Friday, November 30, 2012
Politicians...mandated to pursue the "common good" or not?
Complaining about the state of politics and politicians in Canada is a familiar refrain in which we all succumb to whistling Dixie in the wind. Confused? Don`t be, you are not alone. The ideology that our elected officials are more intelligent, self-motivated, and free of bias, prejudice and possessing a higher degree of moral fiber; compared to other Canadians is simply absurd.
Politics is the fluidity of a wide consensus of ideals and base moral tenets in which we identify ourselves; as do we all transform, mobilize and evolve so should the ideals of government policies which govern Canadians on multiple governmental levels. Expecting politics to remain stagnant, unable or unwilling to adapt to its citizenry; resembles the behaviours of a child wishing everyone could be able to see his imaginary friend…forever.
Canadians who choose to represent a constituency and elected by a democratic mechanism; have the responsibility to be themselves. Politicians are not exclusively, morally and ethically "beholden" to their constituency. One cannot be all to everyone; as any politician cannot represent the views of every constituent within his constituency. Therefore why do we still mandate such a position from our elected representatives? Columnist Andrew Coyne is of the opinion that,
“Politics is about packs; the more ruthless, more disciplined, more pack-like of the parties mauls the others into submission. It prizes loyalty, not before all other virtues, but to their exclusion. We hunt together, the aspiring politician is told. Stick with the pack. And so each learns to scrape and smear, to manipulate and deceive, to promise one and threaten another, exactly as he is told. That is how institutional power is won. Everyone understands that. What is interesting is what happens when power collides with principle: when the pack confronts, not another pack, but a determined individual of conscience. Nothing has prepared the pack for this. Faced with someone they cannot frighten, and who does not want anything from them, they are bewildered. All of their normal tactics and approaches are suddenly useless. All of their power turns to dust.”
An interesting concept to be sure; however do we still have the obligation to support such a tenet in the 21st century? If we “understand” how institutional power is won than we ought to change the laws in which it governs us all. And to that end we must examine how the apex of the Prime Minister`s Office political reach, extended to persons responsible to develop policy; transmit communications and influence the manner in which independent 3rd party institutions analyze federal government behaviours within Canada.
According to former Pierre Elliott Trudeau policy adviser, Brian Flemming,
“What remains are increasingly efficient and ever more powerful prime minister’s offices with their staffs of policy advisers, media spinmeisters and pollsters, all beholden personally to the prime minister for their status and paycheques. As a result, many once great offices of state have become dignified shells of their former selves,”
To that end what have we created? Something resembling the governance of ancient Rome; with one difference we do not excise the power of the Roman forum. Canadians have no appetite for violence; do not feel comfortable in massive public demonstration of civil disobedience such as the Civil Movement of the 1960’s in the USA. We seem to endure such injustices and hope for the best. A hope that changing political affiliation from one party to the next will usher the kind of social revolution we so desperately seek. As Donald Savoie explains,
“The country’s constitutional democracy is based on the supremacy of Parliament, the system’s legislative branch. But while the executive branch has expanded its power and while the judicial branch has grown in influence with the advent of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the people’s forum, where democracy’s blood flows, has atrophied.”
We grow angrier more despondent and as a result Canadians resort to re-distribute their vote in the rhetoric of extremism often found in political parties such as Alberta`s Wild Rose Party or the Péquiste party in Québec. What are we to do with the “One man rule?” If the Opposition Parties themselves cannot or lack the political will to fight outright injustices made by the PMO’ Office; then do we not deservingly merit to be “enslaved” by the very measures put in place in the Charter?
We snide and made contemptuous farces, made a mockery of Canadians in the province of Québec, who legitimately assembled “en masse” wearing masks, banging pots and pans; publicly, unilaterally, sending a message to the provincial Liberals that laws made to control, limit, and define what constitutes as a lawful public demonstration is undemocratic.
We moan and cry foul when leaders and ministers elected to politically operate within the mandate of their political platforms; go astray and purposely renege on promises made. Thus creating the illusion and perhaps instilling the fears of Canadians have… a reality. Losing faith in the sanctity of political office and therefore in politicians, in all three levels of government. Duff Conacher renowned author and one of the founders of Democracy Watch stipulated in an article published in iPolitics,
“Given the number of people hurt in various ways by this dishonesty, and how damaging lying is to reasonable, democratic debate, you would think that passing a law requiring honesty in politics would be a top priority of politicians across the country. In an Elections Canada in 2000, the highest-ranked reason for decreased interest in politics by non-voters was “false promises/ dishonesty/lack of confidence in politicians” while the second-highest ranked change that would make non-voters more interested in politics was “more honesty, responsibility, accountability” in government; an Elections Canada found that 60% of non-voters were turned off to politics because of dishonesty and other reasons. Judges have ruled in lawsuits filed against promise-breaking politicians that voters are naive to believe election promises, and so they have refused to punish misleaders. And believe it or not, the federal Conservative government’s so-called “Federal Accountability Act” (FAA) actually decreases accountability significantly by deleting the honesty rule from the rules that apply to the Prime Minister, Cabinet ministers, ministerial staff, Cabinet appointees and senior government officials (and the Conservatives failed to include 22 other promised measures in the FAA and may not fully implement the FAA.
In 2011 we have yet again elected (a majority no less) a Conservative (Reform Party?) government promising sweeping reforms; introducing legislation to render the PMO’s Office accountable, to continue its political agenda in reforming the senate, equal representation, etc…Did it occur? As Marc Jarvis, doctoral candidate and co-author of Democratizing the Constitution: Reforming Responsible Government suggests we need, “…to correct the institutional imbalance in power that exists between prime ministers and Parliament in Canada.”
We continue to witness the steadfast support of western provinces nursing the “us” against “them” in respect to West vs. East dominance of federal politics; furthering the polarization of Canadians and demanding a re-examination of the “first out of the post” rule.
What exists within our society that impedes Canadians to cultivate the “political citizen” within our midst? There needs to be a shift in the way we perceive the nature of politics and politicians. We need to emphasize the merits in the pursuance of independent thought, and promoting a political culture in which public service is valued, nurtured and of significance. To this end “political citizens” should be cultivated and encouraged to seek higher office; to be properly remunerated and afforded some latitude in which they can continue to function within their respective family environment.
Of note, politicians should have increased “independent” political mobility within a tripartite government system. According to Alison Loat, co-founder and executive director of Samara, the key lies in improving the political and civic engagement within Canada,
“…to them, it is often the way political parties manage themselves, their members and their work that drives this dysfunction. Some of the greatest frustrations these MPs faced during their political careers came from their own parties. MPs repeatedly spoke of how decisions from their leadership were opaque, arbitrary and even unprofessional, and often ran counter to the MPs’ desires to practice politics constructively. It would be easy to dismiss these as words of a few bitter partisans, but that would be inaccurate. Almost without exception, these former parliamentarians spoke with reverence at the opportunity to serve in Parliament, and looked back on their experience as time well spent. In fact, they consistently said the work of Parliament was critical to the way Canadians live together. Given what these MPs are saying, perhaps we should be asking different questions. Is it true Parliament is broken or dysfunctional? Or is it more accurate to say our political parties are?”
This brings us to the electorate itself; why do we continue to tolerate voter apathy in Canada? Yes being dissatisfied with political parties is understandable. To publically argue as a whole that we do not believe that our “votes” does not affect real change in Canadian politics is equally relevant. However purposely avoiding not to vote under these point of views, does not negate the responsibility of all Canadians inherently possess; in having the obligation to do so. Robin V. Sears, a former diplomat for the province of Ontario articulates this issue in this manner,
Per capita, Canada has more of its citizens abroad than any developed democracy, more than two million. Most of them don’t vote. Canadians are free to sulk, to sit on the sofa and sneer at political choice, to let others choose their leaders for them. In Ontario, for the first time, this year we slipped below a majority of citizens deciding in favour of the polling booth over the couch. Democracy requires legitimacy. A genuinely free citizenry choose their governors to make tough choices on their behalf. When indolence or deliberate vote suppression tactics mean that fewer than half of the electorate chooses their government, we are at the edge of a slide toward illegitimacy.
Nudging tactics may construe a higher rate of voters to the polls, as former research analyst for the Library of Parliament, Amanda Clarke suggests,
“The theory of “nudge” underlies this proposal – a creative and clever means of encouraging individuals to vote by strategically altering the context in which the decision to vote or not is made. To be sure, nudge tactics will likely do little to encourage participation among those who abstain from voting out of a genuine dislike for electoral politics. However, for the large numbers of people who do not vote because of apathy, a lack of information and motivation, or administrative barriers, nudges may be all we need to facilitate participation. Simple solutions to complex problems are rare — Canadian policy-makers should be nudged to recognize them when they come along.”
Ultimately the process, in which we operate, must be made fully operable in between elections within the Canadian citizenry. A venue which facilitates communication between elected officials and voters must be accessible, user friendly and convey the essence of truthfulness as being paramount according to MP Carolyn Bennett,
Things have turned out worse that anyone could have imagined. Parliamentary Committees aren’t given the budgets to travel or develop the capacity for e-consultation. This year the committee study on OPEN GOVERNMENT was denied a budget for consultations designed to enable the members to talk to Canadians about their needs! ‘Democracy Between Elections’ must mean that citizens have a genuine opportunity to shape public policy not just at the ballot box. A majority government should not mean ‘central command and control’ for four years where the only ideas considered emanate from the Prime Minister’s office. The relationship between elected representatives and citizens should also reflect that the ‘sum is greater that the parts’. The foundation must be a deep belief that citizens know what is working and what is not. Elected representatives also need much more meaningful mechanisms to tap into the expertise that exists across the country in almost every area of public policy. We must take seriously our responsibility to harvest observations and good ideas that could help many, many people.