Friday, January 30, 2009

Danny Williams, parliamentary democrat?

I've never been a admirer of Danny Williams. He is the latest and most extreme of the egomaniacal, authoritarian, demagogic leaders whose existence parliamentary democracy is designed to prevent -- yet who flourishes in our Canadian perversion of the system. But suddenly I wonder if the Newfoundland premier might, all unintentionally, start to drive our disfunctional parliaments in the right direction.

Williams does not like what the federal budget does (or does not do) for his province. So he is ordering "his" MPs -- all the Newfoundland members in the House of Commons -- to oppose it, even though six of the seven are Liberals, and Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff has said the Liberal party will support the budget.

Okay, it's a typical bullying, confrontational, conflict-maximizing Williams move. But you know, Newfoundland's MPs are not obliged to support the budget just because Mr. Ignatieff is inclined to. MPs are not cattle, they are the elected representatives of the people. Mr Ignatieff should answer to them and not vice versa If Danny Williams's demands can encourage MPs to engage their brains and votes in the service of the country, he could be doing the country a real service.

There's just one proviso. If Mr Williams wants members of the federal caucuses to think and vote as they think best, he can hardly expect his own Newfoundland Conservative caucus to do differently. We should take seriously his campaign for independent thought in the federal caucuses when we see some evidence of it in his own. C'mon Newfoundland MNAs: what do you really think of Danny's work?

Meanwhile the Globe & Mail reports that "at Wednesday's caucus meeting, Mr. Ignatieff reportedly cautioned his MPs that their party must speak with one voice – namely his." Maybe the MPs need to remind them he is leader by their choice and at their sufferance.
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