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Thursday, September 4, 2008

Canada... how we elect our national governments


First a little background, since many readers are not Canadian. Then I will get to an issue...

The Parliament of Canada is the legislative branch of the government. It is made up of three branches...

The Sovereign which is the Governor General who is the representative of the Queen of England. This is largely a ceremonial branch, but when the government wants to call an election, it becomes the conduit for 'permission' to dissolve so that a new one can be elected. I don't know my history well enough to state whether permission has ever been withheld, I doubt it... but perhaps this week (if the Prime Minister (PM) asks to dissolve the government in order to have a new election) it could happen, since there is a new law on the books which was intended to ensure that the elections of governments occurred every four years. The current government has been in place only three years, and for political or other unknown reasons, the PM wants an early election... perhaps the Governor General sh/could refuse, and ask the opposition to form a government.

Then there is the House of Parliament which is made up of two branches called the Upper and Lower House. The Upper House is the Senate. It is made up of senators who are appointed to their position and are permanent members. It is again, largely ceremonial. It has the responsibility of approving legislation passed by the Lower House, prior to it being made into law. The Senate has the potential to be a powerful institution by the constitution, but because it is named by the Lower House and is made up of little more than political hacks who have no real interest in working, it is unlikely it would ever challenge the Lower (elected) house.

The Lower House is called The House of Commons... it is made up of 309 elected members who represent several different 'parties' that hold a range of political positions from the liberal left through conservative right. These members, once elected, form the government when a party has the majority of seats in the House of Commons... they name the 'Ministers of the various portfolios (finance, state, defense, environment, etc.) and the Prime Minister who becomes the leading representative of the country for both diplomatic and political purposes. The Prime Minister is the political leader of his/her party... but is not, and this is important, in an elected postion of prime minister. I recognize that this is a nuance, but I think we should be more considerate of this issue as we enter the coming election on October 14th, 2008.

The reason I am bringing up the issue of how we elect our government is that when we vote for the 309 parliamentarians we should be carefully looking at the personal qualities of the local parliamentarian; the platform of the parties that they represent; the traits of government that is presently in power; the personal traits of the leaders that could become the prime minister; and so on. I also suggest that the various parties be pushed to indicate ahead of time who they would instal as the ministers of each portfolio were the party to form the government.

Unfortunately, and partly because we are so close geographically to the republic formation of government in the USA, we have trended to focusing almost exclusively on the primary leadership of each party... as if s/he were the President of Canada (which definitely s/he is not, even though they at times act as if they are). Since Pierre Trudeau, we have been electing a prime minister, rather than a governing party. We don't seem to look at platforms and demand to know how national issues will be legislated. We don't get a chance to understand how the federal parliament will interface with the provincial legislatures in order to round out the lives of the citizens across the country.

One of the key issues we should have a better way of vetting through our vote is who will be the afor mentioned portfolio ministers. When the election is called, how do we know what the talent base is of each party, other than their leader, to run the country. The party that wins the election gets to name the ministers without oversight... as a result we get foreign ministers who have no experience internationally; defense ministers with no military background; environment ministers who have no understanding of the dynamics of the environment; and perhaps people in portfolio positions with much lower ethical standards than that of the majority of the country... Minister of Foreign Affairs, Maxime Bernier was a recent example of this.

Understanding the ministry talent pool is something we should all be able to vote on, not just the Prime Minister. Since it is not something that is vetted through the election, it should be considered part of the Third Estate's investigators (news reporters) responsibilities to point out what we should expect were we to elect each party.

I am very uncomfortable for example with the Conservative Party's platform, but I am impressed with the current Minister of Finance Jim Flaharty. I am interested in the platform of the Liberal Party and the NDP Party, however, I have no idea who would become the Minister of Finance were I to vote for those parties, and were they to form the government. I believe this is a critical issue... as much as who would be the Prime Minister. For example, when Jean Cretian and Brian Mulroney were Prime Ministers during a period of expansion of the economy and the reduction of the national debt, it was the direction of the Ministers of Finance in each administration who led the way to prosperity... in the same way as Jim Flaharty is now... who will be that financial leader, were we to elect a liberal government in October?

These positions, ministers of portfolios of the state are critical to getting the will of the people implemented in parliamentary systems. Without leadership these areas of government are run by the bureaucrats, most of whom are political appointees at best, and career protectors of their pensions at worst. They do not do the work of the people based on elected policy, they do what will keep them in their jobs. They wield tremendous power, because the ministers of these portfolios do not know anything about them... this because we don't ensure that we elect members of parliament based on not only platform, but leadership potential in every ministerial position, including but not limited to, the Prime Minister.

I would ask the questions of the news reporters, so that they will be motivated to check on the issue. Remember that we may want better environmental protection as perhaps represented by the Liberal or NDP parties... but if they then screw up finance or defense, we are out of the fat, and into the fire!




1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I could ask you face-to-face, and probably will, but I can't let your praise of Jim Flaherty sit 'out there' without questioning it.

I am truely puzzled as to what you admire about the man's performance. What is it in his performance as Finance Minister that you find praiseworthy?

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