For good reason, 75 per cent of Canadians tell pollsters that we need fundamental political reform. We recognize that while Canada is a “good” country, it is held back from being even better by its outdated political system. What form should this reform take? It’s obvious!!
Again, 75 per cent of Canadians tell pollsters (and have as long as polls have been taken) that their MP should represent them rather than a political party, i.e. that we should have “constituency” rather than party representation. In addition, an increasing number of new MPs, sharing that view, go to Ottawa saying that they intend to represent their constituents first, and party second. A year later, however, they say that this is impossible: “Its not the way the system works.” How right they are. But that system should change so that they can represent their constituents as they and their constituents believe they should.
It’s “our” political system. Why, then, can’t we have the kind of representation – constituency representation – that we want and need? There are two related reasons. First, the politicians do not want to change what they see as “their” system. Yes, many of them are as critical of how it operates as the vast majority of us, but that does not mean that they are willing to become reformers. They are used to the system, have built their careers within it and haven’t ever even taken time to consider how a more democratic alternative to it could be organized.
Second, the existing system encourages/requires us to delegate our political responsibilities to parties and their leaders. If they are unwilling to even imagine and discuss what change might be like, we are stymied. Unless, that is, we refuse to accept the political status quo and speak up for ourselves; demand the representative system that we believe we should have.
If we are going to demand the right to the system of representation that is more democratic and would result in government that we could be proud of, we need to be able to show that it could realistically and responsibly be organized. Our fellow citizens will not endorse “a pig in a poke.” They must be convinced that a better Canadian political model could be set up and reject the strong hold that the belief party politicians and others propagate, i.e., that there is no alternative to the system we have, that it’s “inevitable.” (People were once led to believe that a monarchy was inevitable; that it was inevitable that men should rule, etc.)
The logical alternative to party control of “our” MP is to elect a “constituency parliament” to determine the views people in the constituency want represented in the House of Commons. To have authority, this local body would have to be properly organized with its members having time to deliberate and full access to the information available to MPs in Ottawa. It might meet for a month a year with the local MP, determine the constituency’s position on major issues, and the general direction government should be following. The constituency MP would then support these views in Ottawa.
No longer would a myriad of interests claim the right to speak for us, we would speak for ourselves, clearly and with democratic authority. Prime Ministers would direct government in the direction determined by citizens and, importantly, enjoy their support as they did so. Governments would no longer have to bow to powerful pressure groups.
We are not considering here a minor political change, a tweaking of the system. For all its apparent simplicity, constituency representations would permit government to serve us better and contribute substantially more to our quality of life and to that of our children and grand children. A political system that took shape in the l9th century to meet the needs of its time cannot serve those of 21st century citizens.
I hope this brief summary will lead you to read more about how we might strengthen our political system and join the movement to make it happen. V.L.