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Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Electoral Reform for Individual Representatives

Electoral reform has been discussed in this Country for decades but very little has been done to move these reforms forward. This isn’t surprising. Consider that reform requires those who wield most of the power be willing to relinquish part of it.

Some of the possibilities for reform have included proportional representation, fixed election dates and senate reform. None of these possibilities has been adopted as of yet but with the NDP being a big supporter of electoral reform and with the Liberal party depending on NDP support for survival, some movement in this area may come sooner than we think.

Recent events in Ottawa bring to mind another possible reform that would ensure valid representation, down to the individual riding itself.

The dramatic defection of Belinda Stronach from the Conservative Party and the recent defection of Liberal Pat O’Brien bring the question to mind. Should members who have been elected as a candidate for a specific party retain their seat if they decide to leave that party?

Of course defections have been happening since the early days of our Country. Every party has seen members leave to sit as an independent or worse yet, cross the floor to the other side. It’s been happening for longer than anyone can remember but does that make it right?

When Belinda Stronach went from door to door campaigning for her seat in Ottawa, she did it as a Conservative and the public elected her as a Conservative, not a Liberal. When Pat O’Brien kissed babies at his local Kinsmen or Lion’s clubs he didn’t tell the parents of those babies that they would soon be represented by an independent.

Another example is the case of Carolyn Parrish, who was in essence ex-communicated from the Liberal Caucus. She is now sitting as an independent. In her case there was a push from inside the party that basically stripped her constituents of the representation they had voted for. In this case, her constituents did not elect an independent, they elected a Liberal and they were denied their constitutionally elected party of choice by the party itself.

On the political scene, a similar situation recently occurred in the Newfoundland and Labrador Legislature when a member of the ruling PC party, Fabian Manning, was ejected from the Conservative caucus for not staying in line with the team.

What can or should be done to ensure that we are represented in the way we want to be represented?

Perhaps we need electoral reforms in the area of individual members as well.

One option would be to deny a party the right to kick a member out of caucus. Once the people have decided they want to be represented by an individual, what gives a political party the right to circumvent that election result?

Further to this, in situations where an elected representative decides to speak out or vote against their party line perhaps they should be presented with two options. Either the member should remain in the party caucus and continue to fight for their constituents no matter what the atmosphere or they should submit to a by-election.

The option to sit as an independent or to join another party should not exist.

Taking away the option of defection would ensure true representation for an electoral district. If a return to the polls is required it would allow the public themselves to determine who represents them. This would place this all important decision back into the hands of the electorate which is the only place it truly belongs.


Anonymous said...

As far as I'm concerned they should all be thrown out of office. We should adopt a more scandinavian system where when a party is elected they only remain in power for 2 years. At the end of the term they must sit out the next election. Only after sitting out one election are they eligible to run again.

I like that idea. It'l help keep them from getting too comfortable and corrupt.

Patriot said...

Interesting concept. I can't say I have ever heard that one before.

Attila the Pun said...

Interesting suggestions, but do people vote for the person or the party. In Newfoundland, it certainly used to be that the name on the ballot sheet was the individual rather than the party. I mean, you could argue that crossing the floor is justified; the politician in question could always argue that he is looking out for his constituents. Try to prove him/her wrong and you won't succeed.

Jason said...


I don't know what part of NL you are from, but in most places I've been its a case of "My Grandfather voted X, my Father voted X and I'm voting X.(X being the party of choice).

Regardless of that point, the reality is, should the elected representative take it on him or herself to say why any individual voter chose them.

I still think the only fair way to handle it is to put it back to a vote. If the voters really want the person in place rather than the party, the representative will find out quickly enough.

This approach ensures that the people have the representation they want in place and it also ensures that:

A.)members don't leave their party on a whim,

B.) They work within their party to have their agenda heard and

C.) If they have to go against the party line then they are given the freedom to determine their own fate. Either stay in caucus and hope to accomplish something or go back to the people for a new mandate.

Anonymous said...

Who really cares what they do. Once they get our votes they don't do anything for us anyway.

Attila the Pun said...

I think what Anomynous said is widely believed. Having said, that, I really do not think that crossing the floor is a big deal. If you think a politician who crosses the floor is doing a rotten job, then vote for somebody else. I personally think Belinda Stronach took a huge risk joining the government side. To say it is floundering is an understatement. The only reason it has not fallen yet is because the Conservatives still cannot get their act together. But really, I don't care what happens so long as Newfoundland and Labrador can get as much as we can so we can finally kiss these past dreadful decades goodbye and move on.

Mind you, I will say this for crossing the floor. I can think of two reasons why crossing the floor is not so bad: John Crobie and Clyde Wells. Bringing down the Smallwood regime was so important to us and those two guys simply becoming ex-Liberals was an important step in puncturing the supposed invincibility of Joey, who, only three years before Crosbie's and Wells' departure, had won all but two seats in the 1966 election.

Let them do whatever they wish and let yourself be the judge on election day.