Saturday, March 30, 2013

Our readers write...

[with update below]

Andrew Stewart, in an email, offers historical perspective on the state of the Canadian parliament:
The power struggle to control speech among Conservative Party members in our Canadian Parliament is a reminder of the extended evolution of this legislative body, and its powers, in the English-speaking world. The Glorious Revolution of 1688 ended tyranny by monarchs but not by legislatures, which can become a form of “elective dictatorship” in a phrase quoted by historian Edward Vallance in his book The Glorious Revolution 1688 – Britain’s Fight for Liberty (Abacus 2006: p 311). Harperites are (it seems, after reading this book) part of a long tradition of factions (Jacobites, Williamites) that arise from parliamentarians hedging their loyalty.
Thanks, Andrew. I've been a bit busy for an extended comment on events in the Canadian parliament, but it impresses me how blind and deaf Canadians are to the rest of the parliamentary world, as in Australia, where the parliamentary caucus of the governing Labor Party voted last week on whether or not to remove the current prime minister for the leadership (they decided not to; Australia will have a federal election in September); or in Britain, where it is increasingly expected that the Conservative caucus will decide in the coming year whether to replace PM David Cameron before the next election.

An exception to the general unawareness comes from Andrew Coyne in the National Post, who does specifically contrasts the power of the Australian backbenchers with the pathetically limited begging of the Conservatives here.  Aaron Wherry of Maclean's offers a "rough guide" to this week's events in the Conservative caucus -- but without much in the way of rough advice, and recommending wishy-washy poll-driven advice from Samara.

And Democracy Watch  -- Democracy Watch -- offers some pathetically mild proposals ending with:
the caucus of each party, by two-thirds vote, should be empowered to initiate a review of the party leader’s leadership of the party
Imagine how the Australians would jeer at that. "Call that a democracy, mate? Now this is a democracy."

Let's review.  If the government is not accountable to the majority of the house, it is not parliamentary democracy. The Conservative caucus is the majority of the House.  Do the math, Democracy Watch.

Thanks for getting us started, Andrew Stewart.  Other viewpoints welcome.

Update, March 31:  from Sam Wood (of History of Canada by Montreal Metro Stations):
Thanks for an interesting post. Reading the Coyne piece it would seem that the Speaker needs to be reminded of his/her job.
Coming from the UK, I doubt that Cameron will be replaced as removing a serving leader is very rare, if it has ever happened.
[To save a lot of people emailing in, let me insert two words here: Margaret Thatcher -- ed.]
If it does happen, I shudder at what the more right-wing, more euroskeptic wing of the Tory party will put in its place. Thinking more about it, the UK Tory party would probably lose all its City as well as many of its business funders who want links with the EU so it would be a nonstarter. Wandering further off topic, one can only conclude that Cameron wants to lose the next election because he doesn't want to lose the post-election referendums he has committed to that would potentially see the UK withdraw from the EU and  withdraw from the UK.
 Returning to the silencing of MPs by their leaders. Hard though it is for me to say, British MPs do seem to be more fractious than their Canadian counterparts. For example, it was members of the Tory party who forced that EU referendum. (The Scotland one came from Edinburgh.) There is also opportunity for private members bills and 10 Minute Rule Bills. Often mad, these fall outside the business of government, but do mean backbenchers get a  hearing in the order of parliament, even if it would be completely against the government's stated interests. This was the case with the bill of John Barron, a Tory MP, to bind the next parliament to the EU referendum. 
See British discussion of the likelihood of Prime Minister Cameron being replaced before the next election here 

Follow @CmedMoore