Feb. 8, 2021

Canada might have too much party discipline

Aaron WherryCBC NewsFeb 07

 It is difficult to feel good about the overwhelming power and discipline that political parties exert over the democratic process in Canada. But it could be worse; they could, in the alternative, exert too little power and discipline.

Consider the cases of former Conservative MP Derek Sloan and Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene. 


The issue is not whether political parties exert the right amount of power over potential candidates and elected representatives, but whom are politicians elected to represent, a political party or the people of their electoral district?

It is a topic worthy of discussion and debate. The status quo is not acceptable.

Political parties claim the status of corporations with reputations to protect. They claim to represent like-minded people who champion similar political principles and policies. They contradict themselves by reaching out to various social segments to gather a large contingent of supporters.

is a farce. In a democracy, the person elected represents all electors in the district irrespective of political leaning. With most electoral winners garnering 36% to 42% of valid ballots cast, the representative must not ignore most residents in the district.

That is where our current party system falls apart. Members elected are required to follow the dictates of the party they joined. If the party adopts a position inconsistent with the position of the majority of district residents, the residents lose. That is where political cynicism is rooted.

Political parties generally tailor their policies to cater to the largest population concentrations, which are urban dwellers in Ontario (121 seats) and Quebec (78 seats). The two provinces account for 58.9% of the commons seats in parliament. In comparison, the four western provinces (Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba and Saskatchewan) account for 104 seats or 31.1% of commons seats.

About 39% of our population lives in rural areas or small to medium population centres (population 1,000 to 99,999). Those people are entitled to a political voice.

The appeal to play nice and support the party in all circumstances and situations stifle democracy. Real democracy is a messy business full of pitfalls and pratfalls. Nothing run by people can approach perfection for long; we have an inherent ability to muck things up.

There is too much emphasis on ferreting out potential political candidates and representatives who do not ‘fit in.’ There is a vast difference between extremists and people of principle who will stand up for what is right and against actions or policies they see as detrimental to those they serve. They must be able to express their views in the commons without risking their careers.

As Mr. Wherry notes in the article above, a member kicked out of a party caucus is highly unlikely to be re-elected. The argument is that the candidate or member owes his election to the party that he joined, and hence he owes allegiance to the party. That takes us full circle to my first paragraph above - are politicians elected to represent a political party or the people of their electoral district? 

None of the parties are willing to debate the question in public. They prefer attacking one another, effectively turning the house of commons into a modern forum for political gladiators. Most of us are not interested in the bickering, bitching, insulting, posturing and theatrics. We feel left out because we are left out. We need representatives able and willing to generate discussion and debate on issues that matter to us. The political party ready to make that happen will receive a lot of support.