Monday, May 16, 2011

Independence Equals Weakness In Today's Ottawa

Outgoing Speaker Milliken has articulated his thoughts that "party leaders wield too much power" in our Parliamentary system. It's hard to argue with the logic, apart for the belief that caucus should play a larger role in deciding leadership, that seem like a regressive idea from here. However, the notion that party leaders dictate too much, stifling independent thought and direction from MPs, creating this monolithic presentation, is something to consider.

From the Liberal perspective, while we can visit electoral reform, I also think we need a reform package that deals with the PRESENT structure, modernizing it in such a way that our representatives are more directly accountable. I have a few ideas in that regard, but keeping to Milliken's conclusion, it's important to understand the present state is a reaction to a certain immaturity that exists. I would argue that political parties are reticent to advocate more freedom, more decentralized control, because the environment in Ottawa is such that independence equates to some kind of disunity.

If we are truly desirous of more independence from our MP's, then there has to be some acknowledgement that differing views isn't a sign of weakness. Part of the reason leaders demand "discipline" is because EVERY occasion where an MP goes off script, exerts independence, it is seized upon and it causes optical trouble for said party. Words like "divided caucus", talk of why the leader can't "reign" in his/her people, all this nonsensical framing occurs which forces a more top down approach. The circumstance dictates tight "message control", allowing MP's freedom to write their own QP question for example is viewed upon as risky, because of how any deviation will be interpreted.

Milliken's suggestions are sound, but it's only part of the reality, and it does develop in isolation, in fact it's part reaction. In this simplistic world, any evidence of differing views is counter-productive. This is why the leader's view is the party's view, is the MP's view, is what we hear in QP, is what we see in committee, partially because WE can't handle any spice, it has to bland and repetitive. I'm all for reforms, I want my MP's to be more independent, but that has to accompanied by a new found maturity in how that freedom is interpreted. At present, the Harper model of iron fisted discipline, total and complete control, MP's sheep in every sense of the word is the WINNING template. Sad, but true. It's almost suicidal in this tabloid flavour environment for one party to unilaterally adopt an more open, egalitarian structure.

Moving forward, the Liberals should adopt serious Parliamentary reforms, not the watered down VANILLA stuff we came up with this election. However, much of it must try to incorporate the entire system, rather than unilateral pledges which for the above reasons leave people at a optical disadvantage. Milliken recognizes the problems with present reality, but I'm not sure it acknowledges WHY this is the preferred course.

15 comments:

900ft Jesus said...

right on with this. I have had many discussions with people who mock the Liberals for what they call rifts or dissent within the party but I see it as a good thing that members feel they can express their views, disagree, but still come to a decision. Otherwise, why bother with a system where members are elected to represent individual ridings?

Chrystal Ocean said...

The Liberal Party has to do more than just "visit" electoral reform.

Assuming the continuance of the party system in Canada, voters need more, not less choice. Which is why I am so dead against a Liberal-NDP merger and in fact am for the reemergence of the Progressive Conservative from the current Right merger.

FPTP functions best and was designed for a two-party system. Ergo, electoral reform - as in, proportional representation - must sit at the top of any credible democratic reform package.

Jerry Prager said...

Fair Share Cabinet government based on proportional representation would break the hegemony of parties in part because all parties would share power, and because there would be NO government benches: there would be cabinet, and the House as loyal opposition. There would be PM's who must keep the confidence of the house, as well as cabinets and individual ministers who could lose the confidence.

Jerry Prager said...

The best thing about fair share cabinet, is that it requires a shift in emphasis of the Westminster system, the PM already has the power to create a cabinet,
if a Liberal PM created a Fair Share Cabinet (and the House created Fair Share Committees) a few non elected individuals would have to be chosen from the public by the PM and House if there was a shortage of geographic representation.
Party discipline/freedom would mature through custom if the next PM continues the tradition, or not depending on how well it workerd.

Sherwin Arnott said...

This is an important idea. I hope this picks up steam amongst the electorate and the business media. It speaks to transparency as well, since the system we have now is a closed debate and then a staged debate; it's not accountable politics, it's theatre. Perhaps part of the reframing of this issue can be by distinguishing between disciplined politics and disciplined theatre.

The party with the most theatre discipline should eventually be seen to be insecure, the least confident, and the least interesting. A party that is willing to do transparent and therefore disciplined politics must be seen to be secure in their own principles and vision.

A Eliz. said...

Glen Pearson, ex Mp from London, said Ignatieff was bringing the Liberal Party closer to its roots by going out to town halls etc.

Tof KW said...

900ft Jesus said...
right on with this. I have had many discussions with people who mock the Liberals for what they call rifts or dissent within the party...

One only need look at the Red Tory v3.0 blog to see evidence of this. Martin long ago conversed with Stephen Taylor about getting his blog added to the Blogging Tories, but since it frequently criticized the Dear Leader along with the rest of his morally bankrupt party, the request was turned down.

So strangely an old Progressive Conservative found his musing listed on the Liblogs. And though he is often enough critical of the leadership, policies or the acts of individual LPC MPs, he acknowledges the Grits are more open to, and much less hostile towards divergent points of view.

That's the difference between centrist big-tent parties like the Liberals or the old PCs, and the ideologically and populist-driven polarizing parties like the CPC and the NDP.

Steve V said...

The trick is to turn more lively debate into an asset, rather than perceived weakness. Is that possible, or is message, thought control a necessity in modern politics? Harper's success sets a bad precedent.

Tof KW said...

"Harper's success sets a bad precedent."

Or, it may all fall apart over time thanks to his majority.

I'm getting the feeling that after four years of this, the backbenchers who are routinely told to shush while realizing they will never receive any sort of cabinet position or other such goodies, will eventually begin to go off-topic more often.

Harper's been crafting the CPC as a moderate-right party in order to win a majority, and now that this has been realized the SoCon elements at some point will begin demanding something for their loyalty through all of this. Problem for Harper is that this hurts his (or his successor's) chances post-2015.

Majority or not, I get the feeling these next 4 years will be interesting times regardless.

Steve V said...

The Con MP's seem a pretty obedient lot, I guess we'll see. But, I don think message control has shown itself to be the perfect presentation in Ottawa. Look at the NDP on the gun registry, look at the Libs on a host of issues, any divergence and it's like sharks to blood. That's why I favour reforms that go beyond our unilateral decisions, just incorporate the entire process, otherwise our "openness" will just get burned, and burned badly.

commoncents said...

THANK YOU for posting this! I'm glad I found your blog!!

Steve
Common Cents
http://www.commoncts.blogspot.com

Fred from BC said...

I'm sure that the Speaker meant to say that party leaders WIELD too much power, right? 'Yield' would make his point exactly the opposite of what it seems he intended to say...

Dana said...

Quite right, Fred, but "yield" is not what Milliken said.

It's Steve V. who said that.

He also resents having it pointed out to him.

Steve V said...

Oopsie :)

Fred from BC said...

Dana said...

Quite right, Fred, but "yield" is not what Milliken said.

It's Steve V. who said that.



Ahh. Normally I wouldn't comment on typos but that single letter changed the entire meaning of the statement. Later in the post there was "reign" in place of "rein", but that one was obvious as to the intended meaning.


He also resents having it pointed out to him.


Sometimes. Not always. :)