I am pleased to mark my return as a regular contributor to the Calgary Herald by announcing my simple plan to save Canadian democracy. I begin with the following question: why can’t we solve our problems in this country?
I answer with the following proposition: our problems are not being solved because our ancient political system and institutions were not designed to confront the complex and fast-moving problems of to-day’s world.
Our 800-year-old British parliamentary system was based on the notion that the election of constituency-based independent members of Parliament, free to vote their conscience on any issue, would form a floating majority which would carry the day on any particular issue.
It worked. Over time, common ground was found, majorities coalesced, solutions were identified, votes were taken, problems got solved and the shifting coalitions moved on to address the next issue.
The advent of political parties in the 18th century (which continues to this day) and the subsequent loss of the independence of the MP to vote his or her conscience has upset the notion of the ability of the roving or floating majority in a parliament, made up of independents, to find their way to a solution.
You simply can’t bolt the political party concept of a republican political system onto the original, inherent independence of the MP in a British parliamentary system, and expect it to work.
Ford parts don’t work on GM cars, DVDs won’t work in a VHS, an LRT won’t run on the CPR main line, Jarome Iginla’s creativity would never work in Jacques Lemaire’s soul-destroying “neutral-zone trap,” and the dictatorship of the modern political party will never mesh with the original independence required of a member of Parliament.
The day they invented the government whip was the day the independence of Parliament died.
As a result, polarization solidifies, solutions are not found, citizens increasingly feel their parliaments are not relevant, voters drift away, turnout drops, young people won’t engage and a dwindling band of Parliament Hill denizens — politicians, bureaucrats, media, bartenders — tend not to notice that they are laughing with each other in an echo chamber made up of themselves, alone.
It isn’t working, the voters aren’t laughing. People need faith that their members of Parliament matter, that their political institutions work, and that solutions are actually achievable.
Right now, Canadians look at Parliament Hill with a combination of despair and contempt.
There is a way out of this.
Here is a hint: during the last election for the president of France, there was all manner of parties that had a candidate on the ballot on the first Sunday of voting.
However, only the top two would go on to a winner-take-all vote on the second ballot, seven days later — the second Sunday of voting.
That is what we must do in Canada, in all 308 ridings.
On the first Monday of the next federal election, say, May 10, 2010, we have an election as usual, with everybody on the ballot.
But seven days later, on May 17, 2010, we have a runoff election between the top two, in all 308 ridings.
Think of the implications:
-We would be much more likely to have majority parliaments again (where things can get done), because those who finish second on the first round of voting get a chance to close the deal seven days later;
-We would be much more likely to have MPs from the Green party in Parliament, for example, because their strong second-place finishes in many ridings won’t go to waste, simply because their organization is wide, but not deep.
-The Bloc Quebecois, whose separatist obstructionist presence continues to frustrate the aspirations of a federalist nation, would be doomed by the federalist vote coming together on the second round of voting.
-Every MP would be elected by a majority of the voters in their riding.
-And imagine — Canadian elections would actually be exciting, stretching over a period of eight days, and produce parliaments that are a more true reflection of the voting intentions of the people.
Rod Love is the former chief of staff to former premier Ralph Klein.