Roundup: Fobbing off responsibility onto the Speaker

Two former MPs and the former Commons law clerk are talking about bringing in some rules changes to empower the Speaker to bring more order to the Commons – and there we get into the decorum distraction yet again. The Speaker already has tremendous powers to expel members from the House, or to deny them the opportunity to speak if they misbehave, but they are rarely employed. Former Speaker Milliken didn’t want to expel anyone, lest they go running to the media in the Foyer and getting a bigger soapbox, or they could take off and travel or dine at House expense. His suggestion was penalties that would affect their privileges – such as docking their pay or expenses for the day, but he couldn’t get traction for that idea when he broached it previously. But whenever these discussions come up, there needs to be the awareness that the Speaker is just the referee and not omniscient – he or she can’t determine whether or not answers are deemed sufficient, or have a hand in committee business, or determine whether or not omnibus bills are out of order. For one, it puts too much power in one single individual, but for another, it further absolves MPs of their own responsibility to conduct themselves appropriately. They have tremendous powers to hold themselves and each other to account if they actually wanted to – but they don’t. Hell, it’s their job to hold government to account, and not the Speaker’s, so if the government makes huge omnibus bills, it’s the job of MPs from all sides to call the government out – not the Speaker’s. But no – they fob off the responsibility to someone else, preferably the Speaker, because he’s “neutral” and thus, more “authoritative,” never mind that it’s an intellectually and politically lazy construct. The NDP are great at this narrative right now, with Nathan Cullen holding press conferences vowing greater decorum and proposing all of these great powers to the Speaker to enforce it, and then half an hour later, during QP, his own caucus members are standing up and calling cabinet ministers names. Oh, but they’re just being funny, Cullen says, and if the Speaker doesn’t like that, then he can put an end to it. Sorry, no – if you want to preach decorum, then practice it. Meanwhile, let’s come up with more proposals to further treat MPs like a) children with no impulse control or b) drones whose only task is to recite speeches prepared for them by the leader’s office, and vote according to how said leader’s office demands. Because that’s the sign of a mature democracy.

Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq called on Chief Theresa Spence to end her hunger strike and meet with the Aboriginal Affairs minister John Duncan, but Spence refused, and cited the relationship with the British Crown. But there lies an important problem – the British Crown no longer has any business in Canada, while the Canadian Crown does, and because of Responsible Government, that means that cabinet government is where power lies – not with the Crown. To illustrate, here is a fantastic post that outlines the different world views of how the Crown-First Nations relationship operates, which is part of the difficulty in communication during Chief Spence’s hunger strike.

Ruh-roh! HRSDC lost the personal information of 5000 people after a USB key went missing. Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddard is not going to be happy with this little turn of events.

Susan Delacourt has a year-ender interview with Bob Rae, who is planning his “phased withdrawal” from the spotlight as the Liberal leadership contest heats up and his time as interim leader draws to a close.

And Glen McGregor has some ideas about better political journalism. Some of the ideas are good indeed (such as “senior sources” or reporting on Twitter outrages), though I’m not sure they should all be hard and fast rules. For example, from time to time, quoting political scientists or security experts is actually helpful. But indeed, it is often a crutch, so as long as there is an awareness that they’re sources that are used sparingly, then certainly, go ahead.