The new NDP youth wing gets lots of fun poked at it (some of it here), but Chris Selley has hopes that they may force the House of Commons to revisit the worst aspects of parliamentary behaviour:
Look. It’s easy, and frankly appropriate, to laugh at the gaggle of orange poteaux — “posts,” as Quebecers call cipher candidates — soon heading to Ottawa to take their seats as New Democrat MPs (and to move into their very first apartments!). But whatever their shortcomings, it’s safe to assume they’re full to bursting with idealism and self-esteem. Many of them aren’t long out of high school. Try to bully them and by God, they’ll probably call the police.
There’s 57 new NDP MPs from Quebec — almost 20% of the House of Commons. They have a real opportunity to make a difference in the way Parliament conducts its business. Jack Layton himself has said he intends to officially oppose the government in a more dignified manner. And it’s hard to think of anyone in a better position to hold him to his word than, say, a 21-year-old student with $600,000 or so coming to him over the next four years, representing a riding he’s barely visited (if at all) and constituents who didn’t (and don’t, and may never) really give a damn who he is.
The complaints of ex-MPs detailed in the Samara report go far beyond Question Period. One ex-parliamentarian said he profoundly regretted toeing the party line on an emotional issue — almost certainly same-sex marriage, although it’s not specified — and recalled colleagues weeping as they voted against their consciences. Another tells of being tasked, very early in his career, with delivering a speech on the mountain pine beetle infestation in British Columbia, which he knew absolutely nothing about, on 20 minutes’ notice.
One of the weaknesses of our system is that there are not stronger supports for MPs voting freely rather than following the direction of the party whips. The constituents are not being represented if their MP is not allowed to vote in line with their preferences but instead has to subordinate their concerns to that of the party. SSM and the long gun registry are recent examples where the outcome was dictated by party leaders refusing to allow their MPs to vote freely.
It’s good that MPs recognize, at least in hindsight, that partisanship fries their brains and makes them act like monkeys. But hindsight isn’t good enough. Unless MPs grow some … uh, courage, when it actually matters — refusing orders to act foolishly or speechify on subjects they know nothing about, or to waste hours filling chairs on “house duty” when they could be out doing something useful, or to vote against their own or their constituents’ beliefs — this is never going to change.