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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Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Parliamentary Sideshow.

Often the search for those within government who truly support democracy seems all but futile but once in a while a bright light shines out. One such recent brilliant moment came from David Chudnovsky, NDP MLA in the BC legislature shortly before it shut down for the recent election. His remarks to that body are unfortunately all too accurate, would that all our MLA’s, MPP’s, and MP’s across the country take note and then DO something about it.

Here is an extract from his remarks courtesy of the BC-STV website

“... Madam Speaker, I've spent four years here, so it seems to me I have the right and, I think, the responsibility to say some things about this Legislature and how it works — or doesn't work. If the people of the province actually spent some of their time watching us here, they'd be appalled. Every one of us knows that. It's not just that we heckle and yell at one another. It's much more fundamental than that.

They sent us here to govern, and we don't. Everybody who works here knows that the real governing takes place in the Premier's office with a few handpicked friends and advisers. That's not just this government. I'm not talking about just this government.

We here in this chamber are a kind of sideshow — an important sideshow but a sideshow nonetheless. We're part of the show that results in the choice of the next Premier in whose office the small group of advisers will again make the important decisions.

Who's winning question period? What's the tone in the Legislature? Who's made the best quips this week? Add those questions to the results of the latest polling and the opinions of a few pundits, and presto, we have what passes for politics in British Columbia. Rather than substance, this chamber is filled with sound and sometimes fury, but it signifies not very much.

The people sent us here to listen to one another, but we don't. They sent us here to negotiate with one another, but we don't. They sent us here, every one of us, to advise government, to take the debate seriously and to be taken seriously, but we don't. That's mostly because the debate hardly matters.”

He goes on to say that Party discipline should not be invoked for anything other than “matters of confidence” and that some form of proportional voting would do much to ensure that all views are better represented in the legislature. Having been making these points for some time now about our federal legislature, I am encouraged by an elected representative actually saying it in one of our country’s legislature’s. Then there is the recent newsletter from the Greens reminding me that there are others who recognise this problem and who seek to change the status quo if only we will give them a chance.

From the Green Party Newsletter
No one who loves Canada and its proud democratic traditions can be anything but horrified at the wretched state of our political institutions. Vision, leadership and any coherent sense of direction have ceased to exist.Parliament and its committees are a national disgrace—verbal free-for-alls where the partisan tribes congregate to taunt and bray at each other. There is no debate worthy of the name and hardly any policy even worth debating. Cabinet ministers move their mouths but everyone knows that it's Stephen Harper and his advisers pulling the strings.

The old-line political parties cling to the archaic first-past-the-post voting system that sustains them, conveniently ignoring the fact that it mocks democracy by effectively disenfranchising millions of Canadians and crushing political diversity.And still after every federal election there are post mortems into why voter turnout has declined yet again; why young people in particular feel increasingly alienated from politics, politicians and their government.

It's time to turn back this rising tide of cynicism and apathy. Our democracy is worth fighting for and we must act quickly and decisively to restore public confidence in our political institutions.The Green Party believes that the old partisan battles of left against right are yesterday's politics. Good government in the 21st century is not about what divides us, but what brings us together to accomplish the things that we cannot do alone.We want to restore respect, dignity and statesmanship to our houses of parliament. We want a fair voting system that reflects the will of the people, not the survival instincts of a few old political parties.Most of all, we want a government that works for us, the people—a government we can be proud of again.

Let me be clear here, we here try to be as non partisan as possible in promoting democracy but it is clear (at least to me) that the national Greens are the only political party who have expressed any real concern for what is happening in our legislatures across the country. Witness the following extracts from their “platform”, a direction which seems to be almost the complete opposite of where things are headed right now..

Green MPs will work to:
· Amend the Accountability Act to ensure that all those who monitor government are selected at arms length from those they monitor, to eliminate the blanket exemptions on public release of government documents and to guarantee transparency and openness for all government activities.
· Restore Parliamentary Committees as a vehicle for non-partisan, constructive improvement of legislation and require that the improved version of such legislation be the version put to Parliament for vote.
· Enact effective whistle-blower protection for public and private sector employees.
· Institute a code of conduct and an independent complaints process to ensure that tax dollars are not used for pre-election partisan purposes.
· Institute mandatory training in ethics for MPs and their staffs, requiring all MPs and staff to take in-house training on the basics of good management and ethics in Parliament.
· Reform the appointments system to discourage patronage by establishing an independent agency for ensuring that appointments to government tribunals, boards and senior positions are done through a qualification-based process and are not politically motivated patronage appointments
· Strengthen the mandates of Independent Officers of Parliament, including the Auditor General and the Information Commissioner.
· Implement stand-alone legislation to create an independent Commissioner on the Environment and Sustainable Development, removing the office from that of subservience to the Auditor General.
· Replace the current Ethics Commissioner, who reports privately to the Prime Minister, with an independent Ethics Commission reporting to Parliament and appointed through a merit-based process with strong powers to investigate government officials and lobbyists.
· Provide parliamentarians with independent regulatory audits through the Auditor General’s office on the effectiveness of government regulations in meeting their stated public purposes.
· Make service improvements a higher priority for all agencies and departments, with systematic citizen feedback and a schedule for periodic program review.
· Require the independence of public sector employees who oversee industry, such as those responsible for such areas as fisheries science and drug licensing, from those industries.
· Require long-term public departmental service plans to report on government program purposes, costs, reforms and performance.
· Strengthen the rules of conduct for lobbying. All lobbyists’ contacts with politicians and government bureaucrats both formal and informal must be reported and made public.

I cannot see anyone who cares about our democracy NOT wanting those things (and much more along the same lines) and as without such protections all else is rather meaningless, such “platforms” are very actractive irregardless of other ideas which I may not embrace with such entheusium. Support Democracy - Recommend this Post at Progressive Bloggers


Jennifer Smith said...

There do appear to be more and more people speaking out about this, and it's slowly filtering into the media. Last Sunday Michael Enright interviewed Elizabeth May, Garth Turner and James Travers on CBC Radio about what's wrong with our democracy (here's the podcast). They disagreed somewhat on the cure, but all agreed on the causes and the symptoms.

Ms. M said...

Wow - fabulous interview - thanks for that podcast link.

It's all so shocking when you see it the way it really is; we have a P.M. behaving totally undemocratically and we, the basically ignorant public, letting him get away with it. One has to wonder "what in the hell is going on?" I keep asking myself this with regards to BC politics as well. Our premier, now winning his 3rd term in office, who in the first term was caught breaking a law (drinking and driving) and everyone turning the other way: What the hell? It wasn't that he broke a law in his past - he did it while in office. Much as Harper breaks laws and we do nothing. What is wrong with us? That interview does leave one large gap though - none of the speakers address how our political system has been corrupted by corporate power, that parliament is a side-show being run to distract us from the real corporate/political agendas which are unfolding behind closed doors. And what has happened to us is this: we have been "consumerized" into automatons just trying to pay our mortgages.

Rural said...

Garth was indeed a great promoter of democracy and openness and accountability in government via his blog and his townhalls during his time as an MP. That would indeed be an interesting conversation. Unfortunately my dialup speeds make it hard to download a podcast so I will have to take your word for it! I wonder if there is a transcript anywhere?