This is going to be divided into two sections. First I will describe what, I think would be, an ideal electoral system and then I will describe one thing that could be done right now, by Parliament, that would vastly improve the system, without the need for constitutional change, voting reform or a referendum. So if you want to skip the idealism, jump ahead a bit.
If I were going to design an ideal political system, I’d have an independent agency run elections. Each would-be candidate for parliament would have to show support with a certain number of petition signatures and a small filing fee. After that they would not be allowed to spend or raise money.
The election commission would hold candidate interviews and debates. Each candidate would also submit a biography and a statement which expressed their political ideas and positions. These would be available to voters over the web or hard copies could be delivered on request. Local media (television and radio) would also be required to air the debate, in prime time, during the election. Voters would then choose a candidate based on a ranked ballot - no campaigns, no parties, no donations.
Every two years one third of the seats in parliament would come up for election and after new members were sworn in, would elect a prime minister and a cabinet from among their membership. Under this system the leadership would be based on merit, rather than party. At any point a vote of confidence could be held and the Prime Minister could be changed, without triggering a full national election.
Members of Parliament would be beholden to no one except their constituents and there would be a free vote on every issue. That means that MPs would listen to their constituents and make a (hopefully) informed decision based on their own conscience and the wishes of their constituency.
The Senate, in my ideal system, would be made up of the countries best and brightest. Individuals who had distinguished themselves in national service, science, technology, business, academia or the arts. They would be people whose wisdom, intellect and experience commanded respect across ideological lines. Senators would be elected with a two-thirds vote of 338 independently elected parliamentarians and would serve a single-fixed length term before returning to their private lives and respective fields. (That is, at least, how I would build my chamber of ‘sober second thought’ in my ideal system.)
The board that oversees the election commission, and other senior bureaucrats would then be appointed by the Senate.
Idealism aside; I sort of doubt that the current ‘powers-that-be’ are going to disband their political parties and push their financial supporters out into the cold, at least not today.
Right now, today, the existing Parliament (or the one that comes after it) could enact a few simple rules that would solve a lot of problems.
First: A free vote on every single issue.
Stephen Harper promised this when he first ran for office, but never delivered (didn’t even really try). A free vote would mean that each MP would be able to make up his or her own mind on every issue. They could be persuaded by their constituents to vote a certain way, regardless of the position of their leadership or party platform.
It is my experience that individuals are rational. They can be reasoned with, negotiated with and persuaded by facts. They can be talked into compromise positions and can be held accountable for their actions.
Parties are more difficult to persuade. Party leaders have their own agendas, their own ideologies and their own promises to keep. The position of a party or its leader changes only slowly and after consultation with party members, donors and interest groups. Individual MPs are difficult to hold accountable because their votes are largely dictate by their party. (i.e. Every member of the Conservative party has voted with Stephen Harper on almost every issue, it wasn’t their idea, that’s how Parliament currently works.
The new rule would say that it is a serious breach of Parliamentary ethics for the party leadership or any other MP to try to change a members vote through intimidation, coercion or bribery. In other words no member of parliament couldn’t offer them anything in exchange for or threaten to withhold anything over another members vote on any issue.
Second: Members could only be removed from a caucus, by the caucus and only at the cost of a by-election.
Right now Stephen Harper is, or feels that he is, free to simply remove individuals from the Conservative caucus when it suits him. In the case of Liberal senators, Justin Trudeau feels the same and I somehow doubt that Thomas Mulcair objects to the idea either.
In keeping with the new independence given to individual MPs (above), the second new rule should state that a member of a party caucus can only be removed from caucus after a two-thirds vote of all of the members of that caucus. The rule should also state that any member removed from caucus in this manner, or any member who voluntarily switches parties on their own, must automatically stand for election again and may not sit in parliament until they are re-elected.
If a MPs constituents choose to return them to office, as a member of the same caucus they were previously removed from they can then return to that parties caucus until, at least, the next general election.
Those two simple rule changes would, dramatically, alter the way Parliament currently functions and would make it a much more democratic institution all without the need to amend constitutions or enact sweeping changes to current electoral laws.
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