Constituency parliaments: an antidote to the democratic stalemate in Canada.

Author:Lyon, Vaughan

The image we hold of our future is itself an important element of that future. The expectations we arouse become a strong motivating force in realizing them.

--Pierre Elliott Trudeau

With the steadily increasing political alienation of Canadians, we need transformational proposals front and centre in our political discourse. At stake is having a responsive, efficient, democratic government. The vastly increased citizen support that is required cannot be mustered in our "partyocracy"--a system in which citizens delegate their powers and responsibilities to parties engaged in an often corrupting struggle for power. (1)

Alienation has intensified with the unavoidable growth of government and its intrusiveness into almost all aspects of our lives. Heavily dependent on effective government for their quality of life, yet excluded from a significant role in directing that government, people tell pollsters that they feel "powerless" and want change.

They reiterate what was identified in the popular consultation conducted by the Spicer Commission in 1991. (2) One typical poll reports that citizens, persuaded that their increased involvement in policymaking would improve the quality of government, overwhelmingly (83 per cent) want constituency representation to replace party representation. (3) In a system that is called democratic, citizens should have the right to determine how they will be represented in government as well as by whom. The missing link that would make this possible is a realistic model of constituency representation around which citizens can rally.

A model of constituency representation

The model of constituency representation presented here transforms the current mode of party representation to directly link citizens in a collaborative relationship with their MPs and, through them, with their government and its bureaucracy. (4) Citizens would be able to vote for a nonparty representative backed by a structure that made this possible. Parties might survive, but only if voters find it attractive to support their candidates when the new mode of representation based on constituency parliaments, described below, is in place.

Each of Canada's 308 constituencies--soon to be 338--would be divided geographically into wards, each containing roughly 1,000 registered voters. In a general or special election, those voters would elect someone to represent them in a "Constituency Parliament" (hereafter, CP). With constituencies having, on average, 100,000 voters, a typical CP would have about 100 members. Canada currently has 24 million registered voters and this means that there would be some 24,000 CP members ("junior parliamentarians") spread across Canada--not participatory democracy but a hugely significant step in that direction unrivalled by any other liberal democracy.

The function of CPs would be linking citizens with their MPs, but not directly governing. They would concern themselves with the highlights of the government's policy agenda and, on occasion, on gaps in the program. Free of the extensive duties of the Commons, a CP would not require more than a month-long meeting for its deliberations.

The CP would be broadly representative since virtually anyone could compete in a ward election regardless of his or her financial resources. Shoe leather and access to social media would suffice in a campaign where a candidate could visit each household in the ward and, if elected, would be easily accessible to all citizens.

The local nature of the CPs would offer an important role in the policymaking process to groups that are now unrepresented or underrepresented in the House of Commons: women, minorities, seniors, young people, the poor and the disabled. All would be able to participate in the government of their country from their home base. There would be no need for quotas for women or other underrepresented groups in the Commons. Indeed, it is likely that women would dominate the empowered CPs even while men continued to outnumber them in the House of Commons. Beyond being elected to a CP, citizens willing to play a larger political role could volunteer, or be recruited for their expertise, for committees associated with it.

MPs would not be tied to vote the views of their constituents...

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