Print Edition: April 3, 2013
Party politics are hurting Canadian democracy.
Conservative Langley MP Mark Warawa’s recent mini-rebellion against Stephen Harper’s ironclad grip on his caucus has been promptly silenced – for now.
Warawa introduced a motion that sought to ban sex-selective abortions, a measure which he says 90 per cent of Canadians support. One of Harper’s 2010 campaign promises was not to re-open any parliamentary discussion of abortion during his term as Prime Minister. Most sources have said that this is the reason the bill was quashed before being brought to a vote.
This is only the latest in a long list of examples of how Stephen Harper’s ruling Conservative Party has consolidated party communication, reduced press access to government and kept MPs voting the party line on most issues. This sort of muzzling hurts an MP’s ability to represent the concerns of his or her constituents in the House of Commons. Moreover, the Conservatives’ governing practices as a whole have decreased the openness of Canada’s federal government.
Strict adherence to party lines reduces Members of Parliament to mere voting machines, cogs in a grand machine designed to achieve whatever legislative aims the party in control of parliament happens to have. How can citizens be expected to have their voices heard in Ottawa when any local concern is subject to Harper’s approval?
The Conservatives should take heed of their Reform Party roots and allow for more free votes in the House of Commons. It would only strengthen the party’s rapidly deteriorating image; any step back from the closed door, authoritarian governing practices the Conservative Party is becoming known for would be a step in the right direction.
This recent incident brings to mind my own frustration with my local MP, Cloverdale Conservative Russ Hiebert.
For the last few elections, Hiebert has ducked out of the local debates, but handily won the election anyway because of his Conservative affiliation. My letter to Hiebert about one of the copyright bills some years ago was answered with a form response and his signature.
I feel like I’m being represented by a Conservative robot, not a human being attuned to the local community.
This points to what I think is a bigger problem with the structure of Canada’s government. Because our head of state is the Queen, most people tend to vote based on the national leader of a party rather than the quality of their local candidate. After all, selecting a national leader tends to take priority over your local representive.
Hiebert is a product of this system in which negligible local candidates can get elected based solely on their party affiliation. He’s the perfect Harper Conservative cog: impersonal, unavailable and always votes the party line.
There are two ways to restore the strength of our local representation in Ottawa, both of them somewhat drastic.
The first is to abolish political parties. This, however, is both impractical and poses other problems of its own.
The second is to leave the Commonwealth.
I know many Canadians will bristle at the idea. After all, our connection to the monarchy is a big part of our heritage. But the way it stands, the Prime Minister (head of government) functions as a sort of de facto head of state. Such a move would allow Canada to elect its own head of state.
This move would revitalize the strength of our indiviual Members of Parliament by distinguishing the selection of a national leader from local representative. If Canadians could vote for a head of state, it would be much easier to justify voting for a strong local candidate rather than feelingobligated for a local representative as a surrogate for their choice of national leader.