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, July 26, 2009

MPs Background & Behavior

There have been two articles of note recently, the first deals with the background and quality of our MPs, the second with the behavior of them in the HoC or more particularly the exemption from prosecution for lying and making personal attacks on other members whilst in that house.

It seems to me that these things are connected, for if we had principled and honest politicians who engaged in debate about the proposed legislation and refrained from personal attacks and stuck to the facts then the debate about “parliamentary privilege” (or the ability to lie and defame in the house without repercussions) would be moot. We all know that this is not the case, it seems that the MPs who are appointed to cabinet or to an opposition portfolio are the ones that are prepared to ignore the facts and spew innuendo and lies in order to further their partisan point of view. The honest MP is relegated to the back benches, given few opportunities to speak and if (gasp) he or she should speak a truth that does not coincide with the party spin risks expulsion to the back corner to sit as an independent.

Jennifer over at Runesmith wonders if their background has a bearing on their behavior and decisions, she notes that in Ontario almost half our MPs come from a corporate background and goes on to say…..

“Corporations have their place I suppose, but here's the thing: you CANNOT run a government like a corporation. You just can't. You can sort of run it like a business because real businesses provide tangible goods and services, and frequently measure success by something other than pure profit.Corporations exist to make money for their shareholders. Period. They don't have to care about the people they employ or the communities they set up shop in or the products they produce, except to the extent that these considerations might impact their quarterly statement.Governments are in many ways the exact opposite of corporations because their primary purpose is to provide services and other tangible benefits to the public. They accomplish this using the taxpayers' own money and so are obligated not to waste it or spend it frivolously, but it's understood that any given government program or service is not necessarily going to be 'profitable'. Many are distinctly unprofitable and inefficient by corporate standards - but they are also carefully regulated and made accessible to all according to their need. The measure of their success is public benefit, not profit.”

I must agree but also wonder what would happen if these corporate types used the same methods and rhetoric in the board room exactly how long they would be there. The only reason that this childish behavior continues is because their are no repercussions, it has become acceptable for our politicians to attack the individual rather than debate the subject. Devlin Johnson has this to say….

”Perhaps the time has come to re-think Parliamentary privilege. Undoubtedly, it will survive in one form or another; after all, there is considerable evidence to suggest that it is an essential component of a free and open democracy. On the other hand, absolute privilege is an invitation to discourteous comments and unfounded accusations. I think that we are living in an age in which the risk of Members of Parliament being arrest for proposing legislation is low, while the risk of the Members of Parliament spreading vicious rumors about one another is high. To that end, perhaps it is time to ease up on Parliamentary privilege in order to make it more responsive to the needs and challenges of contemporary political reality.
Parliamentary privilege should be broad enough that it protects what is integral to democracy and accountability, but narrow enough that there is a disincentive to act like children.”

He has also included a little history of the way parliamentary privilege came to be, we inherited it from the British where they recently attempted to change the rules without success……

“There was plenty of criticism of an early proposal which would have allowed MPs' words in the Commons - now protected by Parliamentary privilege - to have been used against them in court. As worded, the original bill said "no enactment or rule of law which prevents proceedings in Parliament being impeached or questioned in any court" should stop "any evidence from being admissible in proceedings" against MPs accused of breaking rules. It was not just MPs who had their doubts. The most senior official in the Commons, Malcolm Jack, warned it could have a "chilling effect" on MPs' freedom of speech. The government stuck with it but were defeated when more than 20 Labour MPs rebelled to vote against it “

Seems to me that we need both a better class of MP, and I don’t mean more lawyers and teachers but honest and principled individuals, AND better rules to ensure real consequences for those who would use lies and personal attacks to sidestep real debate. The first is, in part, up to us at the voting booth, the second requires a majority of MPs to want such a change. I am not holding my breath for either to happen any time soon. Support Democracy - Recommend this Post at Progressive Bloggers

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