first published on Thursday, July 18th, 2013 in Island Tides
On my Canada Day travels, I was asked what I would change about democracy in Canada. There is so much wrong in the current state of politics that people might think there is no available remedy. The good news is that relatively few steps, none requiring major effort, but all requiring an engaged citizenry, can restore the body politic to health.
Here is my prescription for what ails Canada’s democracy. Let me know what you think!
First, get rid of ‘first-past-the-post’ and elect MPs, as is done in most modern democracies, by some form of proportional representation. Make sure every vote counts so voters feel the impact of their vote. Thanks to first-past-the-post, in 2011, a minority of voters elected a majority government. Such ‘false majorities,’ as University of Toronto Professor Emeritus Peter Russell has dubbed them, have occurred for Liberals as well as Progressive Conservative and now Conservative governments. Such results are only possible due to first-past-the-post.
Next, reduce the powers of the Prime Minister’s Office—regardless of who is the occupant. It is an invention, not mentioned in our Constitution. The PMO’s powers and budget are unchecked and unaccountable. It is now at $10 million/year. Cut it in half to $5 million…or cut it more. Its total power in times of majority Parliament is anti-democratic, especially in a situation of a ‘false majority.’ Cut the power of the PMO. Restore a healthier Cabinet system of government.
Restore a respected, professional civil service. Return to evidence-based decision making. Rebuild the wall between the PMO and the PCO (Privy Council Office). Only under Prime Minister Harper have the political operatives in PMO run roughshod over the civil service, contaminating government information with partisan spin. This must be stopped.
Pass legislation that deals with concentration of media ownership to encourage the rebirth of local journalism and reduce the powers of a handful of owners (our current legislation dealing with competition in the news media fails to deal with this issue and only addresses issues of the price of media products).
Restore respect for the supremacy of Parliament. Ensure that the control of the public purse is restored to Parliament, where it belongs.
Remove the power of leaders of federal parties to sign the nomination forms for their party’s candidates. Allow the caucus members of parties the right to trigger leadership reviews.
Senate reform—open conversations and negotiations with provinces. Is abolition possible? Could a council of the federation with more effective representation from municipalities, provinces and territories bring something useful to Parliament?
And perhaps most important of all: re-assert the constitutional requirement that MPs are elected to represent their constituents, not to be mere ciphers of the back-room hyper-partisan spin doctors who call the shots.
Bring back Westminster parliamentary democracy! All our rules say we have one; only our political habits tell us we are moving toward an elected dictatorship. This prescription to restore and heal democracy can only be filled when the citizens of Canada demand it.
Presto! A healthy Canada.