Participatory Democracy – Overhauling the CPC

The social conservative and populist (reform) wings of the Conservative Party are being more and more marginalized as Stephen Harper seeks to win more of the middle ground in Ontario and Quebec. In many ways, Harper is merely rebranding the Liberal Party’s policies with a tory trademark.

The problem for the social conservative and populist wings of the Party is that there has not been a mechanism to hold Harper and his red tory puppet masters to account. Starting a new conventional party is an enormous waste of time, and will simply put a far worse liberal in power. This is not a solution. Starting an organized conservative movement, on the other hand, is a foundational exercise which is necessary but will take years, if not decades, to bear real fruit. Unfortunately, this latter option suffers from the need for hard work and patience. While conservatives are not afraid to do so, we want some action now not in 10 years.

So I’ve been thinking about how we could work within the existing Conservative Party to effect real change. The answer is so obvious that it should be tried.

The solution, in my humble opinion, is what I call “participatory democracy”. In essence, the idea of participatory democracy is to strip politicians of their ability to water down or pass legislation at odds with the policies or principles of the party and its membership. In other words, it is a radical departure from the current status quo, power seeking system which politicians today operate under. It renders the politician (and particularly the prime minister) virtually powerless, except in rare circumstances where immediate decisions must be made (i.e. national security issues).

In the past, we elected our members of Parliament and Prime Minister to govern the country according to their abilities and principles of the party. The party membership was neither able to react swiftly enough, nor did it have the mechanism to let its collective will be known in a prompt and efficient manner when its leaders started to stray from its principles. That is why politicians, once elected by the membership and the constituents of a riding, could effectively abandon party principles in pursuit of that ever elusive majority government.

Today, however, with virtual instant communication, memberships of political parties no longer have such a barrier. With the internet and other mass communication devices, the membership
can expect and demand that its leaders follow its directives.

How does this system work?

As stated above, the idea of participatory democracy is to make politicians true servants of the people – as in, “we tell you want to do and you do it – no more and no less.”

This is how I envision this system working:

The membership of the party elects a certain number of members to a “Policy Committee”. This committee is directly responsible to the membership in ensuring that the policies adopted by the Party are implemented. Each member of this Policy Committee is elected for a one year term to ensure that they are responsive to the membership. The leader of the Party may not advance legislation without the approval of the policy committee. Should the leader of the Party attempt to do so, the Policy Committee can call for a leadership review.

The Policy Committee and the leader of the Party must set forth an agenda of proposed legislation. The proposed legislation will be summarized in layman’s terms and electronicially broadcast to the membership for a vote. Only the legislation which is met with 50% or 60%? approval may be acted upon. Other legislation will not be permitted to move forward.

There may be instances where direct membership involvement is not practical. In those instances, one would expect that since the Policy committee must be very responsive to their membership’s concerns (since they only have a one year term), they will be reflecting the current will of the membership. Consequently, if the leader of the Party attempts to suggest some legislation which is in contradiction to the membership’s will, the policy committee will veto such an attempt. If they do not, the membership will remove them from their place on the committee within a year’s time when elections are due.

This simple system (which needs to be refined, admittedly), allows for a check on the leader of the Party (or Prime Minster as the case may be) by the policy committee. The policy committee in turn is directly responsible to the membership, and the membership has a direct role in proposing and passing the legislation.

I’m still thinking of refinements and possible drawbacks to such a system so any input would be greatly appreciated….

Participatory Democracy. Can we make this work?

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