Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Parliamentary leadership in a representative democracy

In Australia as in Canada, conservative politicians are reluctant to act vigorously on climate change issues. Today, willingness to consider a climate change project cost the leader of the opposition his job.

Malcolm Turnbull, the incumbent leader of the Liberals (ie, the conservatives), was seen as being insufficiently hostile to the emissions trading scheme the Labour government is proposing. They had a leadership battle on the issue, and his caucus rival Tony Abbott is now leader.

The vote was 42-41. The battle, that is, was fought within the elected caucus of Liberal MPs. It took a couple of days, it cost nothing, and -- imagine this, Canada -- it was fought over a matter of principle and policy, not over who "looked like a leader" or which contenders could fund their supporters to buy the most votes (or "memberships," as we call them).

The Liberals now promise party unity. But having just confirmed that party leaders in Australia are accountable to MPs and not vice versa, some of the backbenchers who had followed Turnbull may decide to support the Labour government's ETS project.

Parliamentary democracy: I still think it is a great idea, worth trying in Canada.

(Amount of analysis of these events you will read in the Canadian media, popular and scholarly? Zipnada. Update, Dec 3: Except here!)
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