Ottawa

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.