Monday, October 27, 2008

"Our Canadian Republic" in the LRC

If you subscribe to the Literary Review of Canada, you may already have the November issue in hand, with my essay "Our Canadian Republic" given pride of place right at the front. There's other good stuff in there too, ain't there.

If you just read all your mags online, you will have to wait; the November issue goes digital about November one, I understand.

But here's a teaser.
In fact, there is one profound structural difference in the situations of British and Canadian MPs. In Britain, as in almost every parliamentary democracy in the world except Canada, MPs hire and fire their party leaders. Party leaders are caucus members, subject to caucus pressures rather like any other member and constantly under threat of removal if substantial factions of MPs lose faith in their leadership or reject their policies. In recent years British parties have begun to drift toward the Canadian example, but it is that underlying power over the survival of the leader (and the naming of a new one) that gives has given British MPs, and particularly blocs of MPs, the authority to negotiate the terms of their support for their own party’s actions and to maintain the dynamic tension between government and backbench.

In Canada, party leaders have no such accountability. Stephen Harper and St├ęphane Dion are party leaders not because any MP or bloc of MPs supports them, but because their supporters across the country purchased more votes (“memberships”) than those of rival candidates in extra-parliamentary leadership contests. In Canada we take it as given that a leadership process based on the buying and selling of thousands of party memberships is “democratic.” But as long as our party leaders are selected by extra-parliamentary processes, they are not accountable to their own caucuses, and it will be impossible for MPs to hold them to account – or for government backbenchers to bargain with ministers over legislation and policy. A key mechanism underlying the accountability of government to parliament is lost.
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