Thursday, January 30, 2014

Trudeau identifies the problem

I thought the striking thing about Justin Trudeau's declaration yesterday that his Liberal Senators are now "independant" was the autocratic way it was delivered.  You would think if Senators were independent they would have some choce in the matter of where they caucused.

No doubt Trudeau gamed this policy out with the clique of hired operatives in the party leader's office -- secret polls, focus groups, messaging consultations, PR planning.  But no one consulted the senators -- or the Liberal MPs either, it would seem. The mindset remains clear. In a caucus there is the boss and there are the cattle.

In real parliamentary systems, it is the other way round.  Periodically the caucus kicks out the boss. Always the caucus makes up its own mind about who is in caucus and what caucus will support.  But Trudeau's action shows the fuhrerprinzep* still defines our attitude to politics.

Trudeau's right, I should say, to accept that Senators should not be under the thumb of the party leader. And maybe now Senators have had independence forced on them, some of them might actually find they like it. All to the good.

But they could be in caucus AND be free, except for our crazy Canadian consensus that caucuses are by definition subservient -- a consensus Trudeau shored up yesterday by confirming there can be no independent thought within his caucus.

*  Fuhrerprinzep: The ideology of the F├╝hrerprinzip sees each organization as a hierarchy of leaders, where every leader (F├╝hrer, in German) has absolute responsibility in his own area, demands absolute obedience from those below him and answers only to his superiors. (Wikipedia)

Update:  Stephen MacLean observes that caucusing is inherent to legislative activity:
I think it would have been better for the senators to have remained Liberal while crafting some sort of firewall to prevent pure partisan activity. There was no way they would remain independent of party identification. The early Americans discovered this early in the Republic, and students of British parliamentary practice (and Edmund Burke) are aware of the rationale behind the rise of party. Whig or Tory, Liberal or Conservative -- MPs [and Senators --ed} are going to associate and act among likeminded politicians, and it is naive to believe othewise. 
Update, March 10:  from William Hayes:
I was inclined to agree with your post “Trudeau identifies the problem” that the importance of Trudeau’s Senate announcement was “the autocratic way it was delivered,” rendering the whole of it a species of Suspicions Confirmed. However, the Toronto Star editorial “Fresh thinking from Senate Liberals” has persuaded me that something else may come of it all. 

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