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.
Contact us at democracyunderfire@gmail.com

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Anatomy of Power

I am pleased to present this guest post by Senator Elaine McCoy.

As several previous posts have noted, problems inherent in our democratic system have come into much sharper focus in the aftermath of Mr. Harper's wanton prorogation this year. Happily, many more Canadians are now debating what might be done to fix the system. First, however, I believe we need to make sure we focus on the right question.

In my opinion, the right question is this: Why does the Prime Minister have so much power? The answer is quite simple: Because the House of Commons no longer holds the PM to account.

Easily enough said. But what do we really mean when we say the House of Commons has lost its power to restrain the Prime Minister? For that we need more than a sound bite, or even a short blog. Describing how the PM controls the Commons runs to about four pages, and that's without going into excessive detail. I know that because Thomas Hall (former clerk of the House of Commons) and Bill Stanbury (political science professor) published just such a description last week in the Hill Times. With their permission, a copy of The incredible decline of Parliament is reproduced here for your reading pleasure. (Please note that I was unable to attach the PDF to this blogger post but if you have difficulty seeing it at the above link contact me and I will send you a copy. – Rural)

With this anatomy of power in mind, we can begin to focus on fixing the wounds. The ultimate answer, in my view, is shifting power back to the MPs. MPs with backbone, not back benchers, could deliver a properly functioning House of Commons. Of course, I recognize this won't happen anytime soon. Which is why I've said an independent, appointed Senate could (ironically enough) be Canada's last best hope for democracy. For now, I'll leave you to mull that over … but consider this: if what we need is a group dedicated to public service who can speak truth to power, then we'd best find a way to insulate them from the pernicious influence of rapacious power seekers. A Senate appointed by some means other than the PM would fit the bill quite nicely.

Senator Elaine McCoy was appointed to the Senate of Canada by the Rt. Hon. Paul Martin on March 24, 2005. Senator McCoy is a lawyer and former Alberta cabinet minister with thirty years professional experience in regulation and policy development in both the private and public sectors.
Since being appointed to the Senate, Senator McCoy has been an influential voice for the role of the individual Senator, for effective Senate reform, for an inclusive federation and the role of Alberta in Canada. Senator McCoy broke new ground with her website,
www.albertasenator.ca as the only member of the Senate of Canada who regularly blogs on her experiences in Ottawa and the political issues of the day.

Here are some brief extracts from the Hill Times article but do read the whole thing it is most instructive!

The decline of Parliament beyond its designed role has been due to the opportunistic behaviour of all Prime Ministers beginning with Pierre Trudeau (and perhaps earlier). It has coincided with the rise of what Prof. Donald Savoie calls "court government." Prime Minister Harper has shown aggravated disrespect for Parliament in many ways (see Stanbury, The Hill Times, Jan.11, 2010). The focus of this piece is on how the Canadian version of the Westminster model gives the PM (and his/her close advisers and associates—the king and his court) so much potential control over Parliament.

The design of the Canadian variant of the Westminster model of government gives the Prime
Minister—the head of the executive—the possibility of exercising a great deal of control over Parliament. Stephen Harper is just one in a long line of PMs who have exploited this opportunity and in the process have gradually weakened Parliament—particularly the House of Commons—a very great deal. It might be argued that this is a natural outcome of responsible government: if the Government is going to be responsible to, and subject to the support of the House, then it will naturally try to ensure continuing support by dominating the House. Perhaps—but the time for changing the balance is now.
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