A Missed Opportunity for Political Reform

By Jason Menard

That’s it?

All this cloak-and-dagger intrigue? Everything he said about revelations from the back rooms that were going to be brought forth? All he had to say about how so many would not be happy with him on Parliament Hill?

And that’s it?

Former Conservative MP Garth Turner played the media like a rented fiddle and came out with the whopping announcement that he was tearing up his Conservative Party card and sitting as an independent!

OK. So he’s essentially said, you can’t fire me because I quit to Stephen Harper. And then he rattled on about sitting as an independent, how much more he’s been able to do as an independent, and a bunch of other statements, all of which were pleasant and all, but certainly nothing substantive.

The mysterious letters? Nothing more than the inner machinations of a jilted party deciding to turf one of their rowdier members. Sure, the fact that this means that they’re ignoring the will of a significant number of voters in Turner’s riding is noteworthy, but it’s not the first time it’s been done, now, has it?

No, in the end Turner missed out on a grand opportunity. He had a chance, and the forum, to call for real, substantive changes. He had a chance to rally a disenfranchised voting public around him and call for true reform to the Canadian political system. He had a chance to start the ball rolling for a future where MPs actually represent the best interests of their constituents.

And he dropped the ball.

He watered down his remarks, insisting that this was a cross-party issue. He stopped far short of calling out his own party, preferring to lob gentle accusations, the nature of which the public has known for months now.

On the bright side, Turner did announce the launching of a new Web site,www.promiseskept.ca, which at the time of this writing featured an image that looked like it was ripped from an inspirational poster – you know, the ones that say Determination or Focus – along with teaser text hearkening a new dawn for a public voice and political accountability in Canada.

But to what end? What should have been done? And if Turner’s serious about returning representation to the role of Member of Parliament, how should that be mandated?

The solutions aren’t simple and require a dramatic change in the way we look at politics in this country. Party politics are counter-productive and only serve to get parties elected. The system doesn’t actually work for representing the needs of individual groups or regions. You can vote in an MP, but if the will and intent of the riding contravenes that of the Party of which your elected representative is a member then Party trumps voters.

In fact, there’s even a role in politics that encourages this type of counterintuitive representation – the Whip. That’s the little weasel (or muscle, but I prefer to be derogatory when discussing this scourge on the political scene) who keeps the party members “in line.” It is the Whip’s role to let the party peons know what the big boys and girls – oh, sorry… I should have stuck to boys in this Old Boys’ Club… It’s up to the Whip to keep all the party members abreast of the voting preferences of the party leadership and ensure that all the members abide by that directive. And the directive of the voters, who may not agree? Not important to the Whip.

So what’s the solution? Abolishing party politics isn’t the answer. First off, the financial incentives for keeping this style around are too great, and secondly there are times when there is an advantage of having a group of similarly inclined politicians working together on common causes. So the key is to give MPs more freedom – the freedom to vote according to the will of the majority of their constituents.

Please note that I did not say they can vote on their personal beliefs, but rather any decision must be a fair representation of the constituency that the candidate represents. A plebiscite or poll on every question would be far too cumbersome, but there has to be a way for MPs to gauge the will of the people they’re supposed to represent.

The problem with this is that our system still encourages – in fact, is based upon – the notion that plurality of voters are all that’s needed to earn representation. No majority rule here, just more than the other guys. And that results, frequently, in a situation where the constituency is represented by someone for whom a majority of the constituents did not vote. How is that representative? And in that case how can any MP go to Ottawa thinking they represent the will of a constituency?

Is it not time to look at a form of proportional representation, wherein multiple representatives are sent from a region, reflective of how many votes were earned. At its simplest, a region could be large enough for 10 representatives, but instead of a winner-takes-all approach, seats would be allocated by votes. If Party A gets 60 per cent of the votes, they send six representatives. Party B earned 30 per cent and Party C got 10 per cent? Then you end up with 10 seats allocated as follows: six As, three Bs, and one C.

Every vote then truly counts. And every voice is represented. Logistically, it would take a lot of time – including re-drawing electoral maps so that our Parliament isn’t suddenly inundated with 10 times as many MPs. But it could be done.

As Turner said today, the current system – specifically party politics — doesn’t work. But what he didn’t do was go far enough. It’s time for a change in the way we’re represented in this country. And we need to ensure that every vote counts.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

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