The latest round of Barish Chagger versus the opposition House Leaders started up yet again yesterday, and while my thoughts will be out in my next Loonie Politics column (up later today), I figured I’d take the opportunity to respond to Andrew Coyne’s musings about this latest round.
To wit, of his seven proposed reforms, Coyne only gets about three of them right – re-empowering the Speaker with regard to doing things like splitting out omnibus bills, restoring the various party caucuses’ ability to choose their leaders rather than the party memberships, and to ban scripts from the House of Commons (while ripping out the desks and implementing benches instead, Westminster-style), and letting the cameras get wide shots and reactions while they’re at it – something I too would agree with.
But then Coyne starts veering off into problematic territory. Turning over control of prorogation to the House of Commons is a Very Bad Idea because it fundamentally undermines the point of prorogation, which is that it allows the government to control its own agenda. It’s not up to the Commons to decide when the government needs to come up with a new list of priorities, and giving them the power to determine when they can hit the reset button throws that relationship out of balance – not to mention the lack of logic in requiring a supermajority to prorogue when they can declare non-confidence with a simple majority. Likewise, limiting the use of confidence undermines the whole bloody system and is utterly boneheaded.
Halving the size of cabinet? While the current Ministry has far less fat than previous ones, I think this has more to do with Coyne’s personal bugaboos about Cabinet construction in Canada than it does the problem with not having enough backbenchers in this country that diminished hope for a cabinet post allows for greater independence. Insisting that ministers answer questions put to them rather than fobbing them off to a junior? It’s less of an issue now than it used to be, but while we could theoretically empower the Speaker to insist, I worry that this becomes open to abuse (not to mention the fact that their refusal to answer is fodder for We The Media in holding them to account).
Of course, Coyne caps it off with his biggest eye-roller of all – that proportional representation will be the cure for all of our parliamentary ills. It won’t be of course, and will simply create a host of new problems (the extent of which depends greatly on just how the proportional system is constructed), but we’ve had experience with minority parliaments before. It didn’t make MPs more cooperative – it simply entrenched positions even harder, which a state of permanent minority or coalition government is all the more likely to do. So while Coyne is on the right path on a few ideas, his problematic or outright dangerous ideas outweigh the good.
Kady O’Malley, meanwhile, goes through a point-by-point deconstruction of the complaints that Michelle Rempel made over Twitter on Sunday night with regard to what she felt the imposition of a weekly Prime Ministers Questions would do, particularly around the media cycle, and while I’m no real fan of imposing a PMQ here (precisely because the rest of our debating culture is so bastardized that it would just make these problems even worse), O’Malley makes some particularly good points about why the opposition shouldn’t be overplaying their hands on this one.