Carolyn Parrish is a unique voice in Canadian Parliament. As an Independent incumbent for the Erindale riding of Mississauga, this outspoken former Liberal backbencher achieved fame with her anti-Bush antics on the T.V. show This Hour Has 22 Minutes, where she stomped on the head of a doll of the President. This was too much disrespect for an MP to show our sensitive neighbours down south, and Parrish suddenly found herself no longer a Liberal.
Parrish describes herself as sometimes too honest, which she admits doesn’t always make for a successful political career. A proud U of T grad, Parrish sat down for an interview with The Varsity to answer some tough questions about the current political situation, including whether she thinks she can win as an Independent, what a new government might look like, and what she thinks of the current Liberal party under Paul Martin. (Surprise: she is not impressed.)
[note: this interview took place before the defection of Conservative Belinda Stronach and the passage of the federal budget.]
Sabrina Singh: Thank you, Ms. Parrish, for taking a moment with us. It looks like we may be dealing with minority parliaments for a while; which do you think are better for democracy-minority governments or majority governments?
Carolyn Parrish: Majority governments are essentially dictatorships, but a minority government that can fall at anytime is also not good. The ideal situation would be a minority for a fixed four year term. Fixed terms force political parties to work together-there is more compromise, a wide variety of ideas, and it leads to policies that are best for Canadians. That’s how health care was introduced under Pearson.
SS: Who has been a better leader in your opinion – Jean Chrétien or Paul Martin?
CP: Scandal aside, Chrétien was a better leader. I don’t think politicians were involved in the scandal, it’s an issue with second- and third-level bureaucrats. Martin’s calling the Gomery Inquiry was a mistake. He’s weak, he doesn’t have the conviction, and he’s reactive. Chrétien was cool and self-confident, and a much better leader.
SS: What are your views on the first-past-the-post system of voting versus proportional representation? Do you think that one better represents the public interest?
CP: 750, 000 Canadians voted for the Green Party, and there is not a single representative for them in the House. If we had proportional representation they would be represented. We need to move toward proportional representation and fixed term minorities. Proportional representation means there is an onus to get along, work together, without an us-versus-them mentality. City councils and school boards are much more cooperative because members are non-partisan representatives and are as a result more likely to work together and work for the people. I think it would be that way if there were more Independents in Parliament as well.
SS: What can be done to address the issue of under-representation of minorities in Parliament?
CP: Arabs, Palestinians, Pakistanis, and women are all groups that are under-represented. I think the process that is set up for nominations perpetuates the problem. Candidates that disagree with the party leaders on certain issues are declared inappropriate and are not picked.
SS: How can Independents function effectively in Parliament?
CP: In Canada, people are trained to vote for a party. People vote Liberal for generations. This will be an obstacle that I will have to overcome in running for the first time as an Independent.
We need more Independents. As Independent representatives, politicians tend to act as a conscience for their constituents. I have an edge coming from the Liberal party, knowing the ins and outs, but as an Independent I can address issues and ask questions that I wouldn’t be able to ask as a member of the party. For example, CIBC credit card processing is done in the United States which, under the Patriot Act, all must be filed and on record with the U.S. government. Essentially the CIA and FBI can access Canadian records. This violates Canadians rights. I addressed this issue with the party, but right now the government is very conscious about their delicate relationship with the United States. As an Independent I filed a complaint that I couldn’t have as a member of the party.
SS: How do you think the Liberals are handling the exposure of the Gomery Inquiry?
CP: Very badly. Martin made a very foolish mistake to call the inquiry. $1.9 million have been spent above and beyond the budget for investigation into the sponsorship issue. If people are going to be charged criminally they get a day n court, with proper legal representation, where evidence is weighed. With an inquiry people can say whatever they want to with few or no repercussions; I think a lot of what is coming out is sensationalism and a lot of speculation. An Inquiry is not the same as a Court of Law. Martin is reactive and his decision to call the inquiry was reactive.
SS: As a former Liberal, how do you respond to questions from the media about the Scandal?
CP: Mr. Gagliano would have cut his arm off for Prime Minister Chrétien; he certainly would not have done anything to jeopardize Chrétien’s career. The sponsorship campaign was announced as a fund of $250 million to promote the role of the government in Québec and across Canada, the intention was to publicly support events via federal donations that would sponsor activities in exchange for displaying the federal logo. Unfortunately, it was thrown together quickly. The Millennium Scholarship program took two years to get up and running and it still had problems. Most projects take at least two years, but the sponsorship program was up and running in thirty days with no proper checks and balances in place, and people took advantage of that. I firmly believe that there was no criminal intent on the part of politicians like Gagliano. The media has really sensationalized the problem because it’s sexy. The truth is that it was a poorly administered program, and if there were unscrupulous people they should be tried in a criminal court.
SS: Give us your view on how Harper and the Conservatives are handling the Scandal.
CP: They are doing what the opposition is supposed to do, fixating on the scandalous tidbits. The former Reforms are like little boys looking at a Playboy. They take joy in exposing the dirty parts. When Judy Sgro was in trouble, they didn’t look at what the real issue was, that of favoritism; they dwelled on the fact that it was a stripper. They can’t reach the sophistication of a formal opposition party. The way they are shutting down the House is pathetic. The House has never degenerated to such a degree, its just childish. Since they have become the official opposition, decorum has gone out the window, and, shamefully, the Liberals have only stooped to their level during question period.
SS: Tell us what you think the next government may look like if an election is called.
CP: The Bloc is going to get another twelve seats. We are going to have either a Tory-Bloc minority or a slim Tory majority. The NDP will pick up seats in Hamilton and Windsor. We’ll have a real mess of a minority government at the expense of Liberal seats, they will lose seats in Québec and Ontario. Harper will have more votes than the Liberals.
SS: Do you see yourself joining a party in the future? Would you consider rejoining the Liberals under a new leader?
CP: The Green Party had approached me when I was booted, and I was tempted, but I consider myself to be a Liberal. I would rejoin them in a flash under a new leader.
SS: Do you think Canadians want an election?
CP: Harper keeps saying the Liberals have lost confidence, but polls show that 71 per cent of Canadians say they don’t want an election right now. To lose the confidence of two opposition parties is not the same as losing the confidence of the people. A year ago 70 per cent of the Canadian population voted left of centre, that shows that most Canadians don’t want Harper and his slash-and-burn policies. In my opinion the Tories are the ones who are disrespecting the wishes of Canadians.
SS: What do you think can be done to get more students to the voting polls. Do you think that students’ interests are being adequately addressed by politicians?
CP: Student interests are not addressed. It took a bash on the head and cornering from the NDP to get more money for students. I think students are becoming more interested in politics. When I was there [attending U of T], we were there to protest Vietnam, and studying came second. If students want to be critical they need to take an interest by getting politicians onto campuses and students need to get involved in campaigning. University campuses need to make an effort to get students interested, at the very least students should have access to polling stations on campus and there should be temporary resident access for students going to school out of town to vote. Students are a powerful group; they could influence five or six ridings if they came out and voiced their opinions publicity. Students need to ask politicians tough questions and make them respond by voting responsibly.
SS: I think trust is a major issue right now facing politicians. What do you think politicians can do to rebuild the trust of Canadians?
CP: Polls show that when people are asked what is most important in a politician it is always trust. When politicians say one thing and do another or avoid answering questions by sitting on the fence, trust falters. I think the Liberal party and everyone else has to stop politicking and get back to governing. Confrontation is seen as unsophisticated behaviour, and it needs to be taken out of politics.