By Jason Menard
As the combination of the sponsorship scandal and a minority government combines to send Canadians to an early – but not unexpected – election, perhaps it has come down to the time when we should say the Party’s over.
Essentially, the sponsorship scandal is about patronage – a tradition that’s as old as government itself. And while all the focus is currently on the Liberal Party of Canada, it’s not outrageous to say that with a little sniffing around, you’d find a foul stench or two emanating from all our political parties.
The party system has created various groups that are beholden, in part, to any number of special interest groups. Whether it’s labour organizations, religious groups, financial and business interests, or those who have been generous donors to the cause, each political party knows on which side their bread is buttered. And the only group to which these parties should be beholden – the voters – are left by the wayside.
As it stands now, the vast majority of Canadians don’t vote for a person. They vote for a party and in support of the ideals to which it supposedly ascribes. However, by voting for a national power, we compromise our individual needs for what we hope is the greater good.
It once was so easy. If you leaned left, you headed to the NDP, if you were small-c conservative, then the PC party was your choice. And if you preferred not to go to either extreme, the Liberal Party was a comfortable place to place your vote. But those differences aren’t so cut and dried any longer.
But our political landscape has changed drastically over the past two decades, moving towards regional representation – and now it’s time to complete the journey and abolish party politics entirely.
With the emergence of political entities like the Reform Party and the Bloc Quebecois, we saw clearly the importance that voters placed on protecting their own interests. Frustrated Western Canadians, tired of perceived preferential treatment of Ontario and Quebec, embraced a party that they felt was more in tune with their needs. While Quebecers, both separatist and federalist, were and are attracted to the Bloc’s unwavering focus on promoting Quebec’s best interests on a federal level.
What this shows is that people are desperate for actual representation from their Members of Parliament. And by abolishing the party system, we would be able to create a new system wherein our elected representatives would have only the interests of their constituents at heart – not those of the party to which they ascribe.
As it stands now, many people don’t exercise their right to vote simply because, rightly or wrongly, they feel that their individual vote doesn’t matter on a national level. In addition, because their vote generally goes for the party, not the candidate, they feel disconnect between the needs of their riding and the party’s overall goals.
But think of how much more interest you would have in an electoral process that sees voters choosing the individual they feel best represents their riding. Instead of looking at the party, voters would have to look at the candidate – their platform, their beliefs, and their qualifications. And then, every four years, they’d be held accountable for their activities on behalf of their riding.
Instead of one party forcing through a mandate that may be unpalatable to a significant number of Canadians simply based on majority rule, a completely independent House of Commons would have to work together, navigating the waters of governance through negotiation, debate, and – perish the thought – common sense. Best of all, this would encourage our elected representatives to continually meet with their constituencies to gauge the electorate’s opinion on issues. The average citizen’s voice could be heard more clearly by the use of plebiscites on hot-button issues!
Our government could still have cabinet members handling various portfolios and committees would still be in place to ensure continuity and effective management of government initiatives and departments. However, these cabinet positions and committees would be elected positions (by the Members of Parliament), not appointed.
And the Prime Minister? There are a number of ways to handle this. We could have interested people receive nominations to run for the post and they are voted on separately from the MPs. Or, taking inspiration from the Vatican, we could have our MPs sequester themselves to choose a Prime Minister from within their midst – signified by a puff of red smoke emanating from the Peace Tower.
Sure, there are major bugs to be worked out, such as how do we handle election funding to ensure that each and every Canadian has access to the process, and how do we balance representation by population with representation by geographic area so that urban and rural Canada exerts fair influence over the political process?
But the goal of this exercise is to develop a government of the people for the people. And really, if our politicians have to be beholden to someone, would we rather it be to us – their constituents?
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