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Subzwari: The Dying Business of MP-ing

April 22, 2013

Media reports have recently surfaced on a rare backbench revolt brewing within the bowels of the Conservative caucus. Mark Warawa, the obscure MP from British Columbia, was up in arms for being thwarted in his attempt to raise the issue of abortion in parliament.

What appeared to be a lone voice of protest soon became a chorus of outraged MPs who felt that their rights as parliamentarians had been violated by the vice-like grip of party discipline. They demanded that they be free to speak as they pleased and “represent” their constituents.

What a ridiculous and naïve argument to make.

Mr. Warawa and his disciples clearly don’t understand the roles of the members of Parliament in this country: they have none. The system of electing multiple representatives is an antiquated model that is about as relevant as steam-fired locomotives.

There was a time when having representatives was actually useful. In the 19th century, methods of communication were primitive and slow, and hiring someone to represent a community’s interests was indeed the best way for community members to have their voices heard.

MPs would go to the national parliament and put forward the concerns of their constituents. They would also act as the ears of the party in the constituency, hearing people’s grievances and passing on the information to the party leader.

These MPs were powerful. They engaged in real negotiations with the cabinet. And their support for the government was conditional on the interests of their constituents being respected. Both parties and leaders during this time made heavy concessions to ensure that they retained the support of a majority of MPs.

Ensuring support of parliament is so crucial to our system of governance (where losing the support of a majority of MPs could spell the end of the government) that parties desperately tried to diminish the powers of these MPs.

The rising sophistication of communication gave them a chance to do just that. Through radio, television, and the Internet, parties and citizens alike have managed to bypass the member of Parliament and communicate directly.

Before, it was members of Parliament who explained the position of the government. Today, journalists and party spokespeople do that. Before, it was MPs who gauged the importance of issues and party support in their ridings. Today, it’s polling companies who do that. And before citizens could only make their voices heard through letters and meetings with their MPs. Today, with the rise of social media, citizens have more power than ever in projecting their voice nationally and making their opinions known.

All of these developments have been to the detriment of the MP, whose power has steadily declined throughout the 20th century. And this decline in power has made them more dependent on the party machine for support, leading to the rise of strong party discipline.

MPs know that they cannot win without party backing. They need the party’s funding machine, the marketing machine, and the endorsement of recognizable party heavyweights to win.

Standing on one’s record means very little these days. Indeed voters usually vote for the party and its leader, not the candidate. Most don’t even know who the candidate is.

The roles have effectively been reversed, where the MP is dependent on the party for their job. And the party offers them their support conditional on the MP toeing the party line.

We have finally reached the point today where MPs are so weak that they are forbidden from thinking for themselves. They are given a script by the party whip and told to dutifully promote party policies. And if they protest, they can say goodbye to their political careers.

Which then begs the question: do we really need members of parliament any more?

The answer is no. Mark Warawa and his acolytes are thinking of a golden age of MPs that no longer exists. Any desire to find meaning in their work will be futile, because none exists.

The modern MP is a complete waste of taxpayers money with little beneficial returns. It will be in the better interest of democracy to pare down “representatives” to the bare minimum necessary: members of the cabinet and their opposition counterparts. And that’s it.

This is not a particularly revolutionary idea. It simply underlines a fact that already exists. Backbenchers are useless anachronisms, and the only thing that Mr. Warawa and his pals need is the boot.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. joromain@rogers.com permalink
    April 22, 2013 8:39 pm

    I was with you all throughout your article until the point the modern MP is a waste of money. Mp’s play a vital role to many of their constituents on everything from passports, citizenship, grants, assistance in job creation etc ….. these “small” issues are behind the scenes and not much of this work makes glossy headlines. However it is a very necessary part for the average person to obtain assistance from their Government. An MP can secure a passport for a constituent in a matter of days when an emergency situation arises. While assistants in these constituency offices do the legwork for the MP it is nonetheless under the penmanship of the MP. This work cannot be left for Ministers to do. Mp’s also sit on powerful committees that lead to laws being formally passed etc… The elimination of the ordinary backbench MP needs a rethink on your part as you are selling them far short. They play a valuable role in Government every day.

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