Personal decisions being played out in the Legislative Assembly these past few days invite us to remember the origins of the party “caucus”.
The original reason for a “caucus” was so that the government (the Cabinet) would have friendly yet tough critics in the Assembly — people sympathetic to the work of the Cabinet without being tied to it; people whose influence after Government Bills were introduced would improve the legislation and save the government from major policy and/or public relations disasters. I was in the P.C. caucus from 1971 to 1986 and I contributed to – and assented to — a series of decisions that, in retrospect, were mistakes. We began the process of moving caucus too close to Cabinet, so that its friendly/critical role vis-à-vis government decisions was diminished – slightly at first and then severely, and then eliminated.
As important as the issue is, the positive contributions — being made by Raj Sherman and Ken Allred — to changing the process are equally important. No government needs unloving critics – an opposition which merely asks voters to “throw those scoundrels out and throw us in”. At the same time, no government is well served by uncritical lovers – syncophants. What any government (Cabinet) needs is loving critics, and that is what the government’s caucus should be. Caucus members, other than Cabinet Ministers, should be encouraged to express themselves as Ken Allred and Raj Sherman are trying to do.
The current debate is being conducted at the “11th hour”. I venture that it would never have come to this if members of the government caucus had felt free to dialogue with citizens much earlier. Solidarity is an interesting concept. More on solidarity, soon.