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Federal Election: does “honesty in Politics’ have an impact on the debate about “To Whip or Not to Whip votes”? PDF Print E-mail
Justice News
Posted by Joan Russow
Sunday, 04 October 2015 14:50

By Joan Russow

Global Compliance Research Project

On September 4, 2015, on the CBC program 'the 180", was the following  description of the interview with Duff Conacher from  Ottawa advocacy group, Democracy Watch. When I heard his description of what constitutes "honesty in Politics", I assumed that he is advocating the importance of elected representatives' abiding by their principles, policy and  platform.

Was this  honesty in politics?

When it is difficult to support a political Party is when elected members of the party take positions in opposition to its core values, and policy espoused in its platform . From 1997 to 2000, I was the leader of the Canadian Green Party which was presumed to share, with international Greens,  common values, one of which was non-violence and common policy against Trade agreements. Yet in 1999, when the Greens formed part of government in Germany, they supported the bombing of Yugoslavia. At meetings among Canadian, Mexican and US Greens, there was a common policy opposing NAFTA; yet in the 2000 election, the Mexican Greens formed a coalition government with the right wing PRI and supported NAFTA. Now in Canada the Green Party is willing to ignore its platform with its Green MP Bruce Hyer who left the NDP because he was against gun control; the Green Party platform does support gun control. Also he voted in favour of the bombing of Syria, which also would be considered to be inconsistence with a core principle of the Green Party


 I agree with the proposal that  Duff Conacher has made and believe that it is related to refusing  to whip the vote . I have often thought that the term 'whipping the vote" was somewhat misleading because i t is related primarily to requiring  elected members of a Party to abide by their commitments made in their platforms during the election.  

(The full interview is available in a pod cast from CBC Radio. The following is a summary from the  "the 180 " site.

"The following portions have been edited for length.)

First of all, during elections there would be a penalty and a complaints system for

violations of promises made. In between elections, there would be a complaint process

and penalty for people who are misleaders, instead of leaders -- that would apply to

everyone in politics: not just government and government officials, but also

the opposition, political staff, etcetera. And also a system to allow for switching

of parties between elections, but only for reasons that are justifiable, such as if the

party that someone is elected under violates all of their promises and therefore

has essentially abandoned the platform that the person ran on, but not for career

ambitions, to try and get in with a better party. Politicians have imposed honesty

requirements on all  sorts of Canadians: federal government employees are

required to be honest and can be fired if they're dishonest. Judges make the

decisions as to whether you've been dishonest or not and that's

what we think should happen, as well -- have an ethics commissioner or some

other specialized court... And then the penalty we propose is that you would be fined:

a  significant fine. If you mislead voters, break a promise and if you switch parties

for an unjustifiable reason between elections then you would be forced to resign

and run in a by-election. 

(https://www.cbc.ca/radio/ -1.3253030/opinion-punish-politicians-for-dishonesty-1.3253251) (https://www.cbc.ca/radio/ -1.3253030/opinion-punish-politicians-for-dishonesty-1.3253251)"

The issue of '"Whipping the vote" was raised  during the last BC election when a film,”Whipped” was released; .. The film interviewed forner  NDP, Liberal and Socred members who were critical of the process of whipping  the vote. The Green Party has indicated as a badge of honour that they do not whip the vote and does not require elected members at the provincial and Federal level to abide by their platform..

One of the reasons citizens become cynical about Party politics is when political parties espouse principles, craft policies and run on a platform, and then allow MPs to vote freely and ignore the commitments.

I attended the Victoria screening of Sean Holman’s film, “Whipped the Secret World of Party Discipline. Judging from the enthusiastic response of the audience for the film, this issue was getting a lot of traction during the BC provincial election. The film profiled former Liberal, Socred and NDP MLAs, who after, overtly disagreeing with the leader/Party, either resigned or were whipped.

 .The film addressed the issue of control by the leader of the Party and Party discipline and ignored the importance of adhering to the principles, policies and platform, which, for me, is the essence of a political Party.

It is incumbent upon each candidate in an election to know the party principles, policy and platform, and if he or she does not agree on essential principles, and the platform, he or she should run as an independent.  

When a candidate runs in the election there is the assumption that the candidate supports the Party principles commitments and platform.

When a candidate is elected there is also an assumption that when there is a vote that the elected MLA or MP will vote according to these commitments. The public would, however, probably accept cases where new evidence has emerged that would compel MLAs and MPs  to vote against the party principles and commitments.

After the screening, I had reservations about the non-conditional support for free votes and absolute opposition to whipping the vote. One of the reasons I had reservations was because of my experience as a former leader of the Green Party of Canada.

For example, one of the founding principles of the Green Party internationally was non-violence. I had to deal with what I understood to be a complete violation of this principle when a shadow cabinet member, in 1998, supported the no fly zone and bombing of Iraq, Would this not be a time to point out that a fundamental principle had been violated and to whip the vote?

Another example was when the German Greens as part of a coalition government, supported the NATO bombing of Kosovo. At this time, The German Green leader whipped the elected Green Party members and ignored the fundamental principle of non-violence. In this case the whipping was wrong because the whipping caused the party to violate a fundamental principle of the Party. For me this was a time to criticize the German Greens and point out the violation of the principle and ignore the notion of international Green Party solidarity.

Other international Green Party leaders supported the German Greens ‘position because the coalition government would have fallen. I eventually stepped down as leader and then left the Party.

Following the film there was a panel comprised of a former Liberal MLA cabinet minister George Abbott, a former Canadian Alliance/Conservative Candidate, Bruce Halisor and Sean Holman, the Film Maker. I asked whether the panel, did not believe that MLAs should be required to vote in support of the principle,policies and  platform when there is a matter of fundamental principle. I used the example that I had to face when I was the federal Leader of the Green Party of Canada. Bruce Hallisor’s response received extensive applause, when he stated `but before long everything becomes a matter of principle and then `whipped.

In the current Federal Election, the Green Party, in its platform, is in support of gun control but was prepared to accept a NDP member who crossed the floor because he was expected as a member of the NDP to vote in favour of gun control.

When, I was the leader of the Green Party of Canada, it was understood that if elected, a Green Party MP would vote according to the principles, policies and election platform of the Green Party. I wonder when and why it was changed




Last Updated on Tuesday, 10 September 2019 18:16

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