Author Topic: A Few Good Questions  (Read 1255 times)

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

Offline E.R. Campbell

  • Retired, years ago
  • Army.ca Subscriber
  • Army.ca Myth
  • *
  • 486,990
  • Rate Post
  • Posts: 18,390
A Few Good Questions
« on: March 11, 2010, 16:36:33 »
Here, reproduced under the Fair Dealing provisions (§29) of the Copyright Act from the Globe and Mail, is a column by long time Liberal and Fraser Institute member Gordon Gibson that poses a few good questions:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/opinions/get-down-to-basics-liberals/article1496668/
Quote
Get down to basics, Liberals
Convening in Montreal, the ‘natural governing party' couldn't go wrong by focusing on the state of our democracy
 
Gordon Gibson

Thursday, Mar. 11, 2010

The Liberals are holding a policy conference in Montreal at the end of this month, hoping to reinvent their moribund party. If all they talk about is the usual stuff, they might as well spend their time in the bar and at least have a good time. If they want to connect with the electorate, they have to get down to basics.

By the “usual stuff,” I mean economic policy, social policy, foreign affairs, taxes, spending and so on. Canada is doing not too badly in all of this. No real reason to change horses.

By “basics,” I mean those things that are inconvenient for politicians, which is why they don't get talked about. They include such things as population policy (By “basics,” I mean those things that are inconvenient for politicians, which is why they don't get talked about. They include such things as population policy (Why don't we help parents more, considering their service to society?) or immigration policy (Why do we admit anyone to Canada who is not a net benefit to the country, beyond our fair share of refugees?). Basics include such questions as “Why do we maintain artificial markets?” and “Why do we support ‘supply management' programs that make chicken, egg and dairy farmers rich while making poor families pay more for milk, making us a laughingstock at international trade negotiations?”

Basics include such questions as, “Why do we pay many public servants more than their private-sector equivalents, given their high job security and gold-plated pension plans?” and “Why do we maintain a criminalized drug policy, when if we legalized pot and some other things we would dramatically reduce crime and enrich the public treasury to pay for health care?” (For the latter, the answer is that the Conservatives are afraid of their right-wing base and all politicians are terrified of the American right.)

None of these things will show up in any controversial way at the Liberal conference, and I don't blame the spinmeisters. The Conservative assassination machine and media would have them for breakfast. Too bad, but that's a fact.

However, there is one “basic” where the Liberals could stake out ground that simply can't be criticized: bringing democracy back to Canada.

In the past 50 years, we have gone from a time when individual MPs and ministers counted to a situation where we have a four-year elected dictatorship. The prime minister (or premier) calls all the shots. Parliament, caucuses and even cabinets have become mere focus groups, forces to be considered at the margin by PMO apparatchiks. There is academic agreement on this.

This is even true in a minority government situation such as in Ottawa. Elected politicians hate elections as much as businessmen hate competition, and so do all they can to avoid them. Whatever the Liberals may say, the Bloc or the New Democrats will find a reason to prop up the government for the foreseeable future (and hence allow the PM to do as he wishes). Why not? They keep their jobs for now, and the pension credits accumulate. The Liberals could promise to break this cycle by promising some very specific democratic reforms.

What would these changes look like?

Electoral reform. Promise to bring in an element of proportionality so that the public view is honestly represented in Parliament. Propose the changes before the next election with a promise to implement them if the voters approve.

Change campaign finance rules right now. Eliminate all public subsidies for political parties (on a phased basis), to be replaced by a check-off box for partisan support on every income-tax form. You like the Bloc? Tick that box.

Constrain prime ministerial power. We need strong leaders, but we don't need dictators. There are ways to do this:

•   Get rid of the “confidence” rule on most issues, the main tool of prime ministerial power. (Details some other time, but it is fundamental.)

•   Give parliamentary committees guaranteed continuity of membership and professional policy staff. Amazingly, this does not now exist. Committees, which should be quests for the truth and good policy, have become ignorant partisan jousting grounds.

•   Above all, promise a truly muscular Freedom of Information Act. When I worked in the PMO, my job was to read all cabinet and other secret documents. I knew then and I am certain now that 90 per cent of everything in these very useful analyses could be and should be published on the front page of this newspaper every morning. Secrecy is for the convenience of the governing party, not the people, but we have paid for these analyses and we deserve to know them. Information is at the centre of a functioning democracy.

•   One last thing: Provide for the direct-democracy tools of the initiative and recall for when politicians really screw up. Don't make it easy, but give these nuclear options to the voters in extremis.

Go to it, Liberals. You can be sure the Tories won't steal these clothes. That, or remain the self-satisfied “natural governing party” of dinosaurs you have become.
ggibson@bc-home.com

I agree with a lot, but not all, of what Gibson says. TYhese questions are good one; they are important questions that need to be asked and answered:

•   Why don't we help parents more, considering their service to society?

•   Why do we admit anyone to Canada who is not a net benefit to the country, beyond our fair share of refugees?

•   Why do we maintain artificial markets?

•   Why do we support ‘supply management' programs that make chicken, egg and dairy farmers rich while making poor families pay more for milk, making us a laughingstock at international trade negotiations?”

•   Why do we pay many public servants more than their private-sector equivalents, given their high job security and gold-plated pension plans?

•   Why do we maintain a criminalized drug policy, when if we legalized pot and some other things we would dramatically reduce crime and enrich the public treasury to pay for health care?

Of course some of the answers are obvious – politicians (and in many cases Canadians, too) are a timid and mediocre lot, as FR Scott famously said about former Prime Minister King, they (and we) “Do nothing by halves which can be done by quarters.”

Changing the definition of confidence is fraught with danger; for the time being I suggest we do nothing.

I very much favour strengthening the parliamentary committee system, but I do not trust politicians to use it to good effect.

I am not in favour of most proportional representation schemes. I might be persuaded towards a single transferable vote system but, as I mentioned a few months ago, I did some (sketchy) analysis of proportional representation vs. first-past-the-post in a Canadian context and I concluded that first-past-the-post does, slightly, reward the party that garners the most votes, overall, and, slightly again, punishes the parties that are less popular – I think that’s pretty much as it should be.

I think the freedom of information regime needs reform: in both directions. Some aspects of real secrecy need to be strengthened while more and more unclassified (i.e. just protected) information needs to be available to the public – not just to the media.

I think direct democracy is a loony idea. It was when Parson Manning and Refooooooorm proposed it in the 1980s and it is still, when Gibson suggests it.
It is ill that men should kill one another in seditions, tumults and wars; but it is worse to bring nations to such misery, weakness and baseness
as to have neither strength nor courage to contend for anything; to have nothing left worth defending and to give the name of peace to desolation.
Algernon Sidney in Discourses Concerning Government, (1698)
----------
Like what you see/read here on Army.ca?  Subscribe, and help keep it "on the air!"