Monday, March 09, 2015

Parliamentarians fail again UPDATED

Why is this man smiling?  Oh, right.
In Manitoba, much of the cabinet, a never-quite established number of the 37 government caucus MLAs and most of the premier's own staff wanted to get rid of Manitoba premier and NDP leader Greg Selinger.

So they spent 5 months and undisclosed (so far as I can determine) amounts of money to have a leadership convention. Only 1500 or so NDP supporters in the whole province bought votes, it seems, but in the end Greg Selinger's friends bought more votes more than either of the other candidates. So he squeaked through 51-49 on the second ballot, and so he remains premier and party leader.

What does Premier Selinger do now? Should he be able to replace all the MLAs and cabinet ministers who opposed his leadership, on the grounds that having bought the premier's office, he should be able to have his own hacks and flunkies on the backbenches too.

Oh wait.... he does have his own hacks and flunkies on the backbenches. The NDP caucus members, including those who wanted him out, are the same clowns who agreed to have a leadership race in which the leadership would be bought and sold through a membership sale. Now presumably they are stuck with the guy in whom many of them have no confidence.

Had the parliamentary majority done its duty, either voting confidence in the government or else replacing it with a government they did support, they could have saved Manitoba five months of drift and uncertainty and cost. They could also have, you know, made a statement about parliamentary accoutability.  And what members of a legislature are there for.

If they all lose their seats next year, I hope they do not come crying to us. The cowardice and ignorance and dereliction of duty of MPs, MPPs, MLAs, and such across this country really is staggering.  And ultimately, they are the only ones who can fix that.  All the Reform Acts in the world won't address the problem if MPs themselves lack the will to do their work.

Update, March 10:  Chris Raible:
Thanks for stating so clearly what I am sure many of us have been thinking.
The decline leading to the almost demise of parliamentary democracy in Canada began, I gather, when William Lyon Mackenzie King was elected Liberal leader at the first Liberal Party convention, rather than by the party Parliamentary caucus. From then on, the leader's accountability was to the party membership rather than the caucus.
Am I correct in thinking this was perhaps all due to the pervasive influence of American politics and presidents elected by "the people" instead of the Congress?
Its now almost a hundred years - the present practice is, apparently, now part of the unwritten constitution. If so, it can only be changed by party practice, for it is no longer in the hands of Parliament, whatever the theory may be.
American influence?  Well, probably, but the direct evidence seems slim. The usual argument c1919 was that more people voting was inherently more democratic, but Americans aren't alone in the illusion that democracy is how many people vote, not who's accountable to whom.

And for a couple of decades, Canadian party conventions were pretty much stacked with insiders. I'd say Diefenbaker, that great innovator (!), was the first to see he could win by selling enough memberships to win despite the parliamentary party and be accountable to no one.

Update, March 11:  Doug Bailie:
I completely agree with you about the need to return to leaders elected by the caucus.
Regarding the history of the switch to election by party conventions or party members, I expect it had something to do with the lack of regional diversity in the parliamentary caucus.
In the case of the Liberal leadership after Laurier's death, the previous federal election had resulted in the election of 82 Liberal MPs, of whom 62 were from Quebec. I expect that Liberals in the rest of the country were not content to leave the choice of leader to the Quebec-dominated caucus. (I assume Senators would also have voted in leadership elections. About 40 per cent of Liberal Senators at the time were from Quebec.)
For the Conservatives, the first leader elected by convention was in 1927 when the House caucus was dominated by Ontario MPs (58%), although the representation in the Senate caucus would have moderated Ontario's dominance.
Lack of regional balance was also the reason why party leaders in the United States first developed the practice of nominating the presidential candidates by convention, rather than congressional caucus, as was the case in the early days of the republic.
Again, I agree the leader must be hired and fired by the caucus (and that MPs and MLAs currently have the power to do so, but only lack the will). But regional imbalances in caucus representation will be a stumbling block to getting parties (especially at the federal level) to recognize the legitimacy of that process.
Thanks.  Indeed, one can see "regional representation" being employed in efforts to weaken the case for caucus selection.

But I think it has always been one of those arguments that look serious until you think about them. A caucus concentrated in one region would have a very strong incentive, rather than a disincentive, to seek balance by finding a leader from elsewhere. (Mackenzie King from Ontario had very strong support among MPs from Quebec when he sought the Liberal leadership.)

To argue it another way,why should the rules be tweaked just to allow a region that does not give support or allegiance to a particular party to have disproportionate influence on who that party's next leader be?

Follow @CmedMoore