Saturday, May 21, 2005

 

Did Cadman Really Do His Duty?

It goes without saying that no decent person can be insensitive to Chuck Cadman's personal circumstances. However, it was entirely his decision to serve his constituents and his country, and in so doing, acknowledge and accept the burden of responsibility that is incumbent on each member of Parliament.
He must surely have realized, given the results of last year's election, that his vote might one day be crucial. And of course that became clearly evident weeks before the vote was taken. His time leading up to the vote would have been best spent researching the merits of the budget and consulting with the various parties to ensure that his decision was the better one, not only for him, not only for his constituents but also for every Canadian. Instead he apparently chose to restrict his concerns to whether or not a few hundred of his constituents were in favour of having a summer election.
Prior to the vote, I had great sympathy for him. I still do. I don't really take issue with the fact that he voted for the budget rather than against it. But when he came to Parliament to cast what arguably could be called one of the most important votes in Canadian history, wearing jeans and chewing gum and casually announcing that he had only made up his mind 30 minutes before the vote (as if that made it somehow more meaningful), I realized that he was no different than so many of his colleagues, who are putting in time for a gold-plated pension and convincing themselves that they have earned it.

Today's editorial in the Montreal Gazette makes this point very well.

Did Cadman Really Do His Duty? - The Gazette - Saturday, May 21, 2005



Few analysts of the Parliamentary Grey Cup game we all watched Thursday have recognized this central and surprising truth: The minority Liberal government survived the confidence vote because about 100 residents of the Vancouver suburb of Surrey did not want their summer holiday plans disrupted.
The logic is inescapable. Surrey North MP Chuck Cadman, who entered politics as a Reformer with a special interest in victims' rights, voted with the Liberals and NDP on a big-spending budget amendment because two-thirds of 600 constituents polled said they did not want a summer election. "I have to represent the views of my constituents," Cadman said, while conceding the complexities of the case.
As upright as this pronouncement sounds, it demands scrutiny. The bill being voted on was not a call for a summer election. It was an amendment adding $4.6 billion in mortifyingly vague social spending to the federal budget, as demanded by NDP leader Jack Layton in exchange for his party's support of the Liberals. How could a responsible consultation by Cadman of his Surrey constituents omit the very substance of the bill in question?
But there is a larger issue here, related to the nature of parliamentary representation. Members are elected to represent their constituents, but also to exercise their own judgment. Edmund Burke gave the classic expression of this principle in a speech to his Bristol constituents that is as valid today as it was in 1774.
"Their wishes ought to have great weight with him," Burke said of the relationship of voters with their member of parliament, "their opinion, high respect; their business, unremitted attention."
"... But his unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion."
Representation is a rich subject, much bandied about these days as governments weigh the advantages of electoral reform. Hive voting has made the House of Commons a dull and unresponsive chamber, much inferior as a legislative crucible to its counterpart in Britain and to the U.S. Congress, where individual representatives can and do vote against their parties fairly frequently.
Our three independent MPs have had a tonic effect on Canadian politics and given us a taste of free thinking. Some perhaps view Cadman as a hero for preserving the government on Thursday. But whether his vote on Bill C-48 was right or wrong, one thing is certain: He cast it for the wrong reason.


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