Friday, February 24, 2012

Our readers write....

David Stern comments by email:

With reference to the comments [ presumably here -- CM] about the removal of Prime Ministers by their own party's M.P.s, I can't understand why this has not happened before.  Do you think it's a reflection of the Canadian character or are there legislative reasons? James Bowden in his Parliamentum blog points out that in 1968 Trudeau changed the rules by eliminating the Committee of the Whole concept and replacing it with the Question Period.According to Bowden this changed the nature of the relationship between the Cabinet and Parliament - and not for the better. I'd like your thoughts about this if you have time. 
I would say it -- removal of leaders by their MPs -- does not happen in Canada essentially because MPs choose not to make it happen.  And I would say they choose not to because we tell then not to.

The conviction is powerfully held throughout Canadian political culture that these squalid, expensive, disfunctional vote-buying orgies we call leadership races are the only "democratic" way to choose party leaders.  The leader, not being chosen by the MPs, is agreed not to be accountable to them.  And since the leadership convention dissolves the moment it chooses a leader, he/she is not accountable to it either. But Canadians seem unanimous that it's the only way.

Leaders and would-be leaders and party hierarchies encourage this idea for their own benefit, sure, but really it prevails because it is generally supported by journalists, scholars, and the political public, and nobody questions it.  (Okay, call me nobody.)  The MPs wield no power not because they have no power, but because they accept the consensus that they should not wield it.

Items like MPs giving up scrutiny of supply in 1968 seem to me symptoms of the disease rather than causes.  MPs had already abandoned their independent authority by then.

Australia offers a fascinating comparison right now.  Obviously the fight between two powerful leaders of the party (one the PM) for control of the Australian Labor Party is a total train-wreck for the party, and something parties in parliamentary systems try hard to avoid.  But look how this fight -- between regional factions, over crucial policy options, and also concerning who will be best to lead the party in a looming election -- will be solved: in less than a week, without millions being spent, without taking the candidates out of parliament for months at a time. And it will be solved by the party's MPs, who know that their decisions will be closely scrutinized by their own voters and the general public, and that their choice will probably determine whether they hold their own seats after the next election.  Now that's accountability.

By comparison, the NDP leadership, to cite the current example here, not that the other parties are any different) will be determined by 120,000 private citizens who have purchased the right to vote for $10, and who will cease to have any control over the winner the moment the decision is made.  And the 100 or so NDP MPs recently elected as representatives of the Canadian people? Just bystanders, during and after.

Our MPs go on lavish parliamentary junkets to Canberra and Westminster and places like that all the time.  Funny, how they never seem to notice.
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