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Canadian federal 'Tea Party' missing in action.

Barack Obama and Stephen Harper have something important in common--both have misunderstood what helped to get them elected. On the surface, they both seemed sincere. They both had a vision, albeit two very different visions, but each seemingly borne of conviction for change. Since being elected, both now have come to represent exactly that thing their supporters wanted them not to be--establishment politicians who, in effect, represent the status quo.

Unlike in the U.S. where the Tea Party movement is largely about opposing run-away spending and big government, in Canada the growing restlessness is also about citizens wanting to take back their governments. If it was only about taxes and spending in Canada, then British Columbia's NDP wouldn't be leading in the polls.

A large element of frustration with the status quo has to do with voters feeling disempowered; feeling taken for granted; being lied to for too long by too many politicians; by having politicians hold themselves to a lower standard than all others are held; by having politicians say one thing in a campaign and then doing another once elected.

Sadly, today Harper and Ignatieff at the federal level both represent just that cynical kind of politician. Many voters don't want to accept this. If history is any indication at the federal level, without systemic reform of our democratic practices and powers, simply swapping a new group of politicians for the old will ensure a similar outcome.

What is needed is systemic democratic reform to ensure that there is accountability where in the past, there has been none. These reforms would come in three areas: how MPs are selected, powers MPs have once elected, and powers for voters as further checks on the power of government.

First, we need to change how MPs get selected. Currently most political parties protect an incumbent MP from any nomination challenge. Once an MP wins a seat he or she is rarely ever challenged. This means that in a safe seat an MP may serve for decades without ever having to compete for the nomination within his or her own party.

MPs will argue that they are held accountable during a general election. However, as most safe seats, are, well ... safe, this amounts to a meaningless affirmation.

Relatedly, voting in the nomination in the first place is limited to a purchased membership in a political party. If anyone who chooses to were allowed to register to vote in an open primary, a local MP would be better motivated to represent the wide interests of the community, instead of the national party interests.

Second, give more powers to MPs and strip some from the Prime Minister. Give back to committees the powers and resources to review and approve all budgets. Open all votes including the budget to make them free for MPs to vote as they choose. The only government-threatening motion should be a specific nonconfidence motion. Set--and stick to--fixed election dates to avoid the constant threat of failed votes causing another election. Oh, and then there's the small matter of our Senate. It either needs to be elected or abolished outright.

Third, citizens need to be empowered by having access to more democratic tools between elections. Just look at British Columbia where 700,000 citizens signed a petition forcing a vote on the Harmonized Sales Tax. While the legislation in B.C. isn't perfect, at least they have legislation. You could have seven million Canadians sign a petition at the federal level demanding a referendum on an issue and it wouldn't matter unless the government decided to act.

British Columbians again have the distinction of being the only jurisdiction in Canada of having legislation that gives citizens the ability to recall a politician.

In the U.S. the Tea Party movement isn't demanding these same democratic powers, mainly because many U.S. states already have them in place. Twenty-nine U.S. states have some form of recall legislation and 24 have some form of citizens' initiative referendum legislation. Further, U.S. legislatures aren't always on election-watch because of majority-led legislation being defeated.

While there is no anti-establishment Tea Party movement at the federal level in Canada yet, there could be unless voters are properly empowered. Politicians would be wise to get ahead of the curve and empower citizens now, rather than wait for the revolt.

--Kevin Gaudet, Federal Director, Canadian Taxpayers Federation:

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Title Annotation:Editorial
Author:Gaudet, Kevin
Publication:Paris Chronicle (Paris, Canada)
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Dec 1, 2010
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