Politics: A Lack of Showboating
The Conservatives decided, en masse, not to vote on the Federal Budget. It was an astounding coincidence, given Harpers repeated promise that the members of his party could "vote with their consience" in the House. Unless, of course, voting for or against social laws or programs is to be an open vote, but voting for or against the ability to implement any social laws or programs is not to be considered for an open vote. With them stepping out of the way, both the NDP and BQ could do some "block" voting themselves, showing how tough they were without the risk of triggering another election. The Cons would have been blamed for it, losing them a little popularity with the easily annoyed, the Bloc would have been happy to screw the Feds (of whatever party), and the NDP have nothing to lose.
Interesting thing with the Cons sitting on their hands for the budget vote: Harper said he loved the budget on February 23, saying it had a lot of "Conservative priorities" contained therein. But as an appeasement to the easily deluded, they wanted to maintain the appearance of being opposed, while not actually letting any of his party members vote against it.
Of course, with all the little back and forth with votes leading up to the budget (including this amusung psyche-out by Gilles Duceppe), posturing is the practice of the time. Personally, I consider the budget "good enough", in that while it didn't do everything I would have liked (and did a couple things I'm not terribly fond of), it dosn't do too much damage. Pretty typical of a minority government budget. Most of it being back-loaded is also hardly a surprise: "We have to be here in five years to make sure this happens!" The Libs are going after the military vote with that extra $12.8 billion, hoping to drain them from the Conservatives; and after the social left with the (rather clumsy) $700 million for the provinces to set up day care services.
Now, I do like both of these changes, but good lord I can see why the provinces wouldn't be pleased with the Day Care bonus! There are absoloutely no plans in place for anything of the sort, and $700 million is not going to cover the cost of start up. Perhaps more on that later. I'm not too happy with the continuing decrease in corporate tax rates in addition to the elimination of corporate surtax: the surtax can go, but the corporate tax rates are already far below those in the US, so if it was going to be a draw for businesses moving North, they already would have.
What's got my interest right now is the concept of free votes in parliament. This sounds like a fine idea, and support for it would seem obvious, right? Seriously, who could be opposed to a very direct Democracy, the votes of those representing their constituents...
I think we begin to see the problem. The constituents usually vote on the basis of two factors: the party, and the individual. Or a negative vote, trying to keep "those bastards" from getting in, but let's put that aside for now. When the voter is a little savvy, they will be paying attention to what the potential MP or MLA is promising to deliver. If, on the other hand, the voter tends towards party lines, then they could well end up with someone who is from the party they say they support, but actually has quite different ideals. A classic example is someone who supports the Liberals federally, and thought that the Liberals of British Columbia were the same. Well, their mistake.
At its most extreme, you end up with the so-called "Southern Democrats" in the US. The big break happened during Johnsons presidency, when Johnson succeeded Kennedy and pushed hard for civil rights, pissing off a lot of the racist white south. Accordingly, many Democrats openly declared themselves opposed to Johnson, but as the Republicans were already there, they decided to oppose him from within his own party. It was, to them, the only choice if they wanted another Democrat in the white house. Years later, you end up with this freak being a keynote speaker at the Republican convention, despite being (theoretically) a Democrat.
So is it actually better to have a completely free voting parliment, or more reliablw party-line voting? In Canada it is perhaps slightly less noticable, as there are more viable political parties available with four on the left (centrist, far, french and whoa!) and one (for now) on the right; but many MPs would argue that they should be allowed to vote however they want on whatever issues arise. Fair enough.
I think the best use of the Whip is this: keep track of what got each MP elected. If they didn't campaign particularly hard, then they got in on the party ticket, and have to vote along party lines. If, on the other hand, they promised the electorate that they would behave in very specific ways, then they should be beholden to those promises.
Or else another whip could be used...