Should Brian Masse vote for the budget?

Parliamentary democracy is complicated

A small protest outside his constituency office in Windsor suggested that NDP MP Brian Masse should support the government’s budget on account of the funds set aside for the Windsor/Detroit bridge and the automotive industry. Conservative MP Jeff Watson, of nearby Essex, then jumped on this idea in a statement to the House yesterday.

Budget votes are tricky matters. For one thing, it’s not a vote on one specific initiative. Wednesday’s vote was a vote to “approve in general the budgetary policy of the government.” And in the case of a budget implementation bill, it could be a vote on a multitude of initiatives. For another thing, a budget is generally considered a matter of confidence. So if Mr. Masse were to vote for the budget so that he might show support for the bridge or the automotive industry, he would also be voting in favour of various other measures and could even be said to be indicating his confidence in the government.

This is also why any suggestion that someone “voted against” something vis a vis a budget is highly fraught.

Bill Casey was ejected from the Conservative caucus in 2007 for voting against the government’s budget. In 2009, Michael Ignatieff let Newfoundland Liberals vote against the budget even though the party caucus was committed to voting in favour of it. Mr. Ignatieff was subsequently pilloried for doing so.

Could we ever have a system in which budgets were free votes? Should we aspire to such a state of things? I suspect however far reform goes to change the ways of Parliament, the budget will (and probably should) be the last thing that is put beyond the whip and party solidarity.