Sunday, August 30, 2015

The secret platform

It never figured to take long for the Cons to start making up numbers for lack of any legitimate criticism of the NDP's platform - and Jason Kenney has charged into the breach. But it's worth noting the source of many of the supposedly-costed items, which consist of NDP MPs' committee reports.

To be clear, committee reports represent an important contribution in Parliament's governance of public policy. And what makes them stand out is that fact that they offer independent review by representatives tasked with assessing particular issues - who can then be expected to reach their own conclusions on the optimal solutions for those issues in a vacuum.

But because reports are necessarily focused on specific areas of review, they can't generally be taken as a statement of the decisions which a party might make in balancing competing priorities. And that's exactly where voters normally have reason to look to a party's platform as an integrated set of policy choices for the next term of office - and to ignore any attempt to let opposition parties treat committee reports as a substitute.

That said, there is one exception which is only highlighted by Kenney's stance.

It's well-known (and recently confirmed) that due to the meddling of Stephen Harper's PMO, Conservative caucus members - MPs and Senators alike - don't have the freedom to conduct independent reviews of legislation or policy choices that we'd expect from the rest of our parliamentarians. And so it's probably fair to treat the Cons' committee reports as reflecting Stephen Harper's judgment - a conclusion which is only reinforced by his right hand man in saying he consideres other parties' representatives' reports to be party policy.

That means that Harper is on the hook to answer for, say, the proposals from his Senate caucus to pursue government certification of imams, or to gut the CBC. And the opposition parties may want to take a far closer look at the Cons' committee reports as the campaign progresses - since no less a figure than Jason Kenney considers them to be part of his party's platform.

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