Outgoing Speaker Milliken: Party leaders yield too much power

This article was last updated on April 16, 2022

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Outgoing Speaker Milliken has articulated his thoughts that "party leaders yield too much power" in our Parliamentary system. It’s hard to argue with the logic, apart for the belief that caucus should play a larger role in deciding leadership, that seem like a regressive idea from here. However, the notion that party leaders dictate too much, stifling independent thought and direction from MPs, creating this monolithic presentation, is something to consider.
From the Liberal perspective, while we can visit electoral reform, I also think we need a reform package that deals with the PRESENT structure, modernizing it in such a way that our representatives are more directly accountable. I have a few ideas in that regard, but keeping to Milliken’s conclusion, it’s important to understand the present state is a reaction to a certain immaturity that exists. I would argue that political parties are reticent to advocate more freedom, more decentralized control, because the environment in Ottawa is such that independence equates to some kind of disunity. 

If we are truly desirous of more independence from our MP’s, then there has to be some acknowledgement that differing views isn’t a sign of weakness. Part of the reason leaders demand "discipline" is because EVERY occasion where an MP goes off script, exerts independence, it is seized upon and it causes optical trouble for said party. Words like "divided caucus", talk of why the leader can’t "reign" in his/her people, all this nonsensical framing occurs which forces a more top down approach. The circumstance dictates tight "message control", allowing MP’s freedom to write their own QP question for example is viewed upon as risky, because of how any deviation will be interpreted.

Milliken’s suggestions are sound, but it’s only part of the reality, and it does develop in isolation, in fact it’s part reaction. In this simplistic world, any evidence of differing views is counter-productive. This is why the leader’s view is the party’s view, is the MP’s view, is what we hear in QP, is what we see in committee, partially because WE can’t handle any spice, it has to bland and repetitive. I’m all for reforms, I want my MP’s to be more independent, but that has to accompanied by a new found maturity in how that freedom is interpreted. At present, the Harper model of iron fisted discipline, total and complete control, MP’s sheep in every sense of the word is the WINNING template. Sad, but true. It’s almost suicidal in this tabloid flavour environment for one party to unilaterally adopt an more open, egalitarian structure.

Moving forward, the Liberals should adopt serious Parliamentary reforms, not the watered down VANILLA stuff we came up with this election. However, much of it must try to incorporate the entire system, rather than unilateral pledges which for the above reasons leave people at a optical disadvantage. Milliken recognizes the problems with present reality, but I’m not sure it acknowledges WHY this is the preferred course.

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