MP Bruce Hyer recently quit the NDP caucus and decided to sit as an Independent MP. In an article Mr. Hyer explains his resignation from the NDP caucus saying "I wil no longer belong to any party that "whips" (mandates) voting by their MPs, especially on issues not clearly laid out in agreed-upon written policies or platforms. Which mean that none of the main political parties is currently an option for me." Mr. Hyer laments that our current system leaves "little room for meaningful public debate . . . or for putting constituents ahead of party politics!" (Notice the accentuation of his disgust and determination with the well-placed exclamation mark.)
Now, these are common laments among many Canadians (as it was so markedly expressed by the members of the so-called "Reform Party") and Hyer points out that Canadians "share" his disillusionment. I understand, to a degree, Hyer's frustration (though it seems odd that he would be join an organization which had these rules of which he was entirely aware going in), but the problem is that his solutions to the problems that he thinks plague our system are meaningless at best, and strangely contradictory at worst.
Mr. Hyer sets out four primary solutions to our parliamentary problems; Randomizing Seating, Riding Level Candidate Approval, Collaboration Between Parties, and Proportional Representation. Now, his idea of randomizing the seating in the House of Commons sounds fine. However, this is effort in itself would probably be entirely cosmetic and would solve nothing as long as our political culture continues they way it is. Hyer's third solution "Collaboration Between Parties," similarly sounds good but is really just an echo of Rodney King's famous dictum "can't we all just get along."
These two idea are hardly controversial, but neither are they very meaningful either.
Mr. Hyer's other two solutions are much more problematic because their nature seems to contradict the very premises from which Hyer begins. For a start, the ideas of "Riding Level Candidate Approval" and "Proportional Representation" contradict each other. Though there exists a number of so-called 'mixed PR' systems in which there are some individual ridings while the rest of the MPs are simply representatives of the "party," overall PR generally eliminates the whole idea of 'ridings,' let alone candidate approval at the riding level. The thing is that Mr. Hyer seems to be suffering from a basic POLI-SCI 101 misunderstanding (or he simply hasn't explained himself adequately). Mr. Hyer's desire to truly represent his constituents rather than expressing the "mandate" (his word) of his party points away from Proportional representation rather than toward it. The US system is a case in point - there is almost no system of party discipline in the the US Congress and members vote however they want on any given issue. When a member of parliament is elected under a system of PR their constituency is spread out throughout the nation because they consist of all the people that voted for that party. Thus under PR individual MP almost always vote for the party they were elected to represent. If Mr. Hyer really wants to represent his individual riding he should be arguing for a system more like that in the US rather than for a more Proportional system.
(I am not getting into an argument about PR here. I am an advocate of PR but I know that it has its drawbacks. I just happen to believe that its advantages outweigh its failures. I also believe that we can create a mixed PR system which has some of the advantages of both First Past the Post and PR.)
Mr. Hayer seems to be quite confused. If he wants to work for PR and a more democratic system, that's great. But he surely should have known how our House of Commons works before he got there and I am mystified by his apparent surprise. However, if Mr. Hayer's primary concern is the representation of his constituents in Thunder Bay-Superior North, it is not PR he should be fighting for - it is the renewal of the unfulfilled dream of the Reform Party to eliminate party discipline (a principle which that Party never lived up to).