Those of you who follow me on Twitter might wonder why, all of a sudden, I started tweeting assertions with the #fixthathouse hashtag. The reason is simple, CBC The House made me do it. The Canadian parliament is having a rough decade. The things I tweeted are ideas to revitalize an re-engineer the system.
Some might recognize some (most?) of the things I tweeted as aspects of the Dutch system. You’d be right. The Netherlands has one of the oldest democratic systems with a parliamentary democracy and a constitutional monarchy. It also started out as a federal republic, and has quite a few remnants of those days still. It is remarkably stable and has democratic institutions that pre-date the parliamentary system that are still functioning today – notably the system that manages the dykes.
I’m not saying the Netherlands don’t have their share of faults – they do: a representative system leads to coalitions which, in the Dutch case, lead to long formation periods in which a government accord is hashed out. That government accord is often so broad that parliament has very little to do as long as the government accord is being executed – other than say “yes” to what the government is doing.
If the government accord is well-designed, that means parliament is really only verifying that the government does what it said it would do, but the government accord is not negotiated in public: that’s done behind closed doors. Parliament does get its say in the end, of course, but there’s still some lack of transparency there.
Proportional representation is also prone to populism – which we saw with Pim Fortuyn, for example. Fortuyn was mis-represented as a right-wing extremist in many foreign media (he was a populist, not an extremist, and the two wings of Dutch democracy are so close together – the political spectrum so narrow – that left and right are hard to distinguish sometimes). Many Dutch voted for him not because of what he said or what his program was, but because he was assassinated nine days before the general election.
To understand the significance of this assassination, just think that it happened in 2002 and the most recent political assassination in the Netherlands before that was in 1584 - over 400 years prior.
Also: nine days is too short a time to remove someone from the electoral lists.
Geert Wilders is another populist, whose party “for freedom” is currently at part with the socialist party for third-largest in parliament (larger than the CDA, which is the Dutch equivalent of the CDU, more or less).
Proportional representation also means that some fringe parties get seats – such as the party for animals. That’s probably a good thing, though.
The Canadian system lacks transparency: the prime minister is the leader of the party that has the most seats and, in the case of a majority, does not have much of an opposition to contend with. It is a strong-man’s system. This is in contrast with Canadian culture, which is not a strong-man’s culture.
Each of the things I tweeted would take power away from the government:
#fixthathouse proportional representation: each party presents a country-wide list of people to vote for -- most votes gets a seat— Ronald (@blytkerchan) September 22, 2013
takes power away from the party leader: if the party convention chooses who the candidates are, the political leader can only keep that position if he/she at least gets enough votes to get into parliament. Voters can very well choose to vote for someone else (in the same party), if they want to.
They can, of course, also vote for someone from another party.
#fixthathouse senators appointed by provincial & territorial parliaments/legislative assemblies. Number regardless of population.— Ronald (@blytkerchan) September 22, 2013
The canadian system requires regional representation, but that representation would be moved to the senate, where the bills are tested for regional interest. Senators, appointed by legislative assemblies, provincial parliaments, or national assemblies (as the case may be) make the senate indirectly elected – but still more so than the current senate – and with a clear mandate.
Every Friday, 1-hour interview with PM (or, if out of country, minister) on TV, public broadcaster, no screening of questions #fixthathouse— Ronald (@blytkerchan) September 22, 2013
Makes the Prime Minister directly answerable to the people. Not comfortable for him, but a good thing for democracy.
#fixthathouse question period once a week, one full hour, no "lists" of members scheduled to ask questions, just stand up & be recognized— Ronald (@blytkerchan) September 22, 2013
The current QP would only get raudier if swords were let back in. Once a week, real questions.
#fixthathouse committee members chosen by parliament, members nominate themselves, vote for each other....— Ronald (@blytkerchan) September 22, 2013
#fixthathouse ... Each two votes of which one must not be for own party.— Ronald (@blytkerchan) September 22, 2013
This would force parliament members to vote for people not from their party, who would be given real power to work on legislation. It would also allow parliament members to work on things that interest them, regardless of whether their leader wants to appoint them.
AFAIK, this is not part of the current Dutch system.
#fixthathouse corrective referendum: if gov't or parl't does something wrong, ppl can stop it with a referendum. Rescinds royal assent.— Ronald (@blytkerchan) September 22, 2013
This one didn’t fly in the Netherlands (just look up Hans Wiegel on Wikipedia to know why) but it’s a good idea nonetheless: it allows the people to correct the government’s actions.