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.”