Once, Stephen Harper promised: "We will increase the powers of members of Parliament"

In the 2004 general election, the then brand new Conservative Party of Canada promised Canadians:

We will increase the power of individual Members of Parliament

The Plan :

  • A Conservative government led by Stephen Harper will make all votes, except the budget and main estimates, “free votes” for ordinary Members of Parliament.
  • A Conservative government will allow Parliament to review and ratify important appointments, such as Officers of Parliament, Supreme Court Justices, and heads of major Crown corporations and agencies.
  • A Conservative government will increase the power of Parliament and Parliamentary Committees to review the spending estimates of Departments and hold Ministers to account.

The Conservatives lost in 2004 but held Paul Martin’s Liberals to a minority and then forced an election in late 2005. Voters went to the polls in early 2006. The Conservatives made the following commitments in its 2006 platform:

A better democracy

Canada is a democracy, yet our democratic system has not kept pace with the needs of a changing society. Paul Martin used to talk about a democratic deficit, but his actions as Prime Minister have deepened it. A new Conservative government will be committed to significant democratic reform of our Parliamentary and electoral institutions.

The plan

A Conservative government will:

  • Make all votes in Parliament, except the budget and main estimates, “free votes” for ordinary Members of Parliament.
  • Increase the power of Parliament and parliamentary committees to review the spending estimates of departments and hold ministers to account.

A Conservative government will:

  • Ensure that all Officers of Parliament are appointed through consultation with all parties in the House of Commons and confirmed through a secret ballot of all Members of Parliament, not just named by the Prime Minister. This appointment process will cover:
    • The Ethics Commissioner
    • The Auditor General
    • The Chief Electoral Officer
    • The Information Commissioner
    • The Privacy Commissioner
    • The Registrar of Lobbyists

The Conservatives won a minority in 2006 but did not honour its commitment about “free votes” nor would it provide for secret ballots on officers of Parliament. Prime Minister Stephen Harper called an election in 2008. The 2008 Conservative platform made no commitments that would have changed the relationship between members of Parliament and the Prime Minister. There was nothing about free votes or free votes for officers of Parliament.  Nothing in the platform at all, in fact, about democratic reform, not even the old chestnuts about electing the Senate.

The Conservatives won another, slightly stronger minority in 2008. In 2011, though, the Conservatives lost a confidence vote on the budget and presented themselves once again to the Canadian electorate. This time, there was a section about democratic reform. It opened this way:



Before Stephen Harper became Prime Minister, Canadians had lost faith in the integrity of their government.

Waste, mismanagement, and corruption were rampant on the inside. And regular Canadians – people who work hard, pay their taxes, and play by the rules – were left on the outside.

In the election in 2006, Canadians voted for change — to end corruption and restore accountability in Ottawa.

Stephen Harper’s government has lived up to that mandate.

Conservatives are in public life to serve our fellow Canadians, and we are committed to providing the principled, accountable government that our great country deserves.

The platform then made commitments on Senate Reform, adding more seats in the House of Commons to faster-growing regions of the country, First Nations financial transparency, ending subsidies for political parties and an “open government’ initiative.

There was nothing though about free votes for MPs or doing more to help MPs keep an eye on ministers. The Conservatives would win a majority in 2011 and have promised to fulfill the their commitments on Senate reform; have added more seats to faster growing regions; have instituted First Nations financial transparency; have ended subsidies for political parties and have begun an open government initiative.

But somewhere along the way, they lost Brent Rathgeber.


One thought on “Once, Stephen Harper promised: "We will increase the powers of members of Parliament"”

  1. A couple of points on those promises, which some critics claim have not been kept.

    • I believe Conservative MP Chris Alexander’s assertion today on Power & Politics that the Conservative Party has allowed more free votes than any other party. This article http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/conservative-mps-break-ranks-more-often-than-opposition/article8156279/ confirms that assertion.

    • Appointments, by and large, have been approved by select committees comprised of opposition members or done in consultation with the opposition. For example, Supreme Court Justices have been appointed through a parliamentary review process, introduced in 2006.
    The Chief Electoral Officer too was appointed in consultation with the opposition parties. http://www.pm.gc.ca/eng/media.asp?id=1529
    I’m sure that other officers have also been appointed after consultation with the opposition.

    • The Senate, much in the news and pointed to as peopled by “bagmen” and “party hacks”, has seen only two elected senators appointed to that Chamber, both appointed by Conservative PMs. If the provinces are unwilling to provide elected candidates for consideration, then the PM understandably fills the vacancy with whomever he deems fit. Sometimes those nominees turn out to be good choices, sometimes not. I’m sure all bosses have made similar mistakes in hiring their employees.

    BTW, in looking through some of my “archives” I happened upon this 2011 Ottawa Citizen article (unfortunately the link is no longer active)
    “Liberals the top five spending senators in 2011
    By Robert Hiltz, Postmedia News November 25, 2011
    OTTAWA — Two Liberal senators are at the top of the spending list in the upper chamber for the first half of 2011 — and most of the cost is because of travel.

    According to Senate spending reports, Senators Vivienne Poy and Terry Mercer each spent over $90,000 on travel between March and August this year — more than triple the average of about $30,000 per senator. …”

    Funny how the focus was shifted to Conservative senators, who did not even figure in that article as being “top spenders”.

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