public arena we want to have.”
Not wanting to be cynical but, most politicians are not in politics for the right reasons and are strictly in government on the back of their political party. To be fair, most are good and meaningful individuals who have now found themselves in collusion with a dysfunctional political system. The question voters must ask each candidate for political office, “Who are you in politics to serve?“
This year could well be our last chance to introduce change in Parliament before the next federal election expected in 2015. Change must come from the grassroots because the truth is, Parliamentarians and political parties flatly outright refuse to bring about reform. They will talk about change, express their wish for change but, when it comes to acting on change, Nothing – Nada – Zip!
Samara shines light on Canadian democracy and encourages Canadians’ participation in public life. We know there’s something wrong with our politics and we know people are opting out in growing numbers. So what can we do about it?
Amplify Citizens’ Voices
Decentralize power, refocus on citizens
Connect MPs to the constituency
Redesign Parliament to make it relevant to Canadians.
Our country deserves a Parliament geared to the 21st century. Canada and Canadians have changed dramatically over the course of the last century and a half. By comparison, our parliamentary institutions have not kept up with the pace of change. Today, Canadians rightly expect a democracy founded on the needs of the times, and the message has been received loud and clear. Every political party represented in Parliament has, in one way or another, expressed its support for democratic renewal and parliamentary reform.
Citizens expect a greater voice and inclusion in public deliberation than is currently the case. Citizens want public engagement to be representative, informed and reflective.
Our message, based on our consultations, is this. In weighing the many options we have before us, and in making decisions on the future role of Parliamentarians, we should keep in mind that the reforms should aim to:
lead to more meaningful work;
look to the future, not the past;
enhance Parliament’s oversight of government activity;
enhance Parliament’s contribution to policy debates;
strike a balance between the adversarial and the consensual aspects of our democratic system;
focus on committees as an immediate priority;
make Parliamentarians knowledge-brokers; and
strike a new bargain between Parliament and the public service.
That is, in short, the Parliament we want. Parliamentarians ask, and Canadians deserve, nothing less.
Why has nothing changed, nothing improved? 12 years and Parliament has digressed.