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Sorry Doug Ford, But Canadians Need More Democracy, Not Less

Right now, the crucial move is to restore "representation" to our representative democracy.

The recent conflict over Premier Doug Ford's attempts to shrink the Toronto City Council - and the shocking threat to use the Charter's notwithstanding clause to overcome an unfavourable court decision - points us at a root question: just how much representation do we need, and what kind, in government?

The irony in the current conflict is that Premier Ford claims to represent all of the people in Ontario (despite being elected by about one quarter of them) and believes his judgment as to what the people need, is preferable to the judgment of many others who have been elected. He says fewer representatives are the answer.

That may work for Doug Ford, but will it work for anyone else in Ontario?

Ontario Premier Doug Ford speaks to reporters, in Toronto, on Monday, September 10, 2018.
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov
Ontario Premier Doug Ford speaks to reporters, in Toronto, on Monday, September 10, 2018.

It is fashionable, to the point of being tedious, for people to complain about the perks, wages and lifestyle advantages associated with being a member of Parliament or a member of a provincial legislative assembly, or even of a city councillor. Coupled with the fact that it looks like the vast majority of them don't have much to do (only a sliver of the House is in Cabinet – the rest are on government backbenches or in Opposition), being an MP or MPP looks like a pretty soft ride.

That's particularly true when you factor in that most MPs don't even have to think much – they let their Party leader or whip do the thinking for them. They need only yell "aye", or "nay" or not show up, or show up, as directed. MPs are essentially extras on the film set of our representative democracy, with access to the catering table but nothing more to do than mill about in the background of the movie stars.

All of these miserable truths conspire to make MPs / MPPs less valuable, which of course at a standing price, makes them look more expensive. Who needs 310 or 340 federal MPs when about 30 of them actually have work to do?

The answer is: you need them. But you don't need 310 or 340 of them. You need about 600 or 700 MPs, representing smaller ridings or at the very least, being one of two or three members for each of the existing ridings. The last thing we need in our governments is less brain power. We need more. And the only way to attract it, is to make the job attractive and independent. Here's a few ways to do it:

1. Create more MPs and MPPs in each legislature.

This has several salutary effects: (1) more people, including maybe some smart people, go into politics (2) each citizen gets twice as much representation (3) the odds of reaching Cabinet or even the Opposition frontbench will plummet for each MP, which in turn means (4) they won't dwell quite so much on personal advancement, or at least, not at kowtowing to the whip or leader because (5) advancement will come through individual achievement and (6) advancement will take different forms – simply being a good MP may be good enough for many of our 600 or so elected representatives;

2. Remove the financial penalty and reward for seeking or keeping office.

How? Pay MPs approximately what they earned before they were elected to office. Why? (1) The unsuccessful insurance broker who finagles a party nomination will find that being in the House doesn't pay a nickel more than his unsuccessful insurance brokerage, and if he's looking for a longer term salary increase, he will have to find it somewhere else (2) the highly paid person who can't afford to take the salary cut to be an MP, will no longer face that huge disincentive to get involved, so she will run.

3. Allow Parliament to meet virtually.

There is simply no need for houses of representatives to only meet in one place (the capital city). Anybody with a laptop and a skype account can attend Parliament from his car, a park bench or – hopefully – his constituency. She can attend every day, like clockwork (and she should be required to do so, or lose pay unless sick). This will reduce travel costs, create better representation in the ridings and make the expansion of parliament quite easy. It will also augment member independence, a desperately-needed antidote to our depressed democracy.

4. Eliminate party funding, period.

Permit individual voters to donate to individual MPs and candidates, but not to the parties. The only people who should be able to contribute to parties directly are MPs or nominated candidates. This will invert the power relationship between individual candidates and their parties – a desperately needed move.

Those are a few changes, some of which could be accomplished pretty quickly (items 2, 3 and 4). Hell, even riding boundaries and numbers can be changed easily enough. There may be many other changes which would contribute to the process.

What we have to grasp first is that the problem isn't "too many MPs, MPPs or councillors." The core problem with our "representative democracy" is that it doesn't represent us enough. Elected officials should stand for their consciences and their constituents, before they stand for their parties (or their own careers). We need political reform that rewards independence, not order-taking.

We have to do something. Increasing the number of people involved in the process, while reducing the incentive to please the party bosses would go a great distance towards enabling and rewarding independent thinking and action. Right now, the crucial move is to restore "representation" to our representative democracy. And that means representation by more than one man.

David Law blogs at ThinkAnewActAnew

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