Recently, I made a difficult decision to leave the New Democratic Party and sit as an Independent MP. The media (and many partisans) wondered aloud why anyone would give up the protection and support offered by a strong political tribe, along with the perks that go with it.
I agree with the NDP most of the time, and hope they form the next government. The NDP blocked my resignation delivery in the House, so I released it through digital social media. It caused a firestorm in Ottawa, in my riding of Thunder Bay-Superior North, and across Canada. Why did I do this?
All three main parties require lockstep discipline by MPs, with little room for meaningful public debate... or for putting constituents ahead of party politics!
Fueled by a flawed and antiquated electoral system where 39 per cent of the vote can gain 100 per cent of the power, the main parties are mired in a win-lose battlefield mentality. Instead of cooperation and compromise, our voters often observe mindless solidarity, where our tribe is always right, and THEY are always wrong!
I will no longer belong to any party that "whips" (mandates) voting by their MPs, especially on issues not clearly laid out in agreed-upon written policies or platforms. Which means that none of the main political parties is currently an option for me.
Many Canadian voters share my disillusionment. Two out of five eligible voters declined to even cast a ballot in the 2011 federal election. It has become clear that our current political and electoral system often brings out the worst in politicians and parties.
Parliament is a mess. Can we fix it? Yes. Here is my suggested "Four-Step Plan to Restore Democracy to Parliament." Three are quick and simple -- the fourth is definitely not!
We currently sit in hockey-style party blocs, waiting for our team captains to send us over the boards. Like hockey, some fans and media love the violence. Thoughtful journalists and voters long for civility, mutual respect, and meaningful debate. We can fix this in a single week: seat us randomly in the House. We will sit next to "them." We will get to know them as people, parents, spouses, and fellow citizens who care about Canada. It will be much harder to hurl insults at colleagues sitting right beside you, will facilitate open discussion between parties, and will result in voting more with our consciences or the wishes of our constituents, rather than the whippings of party "discipline."
Riding Level Candidate Approval
Since 1970, our flawed election laws mandate that a candidate must have his/her nomination papers signed by his/her national party leader. It is a "Sword of Damocles" held above heads of MPs. The parties and the leaders don't trust the members in the riding to know who they prefer to represent them, or the voters in that riding to elect the best person. Pierre Trudeau described his own back-benchers as "trained seals." Let's do away with that. If the local riding association picks a turkey, let democracy work. Allow the voters to weed them out -- or not. The riding associations should sign our nomination papers.
Collaboration Between Parties
Allow co-sponsorship of private member's bills across party lines (currently not allowed). Bills are often branded as an initiative of the party the member belongs to and opposed or defeated just because the idea comes from "them." Last Parliament (2009-2011) out of 441 private member's bills introduced, only four passed!
Here is the BIG ONE. We will never have real democracy in Canada until we have a truly democratic electoral system. That means some kind of proportional pepresentation ("PR"). The vast majority of democracies in the world (about 100) have some kind of PR. Only a handful use our antiquated British "first-past-the-post" system, where in each riding the voter's vote affects only the outcome in that single riding.
Most modern democracies have a hybrid electoral system, where most parliamentarians are elected directly, but some are selected indirectly to result in..."PR"! Imagine if 20 per cent of the nation's voters vote for the "Purple Party" -- the "Purple Party" gets 20 per cent of the seats! Right now, Stephen Harper is dictating through a "false majority." If we had real democracy, here is what Canadians voted for in the 2011 election: Conservatives122 seats (vs. 167), NDP 94 (vs. 102), Liberals 58 (vs. 34), Greens 12 (vs. one), Bloc 19 (vs. four) , Independent or Other, three. With PR, strategic voting would no longer be necessary!
I am going to devote much time and energy towards achieving these goals to fix Parliament. Are there other "Independent Democrats" out there who will help make it happen?