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Responsible Government, RIP

This Magazine Staff

Canadians are about to get a nice lesson in one of the curious features of our Parliamentary system. Contrary to popular belief, party discipline and cabinet solidarity do not undermine reponsible government. Rather, they embody it.
In many ways, party discipline is just an extension of cabinet solidarity, reinforcing the idea that, in Parliament, there is a Government — whose job it is to govern — and an Opposition, whose job it is to oppose the government. Members of the governing party who aren’t in Cabinet are nevertheless expected to vote with the government; otherwise, what reason do they have for being there?
The prevailing wisdom in recent years has been that majority governments are a problem, that it gives too much power to the government. Maybe. But there is every indication that our minority parliament is going to be far worse, since there won’t be any government at all.

According to new reports, the three parties that did the crappiest in the last election (usually called “losers”) want to act like they won. They want to change things in the Throne Speech that they don’t like, and they want to change the definition of a confidence motion, to restrict it only final votes on the Throne Speech, the budget, and spending estimates. Everything else would be fair game for defeat. They also want to make sure the every opposition motion gets put to a vote (currently, only a small fraction are).
In today’s Globe, Jack Layton asks: “why should the government control the agenda of the House of Commons [when] it didn’t receive the majority of seats?”
Gee Jack, I dunno. Lemme fetch my copy of the BNA Act…
Just so we’re clear: The parties that DIDN’T WIN THE ELECTION want to decide what legislation gets voted on and passes. That is, they want to govern, without being the government. Meanwhile, they want to make sure that the government can’t actually govern.
This is a recipe for political paralysis. It will also guarantee, not that government becomes more accountable, but that it becomes less so.
For those of you keeping score: This is what it’ll be like under proportional representation, all the time.

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