Federal Election 2015 Questions #4 & #5 for the North Okanagan – Shuswap candidates …

Question #4:

How will you represent riding constituents first and foremost – to represent us in Ottawa rather than Ottawa and your federal party to us? What would your mission statement be for representing all the people of our riding?

Question #5:

Please describe your understanding of the role of a Member of Parliament and set out what steps you will take, if any, to promote the accountability of a Prime Minister and members of Cabinet to Parliament.

Candidates are sent the questions a week in advance and are sent a reminder a few days before the deadline as  I understand that this is a busy time for them. No late submissions will be posted unless there is a compelling reason. The next set of questions – for next week – has been sent to the candidates as well.

Lots of readers’ questions have been coming in but there’s still room for a few more. As a FYI, there are already policy Q’s submitted on Health, First Nations, Syria, Senate Reform, the Economy and Climate Change along with other more selective topics.

Your questions should be geared to all of the candidates and not just for one of them. Click here for the criteria and how to submit that burning question for the candidates to Aim High.

Candidate Responses are  posted in the order received : Cindy Derkaz, Mel Arnold, Chris George, Jacqui Gingras

Here’s the very helpful  link – for those doing their research – to the Index of previous Q&A’s .

Cindy Derkaz (Liberal Party):

Question #4

How will you represent riding constituents first and foremost – to represent us in Ottawa rather than Ottawa and your federal party to us? What would your mission statement be for representing all the people of our riding?

Thank you for this question. It goes right to the heart of why I am running for the Liberal Party of Canada.  

Like many Canadians, I am tired of being taken for granted, of having my concerns ignored and my questions left unanswered by my MP. Somehow we have lost the founding principle of our representative democracy: we elect an MP to represent all of the constituents, not just those who voted for him or her.

I will break this question into three parts:

a) Freedom to vote in Parliament in the interests of my constituents

Before I filed my nomination papers I did my research. How much I would be required to “toe the party line”? Which votes would be “whipped”? 

The Liberal Party has committed to more free votes for MP’s. “Caucus members in a Trudeau government will only be required to vote with Cabinet on three different measures: those that implement the Liberal electoral platform; traditional confidence matters such as the Speech from the Throne and significant budgetary measures; and those that address the shared values embodied in the Charter or Rights and Freedoms.”

[Backgrounder for Real Change: A Fair and Open Government p.5 https://www.liberal.ca/files/2015/08/a-fair-and-open-government.pdf]

That is what I have pledged to do. It is reasonable and fair.

Already we have seen free votes in Parliament for the Liberal Caucus under Mr. Trudeau’s leadership.

When I was selected as the candidate for this riding, Mr. Trudeau phoned to welcome me to the Team. We talked about my role as an MP and whether I would be able to have our constituency’s concerns heard in Ottawa. Of course he assured me that I would be heard – what else could he say?  But the conversation was a true exchange of ideas and, after 40 years of experience with evaluating the truth, I have every confidence that if I am elected as your MP, this riding will be heard in Ottawa.

b) The work of an MP in the riding

I have been disappointed, and at times appalled, by the Harper Conservatives’ centralized, partisan, self-serving federal government. An MP needs to set aside partisanship once elected and represent all the voters. I believe that the hyper-partisanship of MPs has lead to the cynicism and apathy which is undermining our representative democracy.

I am hardworking, fair-minded and independent. I am used to speaking up on issues even when the position is unpopular. As your MP, I will treat all voters with respect and will use my knowledge, skills, fairness and judgment to fully represent all constituents. I will try to engage regularly with citizens and stakeholder groups, including municipal leaders, Chambers of Commerce, social agencies, cultural and recreational and other organizations. I need to know the many communities in the riding and hear what people want their MP to be doing. I will tell you if I disagree with you. I will be accessible.

Will it be better representation than we have had? Definitely. Will I please all constituents? Impossible. But I will act with integrity and do my best to weigh the evidence and input fairly in making decisions on how to vote in the best interests of the riding.

c) Mission Statement

As Member of Parliament for North Okanagan Shuswap, to fairly represent all constituents and to treat all with respect and civility while exercising sound judgment and making decisions based on evidence and reason. To work hard as an advocate for the riding in Ottawa and to inform the riding about government programs and actions without hyperbole and partisanship.

Question #5

Please describe your understanding of the role of a Member of Parliament and set out what steps you will take, if any, to promote the accountability of a Prime Minister and members of Cabinet to Parliament.

The role of a Member of Parliament is to represent the constituents of his or her riding in Parliament and also to represent Parliament in the riding. Two sides of the coin and both are important.  As well a MP’s role includes working with other members in a respectful and constructive manner for the greater public interest. An MP must be able to distinguish between narrow partisan interests and the public interest. An MP must be an advocate for the riding.

Accountability

“People know that Ottawa is broken. We have comprehensive plan to fix it.” Those were Mr. Trudeau’s words as he introduced the Liberal’s sweeping platform to reform government.

Here are some of the highlights with respect to accountability:

  • More accessible information – amend the Access to Information Act so that all government data and information is open by default; the Act will apply to the Prime Minister and Ministers’ Offices.
  • Stronger parliamentary committees, including election of parliamentary committee chairs by secret ballot; end the practice of Parliamentary Secretaries standing in for voting members on committees;
  • End abuse of prorogation and omnibus bills;
  • Restore relevance to question period; introduce a Prime Minister’s question period;
  • Real independence for the parliamentary budget officer and government watchdogs;
  • Make every vote count – 2015 will be the last first past the post election;
  • Crack down on election fraud.

There are many more reforms set out in the Backgrounder for Real Change: A Fair and Open Government https://www.liberal.ca/files/2015/08/a-fair-and-open-government.pdf .

As MP I would work to have the reforms set out in the plan enacted promptly.

Mel Arnold (Conservative Party):

Question #4

How will you represent riding constituents first and foremost – to represent us in Ottawa rather than Ottawa and your federal party to us? What would your mission statement be for representing all the people of our riding?

The Conservative party has the best record in Ottawa for free votes.  The Liberals and NDP both have ‘whipped votes’, or predetermined responses for any particular vote.  The myth propagated by the opposition that the PM is a one-man government is put to rest by the following investigation by the Globe and Mail published February 13, 2013:

“A review of MP voting records during the first Harper majority government tells another story: Conservative MPs are far more likely than opposition MPs to break ranks with their own party. And both the dissenting Conservative MPs and the government’s chief disciplinarian – Government Whip Gordon O’Connor – insist a free vote is a free vote and there are no consequences for breaking ranks.” 

In speaking with sitting MPs, Ministers and our own Senator Nancy Green Raine, I have heard consistently that behind the doors of the Caucus room, every Conservative voice has equal opportunity and equal power.  Contrast that to Justin Trudeau who rules with an iron fist; he has already removed the voice of his candidates by insisting on ‘pro choice’ values and manipulated candidate selection processes.  And I ask, have any of Thomas Mulcair’s caucus publicly dissented against his tax and spend plans that will decimate the wallets of every Canadian?

My role as MP will be to represent every constituent in this riding, their interests, their concerns, and their needs with openness and honesty, and to raise my voice where necessary to ensure their concerns are heard.

Question #5

Please describe your understanding of the role of a Member of Parliament and set out what steps you will take, if any, to promote the accountability of a Prime Minister and members of Cabinet to Parliament.

As far as the ‘role of an MP’, it is made up of two parts, one part being to represent the individual constituents while in Ottawa, the second part being the development and implementation of effective legislation to build and protect our country and its citizens.

I am proud to say that Prime Minister Harper addressed the very issue of accountability in his first year in office in Ottawa.  Following hot on the heels of the sponsorship scandal of the ousted Liberals, Mr. Harper decided that a Conservative government needed to be more transparent, more accountable, and overall better representatives of the people of Canada. 

To this end, he undertook the Federal Accountability Action Plan, April 2006.

Some of the highlights are as follows:

reform the financing of political parties by reducing the opportunity to exert political influence through large donations to political parties and candidates

ensure truth in budgeting with a Parliamentary Budget Authority by creating the position of Parliamentary Budget Officer to provide objective analysis to Members of Parliament and parliamentary committees concerning the state of the nation’s finances, trends in the national economy, and the financial cost of proposals under consideration by either House

strengthen the power of the Auditor General by expanding the reach and scope of the Auditor General’s investigative powers to help Parliament hold the government to account.

The full Act can be found here:  http://www.tbs-sct.gc.ca/faa-lfi/docs/ap-pa/ap-patb-eng.asp

I would like to remind all readers that it was Prime Minister Harper who ordered the audit of the Senate expenses after years of the Liberal government ‘looking the other way’.  It was he whose efforts caught the alleged dishonesty of Senator Duffy, whose debt has since been repaid; unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the seven Liberal senators whose expense claims have also been sent to the RCMP.

Tom Mulcair and 68 of his sitting MP’s however, have yet to address and repay the $2.75 million of taxpayers’ money that was blatantly used for party purposes.  On average, each of the 68 New Democrat MPs owes about $20,000. But a few owe more than $100,000.  This behaviour does not reflect the accountability that Canadians expect from their elected representatives.

Following the lead of our Prime Minister, I will hold myself to the highest standards of accountability and will expect the same of all of my peers in Cabinet. 

Chris George (Green Party):

Question #4

How will you represent riding constituents first and foremost – to represent us in Ottawa rather than Ottawa and your federal party to us? What would your mission statement be for representing all the people of our riding?

It is well known that Greens do not believe that the level of control offered to party and leader by slavish adherence to party discipline is not conducive to fair representation or good government. Party discipline is not part of our parliamentary system. It is an invention of the parties themselves, and as such could be relaxed by the parties any time they wished to do so.

A political party in 21st century Canada provides us with the ability to take an enormous cognitive shortcut when thinking about our political economy and the democratic choices we all make when we go to the polls. I do not think that this shortcut leads to desirable outcomes for us individually or collectively. Sometimes the only way to make a good decision requires that we spend the time and energy to collect information, think about it and then proceed to act on the decision made. Choosing a representative is one of those times.

An MP must be prepared to use their best judgement on behalf of the constituents they represent. As a citizen, I have always tried my best to take the time and effort to make a personal connection with those vying for my vote. It has never been easy. Attending town hall forums, community events and seeking out other opportunities where that person’s good judgement may or may not be on display takes time and effort. Asking them to take the time for a personal chat to help me along my way always felt like an imposition. Now that I am the one on the other side of the conversation, I can say that it is this level of engagement that I am seeking with people. I want to give everyone the opportunity to get to know who I am, how I think and just exactly what it is about me that would make me the best person for the job of being their representative in Ottawa.

The qualities I bring are an honest and open willingness to listen, an appreciation for evidence when it comes to the issues and a willingness to take these two items into consideration in every decision I would make as the MP for this riding. Closing my mind because of political ideology or ignoring what people are telling me in favour of what party or leader might think is more important cannot possibly lead to good decisions for people here. There will always be challenges. Half of the people here live rural, the other half urban. Championing the interests of both groups will be a difficult, but it is a challenge that can be best met through listening and using my best judgement on the behalf of everyone.

My mission statement would have to be based on exactly those ideas. As MP for North Okanagan-Shuswap I will take the perspectives of all people in the riding into account, along with the best evidence available before attaching my vote in the house to a piece of legislation. I can promise this, just as all other candidates can, but only I can actually deliver, simply because in my view of how our system is supposed to work the interests of party and leader come well down the list after people and community.

Question #5

Please describe your understanding of the role of a Member of Parliament and set out what steps you will take, if any, to promote the accountability of a Prime Minister and members of Cabinet to Parliament.

The role of an MP is two fold: to fairly represent the interests of constituents in the House of Commons and to assist people in their interactions with the government and its institutions. The second role has been embraced more fully by MPs in recent years as their role beyond voting the party line has shrunk their responsibilities in the House. The work in the constituency around the second role is apparently rewarding and satisfying work for MPs. It is critically important to the people in the riding for them to have an advocate to go to bat for them with the bureaucracy when required.

A big part of promoting the accountability of the Prime Minister and Cabinet was eliminated by the removal of the objectivity of MPs by the parties themselves. If the MPs must vote the party line, holding the government to account becomes a problem for the House. The concentration of power in the Prime Ministers Office is a problem as well. If the PM must come to the house for money in order to get things done, accountability becomes a lot closer to home and a lot more public for Canadians. Cutting the PMO’s budget by 50% is Green policy, and it is certainly a good place to start.

A reduced or relaxed role for the party whip and the idea of strict party discipline itself must be addressed if we are ever to actually see accountability from the PM and Cabinet. Members must be willing to hold their own guys to account when their actions go against the best interests of Canadians. Many say that this would make it difficult for Canadians to choose representatives if they are not held to strict party discipline. I say that choosing a representative based on party is a shortcut, one that often leads us into places we would never go if we took the time to get to know those representatives better. It may be that a combination of personal and party will be needed, but party should never take precedence over the objectivity, good judgement and willingness to fairly represent constituents of an MP. 

The Westminster parliamentary system is not that difficult to understand. Each constituency selects the best candidate for the job and sends them to the House of Commons. Once there, the representatives choose the “first among equals”, the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister selects Cabinet, choosing from both the pool of MPs and from society at large to form government. They govern as long as they maintain the confidence of a majority of the MPs in the House. This is how our system was designed to work in order to hold the government to account. The party system came about as a way to concentrate power. Herding 300+ individuals towards supporting a policy initiative took time, effort and most importantly for our discussion, a willingness to cooperate. Political parties and especially party discipline reduced the cooperative part to a remnant of its former importance.

Greens can help get that cooperative spirit back. As we begin to listen to each other and identify common goals, we can work together to get things done for Canadians. Our system has become adversarial, with confrontation and opposition becoming the normal mode of operation. As a non-ideological party, Greens can work across party lines to build consensus on issues and foster a more cooperative spirit that can begin to turn the tide of excess partisanship that is currently restricting the ability of MPs to hold government to account. The mere presence of a caucus of unwhipped MPs will help to provide an example of what is possible to MPs in other parties, and most importantly it can provide an example for Canadians of what is possible if we relegate partisanship to a less dominant role in our politics.

Jacqui Gingras (New Democratic Party):

Question #4

How will you represent riding constituents first and foremost – to represent us in Ottawa rather than Ottawa and your federal party to us? What would your mission statement be for representing all the people of our riding?

At the heart of great local representation is a dynamic and active constituency office. A top priority for me once elected will be to set-up a constituency office that serves the great diversity of this riding. Already, throughout the campaign period, I’ve met and worked with so many stakeholders in our community, continuing this process will be instrumental in building a constituency office where residents can come together and envision how our community can grow and flourish. 

If I am elected, I would represent everyone, not just those who have voted for me. First, I would create a variety of means for people to share their views with me in order for me to determine the most significant issues and where people stand on those issues. I would use social media, face-to-face communication, town hall meetings, kitchen table conversations, and other means to gather people’s perspectives on significant issues. Second, I would make a case for what the most significant issues are by distilling the information that is shared with me through all of these conversations. The final decisions that I make are not just based on my personal opinion. Finally, it would be critical that the final decision is shared back with constituents so everyone understands the rationale for moving forward. Not everyone will agree with the direction or with the decision, but everyone will see how the decision came to be.

My mission statement as an MP will be to actively build consensus on the important issues in our riding and then do whatever I can to realize the aspirations of our local communities in partnership with others.

Question #5

Please describe your understanding of the role of a Member of Parliament and set out what steps you will take, if any, to promote the accountability of a Prime Minister and members of Cabinet to Parliament.

As an MP, my first priority is to my constituents. As a researcher, I’m well practiced in collecting data, listening to perspectives, and presenting my findings. I will apply this methodology to my work as an MP. Like any ethical researcher, my conclusions will not be bent by the will of external forces.

So, while I cannot guarantee that I will be able to hold the Cabinet and Prime Minister to account, I can guarantee that the views and values of my constituents will always come first.

The independence of parliamentarians is critical to the health and well being of a democracy. Having MP’s that are willing to exercise their independence is the ultimate way to create accountability amongst those in leadership positions in the government.

What we’ve seen over and over again is that the Harper Conservatives are simply mouthpieces for a singular message developed in the PMO. I am running because I believe we need to reignite the power of our collective voices, including that of our scientists. We need the long-form census. We need our scientists to speak freely about their research findings. We need our social policy informed by data generated through rigorous methods. The loss of these freedoms has resulted in a form of governance that undermines the relevancy and strength of our local representatives.

If elected, I pledge that the unique voices and needs of our communities will be represented.

Author: Tim Lavery

Aim High Salmon Arm It matters

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