Sunday, June 23, 2013

WHIPPED: Just a more obvious flaw in our democracy.

Sean Holman is shopping around his documentary WHIPPED, The secret world of party discipline.

I saw it in Toronto (June 22/13) and stayed for the panel Q&A that followed.

Mr. Holman is a passionate well meaning individual with a clear idea of how our Democracies in Canada should operate. He used his journalistic training and nine years of experience covering the Legislature in Victoria B.C. to produce this documentary. It's very well done, as far as it goes. Mr. Holman will be on The Current (CBC) this Wednesday, and the documentary may be viewed on CPAC at some point.

Though the entire documentary is set in British Columbia, the concept of whipping and the party whip are common to all Westminster style legislatures in Canada and around the world (in Britain there is a bit more freedom). By way of contradiction, Canada has two exceptions: Northwest Territories and Nunavut, no parties, no whips.

During the Q&A, Mr. Holman pointed out he has no bias as to whether whipping is a good or bad thing, which I found disingenuous. Why bother making the documentary? Going to the trouble of making an exposé uncovering a "secret world," seems to me to be taking a side.

Mr. Holman, the Q&A panel, and the sponsor of the showing, all had an obvious bias. In fact I found the representative from the sponsor, Duff Conacher, somewhat biased toward the new Federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, but maybe that's just me.

By the end of the evening it was obvious that whipping occurs in most of Canada's legislatures and is not necessarily in the best interests of Canadians as voiced by the panel. Wherever it happens, MP's, MPP's, MLA's, MNA's whatever, all the elected representatives of the various legislatures, vote along party lines because they are coerced (whipped) into doing so. The coercion takes the form of ostracism from the party caucus, or having the possibility of advancement within the government or party hierarchy blocked if the party line is not toed. The general belief voiced by the panel and the audience at this viewing was, legislators should be able to vote their conscience or at least vote in the best interests of their constituents without coercion.

Sounds reasonable, wouldn't you say?

Of course this begs the questions what are the best interests of constituents on any given Bill presented by a government in a legislature, and how would a legislator know this? I suspect that most of the people present for the viewing would be satisfied and resigned to accept Churchill's famous comment that: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” But I wonder is that the best we can do? I prefer this Churchill quote: "The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter." My view is, that practiced as it is now, democracy is overrated.

For example, in the most recent Ontario election only 49.2% of qualified voters bothered to vote, and the elected Liberal minority government attracted 37.62% of those that cast ballots, or just 18.5% of qualified voters. What kind of democracy is that? It was not quite a majority mob that formed this government, but a small cobbled together bunch of special interest groups that are dependent on the spend-thrift ways of the governing party. Clearly in Ontario at least, government is not really democratic at all, along with being apparently unlimited in its reach. Maybe the whole idea of being whipped is mere small potatoes? But its nice to know that the advocates of our democracy (at this viewing) can spot this flaw. There may be hope.

A Facebook comment from my Party colleague Jim McIntosh, sums up the situation that legislators are faced with very nicely: "[I]t isn't clear to me that your representative knows what is in your best interest, let alone what is in the best interest of all his constituents, or even the ones who voted for him. Typically any Bill he must vote on may help some constituents and hurt others. That is why the (Ontario) Libertarian Party advocates that the force of government only be used to protect life liberty and property of residents."

So maybe Sean Holman's next documentary should be about limiting the size and scope of government rather than unleashing legislators. That would really be in the best interests of all Canadians.

A Postscript: Just to be clear, as leader of a political party (Ontario Libertarians), if we had elected representatives in the Ontario Legislature, I would require those MPP's to vote along party lines. We advocate limited government and would expect those members of our Caucus to vote against any Bill that reduces choice or increases the power of government. However, in the present context, I would hope that any libertarian members of any other party make their position known to their Caucus and either vote against or abstain from Bills that reduce the liberty of citizens.

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