Hamilton MP David Christopherson showed great courage last week by voting contrary to his NDP party last week and eschewing a comfortable position supported by his own beliefs to make a point. He shouldn’t have had to.
Christopherson supported a Conservative motion that condemned the government’s inclusion of an anti-abortion attestation on summer jobs funding. Though he himself is pro-choice, the veteran MP clearly didn’t like the idea of tying ideological strings to federal funding, nor the slippery slope of precedent it would set if future governments make similar declarations — whether he agreed with the issues or not. As a reward for his candour, Christopherson lost an important committee post, until his caucus put pressure on NDP leader Jagmeet Singh to restore his post earlier this week.
The tale illustrates an issue with Canada’s party politics system, particularly as those parties become more absolute about what they want their members to believe and how they require them to vote. Certainly, there are political matters of confidence that require party unity, but moreover, it appears the day is gone when party politics was a product of finding the best group of individual candidates who were shared a common bent and letting them act. Moreover, it appears, party politics is being dictated by party leadership and brass.
That idea of party politics has a potential to stifle speech and limit dialogue that might produce better legislation for all involved — and the more politicians who have to acquiesce to a singular set of beliefs to run for a particular party, one has to wonder how diverse caucus discussions are and inclusive they might be of divergent views on any topic.
It all comes back around to reinforce the idea that voters are being asked to do too much with their individual ballots. Instead of simply finding a person they believe will do the best job representing constituents, based on their qualifications and ideology as in municipal politics, they’re having to pay closer attention to the party line. Come June, Ontario residents will be thinking much more about how Doug Ford or Kathleen Wynne thinks than who is the best candidate to serve them and represent their issues and they will vote strategically to try to position a party to govern.
Given the funding and organizations behind the major political parties, it’s hard to ever see Canada get back to a day where partisan politics isn’t a major factor in the discourse of running the country, but any step back in that direction can be seen as a positive. Perhaps, electoral reforms that split the balance of power in a way that better represents the popular vote might encourage more of a need for co-operation beyond traditional party lines. Maybe, if a party campaigned on allowing its members the freedom of conscious to vote and to serve their constituents, it wold garner support as a breath of fresh air compared to the polarized politics we’re experiencing. Systemic change could renew faith in political institutions.
While those are big-picture ideas, the discussion has to start somewhere. The actions of brave individuals like Christopherson provide a catalyst for those discussions to evolve and for all Canadians to add their own voices.