At the recent Liberal thinkers’ gathering in Montreal there seemed to be no concern for the political realities. It was a surreal event in that, while purporting to be an examination of Canada’s future, it ignored the political needs of our country.
And yet, if we had learned anything over the last four years of minority government, it is that we have to restore more than just the economy. We must restore the confidence Canadians should have in their government and in their country.
First of all and most serious, we need to change the relationship between citizens and their government. It starts with each electoral district. It starts with how we run our political parties. It is recognizing that the party headquarters in Ottawa and regional offices cannot run the party. These offices must function at the service of the party. It is in understanding that the party leader is not the chief executive. The party leader leads the parliamentary caucus. The members of that caucus must be chosen and elected solely by their electoral districts. The practice over the past years of having the party leader authorize each candidate is destroying Canada’s political parties.
In these days of immediate and unfettered communication, a top-down political structure feeds itself failure. With policies and people flowing from the ridings to the party caucus, a party is supplied with constant renewal of ideas and leadership.
The most serious failing in recent years is the lack of understanding that once elected, a Member of Parliament is required to represent all the voters in the electoral district, not just those who voted for him or her. You cannot do that if you are always sending material to the news media and sending mailings to voters that are nothing but unfettered smears of your election opponents. Canadians have got to return to civility in the process of government.
A government has to serve the needs of the citizens, not just promote an ideology. Government is not a choice between left wing or right wing but the choice of people who reflect the needs and wants of their constituents.
The voters also have to recognize that there is more to politics than party leaders. The local Member of Parliament matters. The voters cannot send the village idiot to Ottawa just because that person supports the leader who makes the biggest promises. This destroys the very essence of what the parliament should be.
Parliament is a place for debate. It is a place where needs and wants of the voters can be brought forward and discussed. It is where matters of confidence in the day’s government may be debated and voted. Parliament is not a whim of the prime minister. It is a place where the prime minister can be brought to heel. It is a place where prime ministers can be defeated. There is no divine right of prime ministers to shut down parliament.
Certainly, in the fullness of time, we must change how we are governed. Canada has reached the stage where we can no longer have an unelected head of state. The British monarchy has served us well but needs to be left to antiquity while we devolve into the twenty-first century. Canada has to either abolish or elect its senate but before we elect it, we have to define its role.
Canada needs a constitutional assembly to redefine a modern country. We must decide: what is this country called Canada? The purpose is not to appease the disgruntled but to discuss equally, with all our partners, this wonderful land we share. There is no line down the Ottawa River that separates Canada. It only divides provincial jurisdictions in an inseparable country. We Canadians share a proud past and an unlimited future.
In the process of renewal, we Canadians need to reclaim the promise of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We must stop further abuse of our rights through the ‘notwithstanding’ clause. It is being used indiscriminately by lazy legislators.
In the same vein we must loudly and clearly restate the rights of men and women to their individual rights. Women must have full and unequivocal rights to control of their own bodies and their reproductive rights. We have a responsibility to ensure that all pensioners live without fear of poverty and the debasing of their standard of living. And once we have done that for pensioners, we have to turn our attention to the essential concern for a guaranteed annual income for every Canadian citizen. Only when we have taken that step will we know we are starting to achieve the promise of the land in which we live.
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