Election will not cure Canada’s ills

On May 2 Canadians will be returning to the polls. The opposition parties this Friday voted in support of a motion of non-confidence against the government.
Personally, I find the idea of another election tiring, namely since it will be full of the same mindless rhetoric that made Question Period and parliament dysfunctional in the first place. I’d prefer our parliamentarians be able to actually act like representatives of their constituents instead of mindless drones of a party leader.

We all get that for the first time in our history a government has been found in contempt of parliament. No one can, or should, defend the government for withholding detailed cost estimates for bills. However, while what the Conservative Party has done is wrong, the solution does not lie in a single election. There are root causes to the problem our parliament now faces which will never be solved at a ballot box.

We have accepted a Westminster parliamentary system in this country that is too heavily reliant on party discipline. Somehow it hasn’t dawned on people that by creating a culture where individual members of parliament (MP) almost always vote the party line, we have not only lessened the role and powers of an MP but allowed for the degradation of our own democracy. It’s bad enough we have an unelected senate, we certainly don’t need members of parliament bred to vote in support of party bills and deficit budgets. The fact that our conservative MPs have constantly touted the party line, even ignoring Kevin Page’s suggestion we may end up spending $14 billion more on fighter jets than first believed, shows how far we have fallen. This is not an issue of Harper’s leadership either; party whipping has just as much been abused under past Liberal governments.

Ask Bill Casey and John Nunziata, each of whom as backbenchers at different times in recent Canadian history voted against the budget their party leader put forward as prime minister. Neither of which found their party leaders to be particularly receptive to the concept of backbencher MPs voting in support of their constituents and both shortly thereafter found themselves kicked out of their caucus.

If I have yet to persuade you that we need change, consider for instance the United Kingdom. The U.K. has a system based around party discipline as well, however it is not unheard of for government party MPs to vote against the government on bills. While MPs in Britain, much like here, almost never vote against three line whip votes, like budgets and motions of confidence, there have been recent instances where Conservative MPs in the U.K. have voted against their government.

Six Conservative backbencher MPs voted late last year against government plans to increase the university tuition fee cap to $14,000. In Canada, going against the government on such a controversial policy decision, particularly given it caused student rioting, would have gotten the MPs kicked out of committees and possible even the party. Yet the British response was much more tempered, namely because the British accept government critics within their own party.

That is why regardless of who wins, this election will be a failure. It is highly unlikely that the backbencher members of parliament who make up the majority of the seats will have the balls to push their leaders and the speaker of the house to give them the power back that they deserve. Until they do the best we can do as Canadians is look across the ocean at our U.K. brethren and sigh.
Living in a country where MPs can safely vote as their constituents request; it almost sounds too good to be true.