Editorial: Checks and Balances Should Ensure Accountability

April 2022 – Shuswap Scoop Editorial from MP Mel Arnold

Canada’s democratic system of government is based on the Westminster model developed in England and utilized by 35 nations around the world today.

The Westminster model is structured with checks and balances meant to ensure accountability of those holding power.  These include an executive branch (Prime Minister and Cabinet) made up of elected members of the legislature that is also accountable to the legislature. If members of the legislature (e.g. Members of Parliament) do not have confidence in the proposals of the executive branch, they can vote against them. Some votes, especially votes on budgetary measures, are confidence votes and if the executive branch loses the vote, a general election is usually triggered.

As a counterbalance to the executive branch, the Westminster model also requires parliamentary opposition parties to play an essential role in determining whether the government, as led by the executive branch, holds the confidence of the members elected by citizens.

On March 21, the Trudeau Liberals and federal NDP led by Jagmeet Singh announced their confidence-and-supply agreement that could allow Trudeau’s executive branch run the government until 2025 without the possibility of being defeated on a confidence vote, including budgetary measures.

Last year’s general election resulted in Trudeau winning a minority government with 159 seats, but his agreement with Singh has delivered Trudeau a de facto majority government with 184 votes to carry the Trudeau government through confidence votes. This level of secure power for a party is usually limited to an elected majority government holding at least 170 seats (a majority of the House of Commons’ 338 seats).

Since this secretly negotiated agreement was announced, Singh has repeatedly stated that his guaranteed support for Trudeau is appropriate because of what Trudeau promised him in return- a national dental care program. I recognize the potential of such a program to improve health and quality of life for Canadians lacking dental care and the savings for public health care systems when preventative dental care can decrease demands on health care systems.

However, regardless of how great the potential of a proposal may be, Canada’s Parliament exists for such proposals to be thoroughly examined in open debate before they are approved or defeated in rounds of votes. As tedious as this process may sound, this is Canada’s established democratic process for ensuring that proposals of any party are openly discussed, amended as needed, and transparent.

I am concerned that the Trudeau-Singh agreement sets an unhealthy precedent in which secretly negotiated proposals are forced through Parliament by the executive branch in exchange for guarantees from an opposition party that they will unequivocally support and preserve the executive branch.  Governments must be held accountable, and it is the responsibility of opposition parties to do so, but what happens when an opposition party hands the government a blank cheque?

As I represent the people of the North Okanagan-Shuswap in Parliament, I will continue to advocate for the needs and priorities of our region and do my upmost to press for accountable government.