A couple of days ago I said that “Both Ms Wilson-Raybould and Dr Philpott have, for now, at least, remained in the Liberal caucus, where they I think belong … [because, back in 2015] … they signed on to the established Liberal programme, they campaigned as Liberals, they were, both, leaders within that great party and then they were betrayed by it.” I also said that “Leadership is, I believe, the real issue that is dividing the Liberal Party of Canada ~ it’s causing the civil war that John Ibbitson sees brewing in the caucus ~ and, I hope, it is also dividing Liberal Party members and supporters, too. The Liberals have good potential leaders in their caucus … [and] … More and more members of the Liberal caucus should choose to stand up, now, for Canada and for the future of the Liberal Party and, as Dr Philpott did, clearly express their lack of confidence in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.“
Now I see this, on social media, from respected Canadian political scientist Philippe Lagassé of Carleton University:
Professor Lagassé is, inter alia, an expert on the Westminster system of responsible government which, despite far, far too much Americanization, we still use … because it is, in most respects, superior to any other, including the representative system used by our great neighbour to the South. At the heart of our system is the notion that that the state (the Queen) is counselled by a Privy Council (the cabinet, in reality, although there are a lot of people who are privy councillors who are not in the current cabinet ~ we often, to be clear, refer to the cabinet as a “committee of the Queen’s Privy Council” or, more properly, referring to the Governor General as the Queen’s representative, as the “Governor in Council“). In reality the cabinet is the government and the leader of the government is, for now, in Canada, Justin Trudeau … he is the head of government and the Queen/Governor General is, by constitutional convention (a custom which is enshrined in law and cannot, easily, be amended and need not be written anywhere), bound to follow his advice in the exercise of her executive authority, because he commands the loyalty of enough MPs to give him the confidence of the House of Commons which, again by constitutional convention, gives him the right to be the main advisor (in reality decision maker) to the Queen. It’s an old system, with many twists and turns which makes it a bit harder to understand than the American model, which is pretty clear to the average middle school student, but it is also a revolutionary system because, at any time, the confidence that our elected members of parliament have in their leader (the prime minister) might be shaken and they might even withdraw their support and if that happens then, again by that über-powerful convention, the prime minister can no longer govern (effectively rule* the country on the Queen’s behalf) and we must have a new government, usually, but not necessarily always, after a general election.
Political parties fit neatly in the Westminster (and American) system of government; in fact the modern political parties, and the formal office of prime minister, emerged in Britain just after the Glorious Revolution (1688) when the liberal (and sometimes republican) Whigs faced off against the more conservative (and monarchist) Tories. Many people think that Sir Robert Walpole was, de facto, the first ever prime minister in the early 18th century and that he is, therefore the father of our modern parliamentary system.†
Anyway, back to the point … there are many, especially amongst Conservatives, who want Dr Jane Philpott and/or Ms Jody Wilson-Raybould to leave the Liberal caucus and cross the floor, as Ms Leona Alleslev did, and join the CPC caucus. I disagree. I think that having factions within a caucus can be a healthy thing … look at the really huge philosophical and moral gulf between, say, Brad Trost and Michelle Rempel in the Conservative Party; they were adamantly opposed to one another on several key, hot button issues, but they shared common views on several others. Parties, strong parties, are not monolithic ~ as Professor Lagassé says, just look at the British Tory party today: it is riven by dissent about Brexit but the party and the MPs are able to cope with and even welcome differences of opinion … that, diversity of views, is a strength; compare it with Justin Trudeau’s insistence on certain zero-tolerance positions:
That, I think, is, in some part, why the Liberal Party is in crisis: the prime minister enunciates and insists upon certain standards for his country, his party and most of his MPs, but then he insists upon double standards for himself and others. And it should not be surprising that many Liberals, who believe in the broad general principles for which the party stands, want to remain in the Liberal caucus, and to run, again, as Liberals but want a new party leader. If these good, decent, sincere Liberals want to remain as Liberals then the Conservative Party should not be asking them to cross the floor; good Conservatives should, instead, welcome (and encourage) the civil war which the Liberals might be facing.
On a personal note, I wish that no party actually welcomed floor crossers. I understand that an elected MP might lose faith in the party for which (s)he stood for office and under whose banner (s)he was elected; (s)he may be 100% right to decide that (s) can no longer support the leader or the platform … then (s)he should leave the caucus and sit as an independent or (s)he may remain in caucus and ferment rebellion. An MP who sits as an independent may, of course, vote according to how her/his conscience dictates, issue by issue. Consider Brad Trost, again, as an example. He is outspoken on more than one ‘hot button’ issue and he is (or was) embroiled in a serious dispute with the Party and he lost the nomination race for the next election, but he remains in the caucus, and leads the pro-life group in that caucus, presumably because he still supports enough Conservative (other) positions and considers that remaining as a CPC MP is the best way to represent his constituents. Each MP must make the choice about how to best represent the people of her/his constituency and, often, that means fighting for change from within.
Dr Philpott and Ms Wilson-Raybould might be, can be expelled from the Liberal caucus … but that, I think, would be a terrible strategic move for the Liberal Party to make. If Theresa May, in Westminster, can tolerate e.g. Boris Johnson i her caucus, and Andrew Scheer can accept Brad Trost in his then there is no reasons for Liberals to not accept Jane Philpott and Jody Wilson-Raybould in their caucus: they are good Liberals, at least as good as the party leader. They, and others, are trying to effect change from within the Liberal Party, that’s the best way: for the party and for Canada.
And, for that reason ~ they are good Liberals who are trying to reform the Liberal Party ~ the Conservatives should not invite or encourage them to cross the floor. If they decide to leave or are forced out of the Liberal caucus they can sit as independents and vote, issue-by-issue as their conscience dictates. That’s how the system should work.
* Theres an old adage which tries to simplify things; it says that the Queen (or king) reigns but parliament rules.
† I hold a slightly different view. I think that the convention of containing the power of the sovereign by controlling the right to tax is older ~ going all the way back to Anglo-Saxon England ~ and I think that the first ‘modern’ prime minister (although he never allowed that expression or anything like it to be used within his hearing) was Sir William Cecil (Lord Burley) who was Queen Elizabeth I’s Lord Treasurer. In fact the traditional title of the prime minister of the United Kingdom is First Lord of the Treasury and that is what the brass plaque on the door of No. 10 Downing Street says to this day.