By Chad Ingram
With a marathon federal election campaign underway, we get lots of time to watch the country’s major political parties duke it out on the airwaves, slinging mud and half-facts, making promises without explaining how they’ll be funded and turning any issue they feel might be advantageous into a wedge.
Inherited from our British parliamentary heritage, parties were conceived as a way of grouping like-minded politicians, but in Canada in 2015, they have evolved into domineering, oppressive forces, dictating what their members shall think and do and say.
It’s dysfunctional, inhibiting true conversation and therefore true democracy, as MPs, and therefore their constituents, really have no voice of their own.
Under Stephen Harper, members of the Conservative party have become all but muzzled, his cabinet ministers tightly controlled in whom they speak to and what they say.
On the occasion ministers do speak to media, instead of actually answering questions, they mindlessly repeat talking points ad nauseam, causing them to come off as moronic robots.
Citizenship and immigration minister Chris Alexander recently made a fool of himself on CBC by doing just this, to the point where journalist Rosemary Barton told him if he wanted to evade the question, to just admit he was doing so.
This is how things work in the pantomime of democracy known as Question Period as well, where “answers” are simply partisan talking points, repeated over and over and over.
Backbenchers? In our party-dominated Parliament, backbenchers are ghosts who might as well not even exist. They are simply sets of hands, obediently raised when the party whip gets cracked, which sometimes means supporting motions not in the best interests of their constituents.
But that doesn’t matter. Because it’s not about constituents any more. It’s not about the real needs of Canadians. It’s about parties getting their message out there. It’s about attaining and retaining power.
This is not true of only the Conservatives, but all the major parties. No MP shall dare step out of line or express anything that is not a party-approved opinion.
Recently, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair jumped to quell controversy caused by one of his candidates commenting that “a lot of the oil-sands oil may have to stay in the ground.”
Not an outlandish or offensive comment, but one that sparked controversy as it did not jive with the NDP’s pipeline policy.
When did we get to the point where MPs and political candidates are not allowed to have one opinion, not one, that does not align with party policy?
Liberal leader Justin Trudeau has pronounced all new members of his party will be required to possess a pro-choice stance on abortion, or least vote accordingly, should that issue ever again raise its archaic head.
Not exactly a liberal move, is it?
And this is the thing. No one person can actually adhere to all criteria now demanded by political parties. No one can truthfully check all the boxes. It’s a mathematical impossibility that MPs are going to agree with their parties on every single issue, because people are unique.
There are Conservatives who are strong environmentalists.
There are left-leaners who hate unions.
MPs are human beings with opinions, opinions they should be able to express freely.
Isn’t everyone getting sick of our politicians speaking from scripts?
Regardless of who wins next month’s election, may we move away from this culture where political parties are the overlords of their members.
MPs are supposed to be representatives of their constituents in Ottawa, not talking heads for their parties amongst their constituents.