A primer for Joan Crockatt on a backbencher’s job

Over in the forthcoming Calgary Centre by-election, there is some grumbling about the choice of Conservative candidate, former Calgary Herald editor Joan Crockatt. But despite what everybody might feel about Crockatt’s credentials, or the fact that she was given a waiver that enabled her to run despite not having been a party member for six months before the race began, I have to say that I was completely dismayed – though not entirely unsurprised – by one of the comments she made to the Globe and Mail today:

“If I’m a backbench MP, I’m just fine doing that,” Ms. Crockatt said. “To me, the job is to support the Prime Minister in whatever way that he thinks.”

No. Just…no. That is not the job of a backbench MP, government or opposition. In fact, it’s pretty much the exact opposite of what a backbencher’s job is. A backbencher’s job, in government or in opposition, is to hold the government to account. That means that backbench MPs control the purse strings that the government wants to use in order to implement their programme. That’s why it’s their job to scrutinise the estimates, and ask tough questions about the spending programmes, and why the opposition has days set aside for the express purpose of demonstrating why the government should not be granted supply. It’s called accountability. You know, the whole reason that Parliament exists.

But you wouldn’t know it these days. MPs – who apparently don’t actually know that it’s their job to hold the government to account – are busy currying favour with party leaders in the hopes of getting a good portfolio. Crockatt knows that she’s unlikely to get a cabinet post because she’s from Calgary, and the cabinet, which requires a regional balance, is already Calgary-heavy. But rather than use the fact that she’s not going to get into cabinet anytime soon, if at all, and actually do her job and use her voice effectively and independently, Crockatt comes out with this line about it being her job to support the PM in whatever way he thinks.

What an utter abdication of her role in such a public manner. And for Crockatt, who still styles herself a journalist, to so willingly submerge her voice and independence so completely, is actually appalling. She of all people should know better. Perhaps she needs to start speaking to another backbencher like Brent Rathgeber, who is actually doing his job and asking questions on government spending and policy, because he knows he’s not getting into cabinet and he’s afforded that degree of independence as a result.

It’s not her job to blindly support the PM. If she – or any other MP – feels that it is, then perhaps it’s time they took a refresher course on the very fundamental aspects of parliamentary democracy, for all of our sakes.

(Note to partisans of other stripes: Don’t be smug. Most of the backbenchers of your own party of choice are pretty much in the very same boat).