On his first day in the House of Commons, when a newly elected MP looks across the aisle, and says to a veteran MP “so there’s the enemy,” the veteran MP should turn to the newbie, brow furrowed, and say, “they aren’t the enemy, they’re the opposition.”
The House of Commons is supposed to hold our government to account. The political parties are supposed to work together to ensure the best outcome for Canada and for Canadians. Granted, when you tell the average Canadian that, they will laugh at you and slam the door in your face. Or threaten you with a shotgun if they think you belong to “the other guy.”
The hard party line that our political leaders have taken over the past few decades has made this goal difficult to achieve, and has left this responsibility in the hands of the opposition parties who only have sway in the event of a minority government. This outcome leaves them in the awkward position of having little to do except receive criticism for spending the tax payers’ money while not doing anything. It’s almost like having an elected Senate that does nothing.
For the past few years, a majority governing party that follows their leader blindly has diminished what power our four opposition parties might have had. In the House, the NDP, Liberals, Green, and the Bloc might vote united, for the most part, but they can accomplish very little when the governing party are as narrow minded as the current Conservative government. Oh we’ve got Red Tories like Peter MacKay, and those who actually have a bit of backbone like Brent Rathgeber and Michael Chong but we have seen what happens to the noble few…They get disciplined and sent to the corner (a.k.a. kicked out of cabinet, caucus, or both!). If these are the calibre of our politicians, it’s a wonder so few Canadians vote. Sixty per cent in the last election, compared to the seventy five per cent who just voted in India!
MPs used to be people, not just parties.
With an election a little over a year away, one would hope that, in order to defeat a common enemy who has plagued this country for the past ten years, our opposition parties, with similar goals and ideals, would seek an alliance. During the recent by-elections there were fears— particularly in Toronto—about vote splitting between the Liberals and the NDP. A Liberal majority won in both of the ridings—showing that this doesn’t have to be the case—but that doesn’t mean that vote splitting won’t happen. It has happened in other elections – an awful lot, but that’s how our electoral system works and why in all these discussions of electoral reform bills no one, particularly the Conservatives, have proposed changing the way we conduct elections. Why remove the flaws in the system that makes you win? To do something that fair and democratic would be unseemly.
A plurality of votes won 164 of the 308 ridings up for grabs in the Federal Election in 2011. Many of those were seats won by Conservatives over Liberal or NDP candidates. Even in the general election in Ontario in 2014, fewer than half of the seats were won by a majority of the popular vote. The Progressive Conservatives, still the official opposition, actually had the lowest percentage of seats won by majority vs a plurality of votes of all of the parties. Both the provincial Liberals and NDP each won about 42 per cent of their seats by majority. At least there’s that.
Unifor, a labour union formed by a merger between the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP), represents several hundred Federal NDP staffers. In the Ontario election last month, Unifor urged their members to vote strategically in order to defeat the provincial Tories. Jerry Dias, the national President of Unifor, called for them to vote for the NDP incumbent or whichever candidate, Liberal or NDP was most likely to win against the Tories (although he never explicitly mentioned the Liberal party by name). Dias explained the logic of this move, which the CAW had formerly taken in the previous Ontario election in 2011. He wanted to ensure that Hudak was not elected due to his planned 100,000 jobs cuts and inclination for destroying the unions. Unifor was not the only union to ask its members to vote against the Tories.
This infuriated the NDP staffers—whom Unifor also represents—and they have announced that they are seeking new representation. Unofficially, NDP members reported that they had been uneasy about Unifor since CAW became a part of it. In 2006, the CAW had urged strategic voting in favour of Paul Martin’s government. As we know, the CAW plea at the time did not work and Harper got his first minority. Apparently the NDP do carry the same hard line tactics that the Conservatives have been accused of. Canada’s third option, once idolized as a truthful alternative-truthful because it would never hold power, has flip flopped. In becoming the Official Opposition they have morphed into exactly what they decried in the past and continue to decry…politicians, not people. Meanwhile the Liberals have been humbled, though given the controversy over open nominations, they’ve only been humbled somewhat.
It is understandable, as Dias said, that NDP staffers want a union which blindly supports the party. Sounds almost Conservative, and right wing. However, in this age of intense partisanship where MPs and their staffers are not individual people, blindly following the edicts of their bosses is not only childish, but expected. But what can’t be expected is to approve of it. We raise our children on the principles of working together, yet most MPs haven’t quite grasped this kindergarten concept. Our House of Commons looks more and more like the Village of the Damned every day. Excellent movie by the way, though we can’t recreate the ending – we want a government that actually works as human beings, as opposed to no government at all.
Vote splitting will happen in the next election. Even if Harper doesn’t get another majority (heavenly father willing), he may still get a minority if the vote for progressive change is divided (thanks to the NDP, Greens, Liberals and Bloc). Uniting the right was a good strategy, bad for the opposition of course, but a smart move.
This is a time for unity, for working together, and for allowing politicians to be people. Politicians are not just the party they are adherent too, but are people who are allowed to have alternative thoughts, suggestions, and ideas. Sometimes, the other guy is right. Sometimes, our MPs need to show some backbone so they can stand up when they think that something is wrong. It’s a pity that the NDP staffers seem unable to do that. But such are politicians.