Thursday, November 29, 2018

Backbenchers and parties

Simard: another one bites the dust
A moment on local Ontario politics -- that maybe has national interest?

Amanda Simard, the only francophone in the DoFo government and the only MPP in the caucus with a spine or (it would seem) a brain, has quit the Conservative Party and declared she will sit as an independent.

Well, probably it's a sound judgment, given the low likelihood of a francophone backbencher exerting any influence whatsoever on that government or in that caucus. But it is unfortunate to see sustained again the overwhelming belief among Canadians that a backbencher who disagrees with his or her leader has only the option of knuckling under or leaving the party. ( Update: For evidence of just how low parties' paid consultants will go to defend party autocracy, read this from Earnscliffe Strategy Group and weep.)

In Britain these days, about half the Conservative party (and cabinet, it often seems) is frequently and loudly opposed to Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit machinations. They don't leave the party; they try to change its policies and if necessary its leadership too.

It's what happens in parliamentary democracies the world over from Poland to Japan to Westminster -- except in Canada. That is parliamentary democracy. It's what makes politics interesting and what makes government accountable every day. Ferment on the backbenches, not some distant election, is what will keep leaders and the hacks in the leaders' offices on their toes. Today the flicker of ferment winks out in another Canadian legislative caucus.

In Canada we all seem determined to have an election once every four years or so, after which everything is fixed in stone until the next time. Our determination to abolish parliamentary accountability in Canada seems absolute, and tinkering with electoral mechanics becomes the only proposal for changing things.

The problem isn't in the elections. It's in the legislatures.  So is the solution.

Update, December 2.  Michael Colle, a Toronto city councillor who became an Ontario MPP in 1994 and just returned to city politics as a re-elected councillor in 2018, knows the problem but not the solution.
“At the province, my biggest frustration was that you had to deal with the corner office all the time, you know, the premier’s office,” says Colle ....
“Really, as an MPP, you have to go out of your way to have any kind of influence. You’re just basically a vote and a number to them.
“What’s the use of even having all these elected MPPs? You might as well have three people run and let them just appoint people to run the government because you’re basically just window dressing for them.”
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