This blog post appeared as a London Free Press article on December 10, 2011
The media’s ongoing reporting of the misleading attacks on Montreal MP Irwin Cotler has once again highlighted Parliament’s downhill slide. When I commented on the attacks to a Conservative MP this past week that was seeking some advice on charitable giving, all he could say was, ”Yeah, we all like Irwin. It’s kind of sick.” Sick indeed.
When Rick Mercer stated last week in his rant that it’s time to lock up Parliament and throw away the key it was a sentiment that registered across the country. This past decade has witnessed the sad decline of what once was an honourable institution. Everything from financial scandal a decade ago to contempt of Parliament by the present government itself have characterized and diminished its reputation to all time lows.
Maybe it’s time to call for a revolution. We could call it “Occupy Parliament.” After all, it would be obvious to state that the 99% of parliamentarians are dominated by the elite 1% – the PMO and its minions. Ever since the days of Pierre Trudeau the office of the Prime Minister has succeeded in transcending the parliamentary function of the legislature itself. But when we reach the point where a government can openly admit and brag about fabricating stories about a highly respected MP and former Minister of Justice in order to capture his seat, we have perhaps reached an all-time low. Canadians are now abandoning a Parliament they feel deserted them years ago.
There is only one problem with the idea of occupying the House of Commons – only 308 people can do it. Elected parliamentarians get exclusive access, security and the special lapel pin that permits them entry into the hallowed Chamber. When the House is in session their staff or spouses can’t accompany them. They stand isolated and empowered as elected representatives undertaking the country’s business. Only they and their peers can fix the mess they have permitted to brew under their watch.
In days past elected representatives were masters of their own house, responsible to their constituencies above all else. The decades have seen to the marginalization of individual members, first in favour of the cabinet and presently under the heel of the Prime Minister and his elite staff. So if parliamentarians wanted to reverse the precarious decline of representative behaviour they would have to reclaim the House for their constituents.
At its heart the worldwide Occupy movement is about opposing the few who have utilized the levers of power and finance to control the lives and opportunities of the many. Parliament has incrementally descended to the same state of inequality. Rather than holding their MPs accountable to their constituencies, most citizens have simply opted out, thereby enforcing what is already an unacceptable situation.
My time in Parliament taught me that the vast majority of MPs are honourable and dedicated individuals. The problem is that they function within a system where party structure often prohibits the better angels of their nature to guide their conduct. This is especially true of government MPs, who secretly deplore the PMO’s deplorable tactics while still condoning such demeaning conduct by their very silence.
Do today’s MPs have the courage to stand with the House of the people against their own political masters when the occasion demands it? To date the answer would have to be a clear “no”? Perhaps what they require is the courage, mustered by their own citizens and constituents, to do the honourable thing and stop silently condoning what surely must be one of the saddest eras in Canada’s parliamentary democracy.
It is surely time for our federal political representatives to occupy the very House their constituents voted them in to. As Edmund Burke famously put it, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” I have learned that good men and women occupy the House of Commons. They question now is: will they at last show up to rescue Parliament from its more debased instincts and speak for us?