Baker, Tomkins, Breckenridge

In recent blogs I’ve praised Dennis Baker’s argument for the cooperation of legislative and judicial branches in a process of coordinate constitutional interpretation (Not Quite Supreme, The Courts and Coordinate Constitutional Interpretation (McGill Queen’s University Press, 2009). But there’s a question.

Is today’s hidebound Parliament in a position to take part in the coordinate game? Don’t we need a feistier House of Commons?

If your thoughts are turning to the proposals for parliamentary reform suggested in Adam Tomkins’ Our Republican Constitution, read George Breckenridge’s short review in a recent letter:


As a result of your reminder I have now read Our Republican Constitution. Fascinating. His critique of legal constitutionalism seems unanswerable and his historical account certainly conforms to what I understand. His argument for republicanism is mostly unobjectionable but he doesn’t pursue the equality principle which raises some obvious problems.

His section on Parliamentary Government Today is excellent. His Worst-Case Diagnosis (125-6) is an excellent description of how Ottawa works at present, while the following pages on Reassessing the Parliamentary Record (126-30) are an excellent short summary of the ways in which the British parliament has come, over the last forty years, to function much better than ours. The frequency of backbench revolts has increased since the early 1970s and the increased independence of the committees from the 1980s.

When it comes to his recommendations for change, however, he shows himself to be a lawyer and not a political scientist. No political scientist would so cavalierly advocate the abolition of political parties. He has obviously no idea of the implications, even if it were possible. One can certainly argue that party discipline is much too tight in Ottawa. Central control of the nomination process is the problem, which does not exist in the UK. And while replacing many prerogative powers with statutory powers would be good, I don’t think you can ever abolish executive prerogative completely. Likewise abolition of the Crown creates problems of which he seems unaware. Apparently he would rely on the Speaker of the House to keepgovernments in check.

Still, a very stimulating argument. George


1 Response to “Baker, Tomkins, Breckenridge”

  1. 1 pneu hiver October 15, 2013 at 5:34 pm

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