Problems with Party Government
The party-dominated system of representative democracy was the subject of discussion at meetings across the country during the 44th general election. Many expressed interest in the MLPC’s opposition to party government. People raised many examples of the problems they see with the current set-up, from the discredited proceedings of the House of Commons to the fact that the platform on which a party is elected can be thrown out of the window while also declaring it has a “mandate” to rule.
At one get-together with MLPC leader Anna Di Carlo, a participant asked whether proposals to allow “free votes” by Members of Parliament might be a solution. Anna shared her knowledge about proposals that have been made in the direction of lessening party control of the House of Commons, with some adopted but never really implemented, such as party caucus members exercising control over the party leader.
“It doesn’t seem that the upper echelons of the parties in the House want to let go of their control and allow for Members of Parliament either to speak in their own name or vote on their own,” she noted. “More than that,” she said, “all the talk about how the role of political parties in the House of Commons undermines the role of Members of Parliament begs the question: if party domination in the House of Commons is doing a disservice to that institution, why is the same conclusion not drawn about the elections themselves?”
The discussion went on to examine how and why parties said to be political don’t involve people in politics and have actually become a block to political representation and political participation by any definition of the terms. One participant noted that in their experience, “political involvement” only means being asked to put a sign on a lawn during the election, being asked for money and to vote.
Anna shared the findings of the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform thirty years ago based on interviews with officials from electoral district associations.
“An NDP official told the Royal Commission that if people knock on their door between elections, ‘we wouldn’t know what to do with them,'” she said. She pointed out that membership in the parties with seats in the House of Commons has become increasingly insignificant. It only gets counted during leadership races when factional infighting is at a peak.
Even the tiny number of people who are registered with the cartel parties don’t have a say in the policies they adopt. Many times resolutions put forward by members or local riding associations at Conventions never even make it to the floor. “Even the traditional involvement of local members selecting candidates has been largely destroyed,” Anna pointed out.
Participants found what has happened to local riding associations to be an eye-opener.
“The problem of people being fed up with the cartel parties, how they work both among the people, during elections, between elections and in the House of Commons is a long-standing problem,” Anna said. She pointed out that as far back as 1991, a Royal Commission reported that 87 per cent of those surveyed agreed with the statement “Parties confuse the issues.”
The absence of ways for people to participate in decision-making not just during elections but in the periods between as well is a problem that must be solved, the MLPC points out. Opposition to the system of party government is an important place to start.