A friend of mine had the distinct pleasure to attend the Merv Leitch Lecture at the University of Alberta. This year’s speaker was Andrew Coyne, oft cited journalist on this blog, from Post Media. With the possible exception of Steve Paikin, Andrew Coyne is my favourite journalist in Canadian media at the moment. This might sound distinctly odd for a person of the self-declared left such as myself, but I like smart people who make compelling arguments who disagree with me. I’m not sure if it’s the weight of arguments over time or my own political evolution that has seen my position reform, but I find we are more often than not in agreement.
Below is the YouTube video of his speech. The speech itself is about an hour when you skip the introduction and the audience questions.
One area where Mr. Coyne and I are in lock-step is the issue of democracy in Canada. The title of his speech was the “Alarming State of Canadian Democracy”. He lays out an impressive case. Evidence mounts that Canada is slipping towards a “largely ceremonial” parliament, and journalists feebly maintain any form of check on power, while politicians are long neutered. Is it alarmist? No, I don’t think so. Perhaps we are only a generation away from living in an illiberal democracy. I sincerely doubt that in Canada we’ll ever seen the jackboots in the street, or secret arrests or government monitors of telecommunications... okay I can imagine government monitors, but it’s the gradual erosion of ourselves as self-governing peoples that frightens me, to paraphrase Mr. Coyne.
He does not offer hope for his audience. There are no green shoots of promise to hold on to, but he does offer solutions. Most importantly he offers a first step.
As I have talked about previously in this blog, the tight reins of party leaders over their caucus is the ultimate albatross around the neck of our democracy. A first step to freeing up our democratic freedoms is to free up our Members of Parliament. Right now leaders hold a defacto veto over MPs because to run as a party’s candidate the leader must sign your nomination papers. Displease the leader and you may be blocked from seeking re-election.
Party nominations at the riding level should be determined by riding associations. This change would encourage grass-root activists and incentivize parties to strengthen them to ensure good candidates and a solid process in nominations. From this one action more reforms could flow. MPs could demand the right to be able to remove leaders from power, committee leaders could be selected by caucus, and the ambition of electoral reform might be all the easier to reach.
This won’t happen as things are though. MPs cannot, or will not, take the risk. Mr. Coyne concludes by saying it is only through public pressure will things change. In a polity that can barely raise interest on issues or war and peace, the environment, the budget, infrastructure and healthcare, how are we suppose to get people to care about this?
After watching Coyne’s speech I felt inspired and that it’s not enough to want change, you have to push for it. I started scribbling notes for a group called “Citizens for the Restoration of Parliament.” The group would have a simple aim, repair constitutional parliamentary democracy in Canada and help reverse the abuses.
Then the practical realities set in. I have more time than most, but I do not have the financial resources to start a “movement” such as that. Would anyone care over such a small issue, even if it matters so much? I leave it to my readers. I’d like to know if it is something they would get behind, though obviously I have only a vague idea how to execute it.