A few weeks ago, the House of Commons engaged in a fiasco so utterly idiotic it defies logic — and shows we need to make a fundamental change to preserve our democracy.
During Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky’s visit to Canada, now-former speaker of the house Anthony Rota introduced an outspoken Waffen SS Nazi collaborator, age 98. The entire house, from Conservatives to New Democrats, rose to applause the man, apparently not doing the math that would put the individual they were applauding quite squarely on the opposite side of history.
The one saving grace of this debacle is it shows stupidity is clearly cross-partisan. As every party rose to applaud in earnest, none can claim any level of moral superiority, regardless of what the parties may argue.
Regardless, it’s obvious people didn’t do their homework.
There’s a popular notion our politicians aren’t quite the models of leadership they used to be. Nonsense like this can definitely be considered evidence said notion is correct. Voters are left either having to hold their nose and pick the least awful option or join the cult-like mentality that one party is the sole moral compass and all others want to — or have the means to — transform our country into some terrifying dystopia. With social media allowing politicians to bypass journalists and speak directly to their supporters — often fanning people’s ignorance and claiming journalists are part of a conspiracy against them — elections are increasingly reduced to mud-slinging fests won by the most salacious, spreadable rumour and with little attention given to how we want government to actually operate or what its priorities should be. Winning elections mainly requires you to have lots of “friends” and lots of money.
All this creates the circumstances for politicians who don’t have a shred of practical knowledge to run for and win office, and then make poorly informed decisions on our behalf. How do we fix this before it’s too late?
I’m a big fan of saying the buck stops with the voter, but expecting voters to fix democracy by rejecting every unqualified politician who comes their way is unrealistic. Voters barely have enough time to compare platforms and read candidate profiles these days.
If we want our leaders to do their homework, they need something to study for. Politicians should be required to complete a comprehensive competency exam before they are allowed to put their name forward for election. This exam should focus on key basics we expect from our leaders like understanding of important historical tragedies to Canadians such as the Second World War or the Residential School System. Leaders should at least understand fundamental concepts we expect normal people to know by the time they finish high school, such as the laws of physics, how populations grow exponentially, the germ theory, math and reading comprehension. Only then should they be allowed to face voters.
To ensure there is no political favouritism, this exam should be written by an independent group that would advise Elections departments. That group should have representatives from academia, Indigenous groups, historical societies, urban planners and other stakeholders.
Requiring politicians to write a pre-election exam would at least force them to realize how important these issues are.
Right now only the privileged are able to run for office and it shows.