Person, party, Parliament

by Aaron Wherry

Greg Fingas considers Bruce Hyer’s defection in the context of Thomas Mulcair’s hopes for regional outreach. Brian Topp considers Mr. Hyer’s defection in the context of the “bozo eruptions” that apparently hurt Wild Rose’s chances in Alberta.

Our political system tends towards hyper-centralization, and imposes a discipline on elected representatives that, at least some of them sometimes believe, disrespects and disempowers them. A “crisis of surplus consciousness” can result, in which the few at the top end up with too much to do (and therefore cannot do it well), which the vast majority of other team members end up with too little to do (and aren’t happy about it). This, to be precise, used to be said with reference to the hyper-centralized system in place in the Soviet Union. It could also be said of a number of poorly-led, hyper-centralized private corporations. It may be what parliamentary systems inherently drift into.

But as the Alberta election testifies, our political system also brutally punishes political teams who fail to maintain the tightest possible order in their ranks – at least as far as anyone can see – at every stage of proceedings including elections. “Bozo moments,” policy disagreements, strategy debated in public: Any chink of light is seized on as evidence of unfitness for office.

It seems to me there’s a distinction to be made between a candidate saying something that a significant number of voters find offensive and a candidate expressing a different opinion on policy or strategy, but it’s certainly the case that any break in unity is first and foremost discussed as a potential crisis of leadership.

Brian thinks “it is possible to have a respectful, deliberative, democratic political team that then presents a united front,” but the question remains, what does that look like?

Political parties serve an important purpose and the goal should not be 308 independent Members of Parliament. But MPs should not be mere representatives of and for the party. So what would balance look like? Is there an example of caucus management that fits, or at least nears, the ideal? Stephen Harper’s handling of the abortion debate? Jack Layton’s handling of the long-gun registry vote*? The way most parties operate even if we can’t appreciate what goes on behind closed doors?

Take one current conundrum: the Liberal leadership allowing a free vote on Motion 312. As a private member’s initiative, you can certainly make the case that it should be treated as a free vote. As a matter of conscience, you can certainly argue that it demands to be a free vote. But Jeff Jedras makes a compelling case that the Liberals should whip the vote: if a woman’s right to choose is fundamental to the Liberal party, Liberal MPs should be obliged to vote the party line.

In other words, it’s complicated: a point that should not be lost when this discussion is had.

In 2006, the Conservative party promised in its election platform that, if elected, a Conservative government would make all votes, except the budget and main estimates, free votes for “ordinary Members of Parliament.” Six years later it remains an interesting idea. At least in theory. Is it even feasible? Is it advisable? If you take Jeff’s point about the Liberal party’s position on abortion, it wouldn’t be so easy as declaring a free vote on everything but the budget. But if you take Brian’s point, differences of opinion would first have to become something other than automatic crises.

 

*Note: It was easier to handle the matter as a free vote when the bill in question was, at least technically, a private member’s bill.




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Person, party, Parliament

  1. ” if a woman’s right to choose is fundamental to the Liberal party ….”

    Maybe Liberals would be doing better electorally if murdering babies wasn’t fundamental priority for their party members. It doesn’t make sense to everyone that The State murders babies but not anyone else. Do Liberals ever think the problems with their party is them – why don’t Libs feel foolish when they claim lunar biorhythms are to blame for their slow decline into obscurity over the past decade or two?

    Pols could be themselves more if we had fewer Liberals in msm because many journos are schoolmarms who easily get the vapors and don’t really care about policy or ideas, they only care about people’s language. Diversity of opinion should be important but Canadian msm is overwhelmingly Liberal and parochial.

    Righteous Mind ~

    “Why can’t our political leaders work together as threats loom and problems mount? Why do people so readily assume the worst about the motives of their fellow citizens? In The Righteous Mind, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt explores the origins of our divisions and points the way forward to mutual understanding …. In a stunning final chapter on ideology and civility, Haidt shows what each side is right about, and why we need the insights of liberals, conservatives, and libertarians to flourish as a nation.”

    • It’s like his parents promised him a quarter for every time he can get a negative vote.

  2. “In 2006, the Conservative party promised in its election platform that, if elected, a Conservative government would make all votes, except the budget and main estimates, free votes for ‘ordinary Members of Parliament.’ ”

    That promise was a complete sham. Case in point: Harper’s bill to kill the gun registry (when he had a minority.) He brought the bill in through the back door by getting a back-bencher to sponsor it (private member’s bill.) Then he secretly whipped Con “trained seals” behind the scenes. (Whether explicitly or not, no Con MP dared vote against the bill or “represent their constituents” in non-rural ridings.)

    It was especially despicable the way he derided the Liberals for whipping the vote and drove a wedge among NDP MPs — which was, of course, the entire purpose of the scam.

    Soviet-style hyper-centralization describes the Harper Government of one down to a tee. Of course, given he’s not a communist one would have to go to the other end of the political spectrum to aptly describe his position.

    • I think they just lie and break promises for fun. What they say about thier supporters behind closed doors must be terrible.

    • What I found particularly despicable in the 2006 promise was that it was drafted in response to the vote on the definition of civil marriage. Harper made a huge kerfuffle about a Lib minister having to resign his position to vote his conscience. However, the minister, once he was out of cabinet, was able to vote his conscience and still remain part of the liberal caucus – if memory serves, he was not the only Liberal to vote against same-sex marriage. Harper promised a free vote on same-sex, not on a legislation but rather on a motion to defer to a committee to study the matter, i.e., not a government-sponsored legislation.

      Note that when Mr. Harper tabled a motion to recognize that the Quebecois form a nation… one of his minister had to resign from cabinet but remained seated when the time came to vote…

      I disagree with Jedras, a rare thing: if there is something Liberals should be preoccupied with above all others is freedom of expression. It is normal in society that you’ll find people opposed to abortions; they have the right to be heard and in a ‘liberal’ party, they should definitely have the right to vote their conscience.

  3. The purpose of political parties is simply one of convenience for the voter who doesn’t have time to fully investigate the issues or his/her candidates personal positions thereof. If there’s some other purpose, I don’t know it.

    308 independent MPs would be the ideal situation in the House of Commons. Hell, even the name of the place tells us this. Commons comes from communal or community. These people were sent to represent their communities, not political parties or larger ideals, but the communities that chose them. Imagine, 308 independant MPs could independantly choose the best person in the house to be the PM, set the agenda and pick the cabinet. The PM could then choose his/her cabinet from all the remaining 307 MPs, ensuring that the person who was the most knowledgeable about the specific area was the one representing it and presenting advice to parliament.

  4. To me, the issue with the Liberals and abortion is not that they are allowing a free vote. It’s that they are using it as a mobilization/fundraising issue.

    I think it’s hypocritical to ask people to “Tell Mr. Harper we don’t want a debate”, while some Liberal MPs will be voting to *have* the debate.

    Don’t claim that your party is in the pro-choice camp if your MPs are not on board with that. Iggy made that mistake with his motion in 2010 calling for abortion to continue to be part of the CIDA programs, and the motion was defeated because Liberal MPs voted against it or hid in the lobby because they didn’t want to be on the record as voting against it.

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