HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Undemocratic
Pubdate: Fri, 19 Apr 2002
Source: National Post (Canada)
Copyright: 2002 Southam Inc.
Author: Keith Martin
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)


The Mace, the golden staff that sits on the floor of the House of 
Commons, is a hallowed symbol of democracy. MPs are forbidden even to 
touch it, out of respect for our democratic institutions. On 
Wednesday, I broke that tradition and hoisted the Mace into the air, 
declaring "Parliament is not a democracy anymore." I took this 
extreme step to draw attention to an unprecedented attack by the 
government on the rights of every MP and every Canadian.

Just before I picked up the Mace, the government drove a stake 
through the heart of private-member business by introducing a 
poison-pill amendment to prevent a private member's bill I had 
introduced from being freely voted upon by the House. The bill called 
for the decriminalization -- not legalization -- of the simple 
possession of marijuana. The bill, supported by a majority of MPs, 
and by 70% of Canadians, could have saved lives and a great deal of 
money in our justice system.

The government's poison-pill amendment is important because private 
member business is the only time when MPs can vote freely. It is the 
last area in Parliament where MPs can innovate and push ideas forward 
for their constituents and country. It is the last bastion of 
democracy in a House where committees are used as make-work projects 
for MPs; where the legislative agenda bears no relevance to the 
concerns of Canadians; where Cabinet ministers cannot innovate, for 
fear of losing their jobs; and where MPs must vote according to the 
dictates of their leaders, instead of the wishes of their 

Private member business has become a farce.

Since the last election, MPs from all parties have introduced 239 
private member's bills. None has passed third reading, and only two 
have made it to a vote after second reading. The cost is 
extraordinary. Since the beginning of this session, 150 hours of 
debate on private member business have taken place in the House, 
costing taxpayers $45-million. The outcome of this effort is 
absolutely nothing.

Indeed, MPs from all parties recognize how undemocratic Parliament 
has become and have offered many substantive suggestions to rectify 
the situation. The committee on House procedure, the PC-DRC and the 
Canadian Alliance have all offered constructive solutions. I have 
introduced seven motions and have written about this subject on 
numerous occasions. All efforts to make our parliamentary system more 
effective have gone unheeded.

I picked up the Mace on Wednesday to draw attention to a system that 
is so undemocratic that MPs are now voting machines, with little 
opportunity to work for the people. This is our most serious problem 
in Canada today. If MPs cannot use their talents to fight for ideas 
for the public good, then MPs truly are irrelevant. Canada is not a 
democracy, Parliament cannot address the challenges we face, and we 
will continue to have a government driven by polls, not public need. 
If you have nearly 50% approval ratings, why rock the boat? Why do 
anything substantive?

I do not regret violating a custom of the House. The Prime Minister's 
Office violated the greatest right we have. It took away our right to 

Unless the public wakes up to how our government has quietly 
transformed our parliamentary democracy into a dictatorship, we will 
not see solutions to the problems Canada faces. The result will be a 
nation that is a pale shadow of what it could be. Shame.

Keith Martin, a medical doctor, is the Canadian Alliance MP for 
Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca, B.C.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Josh