POWER SHIFT

Okay, so in my last posting I made an off-the-wall suggestion that we should reform our parliamentary system by making the Party with the majority of seats become the Loyal Opposition.  Well, hey, there’s nothing like a bizarre idea to make a sane idea stand out.  And there’s a good idea on the way.

Actually, it’s been on the way for years but very soon now it will be in book form  –   POWER SHIFT: From Party Elites to Informed Citizens.  The author is Vaughan Lyon , Prof. Emeritus of Trent University. 

I first heard Vaughan Lyon put forth his idea for democratic reform more than two decades ago when in the old riding of Victoria-Haliburton a non-partisan group  calling ourselves  “Citizens’ Open Circle” invited him to speak to us.  Now, twenty years later, he’s speaking out in a book. When a man who was an esteemed member of the Political Science Department in such a highly regarded humanities university as Trent sticks with such dogged determination to an idea to make our MPs, our “representatives”, truly represent us, then I for one want to hear him out.

Actually, when I say “make” I do the professor a disservice.  His desire is, and was, to help our MPs represent us.

Twenty years ago this month I tried to explain the professor’s idea in a misnamed item –

                                In Defence of MPs

[….]we must recognize how naive it is to spend 10 seconds in a voting booth once every four years or so and then pack the unfortunate “winners” off to Ottawa to solve all the woes of the universe.

We ask them to turn sod, cut ribbons, and bless our celebrations.  We pester their offices to untangle bureaucratic red tape.  We deride  patronage while hoping they lure government money into our ridings.  When the economy booms we ignore them and when it falters we blame them.

We expect them to keep their fingers on our pulse and to read our minds but it’s time we helped with the pulse taking and the mind reading.

There’s a move afoot in Vic-Hal to build a non-party advisory body to give any incumbent MP some solid grassroots guidance.  It would be done by breaking the riding into wards and electing one citizen from each ward to sit on a Vic-Hal non-partisan Assembly of Electors.  The idea comes from Professor Vaughan Lyon of Trent University, who calls it a Community Parliament.

From the myriad bills on the Ottawa agenda the local Assembly would select a mere handful for research, study, and discussion.  Obviously, it would select items of particular interest to the folk of Vic-Hal.

The Assembly would ask the riding MP to brief it on the view from Ottawa but the Assembly would eventually come to its own conclusions about the validity of a given bill and would recommend to the riding MP the position he or she should take in parliament.

There are those who say this puts the MP into a straight jacket.  I disagree.  It gives the truly conscientious MP enormous moral support.  No longer would the back bench MP be a lonely figure in the arena coerced by the Party Whip, intimidated by Ministers, pressured by peers, beleaguered by special interest groups and submerged by corporate hype.

Backed by an Assembly of Electors the MP would be armed with a club of conviction forged in the democratic fires of his own riding.

There is another side to the coin, of course, and it is diplomatically stated in the project proposal.  “In the event that an MP consistently ignores the advice of the Assembly,” it is the duty of the Assembly “to actively encourage the electorate to look elsewhere for representation”.

If the people of Vic-Hal get their pilot project off the ground [we didn’t] and the idea catches on, they may do more to reassert the direct democratic power of the Canadian people than all the elitist constitutional revisions and rewrites ever dreamt of.

Canadians must do something like this or be prepared to kiss democracy goodbye in favour of embracing either the autocracy of a Prime Minister, or the oligarchic rule of PM and Premiers, or eventually accepting the corpocracy, the rule by corporations, which seems to be the inevitable destination of major international “reforms”.

I’m sure my old summary doesn’t do the idea justice and I hope the Citizen’s Open Circles’  name of “Assembly of Electors” doesn’t cause confusion. Prof. Lyon has stuck, quite rightly, with “Community Parliament”.

l don’t expect POWER SHIFT: From Party Elites to Informed Citizens to be light bedtime reading.  But I do expect that those who are concerned about the future of our democracy (anybody’s democracy) will find it worthwhile and challenging.

Prof. Lyon has suffered the multiple traumas of retirement, a move from Peterborough to British Columbia, and the loss of one leg, but on behalf of truly representative democracy he is still marching into battle.  That speaks for itself.

Item: In Defence of MPs
From: Down Paradox Lane
Lindsay This Week, June 26, 1991
Copyright© Munroe Scott

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About Munroe Scott

Munroe Scott is a veteran of the freelance writing world.
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