“Parliament can hardly be weakened any more than it already is. Harper can’t go much further without making the institution dysfunctional. He is trying to control every aspect of House business. In fact, it will have to be returned to its former state by someone if we are to have a democracy.”
The Hon. Peter Milliken, Former Speaker of the House, (from Michael Harris, Party of One)
Canadians increasingly distrust their politicians and government. And for good reason. The basic respect owed to citizens has been overcome through tactics and strategies of electoral warfare. Attack ads during election campaigns continue through non-electoral periods. Public discourse has been contaminated through the viciousness of hyper-partisan politics. Declining voter turn-out is not as much a sign of electoral apathy as it is of electoral disgust. What Canadians need to realize is that the only way to fix our democracy is to exercise our right to vote and to vote for those who respect democracy.
Scandals plague the Harper administration, which itself came to power in 2006 on the heels of the Liberal sponsorship scandal. Harper’s promises to be transparent and accountable have been violated by scandals far more serious than those that plagued the Liberals.
Stephen Harper and his party have committed, or been implicated in, one scandal after another. From cheating election spending laws (the ‘in-out’ scandal), to serious misconduct of Conservative Senators and attempts to bury the problems with an alleged pay-off from the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff, Harper’s Administration has displayed a contempt for the very promises it made to achieve power. Although scandals involving money attract the most media attention, other abuses of power are far more serious.
It is the current Prime Minister’s contempt for Parliament and the institutions of parliamentary democracy that are far more concerning. We need to understand our democratic institutions and set about rebuilding them.
The cornerstone principles of our system of government are that Members of Parliament represent their constituents, not their political party; that all MPs are equal, with the Prime Minister first among equals; that the Prime Minister reports to Parliament, not the other way around; and that Parliament controls the public purse.
People are also disillusioned with MPs’ allegiance to parties instead of constituents, government inefficiency and wasteful spending, and the failure of government to address critical issues like the climate crisis. On top of this, we have an outdated voting system where the popular vote is not translated into seats, leaving many voters unrepresented. Many citizens, especially youth, are so frustrated that they don’t even bother to vote.
When our government is at its best, it represents all of us and brings us together to accomplish things we cannot accomplish alone. Our Parliament should be a model of statesmanship and cooperation, working for the good of all Canadians. It should deal creatively and constructively with issues and spend taxpayers’ money prudently. MPs should be elected through a fair voting system that ensures parties get a share of seats in Parliament that is equal to their share of the popular vote. Canadians should be proud of their government and trust that it is acting in their best interests.