Wednesday, June 06, 2007


I don't have an unequivocal opinion on whether Nova Scotia MP Bill Casey was right or wrong in voting against the budget - but he gains my utmost respect for voting based on what he thought was right and not on the basis of party discipline.

Some, I'm sure will argue that Casey was motivated by nothing more than a desire to get more tax money for his riding, which might be the case. However, Alan notes that Casey argued that the Federal government had broken its word and gone back on a contract it had made with Nova Scotia. Now honouring contracts is the very essence of what allows us to live in a society, so if Casey feels the government has not honoured a contract he is quite right to call attention to the fact.

Stephen Taylor, naturally, spins the party line on the Casey... case, and further, argues that parliamentary tradition provides the precedent for turfing Casey from the Conservative party.

The thing about tradition is that there is always an older tradition to look to. As long time readers know, I prefer to look to the parliamentary tradition that separates the executive from the legislative powers - rather than conflating them. There was a time, in the pre-confederation British North American legislatures, and in the British parliament itself, when the "government" was understood to consist of the Cabinet exclusively, and "maintaining the confidence of the house" meant that the Cabinet had to earn the votes of members of their own party without relying simply on whipping them to vote.

With a little less party discipline, and a clearer definition of where the executive power ends, parliament might be a lot more dynamic, and representative.

Posted by Matthew @ 3:24 p.m.

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Casey's not giving up either. He was on his feet in the Commons as a newly-minted independent MP today.

Seems the NDP gave him one of their spots in Question Period. So that right after Peter Stoffer had chided the Newfoundland Cons, Casey was pressing his old caucus colleagues to do the right thing and keep their promise to Nova Scotia.

Red faces on the Blue benches.

Posted by Blogger Blogging Horse @ June 06, 2007 4:19 p.m. #

So, what do you think of Sheila Copps' argument on the CBC panel this AM, that members that disagree with their government should resign first, then vote against, rather than voting against their party and forcing the party to throw them out?

Posted by Blogger Matthew's Dad @ June 07, 2007 9:54 p.m. #

Copps' argument still wouldn't be necessary if party discipline were not as strict as it is. Her argument makes no substantive difference from the situation as it currently is - it just makes things easier for the party.

It used to be, and this was even post-Confederation, that when a member joined the cabinet he had to resign his seat and be re-elected as an indication of his changed position as a member of the government.

Only cabinet members should be expected to vote with the government because they are the government. All other members should be able to vote as they like because they do not form the government.

Posted by Blogger Matthew @ June 08, 2007 5:27 a.m. #

No, they do not form the government, but is that not equating "party" with "governmment". They are members of the party, and how can you remain a member of a party whose key positions you do not support.

An open vote approach sounds very congressional to me.

Posted by Blogger Matthew's Dad @ June 08, 2007 3:43 p.m. #

I think the situation as it exists now is that 'party' and 'government' are nearly synonymous - that is all members of the party who make up the cabinet are considered to "form the government" but really only the cabinet is the government in the executive powers sense of the word. There should be less equation of 'party' with 'government.'

It is difficult to continue to be a member of a party if one disagrees with that party's key positions. And arguably the budget is the most important legislation a government will pass. It becomes a question of interpretation of where to draw the line of "deal breaking" priorities. However, I continue to believe that, ideally, the cabinet as the executive power would set the legislative agenda, and all other members as the legislative power would debate and approve or deny that agenda.

"An open vote approach sounds very congressional to me."

Is the suggestion that a certain proposal should be avoided simply because it is too similar to how things operate in the United States? To avoid things simply because they are American seems rather prejudicial. On the other hand if you see actual inherent problems with a more open 'congressional' tradition of voting that would be something else.

Posted by Blogger Matthew @ June 09, 2007 11:17 a.m. #
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