I am in the process of ridding myself of about 700 to 800 books because of lack of shelf space. I was astonished then, to get a call from Wendy, from 32 Books, asking if I would like her to buy me a book. She brought it home and I sat down and read it right through.
I want to emphasize that I do not know the authors, was not given the book, and was not asked to do a review of it.
Having said that, I was so astonished at what I read I felt that I ought to inform you.
First of all, I was surprised to find such an excellent critique of the House of Commons and our system coming out of Toronto. I have learned over the years that Ontario, favoured so much by the system, seldom produces critics of it. This book is very much the exception.
The authors, Alison Loat and Michael MacMillan, formed an independent political think tank called Samara. I don’t know too much about this organization yet, but intend to find out more. Their book, Tragedy in the Commons, subtitled former “members of Parliament speak out about Canada’s failing democracy” is a must read for all Canadians.
Based upon exit interviews with 80 former members of Parliament, it tells all.
The first thing it tells you, is that MPs are not to be trusted to tell the truth about how they were abused by the system. They all accept the fact that they were indeed abused but all make excuses by justifying their careers because they did things beneficial to all Canadians. They are in denial, not because they aren’t basically honest people – it’s because of the very system so ably criticized by this book and the inferences drawn from the former MPs themselves.
Members of Parliament have become, in the words of the authors, ombudsman for the bureaucrats. Far from taking their constituent’s ideas and concerns back to Ottawa to help mold them into policy, they spend most of their time handling pension checks, immigration matters and things of that sort which should be dealt with by senior bureaucrats.
The party system, the extraordinary powers of the prime minister, the huge influence of unelected bureaucrats in the prime ministers office, all come under heavy and justified criticism.
The chapter on prime ministerial abuse of the committee system, which ought to provide the MPs with ways of not only influencing policy but holding the cabinets feet to the fire, is scathing.
Those of you who have been with me for the past 25 years or so know how often I have said that MPs and indeed and MLAs, are voting ciphers. They have very little, if any, influence on what the policy will be; every opportunity for them to exercise influence is stymied and they do what they are told. This book confirms all I have said and out of the mouths of MPs themselves.
To go much further than that would be to betray the contents of the book.
I am writing this note to you because I want you to buy the book. You will know that this is something I don’t very often do. I do it, I confess, for very personal reasons.
This book Is, for me personally, a reprieve, a thorough vindication. Going back as far as I can remember, I have said in word and in print – including one particular book, Canada Is Anyone Listening? – a national best seller – is said in this book and indeed more. All that I have felt and thought about the lousy way we govern ourselves in this country is confirmed.
As many of you will know, this has not been without personal cost. During the referendum on the Charlottetown Accord, I was called “Canada’s most dangerous man” by John Crosbie, a “traitor” by Prime Minister Mulroney and was threatened, I am reliably informed, with a tax audit. This for having the temerity to oppose that central Canadian power grab clothed in glowing phrases about national unity.
One of the things that will impress Pacific Coasters is how many of our own MPs are quoted. This is what astonished me considering where the authors come from. I expected the 80 MPs to be almost entirely from Ontario and Quebec. If anything, we in British Columbia are over represented in the book.
This is important not for chest thumping purposes, but because British Columbia, being so far away from Ottawa, suffers from all of the symptoms the book portrays even more than other parts of Canada do. This the authors clearly recognize.
I will say no more except to assure you that if you spend the $29.95 you will be well satisfied indeed.