3 min

Independence or iron-fisted control?

I sometimes wonder about just what it is we expect of our elected officials, because there seems to be a fair amount of confusion in media accounts – especially when it comes to voting patterns.

One of the most common complaints we hear is that MPs don’t get enough freedom when it comes to being able to vote their conscience, or even the will of their constituents. Ours is a system of party discipline, which has its ups and downs. On the one hand, it means that by keeping MPs from getting too independent, it reduces the temptation to do as American legislators do and load up bills with pork-barrel provisions in exchange for support. On the other hand, it gives a hell of a lot of power to the party leaders, which some see as a danger to democracy. And yet, We The Media can’t seem to decide which particular approach we’re going to treat seriously.

This has played out especially in the past week with the HST implementation, and with bills C-6 and C-15 in the Senate. With the HST bill, there was all this attention paid to Liberal Keith Martin who declared that he wasn’t going to vote for it – not only because his constituents didn’t want the HST, but because he felt the process the government had employed to implement it was “a sham” and “a caricature of democracy.” He got an excused absence from voting, which We The Media immediately fixated on, especially with all those other BC and Ontario MPs who might have similarly wished to be absent and yet all voted in favour. On the Conservative benches, Surrey MP Dona Cadman similarly was absent – though no word if her absence was excused by the leader.

And then Bills C-6 and C-15 hit the Senate, and the Senators were doing their jobs of sober second thought, and listened to hours of witness testimony and proposed amendments. Amendments to C-6 – which updates consumer protection laws – were narrowly defeated, while the amendments to C-15 – which increase mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug crimes – went through, and that bill will be headed back to the House.

And not only did we hear the wailings and gnashing of teeth in Conservative benches about how the Liberal leader wasn’t keeping his Senators in line by allowing them to do their jobs and amending bills, but we get it in the media too, with headlines like “Is Liberal caucus discipline going to pot?” But we can’t have it both ways – either we want our Parliamentarians to be more independent, or we want leaders to exhibit iron-fisted control. You can’t have it both ways. (That the reporter in question for this last example is not exactly the model of fair and balanced journalism is beside the point – it’s just an egregious example).

Elsewhere, it was probably one of the liveliest Question Periods in recent memory, with the calls for Peter MacKay increasing following the rather explosive revelation of General Natynczyk about knowledge of the abuse of detainees in Afghan hands. As well, Harper was back after his trip to China and South Korea, so it was the leaders battling one another. In the face of these new allegations, however, Harper declared that it confirms what they’ve always said, which is that they’ve acted when faced with proof of abuse. Also, Oceania has always been at war with Eurasia. In actual fact, the Conservatives have stood up in the House on some sixteen occasions to say that there have been no proven allegations – except that oh yeah – apparently there were. Oops.

That was the dominant issue of the day – despite a few detours for climate change and the loss of funding for KAIROS – but it reared its head again when Michael Ignatieff got up for a second round of questions right at the end of QP. And then the three Ministers on that file, past and present, went to committee.

Sartorially speaking, snaps go out to Bryon Wilfert’s lavender shirt with purple tie and pocket square (which seem to be a rarity these days), which looked very sharp on him. The style citation goes out to repeat offender Josée Verner for again choosing to wear a melon-pink jacket with her orange fake tanned skin tone. So very wrong. The Megan Leslie outfit watch reports a surprisingly tame black suit and black heels, with a rather gigantic pink scarf.

While the Liberals were gunning for MacKay, they also had two other issues on the plate for the day – the restoration of rural mail routes cut by the government, and Michael Ignatieff’s Private Members’ Bill, which proposes to treat pay equity as a human right.

And in her final day in Mexico, Her Excellency spoke out against the killing of an activist who was opposing the opening of a Canadian-owned mine in that country.

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