The Canadian political comment boards are roiling with far more lively and insightful debate than you would ever get in the House of Commons. The new meaty bone for the armchair pundits is the bill put forward by Conservative MP for Wellington-Halton Hills, Michael Chong. The bill, called “The Reform Act”, is designed to give sitting MP’s of a party the ability to dump a leader at any time, as well as limit a party leader’s ability to veto local riding association’s nominations.
The effect of the bill would be very far reaching and change the way Canadians conduct their politics. Like everything else in the world, there are some good points to it as well as some major areas for concern.
The intent of the motion is to give backbenchers and ordinary MP’s more power in their own caucuses. The current system allows the leader of the party to be able to punish MP’s who stray from the party line in any way. Individual thought is systematically stamped out. To suggest our MP’s speak from their conscience and represent their constituents’ wishes, is to believe Wal-Mart cashiers are there to happily serve us and not just for the paycheck.
To have the backbenchers suddenly free to have dissenting opinions would certainly be a huge step toward democracy in action in parliament. Taking the leadership choice away from party members, however, and resting it solely in the hands of a party’s caucus, is an enormous stride backwards democratically. It is already frustrating enough for a vast amount of Canadians that they cannot vote directly for the Prime Minister of the land during an election. They can only vote for a nominee in the riding they live in. Many people I have talked to, yearn to for our system to be “like the Americans’” and have the right to vote for the leader, not just voting for their MP.
We have the Westminster model, however, not the American Republican model. If we want to vote directly for our leader, we have to join a political party. Canadian governance is not owned by the people, but by the parties. Many would-be voters have no interest in being a part of the problem… I mean part of a party… so they don’t ever join which precludes them from the leader selection process.
The essential part, however, is that there is a way for every Canadian of age to vote for the leader if we choose to exercise it. If the Reform Act of MP Chong goes through, instead of ordinary citizens having an opportunity to vote for the leader, only the elected caucus will get that right and privilege.
It would be very similar to how Australia does it where the governing party just switched leaders without benefit of an election. An example closer to home is how our county councils work. People in the county vote for a slate of candidates and those elected to the county council choose a leader from among themselves. Towns elect mayors in a separate election, but counties choose from their own.
A very positive side effect of a county council choosing this way is that, unlike the town system, good people who try for the top job, aren’t sidelined for an entire election cycle if they come in second. In places where there is a shortage of willing candidates of respectable quality, this can be a major problem.
Another advantage of already elected members choosing the leader is that the leader would obviously be able to get along with their council or caucus mates in order to get their vote. Having the people install someone that the council or caucus that the group doesn’t like or that doesn’t unite or inspire would saddle both the government and the governed with a dysfunctional ruling party. For recall to work, caucus must be the leader-choosing entity. At least, as mentioned, it will radically alter the paradigm of the powerless backbencher in the House.
Having the leader forced to bend to the will of the party’s elected member’s means the members would hold a great deal of sway over the leader. It would be a complete reversal of our current system. There are many things to like about the act, except for that little bit about the loss of democracy.
Having a situation where the public can never vote directly for a leader, while raising the power and influence of individual MP’s considerably, which is a good aspect, makes the parties even more powerful, which is a very bad thing. Parties already have too much power in this country. They are the single-most undemocratic institutions in our electoral system. Our elected representatives are inculcated to care more for the party than they do their constituents. There is reason to believe that such a system might be more open to secretive machinations. Taking the people’s voice out of the leadership selection process leaves a system open to hi-jacking a party by moneyed interests. Our democracy could be made a much bigger sham than some suggest it is already.
And yet, others manage. Australia doesn’t seem particularly ill-led despite having embraced such a system. Or maybe it just hasn’t happened there, yet.
Whatever side of the Reform Act debates you might be on, however, there is no shortage of stories and opinions in the Canadian media regarding the initiative which supports your opinions. This is The Next Big Thing.
At least it beats more coverage of Rob Ford.
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