Democratic reform

What’s the next stage in the evolution of democracy?

You might question whether democracy needs to evolve. There is a view that the status quo is good enough and that there isn’t a need or much room for further improvement in how we govern ourselves. Somehow politicians seem to always muddle through and from time to time the electorate throw out the incumbents and give their challengers a chance to run things.

But the history of representative democracy is that it is evolving. The franchise has been gradually expanded to include women, the poor, natives, prisoners and those 18 years of age or older. Referendums, plebiscites and recall petitions have been introduced to limit the sovereignty of legislatures. Constitutions have been written and amended. Party leaders have increased their influence in both the running of elections and the operation of parliaments.

Like every evolutionary process, there is a large element here of trial and error. Not every change has been an improvement. Everyone is unhappy about politics to some degree. In both Canada and the United States fewer people are voting or identifying themselves as supporters of a political party.

I don’t know what the future will bring, but I do have a suggestion for a change, one that might lead to better government and a more informed and responsible electorate.

Get rid of the parties.

Make everyone run as an independent and act that way once elected. Require politicians to always vote their conscience. Ban political horse trading and collusion.

Only allow individual electors to fund campaigns, with a low maximum. When elections are over any funds left over would go into the general treasury. Any donation to a politician outside of a campaign would be considered a bribe.

In Canada, let parliament and legislatures directly choose the cabinet and the opposition critics, by secret ballots as they do their Speakers. In the US there is even less of a change to make, as the Governors and the President are chosen in their own elections.

I don’t propose we outlaw parties completely. They could continue to exist, recruiting members, running their think tanks, advocating and lobbying, and raising funds for their own operations. But they would no longer choose who runs for office, or control the debates in the legislative houses.

This isn’t a new idea. Nebraska has a nonpartisan legislature, as do Nunavut and the Northwest Territories of Canada, and of course most Canadian municipalities.

Political parties are a technology made obsolete by the Internet. We now have the means to free politicians from the conflicts of interest created by their divided loyalties. No longer would their duty to the party leader trump their responsibilities to their constituents.

I bet most rank and file politicians would love to operate under such a system.

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