Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Leadership and Parliamentary Reform

The problem we have isn't so much with the Ontario Legislature, it's with that House on the Hill. Traditionally, Parliament is the seat of power. But ever since Pierre Trudeau's time, Parliament has slowly and inexorably become obsolete as the Prime Minister of the day concentrates more and more power into his hands until we today we have reached the paranoid and strange concentration by Stephen Harper. No more do backbenchers have any say whatsoever in the workings of Parliament. No longer even does the cabinet have a say, certainly not in public. Only the Prime Minister holds power, total and absolute. Sounds a bit autocratic, nay, one-man dictatorship to me.

We talk about 4-year dictatorships, but we usually mean 4 years by the government in power, not by one man as is now happening federally. John Tory on his show talked about reforming the Provincial Parliament because the budget committees currently have no power. I had no idea what he was talking about. I thought Queen's Park was more democratic than the House. I highly doubt any Ontarian knows -- unless they're heavily involved in the proceedings of Queen's Park -- just how much power has concentrated into the Premier's office. Dalton McGuinty does not play dictator nearly so transparently as Harper does. So why would Tory be any different if elected? I'm persuaded by Tory's desire to reform the workings of Queen's Park because the first thing he did as an elected leader was to enforce civility in his MPPs during Question Period, something unheard of before by any other party or party leader. The House continues to be the bastion of infantile caterwauling, which just makes us electorate more cynical and less likely to vote.

Steve Paikin surprised me by asking the Leaders during the debate what they would do to restore Ontario's traditional leadership role. It surprised me because I didn't think anyone in the media had noticed Ontario's descent into mediocrity and utilitarianism and away from the realm of leadership and ideas, and that anyone would dare say we should aspire to greatness (again). We did see a hint of leadership in the last 4 years. McGuinty surprised me by striking the Citizen's Assembly and by allowing a referendum to be held on electoral reform. This move is highly democratic and shows that he is capable of true leadership and exciting ideas. Of course, one could be cynical and say he allowed it because he knew full well that our descent into learned helplessness and mediocrity means the populace has a whole won't be able to rouse themselves out of their comfort zone and pass it. He could both look good and sit pretty, comfortable in the first-past-the-post system.

Electoral reform is simply the first step to Parliamentary reform. At the moment, politicians have no incentive, other than their own internal motivation, which only Tory has voiced, to reform Parliament, whether provincially or federally. As Michael Moore said, politicians will never do the right thing, only the people can force them to; whereas in France people are used to motivating their politicians, here in North America we're afraid to. The politicians are watching what you do in the referendum. Don't doubt it. If you say we're comfortable with the current system, then they know you don't care a hootenanny about Parliamentary reform and will continue to concentrate power in the Premier's or Prime Minister's office. The provinces are also watching and will say if Ontario doesn't want it, then we're not likely to go down that road, no matter what our populace wants. We will have let down our fellow Canadians who do want electoral and Parliamentary reform and saw hope in our referendum (I've been surprised at the interest from non-Ontario bloggers). We will have dropped the leadership ball and stayed in our followers pen.

In that way, Paikin's question applies equally to us. What are you prepared to do to make Ontario a leader again among the provinces? MMP will undoubtedly make Queen's Park more accurately represent our votes. There's no way it can make it less accurate than first-past-the-post. But does that mean it will reform the way Parliament does business? Will it halt the concentration of power?

Since people are not suddenly going to get mass hysteria and rush to their MPs' or MPPs' offices, demanding that they represent their interests, not their lord and masters the Prime Minister and Premier, the only way that voters can express their wishes is through their votes. We know that first-past-the-post doesn't do that, else we'd have less concentration of power, not more, else we would have the governments we want, not be voting for the least unpalatable, else we would not end up with majorities we don't want (remember Mike Harris anyone?). MMP would more directly express our wish that Parliament holds power, that backbenchers have a say, that cabinet is involved both privately and publicly in government decisions because we would be able to reduce a party's strength in Parliament if they continued business as usual.

But would MMP be strong enough to make a difference? Maybe, maybe not. But our collective decision to go the MMP route would tell the Prime Minister and the Premier that their time of dictatorial, Saddam Hussein-like powers, are coming to an end. It would say that we don't like the current way we vote MPPs in, and we here in Ontario have changed that. We would inspire other provinces to follow suit as the natives get restless and demand the same abilities for themselves. And the reform snowball would eventually force the federal government -- the one that really needs to be reformed -- to follow suit. Once the reform ball has started, then feeling our oats, we will turn our attention to Parliament itself, and inevitably that will be re-formed to ensure that never again can the Prime Minister have the sole and only say in how government is run.

Your peers in the Citizen's Assembly spent a year studying the systems used around the world and decided that MMP was the best way. Your peers, one from each riding in Ontario, are showing you the way. They've done the work, the research, the vast amounts of reading and learning. And they're excited about this new way of electing our MPPs. We can follow our peer leaders and take a step back to showing we Ontarians can be leaders in our own country again.

Or we can stay comfortable and things will continue on as they are. It's not like if you say no to MMP, any Premier is going to say OK, let's send the Citizen's Assembly back to the drawing board and tell them to come up with another system that's not MMP and not first-past-the-post and then give us another chance to vote on it. If you believe that, you're smoking too much from the idealistic and naive pipe. MMP is the first step. It's the necessary step to achieving what we really want: a responsive and representative government.

* Previous Posts in Date Order

Vote on the Referendum

This Election We Have a Referendum

Referendum Ontario -- Your Big Decision

The Referendum Ballot


Who to Vote For?

Voted!

MMP or First Past the Post? You Decide.

MMP Criticized.

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