Monday, June 14, 2010

Parliamentary life in British Columbia

I've always been cool to recall and initiative procedures in Canadian politics. They usually come forward as part of a populist, anti-parliamentary, let's all-vote-on-everything-all-the-time agenda. Under Canadian conventions, backbenchers are already subject to dismissal if they disagree with their leaders. Recall processes seemed designed to weaken them even further -- double jeopardy.

But maybe it has some merit. The initiative/recall process churning up in British Columbia does seem to have the potential to put some backbone into the provincial Liberal party caucus there.

The premier, following the usual backbenchers-are-cattle habits of unaccountable leaders, announced last year, soon after campaigning successfully gainst the Harmonized Sales Tax, that BC would implement it. Clearly there was a lot of caucus dissatisfaction then, but it is the popular uproar that seems to be fuelling some stirrings of caucus dissent.

Already one cabinet minister has resigned -- to oppose the HST implementation, but also to save his seat. The Globe & Mail's Gary Mason gives the details here. Most of the BC backbenchers, however, have the stunned look of chimps trying to get fistfuls of peanuts out of a narrow-necked jar. They don't want to support the HST and don't know how to oppose it. They don't want to die for Gordon Campbell and don't know how to replace him.

They are joined by Vancouver Sun columnist Vaughn Palmer, who declares that Campbell must remain as leader for at least a year (!) and that the caucus has no choice but to support him.

In a functioning parliamentary system, the caucus would a) never have permitted a leader to make such a fundamental choice without consulting them, and b) would be able to remove a leader who produced this sort of crisis by next Tuesday at the latest. In the Canadian system, sadly, BC gets this extraordinarily constipated process that can neither, ah, produce nor get off the pot.

The BC caucus suddenly has a opportunity either to deliberately rally behind its leader and his HST program. By declaring they freely supported the HST, enough to put their careers on the line for it, they could give it (and Campbell) a tremendous shot in the arm. Or they could put an end to the HST and, if necessary, Campbell's leadership simply by saying so. It's because they simply do not believe they have such authority that they are so stuck. If they will not learn, serves 'em right.
Follow @CmedMoore