Monday, December 15, 2008

Time to Reform Parliament

Apparently, the faculty of law at the University of Toronto held a conference on Friday about Governor General Michaëlle Jean's decision to prorogue Parliament. Liberal MP Bob Rae and NDP MP Joe Comartin attended. Tellingly, no Conservative MP attended. Too bad.

They discussed whether Jean should have released her reasons for her decision and whether she should have  asked to speak to the coalition leaders before making her decision. I had simply accepted that we will never know her reasons, maybe the next generation will get to find out. But after reading about their conference, I question if secrecy is good. It is traditional; but if we want more democracy, and given that most government decisions are debated in the public theatre of Parliament, then we need to see her actions out in public as well. Furthermore, since Parliament is supposed to lead Canada, not the Prime Minister exclusively, then we need to see actions that further our democracy, won after centuries of hard battles, not diminish it. By not speaking to the coalition leaders, the GG strengthened the Prime Minister's powers to make sole decisions affecting Parliament and thus Canada. Despite Gwyn's calming of the waters, I'm still leaning to the idea that this whole prorogue mess makes us less democratic.

The problem in all this -- and maybe the strength too, in the past anyway as it made it more fluid -- is that none of how Parliament works is written down. It's time to change that. It's time to reform Parliament such that we prescribe how much a Prime Minister can take for himself and reverse the concentration of power in the PMO. With five parties now vying for seats in Parliament, it becomes much more important to no longer have four-year dictatorships rubber-stamped by the GG and that the GG no longer speaks solely to the PM, but also to the other leaders. And it becomes much more important that the majority rule in Parliament and that fear and whips no longer silence MPs to the point that someone like Prime Minister Stephen Harper can take control and impose his will on the majority of MPs who represent the majority of Canadians. That's one of the excuses that people have for so long used to not vote: that we have no voice anyway through our MPs.

But we cannot complain that we are not represented in Parliament and then vote for having more of that, as so many have this past week because of their ignorance of how Parliament works and lock, stock, and barrel swallowing of Harper's lies. Maybe this crisis is the best thing Harper has done if it kick-starts serious discussion of and action on Parliamentary reform. And I believe the answer lies here in Canada, to the north.

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