A four-point plan for democratic reform

The American political system is superior to the Canadian political system. There, I said it.

Oh, the American system has problems. Don’t get me wrong. Hyperpartisanship, the influence of special interests, the refusal of today’s Congress to think long-term about the nation’s debt crisis – they all need a decent burial, and the only thing that can kill them off is for lawmakers to look them in the eye and say, “You know what? No.”

By most measures, the Canadian system functions more efficiently. But what have we missed out on for the sake of efficiency?

The problems with the Canadian system require cutting down to the bone. They’re not as simple as putting aside ideological biases, or ripping up a check from the Koch brothers, or telling your constituents that the U.S. just can’t afford for the factory to build those new tanks. They require genuine, structural reform. Here are some suggestions:

1. More free voting
The Canadian left wasn’t happy with Status of Women Minister Rona Ambrose for voting her conscience on the private member’s bill M312, which would have opened up a parliamentary debate on the starting point of human life. Perhaps they would have understood this sort of thing more if free votes were permitted on all other legislation. The practice of vote-whipping, in which all MPs vote with their party leader, essentially reduces 413 votes to four or five votes of completely unequal weight. In the U.S. parties in Congress have whips, but they cannot force MPs who stray from the party line to leave the party. Increased free voting will allow all MPs to do what Ambrose did: represent their ridings.

2. Separation of powers
The prime minister of Canada serves in both the executive and legislative branches. In the U.S. this is unconstitutional. This is to prevent the president from exerting too much influence over the practice of lawmaking, thereby ensuing actual debate on legislation. If you think Stephen Harper has made himself too powerful, think about all the power that was available to him already. Besides, never again would a cabinet minister have to choose between her riding’s wishes and what the rest of Canada thinks her portfolio mandates.

3. An elected Senate
I don’t need to belabour this point too much – we’ve all rolled our eyes at a headline announcing three new appointees with no evident qualifications. Elect it or end it.

4. Pension reform
Who enjoys paying 23 dollars for every one dollar that an MP contributes to his or her pension? Anyone? Bueller?

It’s a shame that existing parties won’t take up the mantle of democratic reform. But perhaps a party in comeback mode could try it. Your move, Justin.