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

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Democracy Suspended, Now What?

Having been trying to make Canadians aware of the fragile state of our democracy and the manner in which our parliament does or should work in these pages for almost a year now, I am delighted with the increased interest brought on by the prorogue this time around. It was the precedent set by the avoiding of a confidence vote and a possible coalition government by the Harper regime in proroguing parliament in Dec of 2008 that got me started on this journey.

I am pleased to see the numbers on that facebook group growing daily and to see all the commentary and opinion at No Prorogue and many other blogs and newspaper articles.
Ok, so we are all “concerned”, BUT NOW WHAT? This cynical and unprecedented Prorogue is but a symptom of a far more serious malady.

Parliament will resume in due course, The Harper regime will table their budget, the opposition will vote for or against it, we will head for the polls - or not, the various committees and inquires will be reinstated - or not, the senate will be stacked with more partisan members - or not, the public outcry will be forgotten - or not. In short it will simply be business as usual. As many observers have said we need fundamental change both in the manner in which our parliament is operated and in the manner in which we select its members. That can only come about when our representatives have the incentive and guts to initiate that change, to believe that ANY party currently on holiday from the HoC will make any changes that would restrict their power and control over such matters without ongoing and strident call for reforms from the public is naïve.

Some have called for restrictions on how and when parliament can be suspended and that indeed would be a great first step, to put into law those unwritten conventions that up until recently governments took into consideration on this and other issues has now become a must if we are to continue to call our system of government a “parliamentary democracy”.

What follows are but a few ideas of where we should be headed, the big question is not so much whether the ideas are good or bad but how we get the process started. Let those few MPs who are not lapdogs to their party stand up and bring private members bills before the house to, as a minimum, get a process started, but of course we first need to get a functioning parliament back in operation to do that!.

These (highly shortened) clips from Colin LeFevre highlight some of the areas of concern….

Ties to British Monarchy. Honestly, why are we still a part of the monarchy? To me this makes no sense. The Governor General herself has proven the position redundant over the past year or so. She gives in to every request by the Prime Minister, costs taxpayers a fortune, and runs “ceremonial” events.

Our electoral system. Our current system consistently elects false majority governments, the last few aside. Often majority governments are elected with significantly less than a majority of the legitimate votes cast, making many Canadian votes mean essentially nothing

The Senate. There are generally three options I hear on this one. First, keep our current system. Second, elect our Senators, and realign where Senators come from in the country (equal representation). Third, simply abolish it.

MP’s job description. MP’s need to be more independent. They need to be able to do investigative research – not just depend on what the PMO will agree to release. They should actually be responsible to their constituencies because lets be honest, right now they are far more responsible to their party brass than to the constituents who they theoretically represent.

Number of MP’s. How many people can one person effectively represent? Is it more, less or the same as our MP’s currently are representing? Especially if their job is recalibrated to be more legitimately representative to their constituents this number may be significantly different.

Size, purpose, and power of cabinet. We have a very powerful executive in Canada. (To) look at its size, purpose, and specifically power would be a very good use of time. The cabinet needs to remember that it is indeed responsible to the legislature, but historically has not always done this.

House of Commons procedure. We need to look at who holds decision-making power over procedures like proroguing Parliament, and why. Should there be a majority vote of the House of Commons needed? In any case, there needs to be serious discussion into placing limits and rules surrounding these procedures.

Coalition governments. They actually allow a minority government to function because you can have a majority of MP’s on the same page. We could actually have stable and long lasting minority governments if a coalition was an option to Canadian political parties. We as Canadians need to accept that this is a legitimate option.

Set election dates. This of course comes with challenges when it comes to minority governments, but if we effectively move forward with democratic reform minority governments should be much more stable, like in most of the world, thus making set election dates possible.

As one observer said “The public may be in no mood for a complete ‘constitutional’ overhaul, but they are clearly against the frequent and lengthy suspension of parliament at the whim of a minority government.” He suggests this approach….

1. Given that all bills and motions must be ratified by a majority vote in the House of Commons, therefore so must the prorogation of parliament meet this essential condition.
2. Given that the members of parliament are elected democratically to represent their constituents to the best of their ability in a full-time capacity, the cessation of parliament known as prorogation may only be enacted once per calendar year, and for a period no longer than forty-five days.
3. Respecting the above as having the equivalent to force of law, the Governor General of Canada is required to neither respond nor agree to a request to prorogue parliament that does not meet both these conditions, one and two (above).
4. Likewise the privy counsel or any other representative of the House of Commons who makes a request to the Governor General to prorogue parliament that does not meet both above conditions, one and two, shall be considered in contempt of parliament.

Finally here are some extracts from my own proposals first published over a year ago before this blog was started and before the Harper regimes first (successful) attempt to dodge due process in the HoC.

Whereas our Prime minister has called a previous session of this house “dysfunctional” and increased partisanship by all parties both in the house and in committee has had a profound effect upon the orderly conduct of the business of the house.

And whereas many of the rules and conventions of conduct with the House are unclear, unwritten or unknown by both the public and those within the House.

And whereas even when such rules and conventions are broken by our elected representatives or their agents there are few, if any, penalties for such action.

Be it resolved that:-
This house immediately form a citizens assembly consisting of representatives from all political partys, constitutional experts and interested citizens from across Canada to examine and codify the existing rules and conventions of our parliamentary democracy.

Further this assembly shall have the mandate to recommend changes to said rules and conventions and propose specific penalties for those who do not respect said rules and conventions once clearly identified and formally adopted by this House.

This assembly shall have the authority to examine and recommend changes to, but not limited to, the use of whipped votes, the use of votes of confidence, the chairing of committees and the conduct within same, the conduct of members during question period, members mailing and expense privileges, the use of proroguing parliament, the power vested in the office of the prime minister, and other such areas of our democratic processes as it deems necessary to examine.

The assembly may also consider whether the house needs to take such measures as are necessary to initiate an examination of our method of selecting our members of parliament, the funding and informational processes of prospective candidates and partys, and make recommendations as to how such measures should proceed if they deem it necessary for such examination to take place.

The assembly shall make available to all citizens of Canada the opportunity to comment upon such changes and penalties that they may be considering on an ongoing basis. The results of their studies shall be regularly published and available to all citizens in a timely manner throughout the process. Every effort should be made to make the process as open and non partisan as possible.

The assembly shall have the ability to request the assistance of such persons with specialized knowledge of the areas of study as they deem necessary and such support staff as are necessary to fulfill their mandate.

None of these things are easy to do, it will be a long process, nor will many of them find much favor from our established political partys, but if we are to remain a “democracy” then change things we must! Support Democracy - Recommend this Post at Progressive Bloggers


Skinny Dipper said...

I'm going to bookmark this page.

I do think we need to get rid of the British monarchy and replaced by either an elected president or one selected by Parliament. An elected or selected president would have the ability to act more independently of the prime minister of the day. While constitutional unanimity may be a barrier, I propose that if one, two, or three provinces wish to veto abolishing the monarchy, the rest of us should separate from Canada to form a new Republic of Canada. The other provinces may choose to join soon enough.

Next, Parliament should be given the power to participate through a vote on appointing people to the Supreme Court and other courts. The other provinces may opt to approve jointly also. For example, Quebec could approve its three judges. It would not necessarily nominate alone but jointly with Canada's parliament. A majority of the other provinces (without Quebec) could approve a Supreme Court nominee along with the Federal Parliament.

Parliament need to have more authority over requesting dissolution or the prorogation of Parliament. A vote would need to be required or strongly recommended. If a future prime minster alone requested the prorogation of Parliament, an independent-thinking president could ask if he or she got the approval of Parliament.

I hope people attend the anti-prorogation rallies on the 23rd. This is only the start of improving Canada's democracy.

Skinny Dipper said...

That should have been, "A majority of the other provinces (without Quebec) could approve a Supreme Court nominee along with the Federal Parliament for the other six positions."

Alan Goodhall said...

I've been following, and participating in, the facebook group over the course of the last couple of weeks. Participatory democracy is addictive. The group topped 200,000 last night and is still growing. Members have organized rallies, letter writing campaigns, posted thousands of links to share information and participated in over 1300 discussions. I am amazed at the civility displayed on the site and the desire to remain non partisan and stay focused on the prorogation issue and the responsibilities of our elected representatives.

I propose that positive changes will come to our democracy from the bottom up and not the top down. With our current FPP system of governance we know that changes we propose will not be adopted by a Liberal or a Conservative government if those changes weaken the party's hold on power, result in its loss of power or it's ability to retain power.

We the citizens must first make the change through the ballot box.

The really exciting thing I see taking place is that a massive number of people are learning that they can participate as individuals and influence change. We are learning that the individual vote does make a difference!

Are we witnessing a sea change in attitude? I hope so. I think the answer to that question is tied to the number of Canadians that participate in the rallies planned from coast to coast to coast for the 23rd - next Saturday.

I'm not going to count my chickens before they hatch. Let's check back in next Sunday!

Rural said...

Al said - Participatory democracy is addictive. …… The really exciting thing I see taking place is that a massive number of people are learning that they can participate as individuals and influence change.

And that my friend says it all. My header says “Democracy requires dialog” and if nothing else this has increased the level of dialog by factors of hundreds.