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MCG said:......After that, it may be worth looking at how leaders are selected in Parliament (not necessarily by the parties) and how government and the opposition is formed.I think shifting power from parties to MPs would be a good thing. Of course, this debate would also require that we review our position on the formation of coalitions and of MPs crossing party lines inside the house.
MCG, I agree that this is the crux of the matter for Canadian democracy: the selection of leaders.
The representative assembly system, with no parties, and the Prime Minister selected by the Majority of the Caucus that has the Majority of the Votes in the House, reduces the opportunity for back-room deals to be made.
The party system ensures that power is managed out of sight of the public, outside the House.
When King, (or was it Bonar Law? or Lord North?) declared that he was no longer bound by the Caucus, but was a creature of extra-parliamentary forces, he set aside all the work of reform that had occured from the days of Lord North and had their apogee with the arrival of universal suffrage. No sooner did working men and all women have a right to influence the decision making system in parliament than a mechanism was discovered for influence to be exerted that would subvert their influence.
The Parties are Clubs. They are Private Clubs. They may run themselves by constitutions and Roberts Rules but they are still Private Clubs. They may not discriminate in membership but they still charge a membership fee. And that fee does not gain you much control over how the funds are spent. Edit: It essentially buys you a single, minority share in privately held company.
The Party is essentially a corporation whose sole purpose is selling influence. It promises to deliver a Prime Minister, a block of MPs and a set of Policies in return for cash. In the Liberals case it used to come primarily from the heirs of the Norwesters in the Golden Square Mile of Montreal. In the case of the NDP it came from the coerced masses in their Unions. In the case of the Conservatives, it used to come from Upper Canada but now, increasingly, is coming from Calgary and the Middle Class.
But no matter how broad the subscription on which a Party is based, it is stilll a vehicle for influence-peddling, and that is a crime:
Influence peddling is another example of improper use of office. Unlike bribery, which is aimed at buying a decision directly from the decision maker, the concept of influence peddling involves paying a third party to exert influence on the decision maker. In this situation, the buyer hopes that the influence of the person being paid will be sufficient to convince the decision maker to decide a matter in his or her favour.
The Criminal Code prohibits officials from demanding, accepting or offering or agreeing to accept a loan, reward, advantage or benefit of any kind for cooperation, assistance or exercise of influence in connection with any matter of business relating to the government. Although Parliamentarians may not necessarily be in a position to make a particular decision, they might very well be able to influence the decision-making process. In fact, members of the House of Commons are expected to represent the interests of their constituents and to participate in the development of public policies. Thus, representing the interests of their constituents in influencing public policy is not in itself a crime. However, this activity becomes a crime when done in exchange for a benefit. The member would be taking advantage of his public office for private gain.
It is noteworthy that when a public official accepts a benefit in exchange for the exercise of his or her influence, it is not necessary that the official possess a corrupt state of mind. The test applied by the courts is : whether or not the individual is aware that he or she is an official ; whether or not the official intentionally demands or accepts the benefit in question, for himself or herself, or for another person ; and whether or not the official knows that the reward is in consideration for his or her influence in connection with the transaction of business with the government.....
Moving to Proportional Representation and Party Lists would only strengthen the hand of those who control the coffers and buy the Prime Minister's office.
With respect to your point about crossing party lines. If there are no parties, there are no lines to cross. There is just an assembly of representatives who are forced to make their deals in public, on the issues.
I noticed in one article that I posted, I think it was the article by the Carleton prof, that Belgium insisted that the Party Leader NOT be the Leader of the Party in the House. Perhaps that makes some sense. It separates the Party, an extraparliamenetary club of individuals that lobby parliamentarians to support their cause, from the parliamentarians themselves.
Perhaps the secret is to move the parliamentarians further along the curve toward the (supposedly) apolitical courts. A starting point would be to demand that parliamentarians cannot be affiliated with any party - cannot hold a party membership.
A second step would be to increase the use of by-elections and decrease the use of general-elections. This would decrease the ability of the Party to influence the messaging by forcing them to spread their efforts over time as they would be limited geographically.
(By the way I wonder if the word By in By-election is related to the By in the name of the town Whitby. By is a Danish word for city, town or borough is found widely in town names throughout northern England and southern Scotland. Whitby is smack in middle of this area on the coast of Yorkshire.)
A third step would be to actually elect the individual that our laws and conventions recognize as our leader - Her Majesty's representative, the Governor-General (deisgnate the office as Guardian of the Crown and us traditionalists would probably be happy).
With these three steps I think we could put our system of governance back into balance.
Edited to add Carleton link.