Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Parliamentary leadership -- going backwards?

Same as the old boss
Justin Trudeau's recent declaration that he would require all new Liberal candidates to support his policy on abortion law provoked some discussion about abortion policy, and some discussion about Trudeau's seeming hypocrisy in promising open nominations and then consistently removing all candidates who might have ideas beyond Yessir. The Trudeau dictat didn't seem even to raise a ripple of concern about the friendly dictatorship, the democratic deficit, the concerns raised by Michael Chong's Reform Act on backbencher empowerment.

Andrew Coyne comes closest to seeing that issue here, suggesting that the intensification of political competition means that even matters of conscience can no longer be matters of conscience, but must be controlled by the logic of party competition.
[In the past] it was one thing to lay down a party line on taxes or trade, to which prospective candidates or members would be expected to swallow their objections, but decency forbade obliging them to choose between their livelihood and their conscience..... [Now] politics now leaves little room for decency, or conscience: that individual moral space has since been invaded and occupied by the party.
But surely it is not just a problem for matters of conscience. The problem of leadership authoritarianism is just as acute on trade or taxes.

Our politicians and commentators still take it for granted that party leaders really are dictators and have a right to be, that it is in the bedrock of our political system that our elected representatives may be allowed to have a brain but are not allowed to engage it. No commentator suggests the real problem here is not abortion policy, but leadership accountability.

No matter what the question, when Mr Harper or Mr Trudeau or Mr Mulcair says to caucus, "This is not up for discussion, you will vote as I vote," we need party caucuses able to say, "Sorry, everything is up for discussion, and if you don't like that, we might look for another leader."  That's the understanding still missing from our politics.

On the policy question, most MPs and potential MPs probably agree with Trudeau (as I do): Canada will be better served without a new abortion law.  But if MPs aren't allowed to have views on policy, what are they for?
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