Thursday, May 26, 2016

Leadership Accountability vs Term Limits

Readers of this blog and my books and articles (this and this, for example) on constitutional and parliamentary history will know, maybe ad nauseum, that I hold that parliamentary systems work better when leaders are accountable to caucuses and (therefore) governments are accountable to legislatures.

Impact of this has been pretty much zip nada, but a couple of straws in the wind blew my way recently.  It's all apropos of the proposal, to come up at the Conservative convention, that the political parties should impose term limits on their leaders who are serving as prime ministers.

This seems so dumb as to be self-defeating. But if it came from anyone but the Tories, I suspect lots of leftish and progressive folk might say, yes, term limits, always a good idea.  So I like seeing pushback on constitutional grounds from Dale Smith (emphasis added):
After all, term limits are largely unnecessary because our system can dump a prime minister at any point by means of a vote of no confidence – something that can’t happen in the American system, as they don’t have a system based on confidence, but rather on defined terms, with the relief valve of recall elections in some cases. Otherwise, they are forced to wait out a term until the next election, while in a Westminster system, it can happen with a snap vote in the Commons. Of course, we do have the problem in this country particularly around being able to dump a leader who is not the PM because we have moved away from the caucus selecting the leader .... to systems of either delegated conventions, one-member-one-vote, or the latest Liberal abomination, the “supporter category.” Caucus selection kept leaders accountable to them, and it kept them in check, whereas they accumulated more presidential powers as the base that elected them grew larger and they felt more empowered by their “democratic mandate.”
and John Pepall:
With a party leader in Canada, he or she is imposed on the elected MPs and in practice is irremovable except by a party that only convenes under ever-changing rules with a fluid membership, if there is membership and not simply “supporters,” as is increasingly the fashion.
Party organizations were developed in the 19th century to organize support for like-minded candidates in elections. The elected MPs then chose their leaders and answered to the voters for their choices. Parties, though feeble and ramshackle institutions, now insert themselves between the voters and those they elect, and presume to dictate to MPs whom they must follow and what they should do.
Update, May 30:  Interesting, how the Liberals' move this weekend to do away with memberships has actually been producing skeptical attention from journalists and political scientists who observe that while mass party membership conventions barely controlled leaders, no members will mean no control at all.  What a shock to see a genuine political scientist observe that at one time MPs hired and fired party leaders without outright denouncing the whole idea as medieval. Professor Peter Loewen in the Ottawa Citizen:
At the start of our country and for some time after, the power to choose leaders and to dismiss them rested with members of Parliament. The consequence was that although parties were generally ideologically coherent, there were always MPs who would disagree with their leader. Having selected the leader, and having the power to deselect the leader, they were afforded this liberty. Leaders who unduly trampled on the rights of MPs — or who just performed poorly — could find themselves quickly removed.
Hopeful thought: maybe the death of the party member will inspire some MPs to resurrect the idea of the active caucus.
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