Conservative backbencher Brent Rathgeber made a very important, but usually overlooked point in his blog last week. In the context of a current debate regarding the office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer, Brent reminded his readers of distinctions that should've been embedded in our collective minds from our high school civics classes, but today seem to be generally forgotten.
I understand that Members of Parliament, who are not members of the executive, sometimes think of themselves as part of the government; we are not. Under our system of Responsible Government, the Executive is responsible and accountable to the Legislature. The latter holds the former to account. A disservice is provided to both when Parliament forgets to hold the Cabinet to account.
Parliament was established in 1236 and King John had to submit his request for increased taxes to it. But the Budgetary process is much more complex almost 800 years later. As a Member of Parliament, I simply lack the resources and expertise to adequately fulfill the role of providing budgetary oversight.
Accordingly, Members of Parliament need the expertise and resources of an office like the PBO to properly scrutinize how the executive spends the taxes Parliament provides it . . .
Responsible government includes distinct roles and clear lines between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. Each has a job to do and our system works best when there is respect and space given for each to do their job, without interference from the others.
Last week, the Globe and Mail ran a series on regarding how to make Parliament relevant again, with lots of practical suggestions offered by prominent Canadians as to how this institution of the people could be made to work better. Many of the suggestions, including those made by Gloria Galloway, tried to remedy our various practices which concentrate power in the hands of the party and the party leader rather than distributing it to elected members.
Ideally, Parliament ought to be a place where the broad diversity of opinions shared in the public are expressed through elected representatives. Most of us intuitively understand and know when our opinions are minority ones and consequently, don't make their way into public policy. Even so, there is something about hearing your point of view reflected in the public debates that affirms the importance of your participation and helps in the process of acquiescing to a public policy with which you profoundly disagree.
Today's reality reduces the public discussion in our legislature to the rehearsing of the scripted talking points of the major parties, meaning that we are subjected to perennial marketing campaigns from all of the parties as opposed to genuine dialogue. This diminishes the relevance of Parliament, and contributes to the disengagement of voters. Even committed partisans tire of never-ending marketing campaigns and those who aren't quite as partisan find themselves insulted—and further disengaged.
There is no simple solution, and all of the suggestions raised by the Globe last week have merit and deserve discussion, but at a most fundamental level, addressing our democratic deficit starts with the most elementary of principles which we all learned way back in Grade 9—the different roles and responsibilities of the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government.