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, June 17, 2018

New Report on the State of our Democracy.

The Samara Centre for Democracy interviewed 54 former MPs from the last Parliament about their experience in Ottawa and found many of them questioning the very purpose of being an MP in an era when political power is concentrated in the hands of party leaders. The Samara Centre is a non-partisan charity working to improve Canadian politics.

The study focuses on the 41st Parliament, which ran from 2011 to 2015 and was led by Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s majority government.
The Justin Trudeau-led Liberal Party was elected to a majority government in 2015 on a platform that included promises to improve Parliament and make MPs more independent. The report notes there is anecdotal evidence from the current Parliament that many of the same problems remain.

Last year, Samara, with the assistance of the Canadian Association of Former Parliamen-
tarians, again reached out to past representatives—this time to MPs who had sat in the
41st Parliament (2011–2015) and who resigned or were defeated in the 2015 general

The interviews made one thing clear: the problem of a “job with no description” has not been solved. In some ways, it has worsened. Parliamentarians are more cut off from the essential work of scrutiny, legislation and representation than before. The couple of small extracts shown below are but a fraction of this 42 page report and whilst it reflects the situation at the end of Harpers time in power it is no less relevant to today's parliament.

Leaders have grown in strength and capacity relative to the party caucus.
Unelected staffers to the leader—the “boys (and girls) in short pants”—carefully manage the party brand. As the MPs in our first round of interviews explained, any dissent from the party leadership is rare, inconsequential and swiftly punished. Step out of line, even on an ostensibly free vote, and “your name’s now on somebody’s hit list,”

The last Parliament saw by far the most use of time allocation since the tool was introduced permanently in 1968—more than double the previous high-water mark. But the problem has hardly resolved itself. In fact, the current Parliament is easily on track to see the second most frequent use of time allocation. (The term “time allocation” suggests primarily the idea of time management, but the government may use a time allocation motion as a guillotine. In fact, although the rule allows the government to negotiate with opposition parties on the adoption of a timetable for the consideration of a bill , it also allows the government to impose strict limits on the time for debate. )

Committees are the best and most urgent site for reform.”

Not only are considerable parliamentary time and resources already dedicated to them, but committees also offer the best promise to empower MPs.
Committees might never be must-watch television. But they can be home to the kind of politics citizens often say they want: cross-partisan, substantive, evidence-based, civil and accessible. They could also provide a neat “package” for supporting the independence and thoughtfulness of Mps

As one MP described, before committee met, “They have precommittee meetings. And that’s not when you discuss what’s going to happen in committee. You are told
what’s going to happen in committee. And the [party] staff is all too happy to provide backbenchers with questions to ask.”

In 2018, it’s urgent that Canadians rehabilitate representative democracy as the middle
ground between daily referendums and government by unchecked elites. At the centre of
representative democracy are the representatives themselves—the critical link between
citizens and their democratic institutions.

Parliament is degraded, and as one former MP put it: “We don’t have a democracy, outside of that institution.” An intervention is needed.

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Lorne said...

I am always left discouraged after reading such reports, Rural. It seems that no matter what promise an aspirational prime minister makes, when the goal of power is achieved, it becomes clear that was really the only goal. And now, with an electorate insisting on their own personal checkbook agendas being served, as in the election of Doug Ford in Ontario, it seems that true democracy is becoming an increasingly elusive goal.

Take a look at this piece by Jamie Watt to see what I mean: https://www.thestar.com/opinion/star-columnists/2018/06/17/why-voters-were-attracted-to-doug-ford.html

Owen Gray said...

The authoritarian impulse is growing, Rural. And the stronger it gets, the worse will be the outcomes.