Voters rightly feel that there’s something wrong with how our politics is working. We don’t yet have the deadlock of the US, but we do have another kind of deadlock, the hard hand of too much party discipline.
An excessive partisanship is what Canadians see. And they don’t like it. Nor are MP’s happy to be treated like canon fodder.
A minority parliament should be the place where real debate and give and take happens. Alas, it is not.
Doing politics differently means changing the way parliament works. From Question Period – where everyone is rigidly choreographed – to committees, it would be good to see a change.
Caucus discipline need not apply to every vote, and every measure before the House should not be a matter of confidence. If the Liberal Party gives more freedom and responsibility to its MP’s, others will follow. It is a supreme irony of the current House that Preston Manning’s successor exercises the most centralized control over his caucus, and has the most rigid and hierarchical approach to life. Genuine populism is truly dead in the Conservative Party. It should find new life in a Liberal Party that remembers its own roots as a party of reform.
So I say let the caucus be more raucous. And let the House of Commons do its job in a way that respects individual members. Let committees work freely, setting their own agendas and electing their own chairs. Let committees study the subject matter of bills before they come to the House. Committees where there is real give and take, and real responsibility, will become surprisingly productive and less partisan. Members will stop screaming at each other when they realize they have something to learn from each other.
A healthier, more respectful culture within the Liberal Party will also pose a healthy challenge to the other parties in the House of Commons. Liberals should be at the forefront of parliamentary reform, which is clearly needed and long overdue. good thing. No one should ever feel they will be punished for expressing an opinion.
Bob Rae is a former member of Parliament and former premier of Ontario.