Tuesday, September 03, 2013

What parliaments are there for...

... is voting on things.  I mean seriously voting on things.

For Canadians with hopes of reviving the tradition of parliamentary democracy in this country, nothing could be more heartening than the British parliament's recent vote on military action against Syria, in which the prime minister, leading a majority government, said force would be used and Parliament said no, force will not be used. And parliament prevailed.

It is easy to misunderstand what happened there.  Here is a French commentator:
the strikes will probably be postponed because of the British Parliament’s having vetoed an intervention. The Labour Party said no to David Cameron
Well, the Labour Party did say no.  But Labour did not and does not have the votes to deny David Cameron anything.  

It was backbench Conservative and Liberal-Democrat members of the governing coalition whose opposition to the prime minister's plan was decisive. They put their responsibility to hold the government to account ahead of their narrowly partisan loyalties, and decided the government proposal should not be supported.

This is how parliamentary democracy works.  The norm is not an occasional isolated and suicidal "rebel" voting against his/her leader and swiftly being removed from the party caucus and all prospect of re-election. The global norm is lively and active caucuses in which every member genuinely participates in scrutinizing leaders's proposals and deciding which of them are worth support.

See the Australian election, in which the Labour Party caucus's decision a couple of months ago to replace Julia Gillard as prime minister and install Kevin Rudd had turned a looming electoral disaster into a close fought race. In Nova Scotia, just by comparison, friends of the NDP government say the prompt replacement of premier Darrell Dexter is the best chance for the NDP to win the looming election.  But in Canadian politics there is no accepted mechanism for prompt removal of a leader. Party supporters there are reduced to hoping he might choose to resign.

One wonders over and again when Canadian backbenchers (and commentators) might notice the worldwide trends and begin to review the Canadian backbenchers' tradition of quasi-treasonous docility.

I don't know if not bombing Syria is better than bombing Syria, if Rudd is better than Gillard, or if someone else would be better than Darrell Dexter.  But I know it is up to Members of Parliament to decide those things - no matter what their leaders may prefer - in Canada as in other parliamentary democracy.
Follow @CmedMoore