"A Citizen"s Eye View"

Saturday, September 1, 2012

308 Independent MPs -Canada Needs More Than Just Electoral Reform

Much has been written about the need for electoral reform in Canada. I first started hearing about it during the Chretien years when the Liberal Party won successive majority governments while achieving less than 50% of the popular vote. But the notion has really come to a head with The Conservative Party of Canada having won it's recent majority government with slightly less than 38% of the popular vote. 

The skillful use of Smoke and Mirrors:
First Past the Post

Stephen Harper and the CPC were able to use skillful campaigning, a tightly controlled message aimed at a targeted number of "swing-ridings" in vote rich Ontario as well as ethically questionable tactics borrowed from the well financed Republican Party in the States to manipulate our "First Past the Post" electoral system into it's first majority government. And the CPC are using their majority of seats like a blunt force object to hammer away at Canada and it's socially and democratically responsible system of governance. All of which has left the 62% (+/-) of us who did not ask for this majority, wringing our hands and feeling quite helpless in the face of the Harper Juggernaut. We look to tomorrow and see a Canada that is considerably less kind and gentle while appearing to be much poorer (both financially as well as morally) and increasingly careless and callous with our environment. 

So as a result, many Canadians are now organizing and advocating for a fairer electoral system, one that is less likely to be manipulated by overenthusiastic, pimple-faced, morally bankrupt, backroom, political zealots.... and their object of worship. A system in which each vote counts and our Parliament is more reflective of the will of the majority of people rather than the will of the well connected and the bamboozled minority.  This is referred to as "Proportional Representation"  and such high-profile politicians as Stephane Dion and Elizabeth May are adding their voices to the growing number of advocates. "Fair Vote Canada" has been one of the most vocal and well organized groups promoting Proportional Representation. 

The Complications of Proportional Representation:

The Honorable
Stephane Dion
Now there have been a number of "Proportional Representation" Models devised by people much wiser than myself. On the surface of it, one would think that this would not be such a complicated task. But alas, this is not the case. Fair Vote Canada advocates for three such systems: List Systems, Mixed Member Proportional Systems and Single Transferable Vote.  The Honorable Stephane Dion has devised a fourth system referred to as "P3". With out going into great detail (readers can check out the links for themselves) it seems that each system requires such things as multiple lists of candidates from competing parties, prioritizing and ranking of candidates and complicated "formulas"  (for the mathematically challenged among us like myself) . Mr. Dion proposes having more than one MP, perhaps as many as five in each riding. Needless to say, compared to our relatively "easy" First-Past-The-Post system, these alternatives can seem rather confusing and complicated. 

Despite the apparent complication of these Proportional systems, several countries in the world, such s Brazil, Australia, Israel and Russia already employ such systems. Their effectiveness however, is open to conjecture. Canada has dabbled with introducing these systems at the the Provincial level (British Columbia and Ontario) but they have been met with reluctance from the electorate. 

One possible benefit of these systems is the elimination of majority governments (again, whether or not this is seen as a benefit is a matter of opinion). This possibility would certainly eliminate heavy-handed governments such as the CPC in the future.  But as we saw when Harper had a minority Government, he simply stacked the Senate with Conservative Cronies, there-by ensuring his "will would be done" anyway. 

Is Electoral Reform Alone the Answer?

Canadian MPs  Influenced More By the Party Whip
Than By their Constituents.
It would seem then, that what ails our democracy here in Canada the most, is not so much our electoral system but the rabid partisanship of our political parties. It is becoming increasingly apparent that genuine political debate is becoming a thing of the past and that rhetoric and character assassination have become the order of the day. And it would seem that, as displayed by the number of "whipped" votes that occur in Parliament, MPs are no longer free to vote their conscience and that back-benchers, as seen in the C-38 fiasco, have been reduced to nothing but cheerleaders. The best interests of parties seems to be more important in Ottawa now than the best interest of the country. This may have been the case to a certain extent for quite some time, but this rabid partisanship seems to have been personified by the CPC. 

What I therefore suggest; and I realize that in this current political climate, it is a "pie in the sky" scenario, is that for the sake of democracy and the sake of the country, political parties be eliminated. We could then keep our rather simplistic "First Past The Post" system but each of the 308 ridings in Canada would elect a 100% independent Member of Parliament, each one free to vote his or her's conscience and/or according to the will of the people in their respective ridings. 

A Partyless Democracy:

Hyper-Partisan Rhetoric
There are no major democratic countries in the world that operate with out political parties and some observers might suggest that a country that functions with out political parties might be more open to degenerating into a totalitarian state or one that is influenced more by other external forces rather than the will of the people. I would argue however that this would be less likely to happen in a country with a strong democratic tradition and an engaged electorate. 

But democracies can and do operate on smaller scales without parties, including right here in Canada. In most Canadian municipalities, party affiliation is largely non-existent (unless you happen to live in Toronto where the current mayor is known to go fishing with the Prime Minister). In cities such as my home town of Hamilton Ontario, Councillors and the Mayor are elected on their individual merits rather than on party affiliations. While there might be "voting blocks" in Council from time to time, they usually arise as a result of individual issues and have nothing what so ever to do with party affiliations or allegiances. 

In the Canadian Territories of Nunavut and the North-West Territory, these governments, unlike the governments of the 10 Provinces, function completely with out political parties. The Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) are elected in each of the ridings and they in turn, chose first the Speaker of the House, then the Premier and then the  Cabinet Ministers. The remaining MLAs are then seen as the "opposition".  

So while there are no large scale examples of a "Partyless Democracy" there is no reason why it couldn't work in a country the size of Canada. It is acknowledged that it would certainly take several years to "wean" current politicians off of their respective party allegiances and that unofficial "voting blocks" could be formed in the House. But as with politics at the municipal level, they would most likely arise on a situation by situation basis rather than on an ongoing, permanent  basis. 

How it Might Work:

Whether The Prime Minister and Cabinet are selected in the same manner as in the Territorial models, by the individual members of the House, or the Prime Minister is elected on the same ballot as the MPs in each riding as with the municipal model, depends on how much direct say  the electorate wishes to have in the selection process. If the PM were selected by the House, he/she would constantly be subject to the confidence of the House as with minority governments today.If Parliament selects the Prime Minister and he or she fails to maintain the confidence of the House, they could be replaced by Parliament with out having to consult with the Governor General or going to the Polls. A single four or five year Parliamentary cycle then, could see more than one Prime Minister. As such,the Prime Minister and Cabinet are wholly accountable to Parliament rather than the opposite such as we have today and their continuation in their elected capacities would depend entirely on their performance. 

I would also suggest that selection of Cabinet Ministers and the Speaker would be best left up to the Members of the House as it would be far too complicated and unwieldy a task for each to be chosen by the electorate. And I would suggest that, rather than being chosen by the Prime Minister, having the Cabinet Ministers chosen by the House would be more efficient and would make each Minister more accountable to his peers. It would keep the Cabinet more balanced and eliminate the  possibility of the PM selecting his own cronies. 
Elizabeth May

Another added bonus of a "Partyless" system would be that single hard working MPs would have an equal opportunity of becoming Prime Minister. For example, one of the hardest working Parliamentarians in the House today is Elizabeth May. But because she is not the leader of one of the three main party's, it is virtually impossible for her to become Prime Minister under our current system of Government unless she jumps ship and joins a "winning team". In a Parliament with out parties, Ms. May would have as good an opportunity to become Prime Minister as any other skilled MP.

Oh, and since the Senate was formed primarily as a "House of Sober Second Thought" to offset possible partisanship attached to any legislation passed by the Lower House, There would no longer be any need for the Red Chamber. Party Partisanship would be eliminated and each and every MP would then be equally important and have a voice in the House. And each would ultimately be accountable to their constituents rather than to the party or to the "Non Elected" muscle of the PMO. 

Democratic Reform will not be just Handed to us:

We cannot count on our current politicians to willingly give up the system we have now. It is up to Canadian citizens to demand this kind of change. We must be the ones to pressure our elected officials to give up the "Old Boy's Clubs" that currently inhabits Parliament Hill. But if the pressure is hard enough and sustained enough at the constituency level and enough candidates choose to run as Independents, Canada may yet come to see the birth of a democracy that could well  be the envy of the world. 

308 Independent MPs, Each one equal,
Each one Accountable