Friday, January 30, 2004

DEMOCRATIC DEFICIT: THE POTENTIAL FOR CHANGE

The so called 'democratic deficit' is supposedly an important issue for Paul Martin. It was the subject of his first major speech when campaigning for the leadership and it was in the news again today as MP Roger Gallaway indicated the government is considering a process in which Supreme Court nominees would be questioned by members of parliament.

I think parliamentary reform is an important issue and I think it is important to the prime minister as well, but I question how llikely real change is likely to occur. I think a lot depends on the outcome of the next election and I think the best thing for improving the 'democratic deficit' is a landslide Martin victory in the spring. Now, this may seem counter-intuitive at first. How is re-electing the Liberals on a powerful majority going to improve democracy? I think, however, that it will facilitate change and improvement by making that change and improvement safe for Martin to accomplish.

Martin is considering various parliamentary reforms but they largely come down to a change in the culture of parliament rather than major institutional changes such as an elected senate or proportional representation. Martin plans on allowing more free votes, more powerful committees and generally more automony for the average MP. Most of Martin's proposed changes could be rolled back or not implemented if he only gets a small majority government. If Martin has a majority of, say, 5-25 seats a band of unruly backbenchers focused on a volatile wedge issue could be quite a nuisance. On the other hand with a majority of 30-35+ Martin wouldn't have anything to worry about even if a significant number of MPs disagreed with the party line.

Faced with a threat to his government or parliamentary reform my cynical bet is that Martin would choose his government. He could put off his proposed changes and spin it as 'slow change' as Dalton McGuinty is doing in Ontario, but the result would be the same: less reform, same power in the cabinet and PMO. Conversely, if Martin has a big majority he can implement his changes and test them without much worry for his government. Parliament would have 3 to 5 years to get used to the new way of doing things and by the time the next election comes around the new culture would be on its way to being institutionalized.

All of this, of course still depends on how serious Martin is about reform, but as I said I think he's pretty serious. It will help though if he has favourable conditions to work with.

Cross posted to BlogsCanada Election Blog

Posted by Matthew @ 7:26 PM