Thursday, October 07, 2021

The idea of accountable leadership returns

Nice to see Andrew Coyne taking seriously the decision of the Conservative Party caucus in Ottawa to adopt the Reform Act's rules by which to assert the MPs' authority to remove the party leader whenever they deem it expedient and 20% of caucus steps up to trigger a vote.

I very much doubt the Conservative decision will trigger a "revolution," but it's a step in the right direction. (Regular leaders of this blog will be only too familiar with the reasons why. Newcomers can search the labels leadership or parliament for explanations why parliaments cannot function effectively unless party caucuses can hire and fire their leaders).  Indeed, Coyne acknowledges that much remains to be done.

Only when caucus also has the power to elect a new leader will the balance between caucus and leader have been more fully restored. Too radical? It’s no more than the way Westminster systems are supposed to work – the way our system did work, for much of our history.
Indeed, it’s no more than the way democracies are supposed to work. In a democracy, leaders govern with the consent of the governed. But a Canadian party leader, though he holds the power of virtual life and death over caucus members, is chosen by an altogether different group, the fabled “grass roots,” many of whom join just long enough to vote for a leader and then are gone.
In recent years, Coyne has tended to neglect these arguments and to propose that proportional representation is the only way to revive Canadian politics. But in Canada leadership autocracy is a greater problem than misalignments between party support and party seats. Since MMP  --the only form of proportional representation likely to be enacted here -- would actually enhance leadership power by enabling leaders to appoint their hacks and flunkies to the House of Commons, it's good to see the Globe columnist returning to his older enthusiasm. 

The columnist Dale Smith speaks constantly of "the (garbage) Reform Act" because it attempts to legislate what should need no legislation -- the MPs' inherent power to control their leaders-- and because it sets high thresholds for the initiation of caucus reviews. True enough.  But baby steps, baby steps.  Let MPs assert a little authority, and the appetite will grow with the eating.  Things are only impossible until the become inevitable. 

(The caucus of Japan's ruling LDP recently removed and replaced its leader in a process that took a few weeks, cost nothing, and will likely assist the enduring success of a party that changes leaders frequently and rarely loses power.  It's how real parliaments function worldwide.)  

Thanks to Andrew Stewart who reads the Globe closely so I don't always have to!

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