The Canadian electorate has become increasingly disillusioned with respective governments across Canada, both Federal and Provincial, and are becoming more and more complacent towards their elected representatives. For democracy to function as it should, something needs be done. That ‘done’ is Accountable Representation. Before defining Accountable Representation there needs to be a job description for MPs and MLAs.
There are many references to and definitions of what an MP or MLA is and does but, there is no official description defining his/her job or responsibility and accountability or to what he/she is responsible for nor to whom he/she is accountable.
Parliament passed the Federal Accountability Act on December 12, 2006. This act though, introduced by the Harper government and passed by near unanimous accent in the House has really nothing to do with accountability. It was described as, “to help strengthen accountability and increase transparency and oversight in government operations”. This act turned out to be anything but; it had no effect in making Parliament and Government accountable and in truth produced the exact opposite results. One overlying factor is that there is no penalty for not being accountable and no recourse for swift and effective action either by the electorate nor any legal authority that would hold the Government or MPs to account.
What then is accountability? Here is the definition given by the Center for Public Accountability.
“Accountability is the obligation of authorities to explain publicly, fully and fairly, before and after the fact, how they are carrying out responsibilities that affect the public in important ways. It is the obligation to report — to publicly explain intentions and the reasons, intended performance standards and whether they were met, and the learning gained and how it was applied.”
“To hold to account we need to distinguish responsibility from accountability. Responsibility means the obligation to act. Accountability means the obligation to answer for one’s actions. The accountability obligation implies overall disclosure standards that include stating the fairness rationale for proposed action, the intended achievement and how it is to be brought about, the results, and the learning gained and applied. Holding to account means getting the answers from those accountable; it does not mean by-passing the answering process and going direct to an investigation of people’s performance.”
The old adage, ‘He who pays the piper calls the tune’ must surely apply to all MPs / MLAs even to Prime Ministers and Members of Cabinet. They are all payed by the public purse and are therefore Civil Servants. The opporative word is servant, in the employ of another who holds the authority. In the case of an MP / MLA, his/her constituents.
Each and every Member of Parliament / Legislature needs then to:
- Meet with his/her constituency several times each year and
- Publicly report to his/her on a weekly basis:
- His/her attendance in the House.
- His/her attendance and contributions to committees,
- Outcomes of Parliamentary committees,
- His/her intentions on any given legislation explaining;
- What the legislation is,
- Why the legislation is required,
- Who and/or what is effected by the legislation,
- How will this legislation be effective,
- Who will profit mostly by this legislation,
- Who will pay the costs related to this legislation,
- What are the main objections to this legislation,
- When will this legislation become effective,
- When the vote on this legislation will take place.
It is then the public’s responsibility to avail themselves of their MP/MLA reports.