Friday, March 06, 2009

What happens to accountability?

Barely three months ago, Michael Ignatieff became a party leader by the authority of his party's parliamentary caucus (as he should, as they all should). In many ways, he seems to be doing rather well at it. But already Mr. Ignatieff is reverting to the standard operating assumption of Canadian party leaders: that he doesn't answer to the caucus, it answers to him.

The job of MPs, he declares, is to raise money and to recruit members (oh, and to vote as he directs). He has assigned recruitment targets for "his" MPs. And if they don't measure up:
As party leader, Mr. Ignatieff has the right to reject nominees by refusing to sign their nomination papers. Sources say he would use this tool to rebuff those who fail to reach the targets.
I'm not sure he has the right at all, but the party's private rules do give him the power. But how can MPs claim to be the elected representatives of the Canadian people if their very presence in the legislature is conditional on how well they fulfil the assignments of one of their fellow caucus members?

When the MPs are accountable to the electors, and the leaders are accountable to the MPs, then I can see how the government is accountable to Parliament. But when they are not, where is the accountability?

Addendum: J.C Bourque, a consultant at Strategy Corp, offers, seemly in response to the Globe's article on Ignatieff's new leadership rules, nine axioms of political party leadership from the late Dalton Camp. Now I hate to say anything unenthusiastic about Dalton Camp, because he once wrote that my 1867 was "the best book on our history I have ever read" (he did, really), but all of them seem to promote the authority of the party over the authority of Members of Parliament. Which is, in a nutshell, the problem.

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