A blog to give a voice to our concern about the continued erosion of our democratic processes not only within the House of Commons and within our electoral system but also throughout our society. Here you will find articles about the current problems within our parliamentary democracy, about actions both good and bad by our elected representatives, about possible solutions, opinions and debate about the state of democracy in Canada, and about our roles/responsibilities as democratic citizens. We invite your thoughtful and polite comments upon our posts and ask those who wish to post longer articles or share ideas on this subject to submit them for inclusion as a guest post.
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Sunday, March 31, 2013

Is Politics a Team Sport?

Recently a Conservative MP became the first MP in more than a decade to raise a point of privilege against his own government in questioning why he was denied an opportunity to speak by his own party whip during question period. Whilst the item that he wished to speak about (selective abortion) is rater controversial it was the Government Whip Gordon O'Connor response that was the most revealing. He told House Speaker Andrew Scheer that such matters (deciding who may speak to the house) are the exclusive purview of the parties, and, as such, firmly outside his jurisdiction as guardian of the House.
"Put simply," O'Connor informed him, "this is a team activity and your role is referee ... It is not your job as referee to tell the coach or manager which player to play at any given time." That, he concluded, "is a question for each team to decide."
After a second conservative MP rose to say that he too had been prevented from speaking during the period set aside for members to make a statement about a subject of their choosing. Green Party Leader Elizabeth May remarked that O'Connor's sports metaphor "cut to the core of what is wrong with parliamentary democracy" by characterizing MPs as "teams" simply there to "take instructions from our team boss." She went on to say we are not here as teams, but as representatives of their respective constituents, and mused that, as far as the constitution goes, political parties do not, in fact, exist and that democracy is not a sport.

This incident gives a clear indication of how the conservatives think the 'game' should be played, ignore the rules, sideline the referee and let the captain and coaches dictate what the players can say and do but at the same time pretend that they are all for MPs rights to represent their constituents and speak their mind.
Indeed back in 2010 Peter Van Loan the conservative bulldog in response to a point of order by Ms May about the lack of decorum during such statements said that he found it “curious is her suggestion that somehow it is inappropriate for members of the House to stand up for the views of their constituents” (something she did in fact not say) and “ I can think of nothing more representative for a member of our party, certainly in my case when I talk to my constituents, than to come to this place and let my views be known” “especially when we are talking about members’ statements under Standing Order 31, one which has been the greatest tradition in this House of allowing members the utmost freedom to speak their mind.”
So MPs should have the “utmost freedom to speak their mind.” unless the party whip decides otherwise!
This is not the first time the use of SO 31 and the party control over the list submitted to the speaker as to who shall have the opportunity to speak has come under scrutiny, back in 1993 the House Management Committee tabled a report recommending that the speaker "exercise greater discretion and independence" in choosing the daily SO31 playlist.
The report argued that instead of having the parties control the agenda by submitting lists of approved SO 31-ready members, each caucus would be permitted to designate just one MP to speak on its behalf, with the remaining slots allocated by the speaker. Sadly, the committee's findings were never concurred in, but instead left to languish in neverlandian limbo.
So if it is a team sport which sport does it resemble, Rowing where everybody is expected to stroke at the same stroke and direction as everybody else in the boat as directed by the steersman, Football where players use their best judgement to move the ball towards the goal and everybody gets a kick at the ball or Hockey where tripping up an opponent is against the rules but common practice and taking off the gloves and attempting to beat the shit out of an opponent is considered 'part of the game'. At times it resembles all of these, however it would seem that the referee not only has much leeway as to how he interprets the rules but even when the rules are broken has few options to discipline the players, a caution rarely has any lasting effect and whilst a player can be given a time out it rarely happens and he cannot be ejected from the game not matter what rules he breaks.

Its long past time to change the game, bring in new players and give the referee some power to enforce such rules that currently exist.

31. A Member may be recognized, under the provisions of Standing Order 30(5), to make a statement for not more than one minute. The Speaker may order a Member to resume his or her seat if, in the opinion of the Speaker, improper use is made of this Standing Order
In the coded language of official Ottawa, the lists of who can speak are known as SO31s. It’s a reference to Standing Order 31 of Parliament, which allows that 15 minutes be set aside before question period each day for MPs to stand in the House and make brief remarks about a subject of their choosing.
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