Thursday, January 21, 2010

Queen's has a model parliament. So does New Brunswick.

Yesterday, today, and tomorrow, the Queen's Model Parliament is sitting in Ottawa. This is a student-run model parliamentary program at Queen's University in Kingston that, through the courtesy of Peter Millican, Kingston MP and Speaker of the House of Commons, gets to hold its three-day model parliamentary debates in the actual House of Commons chamber.

Three hundred and eight bright and promising young Canadians learning and practising parliamentary skills in the actual parliamentary chamber, with the support and participation of senior parliamentary officials -- what a great experience. The impact on the students is probably only slightly reduced by the realization that this year QMP could sit for six weeks and not impede in the slightest the official parliament of the country.

Meanwhile parliamentary democracy seems to be breaking out in a strikingly unCanadian fashion in New Brunswick.

Liberal premier Shawn Graham had worked out a deal to sell publicly-owned NB Hydro to Hydro Quebec -- until his cabinet and caucus told him they would not support the plan. Enough cabinet ministers and backbenchers to defeat the government told Graham they would vote against the plan in the New Brunswick legislature. The deal is now being substantially revamped to caucus's specifications.

Leave aside the matter of whether selling NB Hydro is a good idea. New Brunswick Liberals are revolting against ninety years of Canadian parliamentary practice, in which legislators have presumed they have no role in the parliamentary process and must do whatever they are told to by party leaders imposed by an extra-parliamentary process. The New Brunswick members have, of course, the most practical of motives: they are pretty certain they could never be re-elected if they voted for Graham's plan. That is just as it should be: the voters tell their representatives their wishes, and the representatives tell the executives their wishes, and the executive, being accountable to the parliamentary majority, actually bends to the will of the public.

Any chance legislators in the rest of the country could hear of what has gone on in Frederickton? Geez, next they will have the idea that caucuses should be able to review the leadership of leaders who get their parties into this kind of trouble.
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