Thursday November 27, 2014

Politicians need to put constituents first


So what makes a good MLA or MP?

Well, that’s a complicated question, but one worth exploring — especially, right now as federal and provincial parties in Saskatchewan are going through their selection process in advance of elections in 2015 and 2016.

The first problem we voters have in this selection process is the vast majority of us don’t really get to pick who our next MLA or MP. It’s the party members in each riding that do the picking for us.

Much has been written in this space about inherent unfairness in this — how it would be a much democratic system if non-party members had a greater say in the party’s selection of a candidate.

After all, how often have you as a voter favoured a particular person, but didn’t necessarily agree with the party views or platform that he or she represented? Or conversely, how often have you been faced with the dilemma that you don’t much like the candidate but you wind up voting for him or her because you like the party that he or she represents?

There are ways to reform this, like run-offs in which the candidate is chosen after the riding decides which party it would like to represent them. But that process would be time consuming and costly, adding another voting layer to a democratic system that’s struggling to get people out to vote just once.

About the best we can hope to do is send a message to the political parties that local representation still means something.

One good vehicle for that is MP Michael Chong’s federal Reform Act that distributes powers from the Prime Minister’s Office back into the hands of the individual members. Why this legislation is important — especially at the federal level — has everything to do with the fact that far too much power has gravitated to the Prime Minister and away from the individual MP.

This is perhaps the one of the greater democratic disservices that has occurred in our lifetime. Remember, it is the MP or MLA that we elect — not the Prime Minister or the Premier. And it is the MLA or MP that should be most responsible for carrying out the wishes of the majority that voted for him or her.

This leads us back to the critical question of what makes a good MP or MLA. And that question truly boils down to a politician putting the interests of his or her constituents over the demands of the party.

Admittedly, this is a tricky matter, given that MPs and MLAs run and are elected on the platforms their respective parties put before the voters. Whether it be ending the gun registry or cutting taxes or ending deficit budgeting, such policy must be carried out by the collective governing caucus.

But it is often those issues that were not in the platform where we should expect an MLA to stand up for his constituents.

That didn’t happen in the 1980s when Progressive Conservative politicians forged ahead with Crown utility privatization opposed by the majority of Saskatchewan. It didn’t happen in 1990s when rural NDP MLAs voted in favour of closing hospitals in their rural ridings or when Liberal MPs in Saskatchewan voted in favour of gun control.

And it often hasn’t happened under Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s administration when local Conservatives MPs have been silent or ineffective on issues like removing non-renewable resources from the equalization formula or establishing rules and penalties on rail companies who failed on their mandate to deliver our grain.

What makes a good MLA or MP is necessarily what goodies his or her party delivers to a riding.

A good MLA or MP is one who recognizes that it’s the constituents’ needs that come first.

Murray Mandryk has been covering provincial politics for over 22 years.



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