Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday that “civil wars within parties are incredibly damaging because they signal to Canadians that we care more about ourselves than we do about them.” That’s hardly the truth and it likely isn’t what many Canadians wish to hear from a leader.
While it’s clear that members of the governing Liberal party had differing opinions on the appropriateness of the way Trudeau and his inner circle dealt with former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould about offering a deferred prosecution agreement to SNC-Lavalin, it is hard to argue that Wilson-Raybould didn’t believe she was acting in the national interest in raising her opposition. She was, after all, appointed to cabinet based on her legal knowledge and experience. While one can appreciate her ties to her party, politicians should be beholden to their constituents first.
It’s indeed easy to see why the Liberal caucus moved to expel Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott this week or why the provincial Progressive Conservatives took similar steps with Randy Hillier. Unified messaging is the key to highly managed party politics in this age and with digital media and the 24-hour news cycle, small disagreements can turn into major headaches in a hurry. Repeated scuffles can also be grating on morale and productivity.
That said, one would think the electorate should expect differences will occur within a cabinet and within a party caucus, especially given that they’re broad assemblies of well-qualified individuals. After all, voters don’t simply check their ballots blue, red, orange or green and buy a neat pre-packaged product. They still have an opportunity to select from different candidates, both from among those vying to represent a particular party viewpoint and from those carrying those parties’ banners. Sometimes, seeing a few more of those debates that have become increasingly internalized might give the general public a better appreciation of the workings of a government and how it comes to the policy decisions that impact so many.
If has often been argued that Canadians have to do too much with their votes. They’re not only looking for the best person to represent the interests of their own riding, but they’re also having to choose — sometimes reluctantly — to cast their ballots for a party they believe should form government or one they believe strategically can temper the balance of power from another. That’s not the way the system was originally intended. In these rare cases where politicians cross the floor or leave caucus, there are legitimate questions about whether the intentions of voters are being served by the new arrangements.
The notion of party politics will never go away and though some have promised to move away from the idea of block voting and party lines, there doesn’t seem to be much movement in that direction. If anything, disagreements are managed in-house and those that do find their way into the public realm often end predictably — with separations, but rarely large enough to rock the system.
In light of these recent examples, the time is right for Canadians to demand an examination of their electoral system and party apparatus to see if there’s a better and more transparent way to govern that brings discourse into the public eye, rather than behind closed caucus doors. Often, there’s not just the limited, polar opposite positions represented by the party apparatus and a little added flexibility could bring about better solutions for all involved.