Friday, April 12, 2013

The Economist gets it [updated]

It's still the truth that cannot be spoken in Canadian discourse, but when it comes to our parliamentary dysfunction, The Economist's Canadian correspondent has been listening:

The appearance of a handful of dissident government MPs is much more unusual in Canada than in other countries with the Westminster system of parliament, such as Britain and Australia. Mr Trudeau, the former prime minister, is often accused of hastening the slide of MPs into irrelevance by consolidating control in the prime minister’s office. But the slide really began in 1919 when the governing Liberals decided that instead of allowing their MPs to select a party leader, he (and in Canada the leader nearly always is a he) would be chosen at a convention of party members. MPs eventually lost the ability to turf out an underperforming leader. (emphasis added - CMWhile the new system is deemed to be more democratic, it has had the opposite effect because it makes MPs accountable to their leader, rather than the reverse.... This keeps a tight lid on dissent. In Britain and Australia, where MPs can quite easily get rid of the prime minister, leaders have to keep their MPs happy or face sudden demotion, as Margaret Thatcher and Kevin Rudd both discovered.
The Economist's piece on gestures at independent thought among Harperian MPs is called "Revolt of the Bobbleheads." MD can correct me if I'm wrong in seeing a close paraphrase of my 1867 in the part emphasized above.
(h/t to AW)

Update, April 15:  Andrew Stewart writes:
This is a fascinating story – at stake is how democracy is defined in our country. The Liberal leadership vote, and the party’s expansion of eligibility for voters through the creation of the supporter category is, arguably, another sort of subversion of parliamentary democracy. Has there really been a consistent trend in the centralization of power in the PM’s office since 1919 in Canada, as The Economist correspondent writes, or has it more a question of the person and personal style of the prime minister? Is there any way the influence of conventions can be reined in? Are we experiencing an inglorious revolution, reversing the outcomes of 1688 and returning us to a more autocratic time when Stephen Harper is cast as the patriarchal Oliver Cromwell and Justin Trudeau stands in for the more relaxed and sunny Charles II? If so, it will prove fascinating to have the chance to play out the politics of the 17th and early 18th century all over again to see what happens the second time around.
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