Monday, February 09, 2004

PARLIAMENTARY REFORM: FREE VOTES

Yesterday on Cross Country Checkup Rex Murphy was talking with Canadians about parliamentary and democratic reform. First off, I think its great that this has become a national issue. The country and its parliament certainly need some reform, its good that Martin is looking at changes and its good that people are debating these changes. Obviously there is going to be lots of disagreement about the particular course of action to take but democracy is most strengthened when citizens and representatives participate in dialogue. Now, to some of those inevitable disagreements.

One of the main issues on Checkup was free votes in the Commons.

First:
I think greater voting autonomy is an important step in parliamentary reform. If regular MPs are not going to be continuously reigned in by the PMO then their votes are going to have more meaning, and if their votes have more meaning they are going to have more voice in parliament, which is what its really supposed to be all about. Both Martin and the opposition parties are going to have to commit to this seriously. Martin is going to have to trust his caucus to vote as they see fit. If the government puts forward good legislation that backbench MPs have had a part in formulating then there is no reason that most Liberal MPs should not vote with the government. Ultimately its not in the interest of governing MPs to defeat the ministry. Martin has to trust his MPs and be prepared to deal with the consequences. His position with regards to the vote on the gun registry is not encouraging but I'm not giving up on him yet.

Further, as Jeffrey Simpson pointed out on Thursday, the opposition parties are equally responsible for accepting the new way of doing business. If the opposition parties continue to vote in blocks opposing everything for the sake of opposition then the Liberals will have every right to question why they alone should be playing by different rules. Obviously, as is the nature of their position, the opposition will be voting against government resolutions more often than not. But if they refuse to make votes free votes the system is not going to change. Today I was encouraged by what Grant Hill had to say with regards to the Conservative stance on free votes. I was less encouraged by Lorne Nystrom of the NDP who couldn't name an issue on which his party would allow a free vote.

Second:
Several people were talking about free votes with regards to the cabinet. Grant Hill and several callers made comments to the effect that even in cases where past governments held a free vote it wasn't entirely free because the cabinet had to vote with the government.

Of course the cabinet was required to vote with the government! If you are in cabinet you ARE the government. The MPs who are the cabinet ministers comprise the executive ministry. They are the ones primarily responsible for bringing forward and formulating legislation. They are the ones directing and shaping the government. If they oppose a policy of the government they have plenty of opportunity to oppose it behind the scenes in cabinet meetings. However, when it comes to voting time, cabinet ministers are expected to stand with the ministry they are a part of. If they do not support the position of the ministry then they are welcome to leave it and vote against it as regular MPs. Free votes are not meant to include the cabinet.

Another big topic yesterday was proportional representation. That's my next topic for discussion. It may not surprise you to discover that I'm not in favour of it.

Posted by Matthew @ 12:57 AM