Honour Amongst the Parliamentarians - Macleans.ca

Honour Amongst the Parliamentarians


Here are the best two sentences I read this week:

“But even if better practices can be instituted to guide the parliamentary head of state (be it a monarchical or republican model) in determining whether all the possibilities of forming an effective government have been exhausted and that a hung parliament must be dissolved, some element of discretion will remain, and the system’s smooth functioning will depend on the good judgment and honourable behaviour of the key actors. That is the fundamental lesson of the King-Byng affair.”

Emphasis is mine. That’s from Peter Russell’s very timely and very excellent new book, Two Cheers for Parliamentary Government. More than anything else I have read on the subject, this book has helped shape and shift my thoughts on minority government — I’m now inclined to give it one and half cheers, thanks to Prof Russell’s arguments. But more than anything, the book is indispensable background reading for understanding The Madness. I’ll have a proper review up after the weekend.

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Honour Amongst the Parliamentarians

  1. I wonder why the Pearson minorities were so much more productive than those we have today? I realise the personalities are different [ didn’t Pearson and Dieff dspise one another? ] and the times, but still.Can we conclude it’s the quality of the men?
    On the perogative of the GG, if we must have a constitutional decider why all the secrecy. I find it troubling that we still, and may never, know what transpired between the PM and the GG. That aspect has got to be modernised.

    • AS I recall, after Dief lost the 1963 election, the PCs were consumed wth internal division, leaving Pearson a freer hand than he might otherwise have had.

    • There is a lot of blame to go around for the state of our parliament; but a major component has to be that sad state of Canadian political journalism. Regardless of the topic, they treat every political issue or discussion as a strategic event and spend much more time reporting on the impact on inane polls rather than the policy in question itself.

      Some of this is great fun and sport. Nobody does that better than Kady although her last column was a silly attempt to turn an “informal, ad hoc group” into a conspiracy that needs to be addressed by the Liberal leader.

      This is one area where the Amercians (and Brits) have us completely outclassed. They are clearly under-resourced but (in my view) they are also simply lazy. Airbus, Sponsorgate, the INandOUT, and many others are reported based on spin and theatrics.

      Chretien is reported to have “won” with his golf ball trick… when he demolished his party.
      Mulrooney is reported to have “won” his battle with the Ethics committee … although anyone watching realized that we had a PM sellout Canada.

      The net result of this type of reporting is that people like Harper (or put in Chretien, Mike Harris etc) “win” far more than they lose because they don’t really care about governing they only care about the political contest.

      A more ambitious press would expose such shallow, partisan politicians to the point where they would be ridiculed, rather than feeding off the free copy they provide.

      • Stewart,

        I realize that repeatedly calling journalists “lazy” is how commenters establish their street cred around here, and generally I’m happy to let it pass. But I think you need to explain yourself a bit on this one Let’s take the in-and-out affair as an example. That story was broken a year and a half ago by Glen McGregor and Tim Naumetz. Tim is now at CP, Glen is one of my writers at the Ottawa Citizen. Together, Tim and Glen have led the national coverage on this story since the start.

        What about their coverage of the story do you find lazy? Can you please give me specific examples of Glen’s coverage in particular that you see as “based on spin and theatrics” and not on sound reporting and investigative journalism?

        • Andrew;

          I admit, my original message could have been interpreted as defining journalists such as Glen McGregor and Tim Naumetz lazy. I apologize for that slight although it was unintentional. My issue is with the media as a whole and how it decides its priorities.

          You’ve picked the in-and-out scandal which is the thinnest in terms of theatrics, but fair enough. The Conservatives stand accused of deliberately breaking the rules associated with federal elections in an effective, systematic and large-scale operation. Given the accepted effectiveness of advertising in a modern campaign, this must have translated into votes. (I have not seen any estimates in the media of how large an impact although it would be interesting). In my view, the above makes the legitimacy of the Conservative government a valid question for the media, and having an illegitimate government should be a big deal in any democracy. Why was this not the biggest story of 2007-8?

          If the mainstream political commentary of this country had siezed upon the importance of this issue and brought it to the fore then the stonewalling ( and theatrics) in committee and subsequent snap election would have been much more difficult. I will grant that the journalists did their job and reported on the facts and proceedings, however I do not believe that the media took the time to assemble the (admittedly drawn-out) pieces and put them together in a prominent and compelling fashion for the Canadian public.

  2. Well in fairness there was an effort to remove some of the random powers the GG has, by setting fixed ele…er…nevermind!

    • Good pt. Still, it’s the secrecy that bugs me, this is the 21st cent. What are we all? Courtiers?
      Someone else raised the pt that Harpers fixed elections law was not a contitutional change, so any PM could simply disregard it. Was it asking too much of him to set a precident by obeying his own law.

      • Asking too much of him? We haven’t asked for enough, if you ask me.

  3. Welcome back, Potter (sorry, have wanted to say that for a while).

    Mr. Potter, you assigned us homework in your next post. But how are we supposed to hand in the assignment? You closed comments on that one.