Wednesday, February 02, 2005

CABINET RESPONSIBILITY (I TOLD YOU SO)

Via Paul Wells I see that Conservative MP Jim Prentice (Calgary Centre-North) has announced his support for the government's legislation regarding same-sex marriage. Prentice, although grudging in tone, seems to have made a significant effort to canvass the opinions of his constituents on this issue but came to his own decision and justified it in classical liberal political theory terms. To me, that's model behaviour for an MP.

However, in Prentice's statement he takes a jab at Paul Martin on grounds I cautioned against just last week. I'm not one to say I told you so but... well, actually, yes, I am one to say I told you so.

In his statement Prentice writes:

The vote for Conservatives is a free one. Stephen Harper has shown courage and leadership and his position has been very clear to Canadians. It is particularly disappointing that Mr. Martin did not have the strength of leadership to allow his entire Caucus to have a free vote on this issue.
Prentice is, of course referring to the fact that the vote will be a free one for the Liberal caucus but that the cabinet is expected to vote in favour of the legislation. I suppose Prentice can be forgiven for claiming that it is 'disappointing' that Martin is requiring the cabinet to vote in favour: being a Conservative Prentice doesn't have much experience with being in a federal cabinet.

To explain, this is what I wrote, in part, last week:
I make this point because with issues like gay marriage and marijuana decriminalization on the horizon for a minority parliament, we are likely to see some free votes in the future. Of course a 'free vote' cannot apply to the cabinet. As Romney points out, cabinet members by definition cannot simultaneosly oppose the ministry and maintian their position in that ministry under a system of responsible government.

So, all of this is a pre-emptive response to all those members of the punditry or even opposition parties who would rise in righteous indignation claiming that a 'free vote' is not really 'free' if the Cabinet is forced to vote with the government. Such an argument is ridiculous. The cabinet is the government; it can't vote against itself. Not if it wants to stay in power anyway.
To recap: Prentice should be commended for the decision he made and the process he took to make it. Perhaps if he's ever in cabinet he'll understand that the cabinet, by definition, votes in favour of government legislation.

Posted by Matthew @ 5:52 PM