Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

'Nobodies' speak

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The people speak at election time, but then their members of Parliament are expected to shut up and toe the party line, which effectively leaves the electorate with just three or four distinct voices in the form of political parties.

Some critics call it "partyism," a longtime practice that has saddled backbench MPs with reputations as nobodies.

Some of those nobodies, however, stepped up and opened their mouths to complain earlier this year when the Conservative party's whip prevented them from speaking in Parliament about abortion.

As a result of that mini-revolt, the Speaker of the House overturned past practice and ruled MPs can speak, even if they aren't on a party-approved list with a pre-approved message.

It's only a baby step, but at least it's a start on the long road to restoring the credibility of Parliament as a place where the people can be heard through their representatives and where diverse ideas can be debated.

In the 1990s, there was much talk of reversing the "democratic deficit" by reforming Parliament, boosting the power of committees and even allowing free votes for government MPs on everything but motions that would defeat the government.

But the moribund system continued, as it does today.

The divine right of cabinet, in fact, has grown even stronger and more entrenched under the current government.

More MPs need to tear up their scripted monologues and start acting like elected representatives, not trained seals.

Only then will the House start to resemble the kind of forum prime minister John A. Macdonald envisioned when he described Parliament as "a grand inquest with the right to inquire into anything and everything."

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 26, 2013 A10

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