Party solidarity and cohesion have always been an integral part of the Westminster Parliamentry system. The leaders of the political parties of the Canadian House of Commons , with the assistance of ‘whips’, very strongly discipline their party members to vote on issues as a single entity, especially in plenary sessions (Olson, 2003). Although, some degree of party discipline is essential for any political party to maintain their power as they require the confidence of the majority of the legislative branch of the government, this practice does not really reflect a democracy.
This paper argues that implememnting a large extent of party discipline undermines the spirit of democracy as the politicians become more concerned with appeasing their party leaders for their personal benefits, instead of truly representing the desires and demands of the citizens of their respective constituencies. As mentioned previously, it is argued that strict party discipline is necessary to ensure that the current governnig party maintains its power since a vote of non confidence in the House of Commons can ultimately lead to federal re-election, or re-appointment of the prime minister.
However, as Kilgour et al. rgue in Crosscurrents: Contemporaty Political Issues (2013: 205), enforcing strict cohesion strategies to ensure party unity leads to members of Parliament to become extreamly passive as they no longer think for themselves, but merely conform to the demands of their party leaders. Their opinions and thoughts are constrsained by a fear of a loss of majority in the House Of Commons. It is very crucial for any political party to value and respect the opinions of its members to assess a situation more closely and obtain diverse opinions. However, strong party discipline stifles the values and opinions of individual members of party.
Consequently, this diversity of imagination is replaced by a single unit of party that reflects a single, rigid opinion on most issues. This devalues the sense of liberty and freedom that is cherished by democracy. Often times, it is observed that the members of a party vote in a similar fashion, not just to ensure a majority confidence motion, but also to derive personal gains. If a member of parliament wishes to advance their political career and gain quicker promotions, he or she muct act according to the command of their party leaders (Kam, 2006).
Expression of dissent from the MPs can have dire consequences for their career. They can be warned about the lack of financial support, or even be ultimately expelled from the party caucus. Kam (2006) also suggested that the promotion of ministers is greatly manipulated by the prime minister to ensure maximum conformation to the party’s position. Sometimes, certain ministers of parliament are deliberately brought into the cabinet as it is too dangerous to leave them as a backbencher (a member of House of Commons) where they can openly challenge and vote against the position of the leader of the political party.
This suggests that the deliberate promotion, or demotion, ministers of parliament is not due to their, merits or demerits, but is rather strategically devised to overall benefit the party. In addition, the vote of the members of the House of Commons not only does not represent the opinions of individual ministers, but also it not a representation of a member’s unyielding and unconditional loyalty to his or her party.
Rather, it is a conscious decision to vote according to the wishes of the party leader to maintain the imge of conformity and ensure personal gains and benefits for the members of parliament, which would reward in the form of more opportunities to ascend the political ladder and make personal and professional gains that do not particularly benefit the citizens of the consituency that elected the member of parliament. It is unquestionable that voting in the Canadian House of Common is extremely disciplined and very highly regulated by emloying various methods.
The study of the patterns of recorded votes shows that majority of votes show almost no dissent from the party members. Also, rejection of major government motions due to dissent of the members of the House of Commons is extremely rare (Malloy, 2003). Canada operates on a system of majoritarian parliamentary government. Cohesion of political parties is very essential to maintain a majority rule by ensuring that vote of non confidence is not ever issued (Kam, 2001).
Due to this constant threat of the possibility of loss of majority and formation of a coalition, political parties are very strongly disciplined by their leaders. A coalition governmet is not necessarily always detremental. It can help to foster more cooperation in different political parties and compel the members of a party to consider the opinions and views that are different from the ideology shared by their party. It also provides an opportunity for a greater debate and consideration before arriving at a common decision.
Maintaining strong party discipline just to eliminate the possibility of the formation of a coalitions limits the possibilities for political experimentation and possible positive growth. The change is not just welcomed, but also deliberately resisted using the traditional practice of oppressive party discipline. The members of parliament are elected by, and are required to respresent the citizens of their respective constituencies.
The common vision shared by their party and party leader may or may not reflect the wishes of the citizens. The first and foremost duty of an MP is to cater to the needs and the demands of the citizens who democratically elected him or her. The loyalty to one’s party should be a secondary priority. However, as observed, most times, this is not the case. This severely debilitates the sole purpose of a democratic government which demands the citizens’ voice and opinions to be heard above all others.
Although some degree of party discipline may be required to control and maintain cohesion within the House of Commons to propose policies and arrive at a firm decision, it does not really encompass democratic ideas. Party discipline compells the members of a party to not pay heed to the needs of the citizens, but to blindly follow the demands made by their party leaders.
This practice is also morally questionable as the political success of ministers of parliament is largely based on their loyalty to the party’s alues, even if they contradict his/ her personal opinions. Instead of being constantly threatened by the possiblity of losing the confidence of the majority of the House of Commons, fundamental changes need to be made to change the Westmister Parliamentry structure to alter, if not eliminate, this system that makes it almost mandatory for the parties to implement rigid party discipline. Limiting the extent of the party discipline would help to make the Canadian government more democratic by accomodating more diverse ideas and opinions.