Thursday, April 15, 2010

Why private members business matters

This morning, Ron Bruinooge is holding a press conference about some private members bill he is introducing in regards to what he calls 'coerced abortion.' I'll say nothing on the merits of the bill, other than that Coyne's Contradiction must be noted here.*

That is an aside. The main point is that Bruinooge is introducing a private members bill, which he will no doubt use to raise funds for his next election. Opponents of restrictions on abortion will similarly trumpet this. The media will ask whether Bruinooge has any chance with this bill. The truth is, he does. He sits 79th on the list of consideration. This means 78 members get a crack at introducing bills which will be debated and will actually have a chance at passage. (It's a rather good chance, actually, and nothing like popular account suggest). So, he has some wait before his time. But, as it happens, we're now at that moment. Only James Rajotte sits ahead of Bruinooge on the list. So, this is going to come up for debate, it will be voted on for second reading, and will then possibly be referred to committee. If it makes it through committee, it will be voted on again by the entire house.

This is also a time for me to highlight the importance of this legislation generally. Private members business matters for at least three reasons:

First, it demonstrates that party discipline is not as strict as we like to think. Members regularly introduce legislation which their party leadership would rather they not.

Second, private members business matters for reelection, at least for government members. I have a paper with Koop and Fowler (recently rejected from a top science journal, if you need to know), that shows that the right to propose legislation is worth about 2.5 percentage points to members of the governing party. Ask Rahim Jaffer if he'd take that 2.5 points now!

Third, government members routinely use private members legislation to propose bills of national interest, and to push forward preferred policies. Kelly Blidook has shown, in a rather convincing fashion, that this matters for policy outputs. In a short, overly chatty piece, Koop and I extend this line of thinking.

In short, private members business gives representatives a small sliver of time in which to be legislators. It tells us about their preferences, and it allows them to lobby for the wishes of their constituents. This is what politics are about. Members should be praised when they make the most of these opportunities.

*Coyne's Contradiction goes something like this: we have no law in Canada on abortion, despite the fact that we heavily regulate almost every other aspect of health care. Some will say there is no need for a law, because there is a consensus. If there is a consensus, this should be easily put into law in the Commons. Some of those same people will then say that this cannot be debated in the Commons, because it is too contentious. If it is contentious, there is likely no consensus. If there is no consensus, then how else do we deal with this? Well, it is the stuff of politics and it should be dealt with by our politicians. I note that politicians have shown sufficient courage to deal with other issues of fundamental rights in the Commons, with same sex marriage being but the latest example.

1 comment:

Loren said...

Thanks for this analysis. I learned something. Could you link to Coyne's thoughts? keep it up man.