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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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Whither Democracy in Canada?

I found this piece by former long time MP David Kilgour some time ago and have previously posted it elsewhere but it is well worth repeating. It echoes my views as to the “party” system as it exists today. Despite being several years old it is perhaps even more relevant today. That Mr Kilgour served in both the Conservative and Liberal partys as well as an independent give even more weight to his contention that “Canadian democracy itself would benefit if we put our present mind-numbing party discipline where it belongs - in the history books.”

The following are but a few excerpts in which I have shamelessly picked out the bits which cut to the chase. I will have a little more to say about the Electorial reform and Party influence in my next post. Meanwhile this man has lived it and his views should be required reading for democracy supporters.

From Notes for Talk by Hon. David Kilgour, MP
16 March 2005
A representative democracy is supposed to function as a means for the nationals of a country to voice their opinions and concerns. MP’s, MLA’s etc are elected by constituents to represent their interests. They can only maintain legitimacy by acting in accordance with the wishes of their electorate most, if not all of the time.

In our current electoral system, the ability of an elected official in government to represent constituents is seriously impaired by the high degree of party discipline prevalent in the Canadian system since about 1900. Some degree of party discipline is necessary in order to maintain the coherence of political parties as viable institutions; this should not preclude an elected person’s ability to represent their constituents.

Currently, the role of the member as a representative is seriously compromised by the fact that the real political power lies with the Prime Minister of the day. The Prime Minister has the power to dismiss a member of his caucus at any time; to make all cabinet appointments, all appointments to the senate, to the Supreme Court; all ambassadors to name but a few. The combination of the Prime Minister’s explicit power to discipline through censure or expulsion; and the implicit power to discipline through denial of cabinet appointments, or other appointments creates an environment in which it is severely disadvantageous for caucus members to deviate from any agenda set by the Prime Minister……………………………….

The threat of being expelled creates a major dilemma for the MP or MLA whose greatest desire is to be faithful in their service to their electorate.

An expelled MP is forced to sit as an independent and is virtually excommunicated from the political process. He/she must try and conduct their work with severely diminished resources and an extremely limited procedural ability to ask a question or raise an issue in the House of Commons, which diminishes their ability to serve their constituents. Such members have little means of influencing government policy to the benefit of their constituents in any way because they can no longer count of the support of their former party. While true that any non-cabinet member has the right to put forward a private member’s bill, this ability is of little practical value………………………

It is very difficult for an MP to vote against any piece of government legislation that the governing party has designated as a matter of confidence even though one’s constituents are not in favour of it. One is faced with a choice in which their ability to serve as representative is undermined regardless of what choices they made. If one toes the party line on a piece of legislation their constituents have deemed undesirable, you lose the faith and trust of their electors and are seen as a political figure that lacks legitimacy. If one obeys the wishes of their constituents, one’s ability to serve them becomes severely constrained as a result of being dismissed from their political party………………………….

Another important consequence of the current system is that it often effectively closes the door to any sort of cooperative efforts in the policy-making realm among parties. Where parties dominate the process as they do now, there is no real forum for substantive policy dialogue to take place among members of different parties when one has a majority……………………………
(Or it would seem when one has a minority! Rural)

If we are to continue to have a vibrant democracy in Canada it is clear that the relaxation of party discipline and the facilitation of greater opportunities for free votes will go a long way toward increasing the degree of engagement that Canadian citizens now have with the political process.

Canadians will feel that our elected representatives have a greater degree of accountability toward them as opposed to their party if a member is empowered by having the ability to vote in ways that accord with the wishes of their constituents on a regular basis. This will be an important step in reversing voter apathy. Increased accountability of MP’s to constituents will increase the degree of engagement Canadians have with the political process; it will encourage them to get more involved not only at election times but in between as well…………………….

If party discipline is relaxed, representation for all areas of Canada would be improved. It would be easier for, say, Western MPs to defy their party establishments, if need be, in support of Western issues. Coalitions composed of members of all parties could exist for the purpose of working together on issues of common regional or other concern. The present adversarial attitudes and structures of Parliament or legislatures in which opposition parties oppose virtually anything a government proposes might change in the direction of all parties working together for the national good.

At present, few government and opposition MPs have any real opportunity to put constituents first in votes in the House of Commons. Real power is concentrated in the hands of the three party leaderships. Canadian democracy itself would benefit if we put our present mind-numbing party discipline where it belongs - in the history books.

David Kilgour was one of the two longest-serving MPs in the House of Commons for the 38th Parliament. First elected in 1979 in the riding of Edmonton Strathcona, he was re-elected seven times. Support Democracy - Recommend this Post at Progressive Bloggers


NL-ExPatriate said...

Our federation has become a TYRANNY OF THE MAJORITY where all of the national parties are for all intensive purposes PROXY parties for the Upper Lower canada 66% majority.

The party line for all of the national parties is to do what's in the best interest of the majority of the canadian population and due to the cause and effect of our Per Capita Colonialist system 181/308 possible seats are in Ontario and Quebec.

What we need is some party or body that will fight for whats in the best interest of the majority of the members provinces in this federation.

That is what the Senate was originally supposed to do but it is nothing but a joke and an extension of the partisan tyranny of the majority political system.

We need a Equal, Functionally bilingual Senate, appointed by the provinces to represent the provinces and promote a vision for the federation to compete with the vision for the majority of the population that all of the political parties are forced to have if they want any chance of ever getting into power.

Then there is our First Past the Post Electoral system which is outdated ill suited for more than a two party system which discourages good democratic involvement and won't permit change.


Rural said...

Even as one of those “Upper Canadians” I too as a rural citizen often feel disenfranchised by the overwhelming number of city voters, unfortunately even electoral reform cannot guarantee that minorities of all stripes be they “east coasters”, rural citizens or other groups get a fair shake. Supporting and enhancing the autonomy of LOCAL government seems to be the only answer to these region disparities.

And yes, I too support a strong, non partisan chamber of sober second thought in order to keep the government of the day “in line”!