Tuesday, January 10, 2006

A matter of trust

In an article yesterday in the Winnipeg Free Press by Mary Agnes Welch, Liberal Senator Pat Carstairs was quoted as saying we need to explore "some form of proportional representation".


Senator Sharon Carstairs, the matriarch of Manitoba's Liberal party and one of the most well-respected politicians in the province, is quick to mount a passionate defence of hard-working politicians who get a bad rap, in part because they're stuck in a broken parliamentary system that breeds mistrust.

She is one of several senior politicians, including former NDP leader Ed Broadbent, who are calling for reform.

"We have record numbers in the Toronto Stock Exchange. We have record numbers in growth of our economy. We have people doing better at all levels," said Carstairs. "In the overall reflection of Canada, people should be incredibly upbeat. And we're not. So you sort of say, OK, why are we not?" Carstairs says it's time to take deepening levels of cynicism seriously and think hard about reforming Canada's electoral system, the way the House of Commons functions and the way parties work together. Question period, now often little more than one long yelling match, might be the first place to start.

"It was clear to me when young children would come to the Manitoba legislature and say 'We couldn't behave like that in our school!'. It's even worse in the federal level," said Carstairs, who led the Manitoba Liberal party in the late 1980s. "People say 'Who are they representing? Is this the kind of foolishness we expect from our parliamentarians?'"

She says Canada should consider adopting the British model where the opposition submits questions to the government beforehand in order to get real answers instead of endless rounds of one-upmanship and jabs.

Combating cynicism also requires Senate reform, electing more women to parliament and exploring some form of proportional representation. Carstairs said it's even worth looking at shortening weekly parliamentary sessions to four days to allow politicians to spend an extra day their home ridings, meeting with voters.

Also a news story in today's Toronto Star quoted Harper as saying electoral reform could be a point of discussion between a Conservative minority and the NDP "...although we haven't adopted any particular model."


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