Idea alert

David Berlin proposes a new kind of parliamentary government.

Provincial and federal systems are more complex. But consider a no-party system in which the public votes directly for MPs and provincial members, and then the members themselves elect the cabinet ministers, who would then elect the prime minister or premier in the same way. Each would-be minister would specify proposals and what portion of a projected four-year budget (estimated by the national bank) it would take to accomplish them. Each MP’s or provincial member’s ballot would have to name a set of candidates whose estimates added up to no more than 100 per cent of that budget.

Berlin’s primary complaint is the party system itself. But the problem isn’t political parties, so much as its the power those parties have to control individual MPs. And while the proposal here might make things somehow better—though I suspect parties would still take shape—it’s also difficult to imagine how so drastic a change would ever come to pass.

A smaller—and thus more plausible—reform might be pursued first. From my February piece about the House of Commons.

Change, if it is ever to transpire, would need to start with those questions about who and what an MP is supposed to be. Since 1970 it has been a requirement of the Elections Act that any candidate seeking to stand for a political party in an election must receive the signed endorsement of that party’s leader. Chong, whose proposals for question-period reform are being studied by a parliamentary committee, would start there. “The current situation is at the root of the imbalance between not just the executive branch and the legislature, but also the root of the imbalance between party leaders and their caucuses,” he says. “If you know that the leader may not sign your papers in the next election or may in fact kick you out of caucus, that’s going to colour your judgment about whether or not you’re going to support the party line on a particular vote.”

The theory follows that moving the power to authorize candidates from the party leader to the constituency or a regional authority would leave the MP less beholden to the leader and more likely to speak freely. If MPs were more likely to speak freely, more free votes would have to result. And if fewer votes were preordained by party lines, debate would become more meaningful, both as an expression of individual views and as a means of influencing others. At once, the individual MP and the House as an institution would become more relevant.

We could try to completely change the system we have. Or we could try to make the system we have work better. I tend to be more convinced by those who champion the latter.




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Idea alert

  1. Berlin is fantasizing wildly, if he thinks that moving nomination authorization from the leader to riding associations or “regional authorities” would prevent votes from happening on party lines. I can imagine it shifting the party lines, towards the extremism that every national party leadership tries to suppress…

  2. 1) How many MPs have not had their papers signed as punishment since changes made in 1970?  Leader of Party is boss of party regardless of who signs MP papers. Leader might not sign MP papers directly but he still likely appointed people to “constituency or a regional authority” and they will follow Leader’s wishes. 

    2) I think big issue is MPs salaries, benefits, pensions and accoutrements. I would be quite surprised if more than 10 current MPs took reduction in salary/benefits when they became MPs. MP salary is like winning lottery for most of them and they don’t want to risk their winning ticket and are quite happy to behave like sheep.

    3) We don’t debate in Canada. Our public servants, and our overwhelmingly Lib msm, think bureaucrats are all-knowing and common people are sketchy and can’t be trusted. Canada is a Liberal state and Liberals prefer ignorance. Our journos, pols and bureaucrats encourage public apathy, they don’t want debate. 

    4) Msm has stopped doing investigative journalism and now MPs do whatever they want without scrutiny. MPs take public jobs but demand privacy and msm goes along with it – all msm reports is House of Commons debates and press releases, while rest of country knows perfectly well QP is kabuki theatre and press releases are government propaganda. 

    Canadian governance would improve considerably if our Libs journos thought it was their job to make Canada better instead of granting enormous amounts of privacy to our MPs to operate in secret.

  3. Wherry ~ Beyond The Commons:

    To witness such a moment is to see the House of Commons at both its most serious and least relevant, to understand the gravity of the institution and the sense of neglect that hangs over its proceedings. Indeed, of all the questions the House of Commons must consider on a daily basis, there is one that underlies everything: does this place still matter?

    PJ O’Rourke ~ 

    Authority has always attracted the lowest elements in the human race. All through history mankind has been bullied by scum. Those who lord it over their fellows and toss commands in every direction and would boss the grass in the meadows about which way to bend in the wind are the most depraved kind of prostitutes. They will submit to any indignity, perform any vile act, do anything to achieve power. The worst off-sloughings of the planet are the ingredients of sovereignty. Every government is a parliament of whores. The trouble is, in a democracy, the whores are us.

    • PJO, like many hard core cynics, sounds like a blowhard who never got elected to anything in his life; maybe that’s his his problem?

  4. Our party system functions quite fine. If you want to see what more individual representation looks like, check out the US Congress, which hasn’t passed a budget in 4 years. 

    • I don’t know that we need to be too concerned about the US congressional fiasco.  You have to remember that that exists within the context of their checks-and-balances system (2 vigorous houses of congress, plus the separate executive), which we don’t have here.

  5. “We could try to completely change the system we have. Or we could try to make the system we have work better. I tend to be more convinced by those who champion the latter.”

    It always astonishes me how little we look back when we have discussions such as this one about how we should look forward; part of it is i suppose is the lamentable level of public[ even amongst our politicians] awareness of our history.[ i have a fondness for historical fiction. While not a substitute for rigourous academic study, it often throws up all sorts of interesting trivia]
    Somewhat ironically my question is have we ever had this sort of looser arrangement in our politics; and if so did it work, or were there other problems that led us away from it, other then simply a desire of our parties to grab more power and influence?
    Another post has brought up the point that less party discipline has its dangers too – noone would like to see our politicians reduced to the level of US congressmen – publically subsidized pork traders[ although some might argue we're headed there anyay]. The party system offers shelter from that storm to some degree. That said absent any evidence to the contrary i’d like to see the party leader lose the right to not sign nomination papers.

    • Or limit the number of nominations that a party leader can reject…

      Might be able to avoid US congress pork fiasco by limiting the amount of money that flows/is “required” to run an election campaign…

      • That would be a start. Perhaps the whole process should be more transparent, anything to make it harder to dump good candiates who might rock the boat rather than just the unelectable. In any case why shouldn’t the unelectable get a crack at it, if he/she has been nominated? If Anders can get in i don’t see any need to worry on that score; although i can see how even a half dozen of him or Coderre might turn any party leader into a tyrant:)
        Seriously if it is clear a wingnut has gotten nominated why should that necessarily reflect badly on a party that can’t control the whole process – you could always plead that democracy has spoken.

        • Yeah, true about Anders.  That seems to be the exception that proves the rule, or whatever the appropriate idiom is – if Harper can’t be bothered to withhold his signature from the Anders nomination papers, then there isn’t much of a case to be made for giving the party leaders any vetoes at all.

          In the bigger picture I am also supportive of a more transparent system.  I accept that giving MPs more freedom from party HQ will lead to a less unified image, and I’m totally OK with that.

          In fact, I want my public policy decisions to be made out where I can see what’s going on.  And I could hardly care less that some of the most vociferous arguments against a particular piece of legislation might actually come from within the governing party, which sort of goes with your “wingnut (not) reflecting on the party” idea.

          • The more i look at Nenshi the more i like. Admittedly he’s only a party of one but i’m beginning to believe that he might be a template for future politicians and hopefully not Ford or Harper for that matter.

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