Cognitive dissidents -

Cognitive dissidents

The backbench revolt gets the Economist treatment


The backbench revolt gets the Economist treatment.

The appearance of a handful of dissident government MPs is much more unusual in Canada than in other countries with the Westminster system of parliament, such as Britain and Australia. Mr Trudeau, the former prime minister, is often accused of hastening the slide of MPs into irrelevance by consolidating control in the prime minister’s office. But the slide really began in 1919 when the governing Liberals decided that instead of allowing their MPs to select a party leader, he (and in Canada the leader nearly always is a he) would be chosen at a convention of party members. MPs eventually lost the ability to turf out an underperforming leader.

While the new system is deemed to be more democratic, it has had the opposite effect because it makes MPs accountable to their leader, rather than the reverse. The leader can eject MPs from the parliamentary party or refuse to sign their nomination papers for the next election if they don’t follow instructions. This keeps a tight lid on dissent. In Britain and Australia, where MPs can quite easily get rid of the prime minister, leaders have to keep their MPs happy or face sudden demotion, as Margaret Thatcher and Kevin Rudd both discovered.

Meanwhile, the Guardian of Charlottetown weighs in.

What’s worth highlighting here is that MPs or MLAs have the power to shed this stranglehold, and demand that things be done differently.

The notion of party discipline has merit in that it allows a party to organize itself and execute its agenda. But when the interests of the parties effectively muzzle our MPs and MLAs, democracy suffers. If all representatives were convinced of this, they could act collectively to force changes that would let them do the job they were elected to do: speak out on behalf of their constituents. The end result would be a better balance of the rules; it would lessen the constraints of party discipline while empowering elected representatives.

The only beneficiaries of the status quo are the political parties, not Canadian voters. It’s time for some change.

I taped an episode of The Agenda yesterday with Samara’s Alison Loat, Conservative MP Brent Rathgeber, NDP House leader Nathan Cullen and Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett. That will air on Wednesday night on TVO.

I’ll also have a piece in this week’s print edition, explaining and taking stock of what’s going on.