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The case against “free” votes in the House of Commons

This Magazine Staff

Recent revelations about a powerful Washington lobbyist should not go unnoticed by Canadians, especially during the election time. A key plank in the Conservative platform is to increase the number of so-called “free” votes in the House of Commons. The thinking is this would reduce the nasty problems that go along with party politics, such as MPs ignoring their consciences (not to mention their constituents) because they are obliged to vote with the party on important votes.

But wait. It turns out there is a benefit to party politics after all. The crimes lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty to yesterday—conspiracy, mail fraud and tax evasion—were part of a plea bargain, and he has agreed to co-operate with investigators, meaning damning evidence is sure to be given against Republican (and Democratic) benificiaries of his fraud. Abramoff’s activities involved funnelling money—in exchange for influence—from at least eight Indian tribes to political groups and lawmakers in Washington, including speaker of the House of Representatives, Dennis Hastert (who also yesterday tried wiping his hands of the affair by donating his share of the money to charity).

Under the U.S. system, representatives can vote any which way they want, which leaves them wide open to lobbying. In Canada, individual lobbying is not a large part of the system, since Members of Parliament are generally required to vote with their parties in order to pass or defeat legislation.

Let’s keep it that way.

(See terrific Washington Post graphic outlining the Abramoff case.)

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