Term limits for MPs: Hello, I must be going

by Paul Wells

Belinda Stronach has a new idea! Let’s take it seriously for a few minutes.

“Despite the apparent stability of a majority government, Canadian politics is in ferment,” she begins, to which some readers may wish to reply, “Sorry, what?” She adds that her last known party, the Liberals, have been “liberated by circumstance to think about the state of politics and the future of the country in a way the government just can’t do.” As in, a wildly undisciplined and unrealistic way? Yup!

Canada, you see, has political institutions created in the 19th century that are “unsuited” to the 21st. What does that even mean? Don’t ask. “The body politic needs an MRI and a treatment plan for what ails it” — sorry, what? — “but that’s a long-term and multifaceted project that requires national will to modernize our ways of governing ourselves.”

And what’s the right thing to do to a patient before you undertake a long-term and multifaceted diagnosis?

Operate!

“I think the time has come in Canada for limits on the number of consecutive terms that a parliamentarian can serve,” Stronach writes.

Sorry, what?

Politicians should be engaged in a “constant and postpartisan search for solutions,” she says — OK, let’s stop there. Should they? There is, to take one example out of thousands, a party in this country which honestly believes it makes more sense to give parents a little money to care for their children as they like. That’s the Conservatives. And there’s a party which honestly believes the government should have a monopoly on organized child care. That’s the NDP. (A third party, the Liberals, has been trying for 40 years to decide what it believes on this question, and lately sides with the NDP.)

They honestly disagree on the solution. How are they supposed to be postpartisan? Multiply by just about every question a government faces.

But never mind. “In the way our current electoral system is structured, the focus is almost entirely on the mechanics of getting re-elected once elected,” Stronach writes. Well, no it isn’t. MPs do spend a fair amount of time worrying about re-election, but it’s silly to say their life is “almost entirely” about re-election. Here’s where one is tempted to say, not that term limits are “an American solution” — there is nothing wrong with stealing good ideas from other jurisdictions, as long as they’re, you know, good ideas — but that they attempt a solution to a peculiarly American problem: the awesome cost of campaigns in the U.S., which forces constant fundraising with its attendant corrupting influences.

Because, you see, that’s why the modern term-limit movement arose in the U.S.: proponents hope legislators won’t be corrupted in, at least, their last-ever campaigns.

“Some might argue that party discipline will suffer with term limits in place,” Stronach writes, “but is that such a bad thing?” What an excellent straw man. The parties with the largest number of rookie MPs in the current Parliament are the Conservatives and New Democrats. How have those cowed rookies dealt with party discipline? By swallowing it whole, of course.

Next comes the part where Stronach ignores the fact her reform cannot be implemented. Ah, here it is, right on schedule. “To make such a change would require specific legislation and, in the current political construct, the support at minimum of the government. But there’s no need to wait for that elusive moment.” What, implement it unilaterally? “I would urge the Liberal Party to adopt term limits unilaterally and internally in the way it treats its own approach to presenting candidates for election, becoming the Party of Public Service.”

If implemented by the Liberals today, a two-term limit for MPs would make all but 9 sitting Liberal MPs ineligible to serve the mandate for which they were just elected. The Liberals are the oldest caucus, in terms of parliamentary experience, in Parliament. And if implemented unilaterally, term limits would serve up the tiny crop of remaining, inexperienced MPs, whose constituents know them little, to be picked off at the next election by unknowns from other parties.

But there I go again, obsessing over re-election. All right then. In my life, one parliament has stood out for its fresh influx of rookie MPs whose only interest, I think it’s fair to say, was their honest belief about the national interest. That’s the parliament that was elected in 1993, when 100 Reform and Bloc Québécois MPs came to town for the first time. Stronach, who is my age, may be too young to recall what the two years before the Quebec secession referendum were like in Ottawa, but I think it’s safe to say “postpartisan” would not be the best adjective.

UPDATE: Susan Delacourt joins the fray.




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Term limits for MPs: Hello, I must be going

  1. There have been several silly attempts at promoting the notion of pseudo-populism as the solution to the Liberals problems.  It’s impressive that Belinda came up with an idea so foolish it stood out from the rest.

    • Live on your knees plebe. 

      Since you’ve acknowledged your betters deserve tenure at their will, any opinion at all must be in support.

      I’m surprised you’ve the stones to express one.

      • As Wells might say:  Sorry, what?!?!?

  2. Sounds like she has rejoined the Conservative Party and is considering running again in the next leadership campaign.

  3. Participate in a rank ballot poll on the next NDP leader.  Rank your choices 1, 2, 3, and so on.  Names are listed randomly.  You may vote once per hour (unless you have a bank of computers around you).  So far, over 3100 votes have been cast.  Yes, some of them are repeats.

    http://www.demochoice.org/dcballot.php?poll=NDP2012NPD

  4. I don’t agree with it, but it’s better than ‘recall’…..something a lot of people supported.

    • Tell me, why are you against recall?

      • Being an MP is a job unlike any other….and it doesn’t matter if the MP was formerly an auto worker, or an executive. There is a lot to learn, networking to be done, connections made, committee work etc. And all while travelling back and forth looking after both local and national concerns in 2 different places.

        It takes most MPs the better part of a first term just getting on top of the job….and in that time they are bound to find dead ends, make mistakes and so on.

         Most MPs go in with a goal or goals in mind….say x, y and z.

        Turns out right off the bat you can’t do x….you may have promised it, and you were keen on it, but it isn’t doable.  Maybe there’s a good reason, that you were unaware of, that x is the way it is….or that while x may be big in your riding, it isn’t anywhere else etc. So scratch that.

        Y may be doable, but it will create more problems than it solves….or other people are totally opposed to it, and you can’t get the backing.

        Z may be a good one, doable, a genuine change for the good, but like everything else it’s going to take time.

        Meanwhile somebody back in the riding starts making a case over x….and recall is under way.

        So in the midst of everything else you have to fight a rear guard action to save your seat….and if you lose, neither y nor z will get done either.

        We elect people for 4 years….so let them learn the ropes and start in on the process without harassing them. 

        I don’t like term limits for the same reason….it can take several parliaments, especially with minorities to accomplish something….. although I will agree there are a lot of people on councils, in legislatures and in parliament who’ve been there for 30 years….and if you can’t get something done in 30 years you’re never going to.

        But basically both ideas are unnecessary….we have elections every 4 years. That’s sufficient. 

        • I guess where we differ is I think people are reasonable enough to allow growing pains. (Huh. Me arguing that people in general are reasonable.. didn’t see that one coming)

          However, beyond that, I still think recall is a reasonable way to keep an MPs focus on their local constituency even if it’s the party they owe their final loyalty to. If you’re concerned about that initial period, let the legislation provide a loophole such that recall cannot be employed during the first term in office.

  5. Oh dear! Is this an April’s fool day joke!? : )

    • I guess you didn’t get that 2012 calendar you were wanting for Christmas  :)

      • Nope, got mine from the Belindaland : )

        • I hear February has a pic of a guy in his wellies, digging taters, with his loyal dog watching.

  6. This gets me wondering about big changes to the political system which have actually been implemented and were good ideas.   To give the devil his due, I suspect the most recent example would be Chretien’s per vote subsidy. 

  7. “Senator” Hilary Clinton once remarked that 80& of her time was getting “re-elected”; big players must be wooed, donations must be gathered, voters must have hot air blown up their asses. 

    • The scale of the money involved is drastically different, so we shouldn’t be ascribing the US experience to Canada. American congresspeople have to come up with roughly 6$ per voter in their district, every 2 years, to be competitive. Our MPs, to run a fully funded campaign in their ridings, need about 0.80$ per voter every 4 years. That’s a 15x differential, basically two completely different worlds.

  8. I’m trying to come up with a problem with our democracy that can be fixed by kicking Stéphane Dion, Joe Comartin, and Michael Chong out of the House of Commons, and I’m coming up short. The existence of hyper-partisan anonymous backbenchers-for-life who are poisoning the discourse is regrettable, sure, but they won’t go away because they’re limited to two terms, and a wealth of experience and decency would.

    This is really one of the worst ideas in canadian politics I’ve seen.

    • Some of the most hyper-partisan twits on the government side these days are the n00bs, eager to please the master.

  9. Wow – stick to charity work Belinda.  Even Magna got rid of her.

  10. Let’s see how it works in Corporate Boards first..

    • Yes.  Gid rid of people who know about the business and affairs of the company, and replace them with people who don’t.  Awesome idea.

  11. I am against professional politicians – people who seem to work in politics their whole life after they graduate from university. I like idea of term limits but they don’t work well in Westminster system – I would allow pols to be pols for 15 yrs total and can use those yrs however they like. Canadians seem to get sick of Prime Minister/Cabinet after 8-10 yrs or thereabouts and often vote for change. Two terms is not long enough – MPs need time to get use to archaic rules and procedures in House and electorate needs time to get familiar with MPs, Cabinet members, Prime Minister. 

  12. “She adds that her last known party, the Liberals, have been “liberated by circumstance to think about the state of politics and the future of the country in a way the government just can’t do.” As in, a wildly undisciplined and unrealistic way? Yup!”
     
    I assume the wildly undisciplined and unrealistic applies to Belinda alone, just in case it didn’t…

    i’d be interested in hearing what an experienced journalist like Wells[ maybe i'd know if i could be bothered to follow twitter?] thinks about the libs maybe going for a primary leadership or even candidates selection system. It is still maybe, as there could well be still quite a bit of resistance to the idea within the party, mostly i think from the “grass roots” and not the mandarins[ although that is only the wildest of guesses]. Coyne has had his say, but i’ve seen surprising little real discussion of the merits of the idea amongst journos really, just passing references. Which is odd when the major player in Canadian federal politics for the past century or so is contemplating a major sea change.
    It’s a toughie, i don’t think anyone really has any real idea if it’s a good idea or not.Perhaps it’ll see more ink after the up coming convention? Or perhaps too many journos have already written the libs obituary already? What’s that Wellesian rule again about what happens if everyone in Ottawa thinks something is one thing or another?

  13. *drawn-out whistle*

    Belinda decries, “… the toxic partisanship of the system [is] one of the
    obstacles to making progress on matters of national interest.” Her solution? “…limits on the number of consecutive terms that a parliamentarian can serve.” I don’t see how her solution could solve her problem. I could see it enhancing partisanship because candidates who lack previous parliamentary experience would merely have the party platform to stand on. I see it as providing a breeding ground for “legacy” concepts and spending, especially for higher office holders. I see it adding to the problem of our system becoming like the American system, where fundraising would be a constant concern to ‘introduce’ a series of new candidates constantly. I also do not understand the logic behind it. Maybe I’m naive, but I still see Parliaments & Assemblies as the highest form of civic administration – if someone gets elected into office seven of eight times, they must be doing something right. I would equate it to knowing a really great electrician whose licence is revoked after eight years because, well, you can only be an electrician for eight years so other electricians can get a chance to demonstrate their skills.

    I think that the ‘solutions’ Belinda has offered are an example as to why we, as Canadians, need to become re-engaged in our own civic administration. We’re so enamoured/bombarded by American issues/problems of governance that a former MP (in two major parties) and leadership candidate has given us a solution that could send us further down the drain. As to the article itself, it seems jam-packed with ‘cromulent’ words – to use the vernacular.

    I would see Ms. Stronach’s term-limits and raise the stakes to recall legislation. We already have a Canadian model to build upon (I’m not very familiar with BC’s recall legislation, but it exists) and it would give a massive amount of power back to the people and out of the hands of parties. If recall initiatives existed currently, where would our Tony Clement’s and Peter McKay’s be? I can see it being open to abuse as well – I take Irwin Cotler to mind when I imagine the possible abuses that could be had with said legislation. If we can recognize the PMO and the Party Whips as the cornerstones of partisanship, I think it would help reduce partisanship because it would confer a tad more autonomy on MP’s. If an MP risks getting the boot from their constituents, they might not place as much importance on advice from the Whips/PMO.

    We need to tweak the system we already have – and looking to the American model is the least productive. We can easily look to England, Ireland, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand (Not to mention other Westminster democracies) for solutions and variations. Their system and methods have evolved in a completely different fashion from ours and we should not do it just because we *can* – because we easily could – but because it makes sense for solving the problem.

  14. I had to check to make sure this wasn’t a Peter McKay guest blog.

    Tell us how you really feel, Paul!

    • I wondered too…can’t find any dog references though.

  15. In the second last paragraph of Belinda`s essay she proposes that the last Party that bought her loyalty ( Liberals ) should unilaterally adopt term limits to it`s MP`s.

    I would argue that the Liberals have been doing just that for the past 5 elections when they have been reducing their MP`s from 172 to 135 to 103 to 77 to 34.

    If they adopt her new proposal at their January convention I have no doubt that they will reduce the term of their MP`s to less than one.

  16. Politicians are creatures of more ambition than talent, searching for a lifetime of government cheques. And aspiring journalists pining for a government appointment. 

    Term limits are a beautiful idea, which this backwater, small minded, statist nation should embrace. 

    Sadly, most Canadians are happy being told what to do by their betters (and their earnest supporters in print). 

  17. I agree that “Canada has political institutions created in the 19th century that are “unsuited” to the 21st. “  but I don’t see term limits as any way to help fix it.

    Libs still seem to be caught up in ‘process’, when what they need is policy.  21st century policy.

    I don’t think the average Canadian cares about how parties get their leaders….primaries or picking them out of a hat….or term limits, or anything that has to do solely with the politicians.

    That said, if Harper had come up with this idea, most posters on here would love it.

  18. Thank goodness she’s no longer a Conservative.  She belongs with the Liberals.  This is one of the worst ideas ever uttered by an MP (although it might be challenged by some of the idiocies coming from Paul Dewar or Justin Trudeau). 

    The whole notion that MPs should be “liberated” from the desires of those who elected them (ie do things that might get them re-elected), is completely idiotic and anti-democratic.  Just what we need: a return to dictatorship, where the elected have no interest in representing the desires of their constituents, because they cannot be re-elected anyway no matter what they do.  Who cares what they said during the election! Let’s just cross our fingers that they don’t spend all their time trying to figure out ways to enrich themselves, now that the citizens have been removed from the equation.

    And the whole idea that there is a post-partisan set of ideas out there to be discovered is equally idiotic, but Wells already picked apart that stupid notion.  The whole point of elections is the fact that people genuinely do not agree.  There is no such thing as post-partisan, in the technical sense.  As soon as you have an idea, it’s partisan, because no ideas are agreed upon by everybody, hence the need for elections to break the deadlocks.  In some sense observers can declare themselves non-partisan by trying their best to present the ideas proposed by everyone.  But the whole act of governing rests on the notion that eventually, ideas must be chosen!

    And finally, yes, it’s true: she’s prescribing a policy for her own party that would literally obliterate them from the face of Canada.

  19. Belina Stronach is a spoiled, entitled twit.  She has no special privileges that should compel idiotic media like the Globe to publish such complete drivel just because of her name.  She accomplished nothing in parliament and has accomplished nothing elsewhere, and it’s easy to see why, with crazy ideas like this one.

    • Come on now Belinda is helping fight malaria.   She needs to stick to her philanthropic ventures.

  20. I just read Paul Wells article.  Sorry – what? 

    While Stronach’s idea about term limits is a little out there and will likely never happen, the gist of her article seemed to have been entirely missed by Wells.  She is talking about providing good, meaningful, well considered governance which would neccessitate dropping the hyper partisianship that is the hallmark of our current hyper partisian conservative government. 

    For example, he praises Harper for providing parents with some cash to use for their kids while conveniently ignoring the importance of providing quality daycare to the masses of working parents who desperatley need it.  Talk about a con hack. 

    Stronach, like many of us who are disgusted by our current governments lack of ethics, disdain for parliamentary debate and extreme ideological manouverings, simply wants government to be more effective.  That includes all elected politicians and requires respect, open dialogue and a willingness to truly understand all perspectives on the issues.  Pretty much the opposite of what the current government displays.

    • Did you read anything that Paul wrote, or Stronach?

    • …and none of those problems or complaints will be solved by an artificial and arbitrary limit on the amount of time an MP can serve.

  21. Bravo Belinda …. your stunning concept for Canada is tantamount to a Patrician Parliament akin to a House of Lords for those fortunate few who can chop out 8 years of their productive life to serve Canada as a duty rather than a career.

    Surely this must cap off your illustrious attempt at Canadian politics… and to promote a self-serving concept of governance that would be totally suited to your station in life…. instead of being a dumb dipstick ditzing about in her father’s companies to protect her inheritance birthright.

    Did you finally conclude that you are a business airhead and your best course of action is to remove yourself from the Stronach Group and leave the decision making to qualified, competent people?!

    Canadian politics must be in your blood and you yearn for another kick at the can… why not?!

    • Oh give the sexism a rest….you loved her when she was a Con.
       
      You don’t get to call her names just because she crossed the aisle.
       
      If Harper had suggested this you’d be calling him brilliant

  22. Whoa, sounds like someone has a personal grudge against Ms. Stronach.  

  23. I vastly prefer the simplicity and fairness of the term limiting mechanism we already have: elections.

  24. Fish in a barrel, Mr. Wells.

    • 21 below here yesterday, in case you were starting to feel homesick. 

      • I do  not miss the weather. But some things you can’t escape: the UAE’s 40th anniversary was Dec. 2, and involved a relentless all-media onslaught of, err, federalist propaganda. “Spirit of the union” was the theme.
        Cheers

        BK

  25. I know I have been promoting my continuous ranked ballot poll for the next federal NDP leader.  While the poll is not scientific as anyone can vote.  I do think that there are some trends emerging:

    1. The race will be between Thomas Mulcair and Peggy Nash.  Both are good strong candidates.  They will be able to sell the NDP message during the next election.  Ideologically, Mulcair will likely steer the NDP toward the left-of-centre while Nash will likely steer it toward the left-of-the-left-of-centre.  There will be an ideological shift no matter who gets elected.  Both Mulcair and Nash will probably get good first ballot support.  However, Nash will likely get more second and third ballot support.  That means thats Mulcair will either need more first ballot support or be understanding to those who may consider offering their second ballot support.

    2.  The other candidates are not going to win.  That includes Brian Topp.  Essentially, Topp is throwing his Hail Mary passes with electoral and Senate abolition plus his attack on Mulcair for his supposed centrist ideology.  The rest of them just do not have the ability to get a massive amount of second ballot support in order to make them contenders.  Paul Dewar will likely get third place.  However, it will likely be far back from Nash and Mulcair.

    If you want to participate in my ranked ballot poll, feel free to do so.  You may vote once per hour.  The voting will continue until the NDP leadership election day. 

    http://www.demochoice.org/dcballot.php?poll=NDP2012NPD

  26. To those who see the 17 votes for “none of these,” they were originally votes for Robert Chisholm who dropped out of the race.  People who selected him as top choice had their second and subsequent choices transfered to other candidates unless they did not choose subsequent choices.

  27. DOES CANADA NEED TO RE-THINK THE MONARCHY IN 2012???
    On December 14, 2011 it was predicted at the Water War Crimes web site
    “If the information we have received about Queen Elizabeth and her family is true, then I would not be surprised to see Queen Elizabeth and one or more of her family drop dead or have an unfortunate accident in the coming months – like the 25 plus people who were involved in the Water War Crimes who died since we started the lawsuit.
    http://www.waterwarcrimes.com/newest-developments-blog—breaking-news—follow-ongoing-developments-here.html
    On December 23, 2011 the Queen’s husband PRINCE PHILLIP was rushed to hospital and had his first NEAR DEATH EXPERIENCE
    The role of Queen Elizabeth in the Water War Crimes is one of Canada’s greatest secrets and is more fully explained at:
    http://www.waterwarcrimes.com/queen-elizabeth–prince-charles-and-the-royal-family-connection-to-water-war-crimes.html

  28. I live in Mexico, where re-election is prohibited. All mayors and legislators serve three-year terms; senators and the president serve six. The lack of re-election is the biggest detriment to this country getting ahead. Period. It perpetuates an amateur political class, whose members spend the first-year learning, second year doing something and the third year seeking other employment. It also gives party bosses enormous power of lawmakers, creating enormous party discipline. No legislator thinks about his district: He thinks about his political master because that person controls his career. And with no re-election, who cares about doing a good job – or any job at all.

    • But, just supposing every termed-out politician in Mexico had a Papa who owned a car parts plant, then he-she could casually approach a political career with all the deep thought one would have in choosing a new pair of shoes, or a new fling, or a new charity.

  29. A process that actually reflected the will of the people would be nice — that way Steve would only have 40% of the current MPs as his servants — which is why snowballs in hell will happen sooner –

  30. Is it even physically possible for Paul Wells to deal with an idea he disagrees with in a grown-up manner?

  31. This article did get me to thinking about useless MPs in safe seats. You know, the kinds of MPs that don’t have to campaign, and, well, don’t have to work. Far too comfortable for my liking. While the Conservatives enjoy more of these than the other parties, I think it applies across the board. It’d be nice to see those boobs tossed after a couple of terms, to have the seat contested at least by a rigorous nomination process.

    • Ugh.  Personally, I hate term limits of any sort. I mean, there’s no other job in the world where if lots of people are satisfied with the job you’re doing, you’re prevented from doing it.

      Let’s face it, if people were really unhappy with the job their incumbent was doing, that person wouldn’t remain an incumbent for long — not if any of the proposed alternatives seemed to be better.

      Besides, simply having a candidate forced to leave doesn’t mean there’ll be any sort or rigor to the nomination process anyway.  People out here don’t vote conservative for the candidate, they vote for the candidate because they’re conservative. Who the candidate is, or their actions (Hi Mr. Andrews) or lack thereof (Hi Mr. Obhrai) doesn’t matter, so the party is free to parachute in whatever they want.

  32. Maybe we should mandate the Belinda Limit – only winning once under any particular party banner

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