Adventures in democracy -

Adventures in democracy

Questions about the Reform Act via Paul Wells


(Sean Kilpatrick, The Canadian Press)

For utter certainty about the virtue of Mike Chong’s Saving Democracy Act or whatever it’s called, see Coyne. I was going to write, “For a followup column in which he grandly sweeps aside everyone else’s argument in a festival of it-was-said reflexive verbs, wait a day or two,” but I see he’s way ahead of me. Snotty brat/ enemy of democracy that I am, I still have some questions.

First, when’s the last time a parliamentary caucus in Ottawa failed to dispatch a leader it didn’t like? I’m going to tentatively pencil in “never.” Andrew worries that it took a long time and was messy in two notorious cases, Paul Martin vs. Jean Chrétien and Stockwell Day vs. The Obvious. I’m not sure it wouldn’t have been otherwise under other rules.

The Canadian Alliance had a small number of MPs who were sure Day should go. He wouldn’t, so they left. There followed a year’s awkwardness. Make the process crisper: Could those dissident MPs have stayed and forced what the Australians call a “spill”? Probably. Would they have won the ensuing vote? Probably not. A lot of Alliance MPs liked Day fine and thought the party’s travails were the fault of the media or Ontario or something. Others had decided he was trouble but weren’t sure they had an alternative. Stephen Harper wasn’t in politics at the moment; a quick caucus-led putsch against Day would have been stuck with available MPs as replacements.

As for Chrétien-Martin, formal rules would have helped solidify Chrétien’s command of the Liberals for some time, then probably cost him his job sooner after the 2000 election. But in the end, at roughly the time Martin was ready to make his move, he made it. I’m not sure that whole scenario was worse for democracy than the absurd spectacle of Australia’s then-governing Labor party tossing its leadership from one embittered combatant to another for just as long as it took to lose the election. I’m simply not sure it’s possible in modern times for a political party to remove its leader without a fuss.

Related posts:

Chong’s bill has other provisions designed to free the back bench. One would have party candidates named by riding associations without any need for the leader to sign their papers. This assumes, as Tim Harper has pointed out,  that parties will have 338 healthy riding associations, which would seriously be a novelty. The effect of requiring 338 healthy riding associations will be to impose a very steep cost of entry for new parties. And if the riding associations aren’t healthy then special-interest groups will have fun stacking them, as pro-life groups did with the Liberal party 20-odd years ago. That adventure led to an earlier reform: giving the Liberal leader, fellow named Chrétien, the power to appoint candidates. Reforms tend to replace problems with different problems.

By now I clearly come across as one of these pesky naysayers. But I won’t throw myself across the tracks if MPs want to pass Chong’s bill. Indeed my early hunch that it would wind up passing unanimously now seems to be only slightly exaggerated. If the vote were this week, it would get a substantial amount of support from MPs in every party. If voting could change things, the old graffito goes, it would be illegal. Widespread affection for Chong’s bill isn’t quite the lonely struggle some of its champions predicted.

Much has been made of the sheeplike behaviour of back-bench Conservative MPs. As the Conservatives pointed out in the talking points they distribute to every party notable so they can be sure to answer the same thing to every question — this whole debate is, in Murray Kempton’s phrase, a Klondike of ironies — New Democrats and Liberals have actually voted the party line even more consistently than Conservatives in recent years. This is familiar from the Chrétien years. Group behaviour by the governing party is Proof of Our Dying Democracy, while group behaviour by the opposition parties is Forced On Us By the Dictators Opposite.

I see little thought given to why MPs would want to fly in formation. The glaringly obvious reason in the Conservatives’ case is that as soon as they gave it a try they stopped losing. It’s possible to imagine, based on assorted newspaper accounts of spineless or domineered Conservative MPs, that they are a morose lot in general. Oh, if only we could sing our songs of free markets, unrestricted Chinese state-owned enterprise access to the oil patch, and tightly restricted access to abortion! But no, the PMO holds us down. That hasn’t been my experience of them.

In my experience, life as an MP in a large party caucus is a global bargain willingly and continually consummated: MPs keep disagreement inside the tent, in return for a general feeling that they get to win more often than they feel like they have lost. Since Harper was elected, the Conservatives have tilted foreign policy hard over to align with Israel’s Likud party, abandoned any pretense on the Kyoto Accord, scrapped the long gun registry and the Wheat Board monopoly, cut the GST by two points and blocked any hope the Liberals ever had of building a new, national, one-size-fits-all daycare regime. Conservatives love these policies. Large-C Conservatives, I mean; ostentatiously non-partisan columnists with self-appointed gigs as the arbiters of proper conservatism have reservations. That’s fair. But if you’re a Conservative MP, in most cases you look at what a government led by Harper has done, compare it to what a government led by Stéphane Dion would have done, and sign on for more more more of whatever it takes to keep Harper where he is.

And if that involves talking points, it’s a small price to pay. In many, many walks of life, people forego free-wheeling conversation in return for some other advantage. The company that employs me circulates the usual assortment of corporate communications to all its thousands of employees. Most are not written by journalists because most of my company’s management class isn’t made up of journalists, and most of the emails are painstakingly composed, checked, amended and sanitized approximations of English prose. I can nearly guarantee your own company’s managers write in the same sort of language. The reason is the same: improvisation can have unpleasant consequences.

Meanwhile, Conservative MPs get to travel, interrogate bigwigs at committee, chip in sometimes during caucus debates, meet visitors from afar, feel like they’re a modest part of something big, and, every day, put another day between non-Conservative governments and power. That’s usually enough to make them willing, for a long time, to tolerate associated indignities.

Parties that operationalize the sort of grand bargain I’ve described have tended to do well electorally. (Jack Layton’s NDP was a message discipline machine, with Pat Martin as a kind of hood ornament.) Parties that haven’t have done worse. Pass Mike Chong’s bill if you like; I am sorry to be unsure how much it will really change.



Adventures in democracy

  1. Setting aside the more naive assumptions in the Bill, there is much to be said for the value of a more robust discussion of issues in caucus, in committee and on the floor of the House of Commons. To what extent the current parroting of talking points is a product of top down management versus Canadians simply electing a lot of people without any ideas of their own to share, I don’t know. However, I can’t help but think that legislation could be vastly improved if it was actually honestly discussed and debated. The yoke (and Whip) will always be there but maybe it might be time to try to find a way to loosen things up a little?

  2. Sorry Paul, but if part of your point is that every successful govt we have have had[ in the modern era] has made the same judicious, nay zealous, use of tps, message discipline [ somewhat] and rather undignified grand bargains, cuz that’s simply the price of power, i’m not buying it.

    • Sometimes the fog created by our tendency to view external goings-on from inside our partisan bottle does not allow us to make an objective judgement.
      Or maybe it`s just memory loss.
      Good writers like Wells remind us to broaden our scope.
      Those like Wherry battle the fog with the rest of us.

      • I get that fine thanks…i keep coming back, you may have noticed?

        “In my experience, life as an MP in a large party caucus is a global
        bargain willingly and continually consummated: MPs keep disagreement
        inside the tent, in return for a general feeling that they get to win
        more often than they feel like they have lost.”

        My difficulty with this column is the assumptions PWs makes and distinctions he fails to. What has brought us to this pass is this very grand bargain – the execution of it. Fine, it’s worked for 8 years or so, the idiotic tps, the clownish behavour of seemingly grown adults with the power to have the last word; the contempt for democratic norms, the pissing all over unwritten convention, the demonizing of al levels of critics, from the judge to the scientist and downward; but at what price? PW seems to come dangerously close to saying the price of continued power for this govt is a continued deterioration of our institutions and democracy…and that’s just fine.
        He goes on to make the case that higher goal of governing seems to amount to nothing more then keeping the other guy out…a giant game of keep away with principle and individual dignity thrown on the altar for good measure. I have different aspirations myself as to why we cede govt’s and PMs so much power.
        The analogy used to imply normalization of tps within the real world basically amount to the same loss of dignity or grand bargain as that implemented by this particular leader and power is one i implicitly reject. And i take no comfort in the inference that debate and cozy comfy democracy carries on unabated behind closed caucus doors…so no worries, all is well in the land!
        This is a choice this govt has chosen to make, it’s very own grand bargain, no one elses. That’s fine if they freely do so. But there’s a distinction to be made between their choice and the one the faces all other parties. The means do effect the ends, as we are presently discovering.
        In fairness to him i imagine he did intent these arguments to reflect more the view from inside the Tory fortress, rather then some abstract ethical judgement of this govt. At least i’d like to think so. Personally i’m not so reticent on passing judgement on this govt’s choices.

    • He’s almost making an appeal for effecienct dictatorship (freely adopted) over participatory democracy. The latter is messy, to be sure, but it brings to mind Churchill’s famous quote about democracy being the worst form of government, except for all the others.

  3. This is after all only a private member’s bill. Despite their very weak chances of success the media often given them a lot of play and contemplate their eventual passage despite the procedural and political obstacles they face. Private Member’s Bills are best looked at not as legislative vehicles to achieve change but as trial balloons to draw media and public attention to a particular issue and incite debate within caucuses and broader civic society.

  4. Your article is based on the premise that politics is the only “team play”. Well sorry to inform you that their are direct democracies alive and well on the globe and they will be making their way into Canada.

    The stories of leaders and would-be leaders pitting at the other is hardly an adventure in democracy. It is rather an adventure into “Power”.

    In a direct democracy; let’s take Switzerland for example; there still are political parties and “power struggles”‘ but the fundamental power of decision making remains with the constituents. They vote directly a few times a year. In direct democracies; politics and the power struggles take a back seat. Unlike our antique system from the 16th century that so completely erode Canada’s democracy. Here “representation” is suppressed and there is no such thing in Canada as good governance, open transparency, and accountability. Heck we don’t even have the ability to recall a member or even the whole government like in 7 or 10 other major democracies.

    Chong’s bill has been useful so far as it is a 1st admission that “representation”; some say false representation” is broken in Canada. Should it even be fixed if Canada is to thrive in the 21 century? We can debate policy faster here than a member can drive to the house of Commons in the era of communications. Surely, with 17% of voters at the next election being 1st time voters with a flair for facebook, twitter, and basic cell phone text; their will start to be a shift in the electorate. A shift that will demand and expect more participatory democracy in both the deliberative process and in voting for themselves.

    Last year, Harper Conservatives traveled to at least one major FB group with some 73,000 mostly young subscribers to see if they could “recruit” them towards a Conservative agenda. They failed. But it is a sign of the shift away from our quite broken representative democracy.

    Battles between leaders and would be leaders may continue while Canadians build a fresh new way at democracy for Canadians by Canadians without them even having proper notice of the shift.

    Young Mike Chong’s bill is a healthy symptom of the beginning of that very fundamental and desirable shift towards constituents themselves having the power.

    Why don’t we just move things along and make real change. How about a Canada for Canadians by Canadians using a proven way like direct democracy?

    • Oh boy!

      You’ve been told Paul! ; )

    • @ G. Paul Sylvestre; Paul your comments earned a thumbs-up from me and my reply to you is as follows, even if it does mirror your refreshing views on an out-dated and stale Parliamentary System. There is a core issue behind the public’s lack of confidence in not only the “games of politicians” but the British Parliamentary System Itself and the same problem is reflected in low voter turn-out, year-after-year. Specifically, our indirect democracy that is so indirect that the collective wisdom of the people can never be heard because citizens can never vote on actual issues. They can only vote for an MP who is told what-to-do and how-to-vote by the government. All decisions are ultimately made “for-us” (by the head politician) but never “by-us” because we have no vote on any issue, no matter how important it may be. We did get rid of the Union Jack in 1965 and when Queen Elizabeth II finally expires, Canada should move to gain full independence and establish a direct democracy in order to lead the world in principals of freedom and “real” democracy where the people actually have a say in their destiny and the future of their children.

  5. Any chance of a revival of the legendary Coyne-Wells debates as a joint Macleans-NP project?

    This is a topic that would be both fun and an intriguing reversal of roles: Coyne with his puppy-like enthusiasm for this project, Wells being all grown up and serious.

    • You praise Coyne and Wells the first paragraph and then insult them in the next. Make up your mind please.

      • It’s an insult I can handle pretty easily. I do miss Coyne v Wells. The main obstacle was usually getting either of us to organize our schedules enough to get the thing done.

        • Seconded! Technology is your fried. You can do it!

          • My technology is fried too, you have my condolences.

      • What exactly do you have against puppies and grown-ups?

  6. There is going to be no Con legacy after Harper leaves except Canadians will think Cons are Libs-lite. We have three left wing parties that are divided only by the narcissism of small differences. Cons have bought American car companies, they lustily murder babies, run enormous deficits and continually increases amount of $$$ Fed government steals from Canadians. Cons are indistinguishable from Libs or NDP.

    If I was going to reform parliament, MPs salaries would be greatly reduced because right now those salaries/pension is like winning lottery for MPs and they don’t want to jeopardize their winning ticket. MPs are happy to bray and cheer like trained seals because they are well rewarded too.

    Also, all the cabinet posts and ministers of state baubles should be reduced greatly. We don’t need more than 10 or 12 ministers and only a handful of min’s of state are necessary because most actual policy that people care about happens at provincial level. MPs are also happy to behave like trained seals because the prospect of cabinet is too much to jeopardize by speaking your mind and acting independently. In the 19th century, UK ran the world through Colonial Office and Royal Navy so I am far from convinced that Fed governments needs 40 odd positions to run Canada, especially when most policy is created at Prov level.

    • Who is this imposter? Can’t be Hester – no way he could write a post this long without at least half being quotes!

      Just kidding Tony – good to see you engaging in the discussion (I skip your posts when they are naught but quotes). And I kind of agree with you on some of these: I wouldn’t classify the CPC as left (except by Republican standards), but they aren’t as far right as their talk would suggest. Running enormous deficits seems to be par for the course for conservatives (not just the CPC – see e.g. G.W. Bush’s legacy), despite claims to the contrary. And yes, we could run this place with a far smaller cabinet.

      Smaller salary? When you look at the quality of the candidates the current salary draws, an argument could be made for paying more, in the hope of attracting real talent. But I agree that most pols on most days don’t seem to be earning their keep.

      But all that aside – what is your take on this bill? You don’t really address that…

      • I don’t really have an opinion on the bill yet. I think we have to wait and see how things develop over the next few years. MPs could do much more right now to hold executive to account if they showed some gumption. MPs seem listless to me, why don’t they take back some powers they already hold and start influencing affairs?

        We don’t have enough informed debate, everyone talks about their feelings but actual facts and figures are few and far between. MPs care more about pleasing their leader, or being part of the team, than they do about representing constituents interests to Cabinet.

        And who would want to be Calandra right now? MPs spend their lives claiming white is black, no black is white, no white is black …… it is not a good way to live a harmonious life. All MPs must do what Calandra is doing now, protecting their leaders. Joining a political party now seems awfully similar to joining a cult.

  7. It may not be the absolute answer to all of our parliamentary woes but, what negative impact could it have for the electorate? I see it as a baby step towards my dream of consensus government such as the models of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. No parties and therefor no top-down leadership and no whips. Representatives are only responsible to their ridings but, must reach compromises in order to further their own priorities.

  8. Tk’s Michael Chong your legislation may free MP’s from Harper’s thugocracy. We desperately need something more than cheer leader MP’s currently in the HOC. The most obvious example is the visual with Harper standing in the House with a female bobble-head blond figure on either side, eagerly anticipating their next opportunity to cheer. Pathetic.

  9. Conservative Party, Conservative Party über alles
    Über alles in der Welt,
    Wenn es stets zu Schutz und Trutze
    Brüderlich zusammenhält.
    Von der Gaspe bis an die Rockies,
    Von Pt Pelee bis an Eureka,
    Conservative Party, Conservative Party über alles,
    Über alles in der Welt!

      • wiki – The “Deutschlandlied” (“Song of Germany”,) has been the national anthem of Germany since 1922 …. The stanza’s incipit, “Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit” (“Unity and Justice and Freedom”) are considered the unofficial national motto of Germany, and are inscribed on Bundeswehr belt buckles and the rims of some German coins.

        • I prefer the second verse

          Deutsche Frauen, deutsche Treue,
          Deutscher Wein und deutscher Sang
          Sollen in der Welt behalten
          Ihren alten schönen Klang,

          Ah, good old Germany, with its women, loyalty, wine and songs. The place will never chime the same now that they have adopted minimum wage legislation.

          • I’ve been to Germany many times for work and travel and I don’t like it, it makes me twitchy. The only good thing I ever say about Germany is that they know how to drink beer – lovely bosomy frauleins in low cut dirndls serving massive mugs of beer.

        • “inscribed on Bundeswehr belt buckles ”

          I thought they had “Gott Mit Uns” . . . oh well at least they still have those helmets with the spike on top . . . don’t they?

  10. It`s not like this Private Member`s bill, even if it passes, has a chance to actually change the laws of Leader succession, caucus loyalty, etc. The best that can be hoped for is a change in attitude about the way things are done in Ottawa.
    Wells probably hit on the biggest roadblock to that happening in his second last paragraph. With human nature being what it is there is bound to be a certain number of suck-up employees who are willing to do what it takes to receive pay-back-perks from the boss, and that happens in any Party, whether in power or opposition.

    We have been programmed to believe that team play is best, all for one-one for all, safety in numbers etc.
    It`s hard to be a lone wolf when you`re surrounded by vultures.

  11. Getting rid of party conventions where party members vote on leader would help MPs gain independence. Party members wishes trump individual MPs ability to take action. If you are part of a collective, it is hard to move against your leader when you know the greater party prefers leader. MPs should have much more power to control events than they do now. We have shifted to a presidential system where party leader is endowed with enormous powers that they should not possess.

    If Cons support Chong’s bill, it is only because Harper thinks it doesn’t change much of anything. As Goldman and Wells said, if voting changed anything it would be illegal.

    • No caucus member would vote to oust his/her leader unless the local riding association was in favour.

      • The bill proposes that the vote would take place via secret ballot. Only the initial petition signators would be publicly known.

        • When you go back home you will not be allowed to keep THAT secret.

  12. The internal Commons caucus stuff sounds like a good idea and would curb the Harper style excesses of thought control.
    But the constituency aspects sound like they will throw the roughly a thousand local riding associations of different parties, into turmoil. Say you need 50 active members to keep a watch on things in each riding association, that’s a lot of people have to stay interested all the time. A lot of local associations could end up in the hands of special interests of all kinds.
    The party leader may rarely have to use his veto, but perhaps it acts as a check on such groups which know they will eventually have their candidate blocked.
    But, on the other hand it’s really, really, democratic.
    But on the other hand!, under the current system you can say to a “pro life” or say a “communist” group “start your own party and you can run under your own name. And that’s democratic too.

  13. Passing a half measure is likely worse than no measure. If Chongs Bill is diluted down in committee, as predicted, then the issue will be put to bed and absolutely nothing will change.

    Seasoned MPs have made a bargain (as Wells notes) and fear their own future more than that of their parliament. Hence, this will pass in a sanitized form and little will change except for the talking points where all will claim to be improving the democratic process. A win-win for everyone inside the tent but for those of us in the public gallery and beyond, we spy business as usual.

    • What you say may indeed come to pass — with one addition: Michael Chong will have made quite a name for himself as a leader of democratic reform (whether it’s diluted or not). And the optics will be that he is more progressive than most CPC MPs. It’s a really strong power move, timed exquisitely — I mean, don’t you think he’s had this done and ready to present at just the right time?

      • Good point. At a time when Canadian trust in the political process (and behaviours) is at such a low level, this will benefit Chong. I don’t think he necessarily rushed this forward though. Parliament has been drifting from the norm for some time (quite slowly, but inexorably). The Chong Bill is unlikely, for example, to change the quite abysmal behaviour of the parties during Question Time. It’s target isn’t partisan politics, it’s about injecting a little more of the democratic principle into caucus rules and riding selection. It’s an overdue correction that may not reverse decorum, but should at least stop it from getting even worse.

      • I could be wrong, but isn’t there a kind of queue for private members’ bills? In which case his has been in the hopper a while, waiting his turn to come around…

        • I think you are right; I saw something when Woodsworth was making noise again a couple of weeks ago that said since he submitted (tabled?) his Private member’s bill on “when human life begins,” he can’t do it again for — a year, I think it was.

          Honestly, Keith, for all I know, Conservatives could be putting it forward in at attempt to overcome the brand change they’ve been going through — hey, look we’re ready for reform kind of stuff.

        • Oh, are you saying that he didn’t bring it forward himself, that it was simply waiting in line? That too is possible; I do not know about that process — someone will enlighten us, I’m sure!

          • I think an MP wanting to put forward a bill has to “take a number” and there are only so many slots availablr per given period of time. So a bill can be in the queue a while before he or she actually gets to present it in the House. At least, that’s what I’ve garnered from previous articles here; I’m no expert on parliamentary procedure by any stretch.

  14. Shorter Wells: Strong political parties are fundamental to our democracy; and the elites that run them know better than the unwashed citizenry.

    • I read Wells as saying that Chong’s legislation is likely to prove ineffectual but I do believe Wells would not be too impressed with hoi polloi rule either.

    • No, that’s not shorter Wells at all. That’s not even in the same universe as what he said.

  15. I believe that Mr. Chong’s proposals would not change the world.
    At least, not mine.
    The one concern I have is that if he is smacked down it will be a
    long time before anyone else dares raise his head above the foxhole.

  16. Unique solution for a unique PM.

    The pendulum needs a nudge.

    • The pendulum is most assuredly swinging far from where it was when Harper became pm and Bush was president.

      • I shall now respond with something profoundly Gladwellian, a Trinity of seemingly related thoughts:

        Chong has worked on this, like, for 10,000 hrs. It’s a real life David and Goliath undertaking. We’ve reached the tipping point.

  17. Ironically I agree with much of what both Coyne and Wells have had to say on the matter. It seems to me that many of their good points don’t in fact cancel each other as much as it appears they should.

    At the heart of it, I think there is much to be said for impressions and how MPs feel about their place in the scheme of things. When suddenly their livelihoods can’t be arbitrarily destroyed by the temper of the leader, simply because they felt they needed to vote their conscience on a bill that the party is trying to whip, I think that has a positive effect.

    That they could then also theoretically trigger a leadership convention if the leader ticks enough of them off, would also have an emboldening affect, regardless of whether it would ever come into play–which I agree would be next to never.

    It’s like the difference between soft and hard power. The bill may not give much in the way of actual, practical hard power, but it does provide a certain amount of soft power to MPs.

    • May I say how much I have long appreciated your philsophical, reasonable and nuanced comments here? You tend to really sound like a philosopher king.

      • That’s very kind of you patchouli, thanks. Your statesmanship on these pages is always a breath of fresh air, and greatly appreciated.
        I often fail to live up to my own expectations, but ultimately I think principles are something we should strive to embody, even knowing we will often fail.
        Best Wishes,

        • Best back at you. Thanks.

  18. Chong’s bill has other provisions designed to free the back bench. One
    would have party candidates named by riding associations without any
    need for the leader to sign their papers.

    Part of the leader’s role is to help engender a positive brand image for the party. He gets all the flak for bonehead eruptions of the nominated candidates. As long as there is the potential for nominated candidates to destroy the brand of the entire party (I’m looking at you, Doug Ford), the leader needs a veto.

    • There’s also the potential of saying that existing rules stay in place unless the riding association fulfills basic requirements.

    • Maybe it’s our fixation on parties and brands that is part of the problem. I want our House of Commons to be comprised of direct representatives of the people. Not leaders overseeing quasi-corporations. Also, if the leader had no say in nominations, wouldn’t she or he be “off the hook” in terms of responsibility for the odd square peg sent to Ottawa under the party banner?

      • Let’s say Doug Ford gets nominated in Etobicoke. Do you think the media lays off Tim Hudak for a moment?

        • Let’s pretend that Hudak didn’t have a history of being cozy with the Fords, or at least staying remarkably mute in recent months. Under a system where the leader has literally no involvment in candidate selection, I expect there wouldn’t be much to say. Any party that attracts multiple losers as candidates would fairly be criticized. Remember too, under the bill’s proposals any sitting member can be booted from caucus by peers. In a way, parties might benefit from deemphasizing the leader, and putting more pressure on the “rank and file” members to decide what’s acceptable and what is not.

          • Again, it’s south of the border, but Romney had nothing to do with the selection of Todd Akin. Didn’t stop the media from tying them together. Every time Romney spoke somewhere some reporter was asking for his opinion on Akin. No reason to believe that won’t happen here either.

          • Just so we’re clear: you want the rules of government to account for potential media bias?

          • This is not a question of bias. If we had an unbiased press Liberal leaders would potentially have to deal with this problem as well, so if you believe the press is neutral and will go after a Liberal leader over his bonehead candidates the same that they would for a Conservative…well I’ve got a bridge in NY to sell you, but if you believe that then they need the same ability to protect their party’s image from someone they can reasonably predict will cause them more headaches than they are worth during an election.

          • Joe Volpe. Eugene Whalen. Svend Robinson.

            Where’s that bridge again?

            But even if I agreed with you about the media, don’t you think it’s important to consider and improve the institutions of our democracy in their own right?

          • Yes, of course. As stated earlier, I’m OK with the proviso that already-elected MPs would be exempt from having the “I won’t sign your nomination papers” threat held over them. I think that would be a good reform. I just believe that having the ability to void the candidacy of a potentially troublesome candidate is a tool that leaders will continue to require.

          • That just might strike an ideal balance.

          • There you go again with the media bias bit again John. It’s a myth created by and perpetuated by the right. If anything, the media (by and large) has been swinging right of centre for a while… do the research.

          • Seriously man, it’s a really nice bridge.

            Here’s some research

          • Or you could stop pretending that newspaper endorsements have even the slightest bearing on bias.

          • Well if you think that media outlets that endorsed the CPC in the last election would have a left wing bias … you’re welcome to that thought.

          • My significant other just did a paper on this for a course. I was surprised by what she told me so I perused the readings myself. Like I say – you don’t believe me, then do the research. It’s still left of many in the CPC, but farther right than most people think. And definitely right of centre. Even the CBC.

          • Got any Canadian data?

        • You got it. Media is not innocent here.

        • The bozo eruption theory. There’s the counter-point to that, such as current Conservative MP Rob Anders, most famous for sleeping in committees, making outrageous and offensive statements and otherwise accomplishing nothing. He’s the MP for Calgary-West (my riding) which also happens to be the riding in which Stephen Harper’s Calgary home is found and the riding Stephen Harper was elected to when he was a member of the Reform Party.

          The constituency association has attempted to rid itself of this person for years. In 2010, there was a mass resignation of 19 members of the constituency association in a protest of the fact that Harper has simply decreed that he will be the candidate.

          The current system protects many bozo candidates already, as long as they have the right connections to the leadership.

      • #fail Wildrose in Alberta, last election.

        It is not an odd square peg. The right-to-lifers took a strong run at the Liberal Party in its weakened state in the eighties.

        The remnants of that takeover attempt were still embarrassing Ignatieff in Commons votes less than five years ago.

        • So you’re advocating for a democracy that is insulated from voters?

          Put another way – because parties aren’t appealing to sufficient swaths of mainstream citizens, the solution is maintain their (and the the leaders’) primacy?

          • That one is a media bias issue. Abortion is a topic that our media are not capable of covering objectively.

    • If I’m not mistaken, the caucus can still eject one of their members under Chong’s scheme. Might be messier, but it’s more democratic. So, if somebody like Doug gets in, and he’s a jackass, he gets the heave-ho.

      Not sure why you’re picking on Doug, though… he’s wicked awesome.

      • Ha ha. Doug is the perfect example. If we were south of the border I could offer Todd Akin as another of the type of candidate that a party leader needs to be able to wash his hands of before he destroys the party as Akin did.

        • Actually, I’d suggest Chong’s system would be better than the present system. If it’s up to Hudak to shut down Team Ford, he personally comes off looking the a**hole. Media aren’t going to be kind to him. If he doesn’t shut down Team Ford, he’ll still come off looking the a**hole for, well, not shutting down Team Ford.

          If it’s the caucus that rejects him, it a) looks (and is) more democratic and less dictatorial, and b) spreads any potential blowback around.

          • GBS, caucus cannot reject a candidate who has never been elected in the first place.

          • OK… but shouldn’t a guy who democratically gets the PC nomination and democratically wins the subsequent election in Etobicoke get a chance to function in the role of a PC MPP? If he fall flat, his caucus colleagues can turf him.

            I mean, how good is it going to look if Hudak pulls Ford’s plug before he even gets off the ground? That avenue isn’t without its significant headaches, either.

          • Yes, I think you are saying the same thing Phil King is saying, which is win once and you are no longer subject to the whims of a tyrannical leader voiding your nomination. I can go along with that.

            I’m more interested in the leader’s ability to prevent a “rogue” candidate from derailing elections. As Wells indicated, riding associations are not always “healthy”. One could imagine a scenario where a riding association gets taken over and is allowed to run a “Manchurian candidate” designed to cause the party problems.

          • I suppose… although my agreement is tempered by the desire to see that kind of political theatre unfold. It’d be the most exciting thing since a crack-smoking mayor.

          • How about giving the existing caucus the power to decline to run a candidate in a riding, if the nominee of their party is not acceptable? If the riding association is so weak, the party is unlikely to be viable in the riding, and the offensive candidate would not be welcome in the caucus anyway, so they could run as an independent.

          • True, but for a new nominee, there’s no reason why the leader couldn’t publicly distance himself by either refusing to cmpaign with/for him or by flat-out calling him on anything he says that contradicts the party line. That would demonstrate the leader’s conviction to party policy and send a message that he won’t take guff and would expect the other MPs to back him against the rogue.
            Would make for more entertaining politics, if nothing else :-)

          • True, but for a new nominee, there’s no reason why the leader couldn’t publicly distance himself by either refusing to cmpaign with/for him or by flat-out calling him on anything he says that contradicts the party line.

            Mitt Romney did all that and more to Todd Akin. How well did that work for him?

            Do you think if Romney could have found a way to kick Todd Akin off the Missouri ticket, he wouldn’t have jumped at the chance?

          • Romney didn’t lose because of Akin.

          • No Hudak would come off looking like a potential premier instead of a scare-dy cat wimp.

            i.e. Trudeau staring down the Jean Baptiste Day riot in Montreal.

          • Maybe… but I personally take a negative view of the leader who strong-arms a nomination process. I might be in minority, I don’t know.

          • Think of it like a Presidential Veto or the Notwithstanding Clause; an important tool, but one to be used sparingly.

    • At the very least existing MPs should not need the leader’s signature to run again. They’ve been vetted, won, and can be thrown out of caucus by the caucus if needs be.

      • I can buy that.

    • Does the head of the RNC or DNC or their presidential nominee get veto power over every candidate of their party? Are they held accountable for boneheaded candidates?

      Leaders and parties are currently held responsible for bonehead candidates because they all candidates require party endorsement. Remove the power to block candidates, and the party is no longer responsible for dud candidates put forward by riding associations.

      • Does the head of the RNC or DNC or their presidential nominee get veto power over every candidate of their party?


        Are they held accountable for boneheaded candidates?

        Yes. Ask Mitt Romney if you don’t believe me.

        • Romney’s Akin problem, to the extent he had one, was that he agreed with Akin on reproductive rights.

          But Romney lost well before the Akin eruption. He was thoroughly outclassed by Obama in terms of ground game and his inability to connect with important demographics. Blaming his failure on Akin is a cop-out.

          • Yes, as you correctly point out he had other major problems with his campaign.

            But you can’t pretend that the national media didn’t take every opportunity that they could to inflict as much damage on Romney as they could by tying Romney to Akin. If not, why would this be necessary?

          • They still voted in a fraud, any way you slice it. That’s the problem with “the lesser of two evils voting practices.” They ONLY give you the option to vote for evil…so you always get evil, no matter what you choose.

            What needs to be done, but there and here, is to eliminate political parties ENTIRELY, so that people can finally stop voting based on what colour shirt the candidates wear, and start voting on actual issues again.

            If a candidate proves their case in the minds of the majority of Canadians, they win. If they don’t, they get bounced out on their ass as they deserve.

            Personally, I’d vote for Rick Mercer in a heartbeat…as long as he wasn’t affiliated with ANY of the current, fraudulent parties. At least you know that he’s going to say EXACTLY what he thinks, no matter what issue is presented to him!

            I also get the sneaking suspicion he’d be one of the few with brains and balls enough to run as an independent candidate anyway…

  19. To the list of party leaders removed by caucus you could add the name of John Diefenbaker. His demise started when he declined to accept nuclear warheads for the Bomarc missiles he agreed to buy and which were useless without them. The Defence Minister, Douglas Harkness, I believe, resigned. Several other prominent members followed including George Hees. Then came the election 50 years ago this year that gave Lester Pearson a minority and the knives truly came out for Dief.

  20. “Reforms tend to replace problems with different problems.”

    Exactly. But Coyne hasn’t figured that much yet.

    • I thought you might see that as a good reason for doing zip. Fortunately Coyne isn’t so easily discouraged.

    • So dismantling the gun registry, the Wheat Board, and creating mandatory minimums just replaced some problems with different problems?

      • Zing!

      • Well, the gun registry only targetted “law abiding, honest citizens”, and was really a HUGE waste of money. Really, let’s be honest…how many times have you been at the coffee shop or the local pub and heard two gang members talking, and one of them says “Boy…I really wish that I could accompany you gentlemen on that drive by to shoot the guy who shot Kenny last week, but my gun license expired…and I simply wouldn’t feel right about breaking the law! But, hey, have a nice drive-by! Pop a cap in some random ass down there in the general area of where you think that someone we hate might live for me, OK?” I’m guessing…probably not terribly often.

        *Since ALL of the highly-publicized mass-shootings in the states in recent years have ALL proven to have been directly related to a shooter with severe mental problems WHO WERE ON MASSIVE DOSES OF PSYCHIATRIC COMPOUNDS…it’s fairly easy to determine that guns weren’t the problem in the first place…but that’s another discussion entirely, sadly enough, which is related to the next issue…

        Mandatory minimums were really only created as a foundation layer for the future private prison system that Emperor Harperius Mantarius Minimus (google THAT!) needs to create for his criminal friends. (Note: The “criminals on paper” he intends create by “making currently legal things illegal” to lock up are NOT the ones I’m referring to…) The “frosting on the cake” (because all Canadians know that “icing” is just rude) will be the criminalization of 40,000+ Canadians who are currently “100% legal” under the present “medical marihuana program”, which will be terminated as of–GET THIS FOR A NICE POLITICAL JOKE–April 1st, 2014. (You couldn’t make this stuff up if you were a heroin-addicted Hollywood writer!)

        Not so sure about the wheat board…I live in Tomato country, so I never really heard much about it.

        PS: You can’t “reform” a bad statute. It’s simply not possible. History has shown this a thousand times over, and it’s bloody well time that we started paying attention to this fact.

        If you want to end a problem that was deliberately created by any given statute, the ONLY SOLUTION is to REPEAL the statute that created the problem, thus ending the problem in its entirety…or, at least the part of the problem that was created by the bad statute.

        Now, if there turns out to be “real problems”, those can be dealt with as they come up…but to continue this idiotic idea that “if we just keep tweaking statutes and adding more to them, while completely ignoring the underlying statutory fallacies and frauds and problems, we’ll eventually get everything working perfectly fine for everyone.” It simply doesn’t work that way, and it’s time we grew up enough to admit that.

        • Jared Laughner was a “law abiding gun owner” …
          … right up to the moment he pulled the trigger in Tuscon.


          • That’s in the states, and this was about the “Canadian long-gun registry”, which essentially targetted farmers and the .22’s and shotguns they used to pick off predators eating their livestock.

            Entirely different situations, but essentially the same targets, statutorily speaking: anyone who owned a gun.

          • Today’s “law abiding gun owner” = tomorrow’s mass murderer

            Registration never killed anyone.

  21. v

    Seems like the Harper process machine is working just fine.

    • Probably just send him a thanks for all the quotables and move on to the next good subject.

    • Don Martin said on Twitter that Ivison has pretty good Con connections — and not long ago, Wells also said that while his sources have not told him this, that Ivison has pretty good Con sources. So, I’m crossing my fingers and hoping that Ivison is right. And I don’t often do that.

      • Israel is a fine place to retire. Lovely climate, friendly Conservatives, liberals on the outs lately.

  22. 1. That is a healthy draft of cynicism. Tastes great.
    2. Hood ornament. Awesome.

  23. Hear, hear, Wells steps out and hits the nail on the head, distinguishing himself once again from the mindless herds of journalists in Canada.

  24. Isn’t this internal business of parties? isn’t it within the mandate of the Glibs or Cons to run their parties as they see fit, and once we compare the results we can see which works best? If the Cons collectively dump Harper – or, seeing the writing on the proverbial, Harper opts to spend more time with his family – and opt for Rob Ford and subsequently are dumped in the general election, isn’t it to the benefit of all Canadians that Trudeau II ascends to the throne? The Cons returned to a single breeding pair will have learned their lesson and change the internal party rules. These “New Rule!” smacks a little of the original designation of the Senate, designed by Royalty to make sure the plebs couldn’t screw up the works by electing someone lacking sobriety – i.e. a common sense understanding re the Divine Right of Royals. Sober Second Thought was the Queen’s thumb on the scales, making sure the hoi-polloi didn’t limit Their access to the treasury. I believe you could replace Royalty with Vested Interests these days, corporate Canada, who are the ones who really select not just the leader of our parties but the PM who serves at the convenience . . . Anyway, we don’t need Overseers correcting the mere citizens’ rights to elect their own leader. No hanging chads this side of the border, no stacked deck and Supreme Court be damned.

    • I would be in complete agreement with this if.. and only if… political parties forego all tax benefits that they currently receive. No tax deductions, no repayment of campaign expenses, nada. If they get nothing from the public, they can run as truly private organizations.

      If, on the other hand, we want to receive tax deductions for our political contributions to help encourage the average citizen to become, if not involved, at least aware of politics, if we want campaign expenses reimbursed to allow people who aren’t independently wealthy a chance of running for office if they have the desire to, then we the public have an interest in how they manage themselves and should use that interest to try to ensure it works as best as it can for as many Canadians as it can.. not just the party leadership.

  25. Hmm…

    Liberal leader Justin Trudeau has committed to allowing open nominations
    of candidates, subject to one caveat — contestants for a nomination
    must first pass through a yet-unspecified “green light” review developed
    by the party’s National Election Readiness Committee

    Hmm…so candidates for the Liberals have to pass through some secret “review” process before their candidacy is approved. How is that any different from the veto process we have today?


    • Because it’s Justin Trudeau, and everything he says is magic.

      It’s hilarious that nobody in the media is willing to call him out on his blatant double-speak. Like claiming “open nominations”, then parachuting Freeland into Toronto-Center and making it extremely clear to everybody who was listening that she was his preferred candidate. Sure, “technically” it’s an open nomination, but in practice he’s making it very clear who he wants nominated, and if he doesn’t get what he wants, well…. you’ll really be angering the leader.

      • The leader will always have a lot of influence on who gets a nomination, if he or she wants to exercise it, even if the veto is gone.
        Under the new system leaders would still have a role in recruiting great new candidates. I see no reason why they can’t do that under the current or a future “reformed” system.

    • If Harper has this power, it’s proof that he’s an evil, dictatorial control freak. If Justin Trudeau has this power, it’s proof of his wise prudence and careful stewardship of his party.

  26. Pat Martin is less a hood ornament; more like a deer whistle. Cheap, plastic, noisy, mostly ineffective, chips your paint when you try to rid yourself of it, yet has a tiny, but loyal group of believers.

    Great line though, Paul.

  27. Party discipline, while stifling public debate, does offer one benefit: voter translation. When Canadians vote for a party, there’s a strong chance that party will implement its agenda (especially with a majority). Therefore the translation of public will to government agenda tends to correlate more strongly with party discipline. In the US you have the opposite, where the president can’t assurably get his party onside with his agenda (though increased partisanship in recent years has quieted this somewhat). What does erode this is Canada’s electoral system, since a minority electorate can elect a majority government, which is not a good translation of public will.