Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Peter Milliken, Speaker of the House

On a very slight personal acquaintance, I'm pleased to see Peter Milliken re-elected by his peers as Speaker of the House of Commons. He certainly has a sense of the importance of the House and of parliamentary history, and that's a good thing.

I'm also a fan of the House electing its speaker, even by secret ballot. Back when the prime minister chose a speaker and his claque of MPs said yessir, speakers were chosen to polish the PM's status (gotta have a westerner, a francophone, a woman, a minority, tick) and most of them proved to be lousy speakers. Now the House chooses its own, and it seems to have a much better idea of what the House needs in a speaker.

But I don't expect Milliken (or anyone) to improve decorum in the House. That can only be done when the members take control of the House. In choosing the speaker, one place where MPs have real collective authority, they take it seriously and they use it well. But in all other matters, they are treated as children, and they act childishly. On all matters of policy, MPs have no opinions, no autonomy, nothing to say but parroting of what their party leader has decided to do. Given so little constructive to do, they inevitably become destructive. Why not shout and catcall and fight, when they have no opportunity to reason and negotiate and then vote accordingly?

It is not a problem of decorum; it is a problem of a disfunctional House, one with only four independent minds (the four party leaders) backed by 304 men and women vastly overqualified for their role as mindless supporters. The House will start to work again when MPs start to work, and the way they could start to work is by retaking control of their caucuses, that is, by reminding the party leaders that the leader is a member of caucus and accountable to it, rather than the reverse.
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