Conservative “Party” is NOT the Conservative “Government!”

It seems obvious that many Canadian voters, as well as many Members of federal Parliament and their staffs confuse the boundaries between party and opposition or party and governing. In the case in point, “The Conservative Party of Canada” (CPC) is not the same as “The Conservative Government of Canada.” It is the Party that runs election campaigns and party officials, not the leader or the candidates, incumbent or not. And, once the people vote, the Party goes back to what it always does, staying in touch with its members, raising money for the next election campaign and arranging and paying for pre-writ advertising.

So, the “Government of Canada” is the political branch and involves all the Members of Parliament who have been elected and sit in the House of Commons. Some are opposition “Members,” with those who earned the second most seats in an election, the Official Opposition.  However, the party with the most elected seats has, at least traditionally, become the “governing” party and is in charge and sets the agenda — even in a minority parliament.

Meaning, that “the government” is also separate from the Public Service, although the Cabinet Minister in charge of his or her part of the public service becomes responsible for the hundreds, if not thousands, who work in his or her department or agency. I think one of the best blogger descriptions I have ever read of the differences between government and party was here

Anyway, it seems to be the lack of clear boundaries between the CPC and the Conservative government that has annoyed the opposition regarding the latest CPC ad showing the PM working hard in his “government” office. Personally, even knowing the boundaries are fuzzy, I loved that ad.  And, it is this issue that is behind the latest “gotcha” about a political staffer in “Minister Jason Kenney’s department” preparing an ad on Ministry letterhead — resulting in the staffer having to resign over the mis-step. Do I feel sorry for the staffer? Of course. But, they should have known better. 

In fact, when I worked for an Ontario MPP between 1995 and 1999, we were warned in many training sessions that there could be no brochures, signs, nothing whatsoever in the Legislative or Constituency offices related to the PC Party of Ontario. Nor, could there be meetings of the riding association or its executive. Nothing!  No one! Moreover, we also knew the RCMP could come into our office at any time to check for that type of political interference. The bottom line is that once an election is over, the elected member represents all voters, no matter whether they voted for them or not.

Yet, I can clearly remember local PC Party members coming in to the constituency office and wanting to put up a poster advertising a PC BBQ or other fundraising event. When we said we couldn’t do it, they would get very upset. Yet, that is the reality. A constituency or parliamentary office is quite separate from a campaign office. Taxpayers pay for the former, private donations pay for the latter.  When the writ is dropped and an election campaign begins, the candidate, particularly if an incumbent, MUST open a separate campaign office because nothing political can happen in their constituency office.

Strict? Yes. But that is the law and the difference between our system compared to others around the world. Fewer opportunities for corruption. And, why the Liberal Sponsorship Scandal is so much worse than anything in living memory. Not only were the party/government boundaries broken, for some, they didn’t seem to exist at all.   

So, would the media and progressive, liberal and even some conservative bloggers please stop inferring how the “In and Out” scheme reflects on the PM and transparency in his government? They are not related. Besides which the Conservatives were NOT in power during the 2005/2006 election campaign. The Liberal government of Paul Martin was in power.

My hope is, therefore, that this post (although a bit on the long side) will help people, no matter what their political preference may be, to understand the difference between the CPC and the Conservative Government 

Update: As Calgary Junkie says in a comment:

Somewhat related, I would also like to point out that Stephen Harper wears two hats–one as Prime Minister of the country, and the other as leader of the Conservative Party of Canada. What he says has to be taken in the context of which hat he is wearing at the time. One of the unfair criticisms the media sometimes makes is, for example, when he is giving a rousing partisan speech to members of the Conservative Party, the media will remark: is this any way for a Prime Minister to talk ?Well duh, he is not in a Prime Ministerial setting, and he is speaking to a partisan audience.”

Endnotes: There are many sources to describe Canada’s “party” system and its impact on “governing.” Check out this google page, for example,  as well as this one.

14 thoughts on “Conservative “Party” is NOT the Conservative “Government!”

  1. Somewhat related, I would also like to point out that Stephen Harper wears two hats–one as Prime Minister of the country, and the other as leader of the Conservative Party of Canada.

    What he says has to be taken in the context of which hat he is wearing at the time. One of the unfair criticisms the media sometimes makes is, for example, when he is giving a rousing partisan speech to members of the Conservative Party, the media will remark: is this any way for a Prime Minister to talk ?

    Well duh, he is not in a Prime Ministerial setting, and he is speaking to a partisan audience. Anyway, it’s just another challenge for us, as our opponents find the most negative way to spin whatever it is we do.

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  2. Thank you for writing this Sandy, and please don’t ever take it down.

    You did a terrific job clarifying this whole thing. I must admit I’ve been confused myself on occasion.

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  3. Yes Sandy, thank you this is a very comprehensive description of the separation of the two.

    Two points that I think are important to keep in mind (regardless of your political persuasions)

    1) We must be every vigilant of people crosses from one group to the other. I know the Liberals, did it, and I didn’t like it then either, but efforts should be made not to appoint party operatives to senior Government of Canada positions (i.e, campaign chairs or party fundraisers.

    2) We should never allow the “party” that has the most seats to use an individual or party name to replace the “Government of Canada”. So, official Government of Canada should NEVER use language like the “Harper Government” of the “Chretien Governement” or the “Martin Government”. Full stop, it should always be the Government of Canada.

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  4. John Baird was talking about this 8 page election ad put in The guardian newspaper in February by The Liberals and asking for donation money to be sent elsewhere…Why are they doing election ads when we arn’t in an election? Advertised here by CBC for The Liberal party

    http://www.allvoices.com/s/event-8191568/aHR0cDovL3d3dy5jYmMuY2EvY2FuYWRhL3ByaW5jZS1lZHdhcmQtaXNsYW5kL3N0b3J5LzIwMTEvMDIvMTQvcGVpLWxpYmVyYWwtY2FtcGFpZ24tYnJvY2h1cmUtbmV3c3BhcGVyLmh0bWw=

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  5. mdh — Thinking further on the matter, we are all responsible for calling the “government” by the PM or party’s name — usually for the sake of clarity. IMO, then, it is only a problem if a party does it officially. For example, when I am writing a post I will say “the former Liberal government or the former Chretien or Martin government, or even the “former Liberal government of Jean Chretien,” because they were the party and its leader at a particular time. Is it right? Probably not. But saying the “Conservative government” or the “Harper government” is not rewriting history.

    Now, if the rumours are true that the name “Harper Government” is going on official ministry or PMO letterhead, that “is” going to be a problem!

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  6. Ontario Girl — I will look into those links now. You are amazing! I looked all morning for a source and couldn’t find exactly what I was looking for. If you find one, I will put up a separate post with a H/T of course to you. You really ought to have your own blog!!!!

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  7. Ontario Girl — re “Liberal election ads.” As far as I know, they can do prewrit advertising. Whether they can actually write “vote for the Liberals” or something to that effect, I don’t know. I suppose it would be legal to say “vote for the Liberal Party candidate in the next federal election.” Beyond that, as long as the Liberal Party is doing it and not the Official Opposition Office, it would likely be okay. But, just as the PMO cannot mix their work with the CPC, the OLO can’t either!!!!

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  8. there is a good story now in the Globe about Jason Kenney: Minister of the Crown and it sounds like this would be the complete fault of the staffer. I’m not sure how to send you the link.

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