Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Reform Act: Much Ado About Nothing

Almost everyone agrees, our political system is in need of fundamental, substantive repair.  Within that generalized view, there is a pre-disposed attraction to "reforms".   I would actually offer up the frenzied initial response to the mere mention of Michael Chong's looming "Reform Act", as proof of the serious undercurrent for change that exists within Canadian political circles.   It was quite heartening to see an otherwise apathetic political environment stir to life when talk emerged of a reform bill that would address some current ills.

Fast forward to the actual Reform Act tabled this week by Mr. Chong and I wonder what all the fuss was really about.  A scant eight page document-minus the padding- a few paragraphs of note at best.  I see nothing particularly revolutionary, or better put, progressive in nature.  On balance Chong's proposals offer a net neutral outcome at best, if one is truly committed to more representative, responsive and accountable democracy.

I support local riding associations deciding who runs under a party banner, without any interference from the party leader or the larger party apparatus.  Chong is spot on with this proposal, primarily because removing the paternal oversight allows for a more pronounced grassroots democratic expression.  If local ridings decide on a rogue representative that is their choice, parties must deal with these realities and there is nothing to preclude a leader from distancing themselves from this undesirable representation.  Political parties aren't monoliths, people have differing points of view, we should never fear democratic inputs, plenty of ways to still marginalize if certain rogue positions find concrete manifestation.

Now the problem with Chong's Reform Act.  This idea of allowing MP's the power to turf a Prime Minister completely, utterly, contradicts the spirit outlined in the previous paragraph.  The grassroots should have ultimate say on who represents them, but that same grassroots that ELECTED a leader is now rendered meaningless, replaced with a small cadre of MP's who can override their choice.  How anyone can reconcile the conflicting philosophical tenets escapes me, Chong essentially gives and takes from the grassroots with his proposals, and in essence creates a total wash in terms of thrust.

Our political system already has this incredibly inclusive process called a "leadership review", wherein rank and file, as well as MP's cast votes on the fitness of their leaders to continue.  Perhaps we need more frequent leadership reviews, but we certainly don't need MP's replacing the grassroots in determining who leads, that is elitist and above all paternal, which contradicts other "reforms".

Further, I don't want a system where poll gazing MP's consume themselves with reactionary considerations, as we've recently seen in Australia.  The modern political reality already spends an exorbitant amount of time on polling, all Chong does is introduce another mechanism for poll chasing politics.  As well, the potential for power plays, political gamesmanship, one can only imagine this tenet in place during the Chretien years.   I see no evolution with this proposal, in fact taking away the grassroots ultimate say is regression.

Removing caucus chairs tepid stuff, voting on inclusion or explusion of MP's a yawner on the grand scheme, basically a lot of attached rhetoric to elevate marginal "reform".  Chong's Reform Act is a tertiary distraction, which risks unnecessarily appeasing our desire for real change should this pass (and I suspect it will given the overarching simplistic narratives, desire to be attached to change).

The Reform Act doesn't even offer a consistent narrative, it gives and takes if one looks beyond MP's as sole democratic input.  In the end, the much hyped "Reform Act" is disappointingly thin, unimaginative in its desire to simply replicate other flawed jurisdictions and above all will have little practical impact.  Better than nothing as they say, but not much...