Unburdened

by Aaron Wherry

The latest issue of Canadian Parliamentary Review includes an essay about improving discourse in the House. Usual stuff about reforming Question Period and so forth.

But there is this: “Today, virtually all speeches for Debate are written in various leaders’ or ministers’ offices. Members often have no input into the content of these speeches.  They are reading literally reading someone else’s words into Hansard. This is the job of a transcriber, not a Member of Parliament.”

And this: “Furthermore, the existence of the whip on most votes means that the outcome of Debate is all but preordained before Debate has even begun … members need more latitude in expressing their views and in deciding the outcome of votes. Clearly, members of the cabinet are bound by ministerial solidarity to support government legislation, but there should be greater latitude for non-cabinet members to freely to express their views and to vote as they wish on many more issues.”

And then there’s the fact that the author is not a member of Her Majesty’s loyal opposition, but Michael Chong, a sitting member (and former minister) of the current government.

So that’s a government MP and former member of Stephen Harper’s cabinet. Publicly acknowledging that he and his colleagues have little to no freedom in what they can say. And lamenting that he and his colleagues have little to no freedom in how they can vote.

Even if you already assumed those things to be true, this would seem to be rather, well, noteworthy.




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Unburdened

  1. I realize the need to appear “objective” on the part of the author, but really now, projecting his experiences within his own party onto the function of the entire House just serves to debase our Parliamentary institutions.

    Austin

  2. You might have published your comments yesterday..fitting for Guy Fawkes Day.

  3. I note how these fundamental questions of parliamentary democracy excite Macleans’ readers by the number of commenters to this point. These are however crucial points. I have criticised Paul Martin quite a bit, but at least he tried, however tentatively, to re-introduce some glasnost & perestroika into the HoC, with 1-,2- & 3-line whips as in the UK, so more issues could be properly debated. But as noted by Jeffrey Simpson and others at the time, the opposition parties wouldn’t play fair. When the governing party declares a free vote and the opposition parties all “freely” vote their party lines, by “pure coincidence”, it discourages the government from continuing along this laudable path. And this is what the supposedly freedom-loving, parliamentary-respecting Alliance-Cons, NDP & Bloc did. (The NDP were the saddest to watch, expelling Desjarlais from caucus for voting against same-sex marriage in what was clearly the kind of fundamental moral issue that should be open to free votes, and then having a free vote on gun control, a normal public policy issue. Where was Blaikie when the NDP was doing this?)
    And soon enough we were back to same old, same old, and minority parliaments just discourage 1- & 2-line whips further.

    I find it hard to imagine, given the HarperCons hijinks, that there could ever be enough trust restored to reintroduce 1- & 2- line whips until Harper leaves and Bernard Lord becomes Con leader. It might also take a less cynical popinjay than Layton as NDP leader. The Bloc, given the divisions in their caucus over these kinds of issues, might be the best placed, along with the Liberals, to adapting to the reintroduction of proper conduct. But as stated, it seems sadly unlikely, unless Chong is quietly leading some sort of Con internal revolt on the issue.

  4. In another post, I wrote about the lack of control caucus members have over their leaders as a result of changes to leadership selection processes. Because leaders have so many levers at their command, they control caucus instead of the other way around. As one result, free votes are not as possible as the sheer numbers of backbenchers versus leadership might suggest. The members are “owned” by a leader who can reject their nomination papers, hijack their local executive, put them on meaningless committees, deprive them of all sorts of perks, and otherwise sink their careers.

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