Friday, October 04, 2013

Hayes on Coyne on Parliament

Image by Luc Melancon, from The Walrus
William Hayes, by email, says that after reading Andrew Coyne's article,"Repairing the House: How to Make Members of Parliament Relevant Again" in The Walrus tenth anniversary issue (Buy it; I did), he made a bet that:

Christopher Moore is the ghost-writer of the article.
Sorry, William, you lose. Coyne writes his own. (But you made me laugh.)

After reading it, I did have the thought (for the benefit of all you who come here for history news and get bored with me banging on about Parliament), I could now declare victory and retire from the struggle. It hasn't happened yet, but I think everyone who is not completely brain-dead has begun to concede that the campaign against the democratic deficit in Canada has to start with the MPs taking control of caucus and establishing that the party leader is a member of caucus, subject to its discipline as much as any other member.

Coyne says it regularly. Wherry in Maclean's believes. Rafe Mair in BC is mostly there. The Economist has signed on. The ball has begun to roll.  The MPs will hear its rumble eventually.

The way you can tell I didn't write Coyne's story? He still buys that old counsel of despair -- that reform is rendered impossible by the Elections Act rule about leaders having to sign their MPs' election papers.
In Canada, as a matter of law, no candidate may run for Parliament under a party banner without the signature of the leader on his or her nomination papers. The requirement dates back to 1970, with a change in the elections laws requiring that the candidate’s party affiliation be printed on the ballot (previously, only the candidate’s name appeared). Someone, it was reasoned, had to vouch for the candidate as the party’s legitimate standard-bearer, and who better than the leader?
Except, of course, that this gave the leader an absolute veto over the nomination of every member of caucus, real or prospective.
The law is there, sure. But once caucuses require leaders to be subject to caucus rules, leaders who want to abuse that Election Act authority to dispose of MPs who might doubt or oppose them will easily be reined in - fired if necessary -- by the caucus at large (as a threat to each of them).

In fact, a caucus probably needs some way to ensure that potential MPs who wish to join it actually share the party's values. So long as the leader is responsible to caucus, why not delegate that role to him or her, via the Election Act provision?  That's the nice thing about accountability -- it can actually make people accountable. Which is what a parliament is supposed to be about.

Coyne's best line about MPs, though he himself seems hardly to believe it:
it is ultimately up to them. None of these reforms are possible if MPs themselves are not prepared to stand up for their rights, and yet if ever a start were made it would surely create the platform from which to argue for more.
Once they stand up for their rights, they are already there, I'd say. Congrats to The Walrus, by the way. I buy it often, though I do often wish there were more worth reading in it.

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