Looking for a better way of doing politics? Look to Scandinavia and Switzerland

It’s never been much of a secret that politics is a blood sport. Over the past few years, it’s also never been more obvious that politics is a blood sport.

Keeping up with the news recently would have adequately conveyed that fact.

There was last week’s controversy over attack ads linked to senior Manitoba MP Vic Toews.

And junior MP Shelly Glover’s expression of disappointment in the House of Commons’ mean-spirited atmosphere.

And former candidate Lesley Hughes’ defamation lawsuit against a sitting MP and B’Nai Brith over allegations that caused Hughes to lose the Liberal endorsement in the last election.

Canada’s parliament is not the only one whose members are sometimes guilty of boorish behaviour. Debates in Taiwan’s parliament have occasionally turned into brawls, with members of parliament resorting to punching, slapping and hair-pulling. And former Australian prime minister Paul Keating was so sharp-tongued that an entire archive of his insults and put-downs was posted on the Internet.

A little difference of opinion between two Taiwanese MPs

It should come as no surprise then that a global survey taken in different countries between 2005 and 2008 showed that only 38 percent of Canadians, 34 percent of Australians and just 14 percent of Taiwanese had “a great deal” or “quite a bit” of confidence in their national parliaments.

The figures weren’t much better in the U.S. (21%) or in Britain (36%), the two countries whose influences are most visible in the Canadian parliamentary system.

Yet in northern Europe, 56 percent of Swedes and Finns, and 54 percent of the Swiss, said they had “a great deal” or at least “quite a bit” of confidence in their national legislatures.

Confidence in Parliament: Percentage who say they have "a great deal" or "quite a bit" of confidence in national legislature

Confidence in Parliament: Percentage who say they have "a great deal" or "quite a bit" of confidence in national legislature

What do they have that other countries don’t?

Perhaps it’s the fact that these are small countries of just a few million people, where rulers are less insulated from the rest of the public. In some smaller countries, the level of security surrounding prime ministers and cabinet ministers might be no greater than that surrounding provincial premiers in Canada — which often isn’t much.

Or maybe a combination of fixed election dates and proportional representation (i.e., no majority governments) in all three countries makes it pointless for politicians to behave like attack dogs between elections.

Or the difference might be in terms of who is elected to parliament. Forty-seven percent of Swedish MPs are women. In Finland, women hold 42 percent of the seats. Switzerland trails a bit, with women making up 29 percent of the lower house of parliament — but they’re still well ahead of Canada (22%), the U.K. (20%) and the U.S. (17% House, 15% Senate).

The reason why I raise the question of gender is because a 1999 World Bank research report noted that countries with a higher percentage of female MPs tend to be less prone to corruption. (Though it doesn’t seem to have had much effect in reducing the level of violence in Taiwan’s parliament.)

Whatever it is that makes the Swiss and the Scandinavians so much more confident in their national politicians, Canadian politicians should watch and learn from their colleagues across the Atlantic.

But I’m not betting that they will actually do that.

In which case, Canadians should give some thought to what kinds of personalities they vote for. And if we desire change, maybe the best way to achieve it is not by voting for a different party, but by voting for a different demographic.


About theviewfromseven
A lone wolf and a bit of a contrarian who sometimes has something to share.

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