Monday, September 19, 2011

Samara on parliamentary disfunction

Parliament reconvenes in Ottawa today, and the Samara Foundation has just released the fourth of its research reports on parliamentary disfunction based on "exit interviews" with outgoing members of Parliament.  They make depressing reading.  The MPs fulminate about the uselessness, impotence, and frustration they felt. Well, so far so good. But the solutions they seek and that the report recommends betray an almost total inability to grasp where the problems lie and how to seek solutions.
The MPs suggested incoming MPs avoid getting caught up in the so-called “Ottawa bubble.” Critical of the ways politics are practiced, they remembered their best work as happening around the edges of political life.
Yeah, that's really going to help fix Parliament.

MPs frequently said the heart of the problem was: 
the uneasy relationship between the MPs and the management of their political parties .... MPs consistently pointed to their parties’ management practices, and the incentives and punishments the parties put in place, as significant obstacles to advancing the “real work” of Parliament. 
Now we are getting somewhere. But Samara's authors declare in response, not that recalibrating the relationship between caucus members and party leaders is the solution, but that we should look outside parliament:
Political parties are organizations made up of citizens. Reforming them, therefore, requires citizen participation. 
That is, Samara and the MPs agree that the problem is in parliament but we should go seeking the solution among the citizenry in general. That's a recipe for failure. The problem, as they clearly show, lie in the relationship between weakened MPs and overbearing party appartchiks.  The solution -- the one solution neither the MPs nor Samara will even contemplate -- lies in a reassertion of the authority of MPs, the elected representatives of the people, against the extra-parliamentary leadership of the parties.

(Warning to serious readers: Samara's website sets up its reports in that maddeningly hip anti-intellectual online fashion.  You cannot skim or search or speed-read.  You are oblige to click endlessly to load each successive page, and if you try to move fast, the site will probably freeze.)
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