Thursday, October 09, 2014

Parliamentary conventions? Only if someone cares enough to enforce them

The Sir Robert Bond Papers -- you didn't know we have a Newfoundland and Labrador politics blog named for a pre-confederation premier? For shame! -- is furious that someone named Judy Manning, a largely unknown lawyer but life partner of a crony of the new premier, has been appointed attorney general of the province even though she is not a member of the Assembly and will not seek a by-election to become one.  She has, in effect, a political role much like that of a staffer in the premier's office -- that is, as long as the premier wants her to give her a role in politics.

Why, this breaches parliamentary convention! declares Sir Robert.

Well, it does, I suppose. But if none of the people capable of fixing the situation are inclined to do anything about it, it's a bit idle to reify  this "convention" thing as it it were some real and serious agent hovering somewhere above the legislature and capable of imposing order upon it. You cannot run a political system on the notion that mere niceness will restrain politicians in power from using power.

Sure it is crazy that a premier should fill his cabinet with patronage appointments of people who will not account to the legislature for how they run their departments. But if the MHAs don't like it that their own chances of promotion are being blocked by these floaters, or that the premier and his tame AG are blithely telling the legislature that it is impotent, meaningless, and useless... well, all they have to do is let it be known that if things do not change, they will do something about it.

Such as?  Well, say the majority caucus announced it was considering removing its confidence from the newly installed premier and party leader and placing it instead in one of their fellow MHAs who committed to respecting the rights and privileges of the legislature. Then they could offer not to execute that threat on condition that Attorney General Manning be replaced with a real politician. The convention might then be respected.

Conventions are not sacred and they are not magical.  They exist as long as they seem useful and as long as a legislature is prepared to sanction those who break them. If the members of a legislature won't stand up to a premier, why should he respect them or the conventions they will not enforce? You can't expect to have a parliamentary processes without, you know, a parliament.
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