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August 14, 2001

Readers proffer ideas for reform

Diane Francis
Financial Post

I've been deluged with responses to my column about the lack of democracy in Canada and how referendum questions may help.

I suggested term limits and an election every four years on April 30 -- income tax deadline day -- among other reforms.

Here's a comment from an expatriate: "I have left Canada. My three well-educated sons have followed. We left for the reasons you speak of. There is no check and balance in Canada. The Senate is ineffective, our [prime minister] can stay in power forever. I remember watching my friends move to Toronto, then to Calgary and finally Vancouver. Now people leave the country," he said.

"It is sad to see this happen. The brain drain should be considered seriously. In summary, this is how I see Canada now. It used to be that I felt government was for the people. Now I feel government is the people. I don't need the government to take care of me. I don't need the government to diminish me. I need the government to empower me."

Canada is so undemocratic, as one reader pointed out, that it does not adhere to the most important democratic tenet of all: One person, one vote.

Gordon Herriman, of Calgary, underscores this by pointing out there are 2.3 million people in Atlantic Canada who elect 32 members to Parliament, while Alberta, with three million people, elects 26. Two million people in Saskatchewan and Manitoba elect 28 MPs while British Columbia's four million elect only 32.

One reader wanted to retire one-third of the Supreme Court judges every three years to ensure there are fresh ideas on the bench.

Mike Hauss wanted schools to emphasize economics so that the next generation of voters could be less easily hoodwinked by politicians. He also suggested Canada become a republic and get rid of the Queen and the British monarchy as heads of state. He also favors an elected Senate.

B.F. Graham suggested programs be administered and accounted for by one level of government. That would eliminate the fact the fed's health care and immigration policies impose enormous costs on lower levels of government.

Gordon Grant added a number of interesting suggestions for reform: 1. Reorganize government into three opposing factions (as the Americans do so) -- executive, legislative and judicial. 2. Make all elected representatives directly responsible to their constituents. No more backbench stifling of opinion and power. (This would include removing party whips and the PM's power to sign all nomination papers for candidates.) 3. Zero budgeting for all government functions. Make it illegal to go into debt except in national emergencies. 4. Install a system of rewards for government departments that cut their budgets, and punish those who cannot. 5. Reward civil servants who can come up with new ways to save money. 6. Install flat income tax -- 15% and that's it! 7. Allow tax breaks for new business ideas and technologies, but no cash infusion, with time limits. 8. Promote the use of hydrogen and Canadian fuel cell expertise to replace petroleum for all power needs. 9. Promote the installation of windmills in northern and Prairie farm rights-of-way to provide hydrogen and electrical power. Farmers would reap millions. Not only would they be providing food for the country but energy as well. It would also allow for export at a profit. 10. Promote the installation of solar generators on rooftops of buildings. (Rooftops are one of the most wasted spaces, along with all large expanses of parking spaces).

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