Monday, December 13, 2004

Of Referenda and Free Votes

The big Canadian news that accompanied my return to Canada, along with the latest offer by the NHLPA, was the Supreme Court's deft judgment on the issue of Same-Sex marriage. An unsurprising decision, but also one that shows the Court's acute awareness of the political implications of its actions. It still seems as though the deal is sealed, and yet you have Opposition Leader Stephen Harper claiming a tremendous victory for those who wanted Parliament to be at the center of the decision. So now as we wait for the legislation and the vote, I would like to register one complaint. It is hearthening to see the Prime Minister rule out the possibility of a divisive and unproductive/time-consuming national referendum, and I am also pleased that it will be a free vote for Backbench Liberals and Parliamentary Secretaries. Under such circumstances, proponents of same-sex marriage have nothing to fear from a vote, as it is likely to pass comfortably by a margin of 20-25. So why must Paul "Democratic Deficit" Martin insist that the 38 members of Cabinet toe the line? There is hardly a danger of the Bill losing - with only 1 or 2 Ministers prone to vote against the measure. The issue itself is one that has long been regarded as one of "conscience" that arises most rarely. Why give the opposition something so easy to latch on to, I wonder? My Canadian political history is not what it should be, so perhaps Martin has his reasons for whipping the Cabinet. But I remain unconvinced. Let the free vote be truly free on the day of this historic victory for minority rights in Canada.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's a parliamentary convention. The Cabinet as members of the Privy Council are advisors to the government/crown. Once it is a free cabinet vote they can possibily become opponents. I think cabinet ministers are free - free to resign if the Council comes to a decision they can't stomach.

Mike McN

December 14, 2004 at 9:19 AM  
Blogger James MacDuff said...

Thanks Mike, though I am still not wholly convinced... I do think that breaking with such an established convention would actually be even more symbolic, and fitting for the issue at hand. I see that Cabinet is ultimately "free" to break ranks - just as those teary-eyed backbench Libs who voted with the government on the Hepatitus C vote a few years back were "free" to vote their true beliefs. Would not a true no-consequences-if-you-disagree position have been a more powerful way to sell the ultimate result?

But then again, conventions are conventions... And Martin and Cotler should be applauded for moving forward quickly.

December 14, 2004 at 11:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I see your point - I just don't think its right for a minister to be both advisor and opponent to the Crown/Govt/PM

December 14, 2004 at 12:18 PM  
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