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Rafe Mair, How to Fix Broken Democracy, contd.

which they sit, which are supposed to hold government departments accountable, are stacked by the prime minister. If they do show a bit of independence, the PM removes the uncooperative ones and replaces them with obedient ones, often done just before any vote where the prime minister fears the outcome! As the book makes tragically clear, MPs are ciphers and the government is run by the prime minister and unelected advisors in his office. No such thing as a “free vote” One regularly suggested solution is the “free vote” – it’s an illusory remedy. Occasionally there are true free votes on matters of conscience, such as was held on capital punishment some years ago. When, however, the “free vote” is on something that the prime minister wishes passed, the Government MP feels just as compelled to vote for the government as when the whip is on. After all, the MP’s real worry is that the PM records who’s “reliable” and that’s far more important than voting as you wish. Proportional Representation Another solution presented is Proportional Representation (PR), which has been demonized by First Past The Post (FPTP) fans because it invariably produces a minority or, more likely, a coalition, as if that were a terrible thing – they say we would have one election after another and nothing would ever get done. In fact, that’s not the history of PR, with a 5% requirement for a seat, as a glance at 21 European countries, including Sweden, Finland, Germany – plus New Zealand – demonstrate. I support PR but I have another idea which involves no more than altering a parliamentary tradition. The secret recipe In the present system – where the PM has the carrots and sticks that ours does – you can understand why the lowly MP, with his eye on the cabinet benches and fearful of ejection from caucus, thinks twice about doing or saying anything that might offend the boss. If this could be changed, Canada would then greatly enhance its national unity by governing itself in a manner much more suitable to all segments of the nation. For all that, it’s essential to cogitate carefully on what we want so as not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. We don’t want a dictator, yet we must have a strong executive. We’ve seen in the United States what happens when Congress cripples a president like Obama. I believe there’s a way to get the best of both worlds. The Mair solution – here’s something to chew on! Are you ready for this? Perhaps a shot of 28 dialogue

AUTUMN 2016, VOL. 30, NO. 1

single malt at the ready is in order! This doesn’t require any amendment of the Constitution and not a nickel spent. It is a very simple solution. What if we made votes of confidence secret ballots? You and I as citizens wouldn’t dream of giving up our right to vote privately. If the government tried to invade that privacy we would rise as one. A secret vote is the very essence of our democracy! Why is it different for MPs? If you think about it, if the PM is going to watch how his MPs vote, why bother voting at all? The only way to hold the prime minister to account is to deny him certainty of how any MPs will vote on a House of Commons vote of confidence. This notion is so contrary to the discipline we’ve permitted to be imposed on our MPs, thus on ourselves, it takes the breath away. Yet I haven’t heard a decent, logical argument against it! This isn’t as dangerous for the PM as appears at first blush. The chances are excellent that the prime minister’s caucus will support him. It will act on the PM like the old strap when we older folks were in school – it was the fact it was there, in the principal’s desk, that kept us on the straight and narrow. In other words, the ability to punish has an effect often more efficient than the punishment itself. It would provide a brake on the PM and an ever present warning. The back room boys I am not through, however! What if we made the budget vote secret? The back room boys will throw up their hands in horror! Do you mean that a government can’t even pass its budget without the danger that it could lose by a secret ballot? I’ll answer a question with a question. Why should a government automatically get its budget passed, just because it has a majority that the prime minister can force to obey? Shouldn’t the wisdom of how a government spends our money be the responsibility of every Member of Parliament? The end of omnibus bills Before we pay too much attention to the back room boys – let’s examine what would probably happen. I know that’s a novel notion but let’s give it a try anyway. If the budget bill was by secret ballot, there is no likelihood is that a PM would do as Stephen Harper did in his famous C-38 in 2012, when 70 unrelated bills were bundled into one as part of the budget. Not only did the …/ www.dialogue.ca

Dialogue Vol.30, No.1 digital edition  

Canada's unique volunteer-produced magazine for ideas, insights, critical thinking & radical imagination - shared in letters, essays, storie...

Dialogue Vol.30, No.1 digital edition  

Canada's unique volunteer-produced magazine for ideas, insights, critical thinking & radical imagination - shared in letters, essays, storie...

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