My room in the riding office was full tonight when. Ten or eleven people crowded in, while a projector on my desk beamed onto the wall and David Fisher stood at one end beside a flip chart covered with red magic marker ink. Beside him was a digital camera hooked up to a laptop. Everybody was wearing name tags and there was an air of studious exhilaration when I stuck my head in, and noticed half a dozen other people were online, and taking part on the meeting through a chat board being broadcast up there on the wall.
Who were these people? Citizens. Just citizens. A high school student, some seniors, some middle-class, middle-income and middle-aged parents, an accountant, a pilot, a government worker, two people who had driven 100 clicks to be there, and a person online in Nova Scotia.
Tonight was the genesis of something David is calling the Ã¢â‚¬Å“ConstituentsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ Policy Acceleration Committee,Ã¢â‚¬Â and I have a strong feeling the whole country at some point will feel the reach of this small group. If an avalanche of public opinion brings change, then here I saw the first few grains of snow coming together. And I was proud.
David is a guy who lives in north Oakville in a semi with Marjie and their two kids and new dog. He invited me into his living room for a neighborhood political party during the election campaign, and then I returned after becoming the MP to ask the group for ideas for the first Conservative budget. Once I had written my report for Jim Flaherty and given a copy to the finance minister and the prime minister, I handed one to David. I asked him for his help in making the best recommendations come to life.
Some may wonder why an MP would ask a voter such a thing. After all, it is I who sit in the House of Commons. I am a member of the government. I can stand in my place and propose laws that others then decide upon with me. Why do I need a roomful of voters and a robust Internet connection to effect change?
Because, as I said tonight to the group, in the few minutes I was there, the time has come to change the way in which we are all governed. In the past, we elected people to go off and sit in Parliament and form a government and represent us. We did this because we lacked the ability or time to be there ourselves, or have any kind of ongoing input. MPs spoke for us. Made laws. Made deals. Did their best, came home and sold us on it. If we agreed, we sent them back. If not, we sent somebody else.
That worked for the past 159 years. Not perfectly, but well enough. Besides, there was no alternative. When my great grandfather Ebenezer Bodwell went to Ottawa in 1867 to be the MP for Oxford, he carried with him the trust of all constituents. He knew that once the election was over, they had no choice but to trust him, since Ottawa was a long ways by horse. He rode off to represent them, since they had no other voice.
But here we are. Today the work of MPs and government is well understood by everyone. Media bathes us in information and there is almost nothing our political masters know before we do. We are informed, educated, involved Ã¢â‚¬â€œ and wired. And yet we still have a 19th Century political system in place in which we vote for an MP, and with that vote surrender our ability to actually get the laws we want. How we are taxed. How we are asked to behave. How we are defended. How our tax dollars are spent. How are children are cared for and our broken bones set Ã¢â‚¬â€œ all these decisions are made by others. The political class. MPs.
So, given the fact we are all involved, and getting more connected every day, why canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t we also have more influence over our own country? Our digital society now gives us instant information, the ability to erase distances between us, and the ability to collectively vote. Anytime. On any topic. Does this not make elections anachronistic? Are MPs irrelevant? In the Internet age, how can we possibly have a government that doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t listen?
These questions have haunted me for months, and follow me unanswered as I step onto the floor of the House of Commons. I listen to the meaningless and formalized speeches. I watch the prime minister float in for Question Period as the galleries fill and the charade of governing-and-opposing begins. I witness gestures of Ã¢â‚¬Å“listening to the peopleÃ¢â‚¬Â for policies which have already been written. I sit through meetings of MPs and the political leadership in which debate does not take place. And I wonder, why?
And while I relish in my job and am humbled by its history and responsibilities, it strikes me the very best thing I can do is to give some of it back. And I am. I did. Tonight.
I have asked David to find citizens who wish to work hard, for nothing, for their country. There is no reason, as far as I can tell, why dozens, hundreds or millions of people canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t get online together and decide collectively if they want income-splitting within families, or whether a cut in the GST is better or worse than a cut in income tax. ThereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s also no reason why those people canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t access the resources to write their own legislation which can then be introduced in Parliament. And if there are enough people who actually care, and participate, then MPs will counter them at their political peril.
At least, thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the theory. Laws from citizens for themselves. Voters educated as never before, informed as in no other age, able to communicate without bounds. The basis of the perfect state? I think so. I have asked DavidÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s people to draft legislation on how families should be taxed. It will be my ground-breaking honour to take that to Ottawa. And, no horse.