As summer comes to a close, I reflect on the past two months since I have been out of the Ottawa Bubble. Since returning to Alberta, I made national headlines at least once and regional news two other times, as a result of this very blog. I blogged about respect for Canadian taxpayers and consumers and earned accolades from fiscal conservatives and the National Citizens’ Coalition. However, I received derision from hyper partisans, who believe to be seen to be critical of one’s own party is tantamount to disloyalty if not treason.
The media has called me a “maverick”, a “rebel” and stated that I had “gone rogue”. One well read local blogger opined that I was the Prime Minister Office’s “canary in a coalmine”—that I was tasked with raising controversial policy ideas, which would be used to gauge public reaction before deciding to proceed. I assure you that PMO has no such confidence in me and that the various media monikers are undeserved. I prefer Sun Media’s David Akin’s simple description of me as a “free thinker” over those who over-analyze my motivation.
The simple reality (and it is simple) is that by raising matters of importance, I am doing my job as a Member of Parliament. Parliament came into existence over seven hundred years ago in England and its function is to hold government to account. There is a critically important and often not understood distinction between Parliament and Government. In Canada, Members of Parliament are the 308 individuals; each elected to represent an Electoral District.
Government is much smaller (or much bigger) depending on how you define in it. In the Parliamentary sense, the Government is comprised of the Prime Minister (technically still chosen by the Governor General) and the several dozen Ministers the Prime Minister chooses to form his Cabinet. Collectively, they are known as the Governor General in Council and their job is to advise the Crown. They are chosen, not elected, but they are responsible to the elected Parliament. They are the executive and they are in charge of the government in the larger sense—the bureaucracy, the departments, agencies and Crown Corporations that administer the laws and programs approved by Parliament.
As an interesting aside, until the 1930s, a Member of Parliament who was appointed to Cabinet was statutorily required to resign his seat in the House and run in a by-election. This convention reflected the reality that there is frequently a conflict between those who make law and those who execute those laws and between the Executive, which spends money, and the Legislature which passes the Budget. The convention meant that a Cabinet Minister’s constituents had to ratify whether they believed the Minister still represented their interests.
By logical extension, the Parliamentary Secretaries, although currently not sworn to the Privy Council, must be considered as part of the “Government”, since they answer questions in the House in the absence of their Minister and speak on behalf of the Government on political talk shows. But I am not a member of this select club; I am a member of the legislative branch called Parliament, whose job is to pass statutes and to hold the actual Government to account.
One can occasionally be critical of the Government without being disloyal. I proudly serve in the Conservative (Government) Caucus but do not leave the viewpoints of my constituents behind every time I board a plane to Ottawa. It is natural for me to question Supply Management, since I represent 140,000 consumers but not a single dairy farmer. Similarly, all of my adult constituents are taxpayers but only a tiny fraction work for the federal government; as a result, I believe it is appropriate that I question public pensions (including my own) and demand respect for taxpayer dollars generally.
Constructive criticism and holding government to account will invariably lead to better government. The Opposition’s constitutional mandate is to criticize and oppose. However, sometimes a critique from the Conservatives’ own benches will be more effective, as Opposition barbs are frequently written off as partisan gamesmanship.
Moreover, in the current Parliament, with a Socialist Official Opposition, how realistic is it that a critical examination of spending, social programs or the CBC is going to originate from the side opposite??? Accordingly, I will continue to raise and speak out on matters important to me and my constituents. Advocating for limiting the size and role of government and respect for taxpayer dollars will occasionally and invariably irk those who are the Government. But holding the Government to account, will force a well performing Government to perform even better!