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 alienating political system. What form should this reform take? It’s obvious!!
When asked, eighty-three per cent of Canadians tell pollsters that their MP should represent them rather than a political party, i.e. that we should have “constituency” rather than party representation. In addition, ninety three per cent of candidates for office share that view. They go to Ottawa saying that they intend to represent their constituents first, and party second. But, interviewed a year later, those elected 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.
Further there is a virtual consensus among reformers including former Prime Ministers Martin and Chrétien, that the disconnect between us and our political establishment must be reduced. The way to achieve this, perhaps the only effective way, is to move toward constituency representation.
It is not happening for two related reasons. First, despite their reform sentiments, the politicians do not want to commit strongly to changing 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 devote themselves to changing it. They have met some success within the system and haven’t the incentive to seriously consider a more democratic alternative to it.
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, demanding the representative system that we believe we should have.
If, however, we are going to demand the right to a system of representation that is more democratic we must be convinced that a better Canadian political model could be set up. The belief that there is no alternative to party representation, that it’s “inevitable” if we want democracy, must be rejected. (People once believed that a monarchy was inevitable; that it was inevitable that men only should rule, etc.)
The logical alternative to party control of “our” MP is for us to elect a “constituency parliament” to determine the views people in the constituency want represented in the House of Commons. To have political clout, 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 or be prepared to explain to his or her constituency parliament the failure to do so.
No longer would a myriad of interests claim the right to speak for us, we would speak for ourselves, clearly and with the democratic authority that would come with election and serious informed deliberation. Prime Ministers would direct government in the direction determined by citizens and, importantly, enjoy our support as they did so.
Governments would no longer have to bow to powerful pressure groups for fear of losing elections. With these local parliaments, elections would only determine who should hold office. Policy would be decided by us in close collaboration with our MPs and governments.
We are not considering a minor political change here, a tweaking of the system. A cascade of positive changes would follow our empowerment through constituency parliaments. PM’s could no longer dictate policy; there would be real transparency in government; powerful interests would be forced to convince citizens to support their policy demands; governments would have strong incentive to foster an informed public, and so on. No constitutional amendments would be required to establish community parliaments.
We know the ills of our system all too well. We are agreed on the need for change and the direction it should take. We owe it to our children and grandchildren to act on our political knowledge and experience rather than bequeathing an obsolete system to them.
We have the power to put constituency representation high on the agenda of all office-holders. In the upcoming elections, ask all those seeking your vote how they propose to respond to the desire of their fellow citizens for constituency representation: press for firm commitments to substitute “our” system for “theirs.” Canada can lead the world by developing a new system of democratic politics.