The caucus of the Liberal Party of Canada has officially expelled Jody Wilson-Raybould, former minister of Justice and attorney general, and Jane Philpott, former president of the Treasury Board. These one-time party stars have been forced from the governing party and won’t be allowed to run as Liberals in the upcoming federal election.
Wilson-Raybould says she feels abandoned and betrayed. She believes that, as a responsible attorney general, she was – in proceeding with the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin – attempting to “protect Prime Minister Justin Trudeau from a horrible mess.”
But these justifications fell on deaf ears. It was all too little, too late for Liberal MP Judy Sgro. And she was not alone – Toronto-area Liberal MP John McKay described Wilson-Raybould’s letter to caucus members as “same old, same old.”
At the end of the day, these former ministers were expelled for defending the principle of governing integrity; vanquished for not quietly towing the party line.
In executing this political assassination, the Liberal caucus has demonstrated again that it values blind obedience over principle and puts party before country.
Ironically, in the face of this and other obvious evidence to the contrary, the majority of Canadians still believe they live in a representative democracy.
Representative democracy is based upon the principle that members of Parliament are elected to represent the interests and values of their home constituency. It’s a ground-up representation model that ensures that government is of the people, by the people, for the people.
This system of governance has many champions, including the famous English philosopher and bedrock conservative Edmund Burke.
Burke believed that elected representatives should use judgment when in office, but their overriding duty was to communicate the wishes of the electorate. He said “it ought to be the happiness and glory of a representative to … sacrifice his repose, his pleasures, his satisfactions, to theirs; and above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own.”
But Canada is not, technically, a representative democracy. Legally it remains a monarchy, albeit a constitutional one. To disguise the real truth of power, our British Queen condescends that we have constituencies, conduct elections and send elected members to the House of Commons to represent local interests in the corridors of national power.
In spite of its foundational inconsistencies, the parliamentary system has been operating as a kind-of democracy for a long time. And it should, in practice (if not in principle), represent the people in government.
According to the Guide to the Canadian House of Commons, a member’s job “is to represent their constituents’ views by presenting petitions, making statements and asking questions in the House.”
The political realty is much less impressive. If an MP were to stand in the House and raise constituency interests that contradicted the party line, they’d be severely reprimanded. Political parties demand – and generally get – absolute loyalty from MPs.
In practise, members are ‘whipped’ into obedience. If they want to survive in the political jungle, they must represent the interests of party elites, not follow their consciences or champion the interests of their constituencies.
As in many other modern democracies, the rise of political parties – with their anti-democratic adherence to rigid top-down conformity – overwhelms Canada’s parliamentary system. Even the ideal of representative democracy has vanished, lost in the labyrinth of party discipline.
Regrettably for the Liberals, as election season draws ever nearer, the voices of the now-martyred Wilson-Raybould and an increasingly outraged Philpott can’t be silenced.
That will continue to haunt Trudeau and his party.
It would be convenient to blame Trudeau and his obvious inexperience. His mistakes and errors in judgment – now compounding exponentially – are not, however, the whole story.
The true cause of our national despair is much deeper and more detrimental to the integrity of our political system.
What this scandal has really exposed is the deep politicization of our supposedly independent judicial system and the rotten core of the party system. Political parties with their iron discipline are undermining the very fibre of representative democracy.
Don’t expect politicians to fix this. Only the electorate has the moral authority to demand proper representation.
Let’s do it.
Robert McGarvey is an economic historian and former managing director of Merlin Consulting, a London, U.K.-based consulting firm. Robert’s most recent book is Futuromics: A Guide to Thriving in Capitalism’s Third Wave.