A blog to give a voice to our concern about the continued erosion of our democratic processes not only within the House of Commons and within our electoral system but also throughout our society. Here you will find articles about the current problems within our parliamentary democracy, about actions both good and bad by our elected representatives, about possible solutions, opinions and debate about the state of democracy in Canada, and about our roles/responsibilities as democratic citizens. We invite your thoughtful and polite comments upon our posts and ask those who wish to post longer articles or share ideas on this subject to submit them for inclusion as a guest post.
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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

MP or Party, Which comes first?

My last two posts have focused upon our electoral system and some aspects of the role of political parties, particularly up and coming ones and how they work within our current democracy.
I would like to examine how these two basics currently interact and how perhaps we should change the interaction to improve the accountability of the latter by changing the former.
The respondents to the forum on Public Consultations on Canada’s Democratic Institutions and Practices were of the opinion political parties are generally perceived as non-accountable, as neither good nor especially honest in communicating. Aspersions were cast on the quality, clarity, and ethical integrity of party platforms. At the same time they thought that that the Canadian electoral system,( how votes are counted and transformed into seats) is not sufficiently problematic to require fundamental change.

I beg to differ, in my view it is the lack of a system of selecting MP’s that holds them more accountable personally (as opposed to the party that they purport to represent) that is part of the whole lack of faith in the party system. This is made even worse by the power which the party hierarchy (it would seem) has over the individual Member, often instructing them how to vote on an issue on pain of expulsion from the party. The whole issue comes down to the question as to whom do we vote for, the person or the party. It is perhaps one of the most difficult questions to answer as with the ever increasing power of the political party (at least those currently with members in the HoC) the days of voting for the best man or woman for the job of representing your area is pretty much gone by the wayside. It has become a race to see who can regurgitate his or her’s party promises or “talking points” best, coupled with which party can spend the most on (often misleading) advertisements to “persuade” the public to vote for their party. Not you will note for a particular candidate.

So although it is the candidates name on that ballot I submit that as it stands now, in most cases, if the ballot simply listed the party little difference would be seen. This in my view is not democracy, or at least is a perversion that needs to be stopped, and soon, before the system evolves into a vote for the single dictator of your choice. The question then becomes how do we do this? I believe to only way is through the ballot box by changing the voting system to make the individual MP more important and more accountable to their constituents. One way to do this is to separate the MP’s vote from the Party vote so that citizens can vote for the best man or woman AND the party of their choice. Such a system was proposed in Ontario and failed miserably, mostly in my view due to a lack of understanding of the proposal and the existing partys, with their better access to news media, protecting their own interests and advocating against it.

We have seen in recent time how, when an MP votes or speaks out against his party in support of his constituents he or she is censured by that party, often to the point of expulsion. As an independent they have even less resources and influence available to them to do their job and, if trying to get reelected without the resources of a party hierarchy behind them, are headed for oblivion. This is clearly wrong, the funding available should have little bearing on who gets elected but this is clearly not the case. The per vote funding, the attack upon which recently was at least part of the cause for our “constitutional crisis”, goes a small way to even things out but does little to encourage “independent” MP’s, so it seems under the present system it is essential to belong to an established party. However a MP, who having been kicked out of one party joins another, is usually castigated for “crossing the floor” when trying to do the best for his constituents, with many saying that they voted for an MP of this party or that party and not the individual. If we are to ever return to a more democratic form of parliamentary representation then the power of the Party must be kerbed, it seems to me that the best way to do this is for the public to start voting for the person not the party and that any change in our electoral system that encourages that is a good thing.

Unfortunately a change to more proportional voting will not, in and off itself, make the day to day decisions made in our parliament more democratic. It may well make the selection of our representatives more democratic but that is of little use if those representatives follow like sheep the party line. One of the dangers of representation by population we must be aware of is that minorities cannot be overwhelmed by the majority. My own particular concern is that rural concerns will be ignored by the urban majority or for that matter that an under-populated province will be ignored more populous ones. But that whole issue is fodder for another post.

Expecting the political partys now in power or in opposition to press for parliamentary or electoral reform and to change the way in which they use their power over our elected representatives is akin to expecting the Fox to hatch the Hens eggs!! Support Democracy - Recommend this Post at Progressive Bloggers


Ken S from Ramara said...

I agree with the premise that our MPs prostitute themselves to their political masters. The exception being MP Bill Casey, who rightly sees his political master to be the constituents from his riding in NS. We all know the sacrifice Mr. Casey when he stood up to the PM!!! Greater freedom from political influence is why I support keeping our Senate, just reforming how one becomes a senator, removing this decision from the PM and apportioning proportionally using popular vote.

Rural said...

Ken, I agree, the Senate is an important part of the checks and balances upon abuse of our parliamentary system. I hope to cover that whole subject in future posts. Yes, Bill Casey is indeed a fine example of the sort of MPs we need, unfortunately it is almost impossible for an “independent” to have any meaningful input in the HoC! Oh dear! There is another whole subject to debate…..

Jennifer Smith said...

Oddly enough, in many ways elected representatives in the U.S. have more freedom to represent their constituents since votes in Congress and the Senate rarely fall strictly along party lines.