THE FUTURE FOR DEMOCRACY IN CANADA? Part 2 – by Corneliu Kirjan Free Thinking Citizen

CFNRole and responsibilities of elected people

In general, every four years Canadian citizens are called to elect 308 Members of Parliament (MPs), whose mandate is to represent them and act on their behalf in the House of Commons in Ottawa. But, once elected, what are the roles and the responsibilities of these representatives of the citizens? What are the relationships between them and their constituents and between them and the party they belong to?

The job of an MP is varied and complex and it exceeds by far the populist vision which is that their job is to attract grants to the constituency. Unfortunately, this is so prevalent that during electoral campaigns the assessments of candidates seeking re-election always start with the amount of money that flowed into the riding.  It is very rare and unusual that they speak of their interventions in the House, the questions asked, the bills on which they voted and how they voted or positions taken in their work in committees. As for opposition candidates, usually, they just criticise the ruling party and promise that, if elected, they will bring in even more money.

In reality, the job of the ideal MP who represents his/her constituents consists in the following activities:

  • Participating in the deliberations of the House and committees. They act as legislators by debating and proposing amendments to bills introduced by the government or by other members. The legislative activity is the main activity of an MP;

  • Informing his/her constituents on bills under consideration, consulting them on the position to be taken and explaining the reasons he/she voted for or against a bill;

  • Being a transmission belt between his/her constituents and the government and helping individuals or community groups to solve economic, social-cultural or administrative problems;

  • Developing a particular expertise in one or more areas of activity and making recommendations to the government, particularly through the work in committees;

  • Representing the Parliament of Canada at home and abroad.

Only part of these activities is carried out in the House because the MPs must be in close contact with all the citizens and socio-economic groups in his/her riding.

We, the citizens who delegate our powers to the elected MPs, must ask them to fulfil these roles and not only to bring in money. If they actually behave like they do, we are in part responsible and it is our responsibility to restore a real democratic relationship with our delegates. But we have forgotten that the power is ultimately ours.

The elected officials and the political parties

If, in democracy, the role and the responsibilities of the MPs are very important, the relationship between the MP and the party he or she represents is crucial.

As to this matter, there are two schools of thought. For one school the MP is the spokesperson for his/her constituents, while for the other school, the MP represents his/her constituents.

If the MP is the spokesperson, he/she has to express the views and preferences of the constituents in the House.

If he/she represents the constituents, this means that the voters have confidence in his/her judgement and believe that the MP will defend their interests as best as possible.

Finally, it should be mentioned that the MPs must maintain a balance between the local interest of the constituency and the interests of the entire nation. P. E. Trudeau mentioned in his memoirs that he had told some of his MPs that if they wanted to represent only the interests of their constituency, they must present themselves for provincial elections.

Regarding the relations between the MP and his/her party, the situation is more complex and it has evolved over history.

As already mentioned, it has long been misunderstood that the only role of an MP is to bring money and jobs to his/her constituency. In general, after the election, even the activities of the riding associations are reduced to raising money for the next election.

I would like to recall some historical facts that will help better understand the MPs’ current relationship with the party they belong to.

Few people are aware that the choice of the Leader was, until 1919 for the Liberal Party and until 1927 for the Conservative Party, the prerogative of the Caucus. It is obvious that the role and power of MPs at the time were extremely important.

After these dates, the choice of the Leader was made by delegates assembled in a convention. However, until the late 1960s, the nominating convention was dominated by MPs and former MPs so they still had an important role and significant power. Gradually, as time has passed, the number of delegates to conventions has increased and MPs have had less and less influence and power over the choice of the Leader.

In 1974, with the changes to the Canada Election Act, the balance of power was reversed and the MPs lost their autonomy in favor of the party’s Leader. The 1974 Act obliges parties to register in order to be eligible for subsidises and tax receipts. The law provides that the party’s name must be next to the candidates’ names. These changes oblige the candidates to have their nomination papers signed by the Leader of the party, making them totally dependent on the will of the Leader.

This trend has increased over the years and reflects the trend of centralisation of powers into the Leaders’ hands and their non-elected inner circle.

If a party wins the election and, as expected, forms the government, the Leader of this party becomes Prime Minister and he/she will continue to control and dictate the behavior and decisions of his/her Caucus. It is the Prime Minister and his non-elected inner circle who decide on the conduct of the MPs and any attempt at independence will be severely punished by up to exclusion from the party. Outside the party, as an independent, an MP is unlikely to be heard in the House of Commons or participate in a committee, or to even have his/her nomination papers signed.

This is why the MPs are called trained seals. According to a study of the lives of Canadian parliamentarians by the research group Samara, former MPs admitted that they had voted for or against bills on the orders of their party leaders and without reading the proposed bills, and they admitted that the questions they had asked in the Question period in the House were imposed by the leader’s office.

The control of the MPs by the leaders of their parties is a very bad sign for democracy in Canada because the partisan interests of the parties take precedence over the citizens’ common interest.  Thus, the electors are deprived of the voice of the person they elected to represent them.

The evolution of the political parties characterised by the dictatorship of the leaders, the control of the MPs and the non-involvement of the grassroots, has strongly contributed to the undemocratic practices in Canadian politics. History has proved that parties with undemocratic internal practices are incapable of democratic practices once they form the government. Jeffrey Simpson, in his book The Friendly Dictatorship, presents the polical parties this way: “Canadian parliamentary parties, especially the governing ones, are like military formations: sharply hierarchical, with a top-down command structure led by the prime minister, with all rewards demanding loyalty and all penalties taxing dissent.”

If we add to this evolution the takeover of the parties by various interest groups (economic, financial, religious, etc.), the result has been a radicalization of the ideologies promoted by the parties. In some cases the ideology has become dogma which has had a very negative impact on the principles and institutions of Canadian democracy.

The democratic institutions, including Parliament, once places for discussion and compromise while seeking to find the best solution for all of the citizens, have become battlefields where the goal isn’t the common good but the satisfaction of  various interest groups that are the true masters of the contemporary political parties.

Corneliu Kirjan
Free-thinking citizen
Cornwall, Ontario



  1. I had always wondered how much authority MP’s had and what kind of changes have taken place over the years in terms of their role and responsibilities. I think that this shift from MP’s individual responsibilities to the emphasis on the leadership explains the lack of voter interest in what goes on in this country. It cut off at the roots the energy to get involved and make a difference, seems to me. Though there have been some excellent MP’s, they are getting fewer and fewer because the system itself would attract the corrupt and mealy-mouthed. This series is an excellent public service, thank you!

  2. Our political system is just like a garden. And just like our garden is susceptible to weeds (bad politicians). Right now we have so many weeds growing (Harper, MacKay, Toews and Del Asstro to name a few), it’s preventing the flowers (honest politicians, can’t even name one) from growing. Now this problem has gotten so bad that the weeds have begun to spread to other gardens (like law enforcement and Elections Canada). Now these other gardens are slowly getting take over. The only solution is for Canada to get off it’s fat, lazy @$$ and weed their garden!

  3. part2 intersting comments about the power of the PM as opposed to the “trained seals” that follow the leader.. what is the “ruling party” ? it is much like a corporation in business. if the ceo says this than this is whatt the workers do..each mp has to toe the line but is that not what the PM represents? the best of his or her chosen party ?.Minority governments on the other hand are a better indicator of the will of the general populace. Democracy is most effective when the various parties in the 308 seats must rule on a seemingly co-operative balance of power. Although many political pundits find minoroity governments senseless due to a sense of ineffective squabbling , it still is the best part of democracy that moves constituents to a better position of representation in the halls of Canadian power!. what we can experience with a majority government is a shift of power in all halls of law making and bill passing.Tthe Senate becomes a secondary repeat of the ruling majority as in this current situation… Rep by Pop is not a lost cause in our parliamentary system when we consider the power of a minority government,that allows for constituents to vote secretly and freely. the responsibilty lies in the actual party`s fundamental principles of direction and how the parties make that information available to the general populous. The fact that the Liberals are somewhat at loose ends and heading for a strong rebuild is the reason we have a majority status at this time. . the Proogations of Parliament are an example of cautious leadership in the face of political effectiveness . A time out for regrouping ….If the GG allows for this . Then we have a “crossing the Floor” quality to our political system. when an MP can no longer support the leadership of the party in charge, they have the right and do cross the floor on occasion which may counter balance the power.. so mp s do have some recourse in decision making.. yet a by election can be held to seal the deal…

  4. Prorogation is the term …by the way ..apologies for typing errors.. my “editor” is on vacation lol… the fact is the democracy of Canada is a complex and multi layered established system that actually allows for changes at the most basic levels but like all things political and judicial it is still up to the individual voter to inform his or herself…that is the best part of our democracy… anyone with valid cause and enough backing may join the ranks of the elected House of Commons as an independant or as a part of an established party…

  5. Corneliu had his tin-foil hat twisted one turn too tight again.

  6. Cornelius is telling the current and past history of our Canadian parliament as it always has been, regardless of the majority power base. We can, any of us come up wth stupid and deameaning comments. Hey, I’ve not been above those either, yet in these two disortations his enlightenment is a welcome overview. The primary is that his review really does apply to all parties when in power and how the minorities behave. He is right and our system of government does have its flaws, raws and claws out for self-preservation that has little to do for the forward progress of anybody but simply for the future next vote.
    In this I personally believe that this conservative government is applying its jurisprudence to the majority satisfaction of reasons they were voted in. A big thank you, especially with the immigration department. I do believe we have NOT gone far enough with our voids within the unfortunate adoption of a multi-cultural society and instead af allowing parallel societies we must insist on the Canada culture that requires the learning of both French and English, dress matching styles to get a job and removal within 3 years via deportation of any non Canadian who refuses to comply, including the elimination of social welfare and medical benefits. Do or don’t do..they must chose or go.


    Excerpt of Debates of the Senate (Hansard)
    Thursday, June 21, 2012
    Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Bill
    Second Reading
    On the Order:
    Resuming debate on the motion of the Honourable Senator Buth, seconded by the Honourable Senator White, for the second reading of Bill C-38, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 29, 2012 and other measures.
    Hon. Elaine McCoy: Honourable senators, I, too, rise to speak against Bill C-38, which is called An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 29, 2012, and other measures.
    I do want to say that I do not support this bill for two reasons. The first is that it violates one of the fundamental principles of our parliamentary democracy, and that is ministerial accountability. The second is that it opens up the door, I think, to ministerial evasion in terms of resource development and environmental protection.
    Turning to the first reason, ministerial accountability, as our former colleague Lowell Murray has said on so many occasions — and Senator Cowan was quoting him earlier as well — and just last week, as well, he had this to say:
    . . . political institutions that evolved over a long period of time to prevent excessive centralization of power and to restrain its exercise have within a generation or two been gradually bent out of shape. Parliaments, political parties, the practice of cabinet government itself are now more form than substance. Over the past 40 years, Government has gradually slipped away from Parliament and parliamentarians as well as from their constituency moorings. The conventions by which MPs once held the power of the purse and ministers
    accountable are not really operative anymore. The adage that “Government proposes, Parliament disposes” no longer applies.
    He went on to say:
    MPs themselves are now more beholden to the central party apparatus, its money, its technology, its professional organizers, its pollsters and strategists than they are to their constituency party. This has critically sapped the autonomy of the party membership at the constituency level and their power within their national political party; and it is largely responsible for the emasculation of individual MPs in their relationship with the national leadership who hold a veto over their re-nomination as candidates for the Party. This is blatantly and daily on display in the House of Commons and its Committees as well, as well as on the TV panels where MPs regurgitate precooked and force-fed “talking points.” The House of Commons is supposed to be a debating chamber. Central control has made it into an echo chamber.
    I fear, honourable senators, that much the same is creeping into this institution here. The venerable Senate is becoming, or is in danger of becoming, yet another echo chamber.
    Yet another tool in the arsenal of defence mechanisms against ministerial accountability, of course, is an omnibus budget bill, and what an omnibus we have before us now, Bill C-38 — 69 statutes, 753 clauses, 424 pages — no wonder that the official title actually says “and other measures.” The tail is wagging the dog. They have nothing to do with the budget and everything to do with — well, what exactly? It is hard to say, not least because we have so little time to say it. On top of everything else, in defence of ministerial non-accountability we have closure, which has severely limited our time of debate to only six hours.
    Honourable senators, the legitimacy of our democratic and sovereign institution, Parliament, both houses, is being tarnished, taunted and transformed into impotency. For that reason, which is an entirely sufficient reason to my mind, I will not support Bill C-38.
    However, there is more. There is one other reason in particular that I will not support this bill, and that is Part 3 of Bill C-38, which is devoted to various statutes having to do with regulatory and environmental matters, of particular importance to a province like Alberta, my province, where resource development is one of our key economic advantages.
    Also, since this has been my field, and it is in this field that I have spent most of my professional life, I paid it particular attention. Part 3 proposes changes to a number of acts, including the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and the National Energy Board Act, as others have spoken to. Like
    Senator Cowan, the first question I asked was what do they want to achieve in Bill C-38 that they have not achieved elsewhere.
    The ministers and even their civil servants have been uniformly consistent. They have never wavered in their reasons for why they are putting forward these amendments in Bill C-38. These talking points have held without question. They keep on saying it is regulatory efficiency, and in particular one of their strongest, most repeated talking points is that we have reduced the number of decision makers at the federal level from 40 to 3. That actually is very good news. I remember congratulating this very government on that move two years ago. In 2010, I stood in this chamber and I said words to this effect, that this should have been done many years ago. It is a matter of managerial, not legislative, changes that we need, but having the changes reflected in legislation to try to bring the decision making into some kind of focus at the federal level will be very welcome, and it will be a benefit for the overall system in Canada.
    Fortunately, the changes that are being promoted in Bill C-38 do not interfere with that fundamental amendment from 2010, and I will say thank goodness that that is true. However, that cannot possibly, therefore, be the reason why these changes are being brought forward in Bill C-38, so what else do they say? They say that the other main efficiency argument — the other talking point — is that we have timelines. We now have timelines imposed on the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, the National Energy Board and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.
    Mind you, the ministers, at our Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee, said quite unequivocally that these timelines are already being experienced. That is why we chose 12, 18, 24 months.
    Therefore that cannot have been the real reason. Not only that, when you start to read these timelines, you realize that there are any number of ways of getting around them. They are window dressing. The Governor-in-Council, cabinet, can extend any one of these deadlines for any length whatsoever. They are window dressing. They are merely talking points, so I do not think that was the burning reason to put these amendments forward either.
    Then what does this bill do that has never been done before? I have boiled down the answer to three things. Two new things have been done to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, which will now have a CEA act 2012, and one new thing focuses particularly on the National Energy Board Act.
    With respect to CEAA, the two things that are totally new are these: First, only projects that are designated by the minister or cabinet will now be given an environmental assessment. That is new. Second, even so, the cabinet can now declare that any project is exempt from an environmental assessment. Those two powers are new. Unfortunately, I cannot comment much further than that
    because we know nothing about what will be designated — another defence against ministerial accountability. It will be done by regulation, either ministerial or cabinet, so we have avoided ministerial accountability almost totally.
    I really do struggle constantly against falling into the temptation of overblown rhetoric or self-righteous indignation or attributing without evidence motivations to people with whom we disagree or who have opinions other than our own. Nevertheless, I am trying to predict what actions this government will take, given that I know nothing about their intentions regarding the designations or the kinds of provisions that they will make when they exempt projects.
    Interestingly, I got an unsolicited email somewhere around one o’clock in the morning from New Brunswick, of all places. It was from a young fellow I have met in the energy and environmental field. He listed a number of organizations which he knows about, since he works in this field, that have not received funding. After naming several of them in the climate change field, he went on to say:
    . . . national environmental monitoring networks, regional meteorological services, and web-based mapping information systems focused on Earth Observation Data, all of which we rely on for evidence-based decision making, have been cut of their core funding, undermining the safety of the public. . . .
    I have observed the closure of the Canadian Information System for the Environment, the National Clearing House for Environmental Learning and Education, the Rural Communities Secretariat at Agriculture Canada, elimination of various programs funding partnership across the Provinces and Territories, and the disbanding of the national Youth Roundtable on the Environment.
    These are just a few of the indications that we might have before us as to what this government may intend to do.
    Even with this evidence, honourable senators, I quite frankly do not want to vote blindly. I do not want to be part of an echo chamber; I do not want to stand here or justify to myself or my constituents back home why I voted without knowing fully what is intended.
    As to the NEB Act, what is new is this: The cabinet will be responsible; in fact, they will make all decisions now in terms of energy projects as to public necessity and public interest.
    I have just outlined how ministerial accountability is more form than substance and so much of what they are intending to do or not do, we do not know. When we do ask, we get these talking points that often obfuscate rather than illuminate.
    I am unwilling to go along with that particular move — that directional move. I trust the NEB as an independent institution in its long-standing history of making reasonable, evidence-based decisions. I believe it would be irresponsible of me to acquiesce to voting in favour of this bill.
    Indeed, I really do feel as if the ghost of Parliaments past were stalking around, even as we are speaking in this chamber. If he is, then I get the sense that we might have this conversation the way Hamlet and Horatio had a conversation. Hamlet said to Horatio: “Did you see him?” Horatio said in response: “O, yes, my lord! He wore his beaver up.” Very Canadian, is it not? Hamlet said: “What, look’d he frowningly?” Horatio replied: “A countenance more in sorrow than in anger.”
    Honourable senators —
    The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: I regret to inform the honourable senator that her time has expired. Is the honourable senator asking for an extension?
    Senator McCoy: Yes.
    The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: An extension of five minutes is granted.
    Senator McCoy: In conclusion, honourable senators, I say again more in sorrow than in anger, I will not support Bill C-38. Thank you.

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