More on Adam Tomkins

In Our Republican Constitution (Hart Publishing, 2005), Adam Tomkins argues that parliamentary systems were originally designed to check the exercise of executive power by pitting representatives in the House of the Commons collectively against Ministers of the Crown. That’s Parliament’s original mechanism, so to speak, a seventeenth-century device supremely designed to protect life, liberty and property. See the blog of February 11, “Rights and a Loose-Fish Legislature.”

Tomkins goes further. He contends that today’s parliamentarians would do a better job of protecting rights if they were less hampered by party affiliation. The old device is still available, he suggests. It could still be put to use.

Well, Tomkins has got me thinking. It’s certainly true that parliamentarians revert to the older perspective on occasion. Individual members “cross the floor.” All party parliamentary committees sometimes hang together and collectively criticize Cabinet. Nothing wrong there.

But what I really think is that today’s contestation of parties in the electoral and parliamentary arenas offers adequate and perhaps superior security for rights. If we weren’t so pestered by interference from the courts, we’d do as well today with the contestation of parties as the Englishmen of former days did with the contestation of Executive and Commons. I’ll put together my thoughts in a future blog.

Meanwhile: pick up any issue of the Canadian Parliamentary Review. The journal is addressed primarily to parliamentarians and most of its contributors are members of the federal or provincial legislatures. But articles are not written from a party perspective. In the issue I’m holding (Autumn, 2008) the first piece is by the Hon. Bill Blaikie, MP. The identifying note under his name reads: “At the time this article was written Bill Blaikie was the Member of Parliament for Elmwood-Transcona (Manitoba), and Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons. He was also the Dean of the House of Commons having been first elected in 1979. He was not a candidate in the October 14, 2008 election.” Of course one often knows a contributor’s affiliation. One knows Bill Blaikie’s. The fact remains that when he writes for the Review, Mr. Blaikie is thinking about Parliament’s institutions and Parliament’s collective effectiveness, and not about his party. His thoughts are running in the seventeenth-century mode.

Another organization that encourages members of Parliament to think of their role from a non-partisan perspective is the Canadian Study of Parliament Group. Academics and parliamentarians contribute. The CSPG holds seminars, and conferences and supports research competitions.

1 Response to “More on Adam Tomkins”

  1. 1 Toral March 2, 2009 at 11:15 am

    MPs/MPPs increase their power by organizing into parties. At least potentially. They increase their chance that adherents of their political philosophy will exercise power. They increase their chance of becoming leaders or ministers themselves (accepting the downside, their increased chance of becoming mindless-supporter backbenchers who must surrender their independence of public speech).

    How does Tomkins propose preventing paliamentary parties from forming?

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