04 February 2009

Why are MPs treated like children?

Michael Ignatieff is being criticized because he "allowed" his Newfoundland MPs to vote against the federal budget. "Allowed." As a democrat, I cringe at the word. The elected representatives of the people of Newfoundland are "allowed" to represent the people who elected them, and this is subject to criticism? Is that not the precise purpose of them being in the House of Commons? To represent their constituents?

Ignatieff explains: "I decided to permit them ... a one-time vote of protest." How nice of him to "permit" them to serve the Newfoundlanders who elected them in the legislature they were elected to. Are they children to be "permitted"? It seems so. One MP, Scott Andrews, said he had been prepared to be punished for his vote.

University of Calgary political science professor and former Stephen Harper mentor, Tom Flanagan, insists Harper would never have done anything similar. Harper, says Flanagan, would have told such MPs, "It's my way or the highway." Of course he would, he's an autocrat. I'm surprised he doesn't insist his MPs click their heels and salute when they approach him. He is not exactly an exemplar of democratic leadership.

This is all about caucus solidarity, of course. The tradition that MPs have their say in caucus and then proceed into the House where they are to be seen and only heard to mindlessly cheer on their egocentric leaders. It is long past time to get beyond archaic customs like caucus solidarity and allow MPs the respect due elected representatives of the people, to say nothing of the respect due adult human beings. The Newfoundland MPs were elected in part at least on the issue of equalization payments. How can their constituents judge if they are doing what they were elected to do if their views are buried in caucus?

What Ignatieff did, albeit with obvious reluctance, was respect democracy, freedom of conscience and the maturity of his MPs. A lot more of this would do democracy in this country a world of good.

No comments:

Post a Comment