Friday, January 1, 2021

Lets work to fix parliamentary flaws which block holding a Premier or Prime Minister accountable.

In my New Years note yesterday, the last paragraph was about Ontario Finance Minister Rod Phillips, and why I felt he should be fired from his position. What he did was not a mistake, but a well prepared dishonesty that made him unworthy of being a cabinet minister. He was appropriately asked to resign.


I feel the same way about Justin Trudeau.  We could discuss the SNC Lavalin scandal, his treatment of Jody Wilson-Raybould, the WE scandal, and his general flaunting of his lifelong privilege and belief in his own entitlement. Why I think Justin Trudeau is a bad Prime Minister isn't really my point.

 

My point is that with decades of manipulation by political parties and the media, there is no mechanism to hold Justin Trudeau accountable the same way that Rod Phillips was held accountable.  A bad cabinet minister was turfed from the cabinet for their individual incompetence, and parliament and the government moves forward without some alleged crisis. The same should be possible with any cabinet minister, including a Premier or Prime Minister.

 


Here are some of the barriers to holding Justin Trudeau to account.

 

  • During a general election there are 338 separate electoral district elections, and some subset during a by-election. The question posed on the ballot in each electoral district is different. The media and political parties falsely claim and aggressively promote the notion that we have a national election with a common question on a common national ballot.
  • Contrary to popular misconception, Canada doesn't elect the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister is the current leader of the party that has the confidence of the elected House of Commons to form government. There is no direct way for Canadian citizens to elect or un-elect a Prime Minister.
    • It is an extreme corruption of our political system to suggest that I should treat my one vote for a representative in the House of Commons as merely a US-style electoral college vote for some concept of a "President of Canada". The USA should be abandoning its electoral college if it wishes, but Canadians should never be pretending we have one.
    • Parties can change leaders (including Primiers and Prime Ministers) between elections, and this is considered normal. The current problem is that it is unelected party executives that make these decisions, not elected parliamentarians holding that cabinet minister to account.
  • Due to gradual internal party changes (not law), a party leader is currently decided by political tourists (anyone willing to pay $5 to temporarily become a member) outside of parliament, rather than the leader being accountable to elected party caucus members.  While some claim allowing the general public to elect leaders is more democratic, it is actually far less democratic as it makes the leadership position unaccountable.
  • Justin's daddy put party names on the federal ballot, and changed the law to allow party leaders to directly manipulate the electoral district nomination processes. This has granted the executives of parties extreme power, and over many parliaments has reduced the power of elected members of parliament and passed power to the unelected leaders offices (PMO, OLO, etc) and party executive. Each successive parliament since has become less democratic.
  • The mainstream corporate media reports federal elections as a horse race between party leaders.
    • They constantly repeat the false concept of "party popular vote" which incorrectly assumes that everyone votes strictly along party lines, greatly diminishing the actual meaning and value of every vote.  This misunderstanding has benefit unaccountable party executives at the expense of elected MPs and their constituents, and has created a block for electoral reform in Canada.
    • While there is no "national" election, the media is allowed to report nonsensical time-zone based "national races" as if votes cast in the east have more impact than votes cast in the west.  This generates national unity issues, with some people in the west falsely believing their votes have less of an influence.
    • Generally, rather than the media making parliament more accountable, they actively promote myths about Canada's democracy that make it less accountable.

 

 

I believe there are a number of changes that need to be made to make all of parliament more accountable.

  • Remove party names from the ballot
  • Elections Canada and other official reports from government must stop reporting the false notion of "party popular vote"
  • Remove the ability of party leaders or other party executives to manipulate electoral district nomination processes.  While the party can approve riding associations, they should not have the ability to centrally control the democratic process.
  • Stop having party leadership "primaries", and return to a party leader being the elected MP that has the current confidence of the party caucus. The current process for electing the speaker, including use of preferential voting, would be appropriate to also use for party leaders within caucus membership.
  • Provide for appropriate ceremonies for the election of party leaders within the house of commons, and the official vote to decide which party will form government. It must be made clear that these decisions are not made during a general election, but by the parliamentarians who are elected to parliament.
  • Impose some accountability for party and media misinformation related to democratic institutions, possibly administered by elections Canada.  The role of the media should be to educate the public and hold parliamentarians to account, and not to corrupt democratic processes through misinformation.

 

The Samara Center for Democracy discusses many of these issues, and has many suggestions to improve the functioning of parliament and the empowerment of its elected membership.  This includes a series of books which I strongly recommend reading.

 

I will, however, not be holding my breath on any of these as the "opposition" parties have thus far been advocating for one or more of these problems.


  • All parties now have primaries where leadership is decided outside of parliament
  • The Conservatives fight for the PM being the leader from the party with a plurality of seats, and falsely claiming that a coalition government is less democratic
  • The NDP have suggested multiple times that a by-election should be held if an elected MP wants to change party affiliation.
  • The NDP and Greens have been strongly pushing for granting seats based on "party popular vote", increasing the influence of party executives and thus reducing voices in parliament.  They want a special party question on the ballot, and thus are clearly opposed to removing party names from the ballot.  We could have used Ranked Choice Voting (Instant Runoff Voting, or Single Transferable Vote) in the 2019 election if the NDP/Greens were not narrowly focused on "party popular vote".

 

It is convenient for people to believe that the lack of accountability that Justin Trudeau enjoys is entirely because of the Liberal party of Canada, but this is not the case.  If the opposition parties really want to hold Justin Trudeau to account then they must stop blocking measures to increase the accountability of party leaders in general, and Premiers and Prime Ministers specifically.  If you are a member of a political party, please work within that party to convince them to work toward rather than against parliamentary and cabinet accountability.

 

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