Monday, January 18, 2021

History of parliamentary autocracy UPDATED and AGAIN

Last week, when an Ontario Conservative MPP, Roman Baber, released a Covid-denying open letter declaring the lockdown was worse than the virus, Ontario premier Doug Ford swiftly threw him out of the Conservative caucus and declared he would not be allowed to run again. End of career.

For this bit of ass-covering Ford was widely praised, even by his usual critics   

Good for Doug Ford. Faced with someone from his own party spreading pandemic misinformation like a dog with a bowel issue across a carpet, Ford did not hesitate: Roman Baber, MPP for York Centre, was not only expelled from caucus, but forbidden from running for the Progressive Conservative party again. In pandemic parlance, they washed their hands. It was the right thing to do.

Baber won't be missed. It is to weep when someone with as much access to information, advice, and counsel about the pandemic as an MPP disseminates this drivel. Spreading misinformation like a dog with a bowel issue, exactly.  But this fevered enthusiam for executive authoritarianism that is so widespread among our analysts, political scientists (and most working politicians) is dangerous too.

Columnist Andrew Coyne, on Twitter (not that I would ever go there!) seemed to be the only one with reservations about the firing. Not about Baber's views, but about Ford's right to respond like Uber when a driver mentions the work "union."  

Coyne is defended asserting a deeply unpopular position: that parliamentary caucuses have to determine their own membership. Baber isn't Doug Ford's employee. He is, sad as it may be to admit, an elected representative of the people. If a bunch of such representatives caucus together, only the caucus should have the authority to remove them from the group. 

Ultimately Doug Ford is a member of the PC caucus too. If caucus disciplined this Baber for being an ill-informed nut, it might decide to discipline Doug Ford some day too. And that's how accountability works in real parliaments. People can choose their representatives, representatives can hold the government accountable every day.

Sure, it is alarming to have people this dumb and dangerous occupying legislative seats for one day longer than necessary. But if Canadian backbenchers actually had some independence, parties might be a bit more careful about whom they endorse for election. And voters would have more reason to care about the individuals they elect.  

And if it's true that half the Ford caucus secretly agree with Baber's crackpot views, the voters ought to know about it. 

Possible bright side: when Ford fires another ten or so backbenchers, he loses his majority.

Update, January 19:  Not that I want to dedicate much space in this blog to the unspeakable wings of the Conservative Party, but the departure of Derek Sloan from the federal Conservative caucus (it's about neo-Nazis) will actually be taken up by the party caucus.

In accordance with the Reform Act, I have initiated the process to remove Mr. Sloan from the Conservative Party of Canada caucus. I expect this to be done as quickly as possible. Moreover, as leader of Canada's Conservatives, I will not allow Mr. Sloan to run as a candidate for our party.

In progress and at its passage, Michael Chong's Reform Act and its processes for parliamentary accountability) were derided by commentators on both right and left as meaningless (and the NDP, for one, routinely flouts them), but it keeps having small positive outcomes. Chong ranks as the most successful Canadian parliamentarian of this century at working independently of the leadership and not being driven out of politics as a result. He may be the only one, tant pis

Update, January 21:  Not to beat this to death but, while the Conservative caucus did remove Sloan from the caucus, it also expressed substantial reservations about O'Toole's leadership. 

Two sources with direct knowledge of Wednesday’s discussion told the Star that MPs were concerned with how O’Toole’s team handled Sloan’s dismissal, citing the narrow reasoning offered. A third source said there appeared to be “a lot of anger” during the virtual meeting — which stretched on for three hours — over O’Toole’s handling of Sloan’s expulsion.

 Neo-Nazi sympathies? Or a rebuke to inept leadership?  Either way -- and the public should be entitled to judge  --it's the kind of accountability that should be central to parliamentary democracy. Doug Ford would probably have received the same kind of unsparing assessment from his MPPs if parliamentary processes had obtained in Ontario during the Baber case. 

Update, January 27: And it just keeps coming. Liberal MP Ramesh Sangha got into a Hindus-vs-Sikh confrontation and made statements alleging separatist inclinations in fellow MPs and cabinet ministers. There was a quick confab between the Liberal party whip and the PMO, and Sangha was gone -- he now sits as an independent.

The process has the colour of legality, at least. The Liberal MPs voted at the start of the present parliament not to exercise the powers to manage their  own affairs, as authorized by the Reform Act, 2014.  That is, Liberals voted overwhelmingly to pass the Reform Act, but prefer not to be governed by it. They kinda like leadership autocracy. (NDP? Same.)

I'm obliged to the Samara Foundation, which has a chart up about which parties endorse accountability in the party caucuses and which do not. Parliamentary journalists, as it notes, rarely report the details in this regard.

Unlike 2015, all four officially recognized parties held the votes after the 2019 general election. In other words, they obeyed law. Remarkably, that counts as progress. 
But hold the applause. There is still little appetite for the actual democratizing provisions of The Reform Act. The Liberals and NDP voted against taking up any of the measures. [...]  Conservatives also took up one fewer of the powers than they had in 2015, with the caucus choosing not to take the power to select their interim leader.... 

Moreover, what was strikingly undemocratic, especially the second time around, was the extent to which some parties—but particularly the Liberals—sought to keep information about the votes under wraps.

Samara's report also shows that it surveyed 2019 candidates in the 2019 election and found them overwhelmingly in support of the Reform Act measures for independence of MPs and accountability of leaders to caucus. Once in office? Nah, not so much. Once they leave Parliament these same MPs will no doubt go back to whining about the need for stronger backbenches. 

Parliamentary accountability is not much of a priority for the politicians or the media still. 


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