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Like a hole in the head

Canada is broken, or at least the Parliamentary system of democracy on which Canada is based is broken, which kind of amounts to the same thing.

Canada is broken, or at least the Parliamentary system of democracy on which Canada is based is broken, which kind of amounts to the same thing. A few years ago we started to slide into Italy-slash-Taiwan territory, but we've gone beyond that to full-fledged Banana Republic.

Another federal election? Really?

Just to recap: former Liberal Leader Jean Chrétien was elected for a second term in 2000 then resigned in 2003, leaving Paul Martin in charge until an election in June 2004 when Martin was re-elected with a minority government. Aided by a federal sponsorship scandal, the opposition brought down that government a year and a half later, whereupon Stephen Harper and the Conservatives came into power in January 2006 (remember the much-hated Christmas campaign?) with another minority government. Harper then asked the Governor General to dissolve Parliament in September 2008. The Conservatives were re-elected in October with a slightly smaller mandate.

Now Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff has announced his intention to vote down the current government once Parliament resumes later this month, ostensibly over Employment Insurance reform but quite possibly because he's up slightly in the polls and doesn't intend to wait until the next scheduled election in 2012 when he'll be 65 years old.

If the Liberal Party is successful in forcing another election it will be our fifth (!) in nine years, with an average reign of less than two years.

In my mind that represents a constitutional crisis, a collapse of the steady, stodgy government that Canadians have come to rely on.

I'm not saying the Liberal Party doesn't have the right to bring down government by a vote of no-confidence, I'm saying that the system that allows them to bring it down so easily is obviously a bad one. Elections are expensive and distracting, and the constant threat of a new election every time a budget comes down the pipe doesn't help our political parties rule more effectively or even plan more than six months ahead. Sometimes governments have to make hard decisions like raising taxes or bringing in new laws, but when an election is always around the corner those decisions don't get made. Instead we get a lot of spending designed to win over voters, usually targeted at ridings where a party feels it can make the biggest gains.

Parties will always differ over policy and their approach to ruling, which is the whole reason we have a party system to begin with. Those differences should almost never amount to a vote of confidence and a snap election, but should be reserved for the worst kind of abuses. Short of setting fire to Ignatieff's tour bus, I can't think of any reason that Harper shouldn't get to serve out his four-year term - and that's coming from someone who has voted against the man twice!

Why none of the parties are talking about the need to reform our dysfunctional Parliament is beyond me.

It's not that tough. First of all, take out the provision that makes any vote a potential confidence vote, especially any vote related to the budget. I understand why that provision is there, but it's a check and balance that's being abused to the point where we've become dangerously unbalanced and we're better off without it.

Instead of focusing their time and energy on defeating whole governments the opposition parties should instead devote themselves to defeating the bills they don't like, sending the ruling party back to the drawing board and forcing compromise.

While we're on the topic of eliminating confidence votes, maybe more open votes should be allowed on practically any piece of legislation other than the budget where members would rather represent the needs of their constituents than their party. Maybe then parties would poll their members before bringing policies forward, something I'm sure would result in better, cleaner bills that all parties can agree to.

We all get it, the opposition parties don't want to be seen helping the ruling party ever because they believe it weakens them to agree on anything. Voting "yea" on a bill is almost like admitting that the other party is doing a decent job, which doesn't help at election time.

I think it's time for our politicians to grow up a little and stop playing games with our country. There is still a lot of room for parties to differentiate themselves without saying "no" to everything. Opposition parties have always been free to differ on bills even if they end up voting for them, or to brag about any concessions they win when a bill is rewritten. If things go sideways, then they can always blame for the government for taking them down the wrong road or botching the delivery.

Canadians deserve more from government than a revolving door. Our parties don't seem to have noticed, but we are living in very serious and transitional times where issues like the environment and the economy are bigger than any party. When did our politics get so small?