By Louise Cockram (guest opinion)
© Canadian Press photo
Alberta Premier Alison Redford announces her resignation in Edmonton on March 19. Redford had been struggling to deal with unrest in her Progressive Conservative caucus over her leadership style and questionable expenses.
If Alberta premier Alison Redford’s resignation tells us anything, it’s that the Westminster system works.
The ability of government backbench members to oust their leader is a vital accountability mechanism; a vigilant caucus can remove a premier or opposition leader who is ineffective or unresponsive to public opinion.
While Redford gained a majority in the last election, some aspects of her behavior were questionable and public opinion polls held her in low esteem. Redford’s caucus had legitimate reasons for desiring her removal, in particular her lavish personal spending and her apparent inability to compromise with her more conservative party members.
In response to Redford’s departure, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi gave a speech in which he criticized Redford’s ousting. The central theme of his speech was that the leadership trigger prevents “good people” from going into politics.
Nenshi’s argument rested on the idea that the possibility of being removed from office in the middle of their term might be a deterrent for worthy individuals to run as candidates.
We can probably assume that by “good people,” Nenshi meant involved and experienced community members. However no one, no matter how “worthy”, has the right to be exempt from a leadership review.
What happened to Redford reflects the rules of the political game in which accountability is a central feature. Many of the things Nenshi complained about in Redford’s situation (a rowdy backbench, her removal as leader) are actually sorely lacking at the federal level. Consider the prorogation crises, the passage of massive omnibus budget bills, the recent “fair” Elections Act that is being raced through parliament. These are just a few examples of where a vigilant backbench and the threat of a leadership review might have caused the current prime minister to think twice about his behavior.
Yes, it’s vital to attract political candidates who are involved in their communities but those same people must also be subject to existing political accountability mechanisms. Few would deny the importance of elections in our system of parliamentary democracy. How this system works between elections to ensure that leaders are in touch with the public and behave well is a little less clear — that’s why elected caucuses have the option of a leadership review.
Louise Cockram is a former P.E.I. resident and a recent master’s graduate from the Dalhousie political science department. She is involved in projects to strengthen parliamentary democracy in Nova Scotia.