RIP: Responsible Democracy 1848-2006 #Cdnpoli

This is the new and improved post partisan Ed Stephens. I have come to the decision that I can no longer be in the Liberal Party of Canada, nor in fact any political party. At the risk of losing friends and Twitter followers, party politics as practiced today is destroying Canada, Canadian Democracy and Responsible Government. Actually party politics has killed responsible democracy, as has media concentration poor education systems and lazy citizens.

The Upper and Lower Canada Rebellions were, in part, because a cadre of favourites surrounded the Governors and dictated the agenda. In Upper Canada this group became known as the Family Compact. The British Army and Canadian Militia responded with overwhelming force to put down the rebellions but the Crown and British government commissioned a report into the causes. It was Nova Scotia who benefited first, in 1848 the province’s governance was overseen by the legislature. Each member of the legislature was there to hold the executive to account and was accountable to the riding that returned them. A system already evolving in England thanks to the Great Reform Acts.

The system of Responsible government known as the Westminister is not perfect. Churchill said it was the worst system unless compared with all others. It was designed that members of parliament/legislature chose from amongst themselves a first among equals. The person who commanded the most confidence in his peers was asked by the Sovereign/Governor General to form a government. At one time to join cabinet you had to resign the seat and run in a bi-election seeking permission from constituents. At any given moment the confidence of the house could be legitimately withdrawn and a new first among equals could be chosen or new elections held.

Let’s be honest, responsible government was on life support for decades. Abuse after abuse has been allowed to slip through until party power was paramount and party leaders anointed with near absolute power. By 1997 one man in a speech likened Parliament to a mere electoral college that didn’t dissolve itself, in 2006 that man became Prime Minister. With one election Canada was back to the Family Compact. Stephen Harper can not be blamed for killing our democracy for he just administered the merciful coup de gras. There was no time for a funeral because the cover up and the need to destroy the professional civil service were to pressing.

The other parties are also to blame, the choices have long been what Family Compact do you want ignoring you? The New Democrats believe so strongly the party is all powerful and knowing that to leave it constitutes a crime against voters. The Liberals are so dysfunctional in communications that all decisions have to be made in the leaders office. To get policy in any of the big parties to be considered it has to be generated by central control. Even elected members have trouble voicing their ideas unless they fit the leaders’ agenda.

How do leaders get away with the abuse of power? Through the myth of direct democracy, all the appearance of being elected with none of the corresponding accountability to worry about. Add the nomination papers of every candidate needing the leader’s signature and you end up with weak, useless members of parliament and a revolving door between the Prime Minister’s Office and lobbying interests. Lately a faint hope is appearing in a potential Conservative revolt but will likely end with a few patronage appointments and perhaps a MP demoted to speed bump.

I used to think Canadian politics could be saved by proportional representation but it will only strengthen party elites and leaders’ power. Returning to the Westminister roots of our democracy is the only way to save it. Start by ending the power of the whips and leaders to control individual MPs. Next have party presidents not leaders sign the nomination papers with a means for the local riding to have veto. Senior political staff should disclose all conflicts of interest publicly and be vetted by a committee of parliament. Set clear spending limits for out of writ periods and better communicate all election laws to the general public. All official government advertising must clear parliament before being released.

The biggest change should be the immediate decertification of any party that has a direct member or member and supporter vote for leader. Such parties are easily corruptible and toxic for the nation. Restoration will also mean giving Elections Canada the resources and legislation to go after election fraud and where wanted have charges of treason laid for the worst abuses. Have the local returning officer set up some official debates and any candidate who does not participate automatically looses the deposit.

Another method of reducing the absolute power leaders have is to open the media up to greater domestic and foreign competition. For the foreign to be let in Canadian media would have to be granted access to the originating country/ies. As for the lazy public getting more informed and engaged all I can think of is conscription, non-military conscription for anyone who hasn’t been crossed the voters list. Education might work but so far civics is taught by those who don’t care or understand to those who wished they had skipped.

It is frustrating to live in the post democratic era. Where parties just focus on short term polling and infantile spin doctoring to achieve cheap victory. Clear visions and concrete policies have been replaced by buzz words and Hallmark Card worthy value statements. Parties are reducing themselves to binary options; the cool aid or the door. All of these things are forms of voter suppression and toxic to Canadian progress. When the constant region verse region or any other divide is exploited I start to fear for the country’s survival.

But what do I know, I’m just a policy wonk with no outlet for my ideas.


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