Downsizing of the political class
New Brunswick's government this week announced an austerity measure that we don't see that often -- a proposal to cut the number of members in the Legislative Assembly. Here's the excerpt of the new Throne Speech from Premier David Alward's Conservative government:
Furthermore, in these times of spending restraint and operational review, the members of this House should not be considered exempt. In the last session, members voted to reduce the cost of MLA pensions. In this session, members will consider the question of representation in the Legislature. The number of electoral districts in our province will be reduced as part of the above amendments.
This bid to shrink the NB Legislature, by a Conservative government, follows right on the heels of the federal Liberals' "no-more-MPs-please" announcement last week. (Liberals say that Canada doesn't need the 30 new MPs that the Conservatives are proposing to put in place before the next election. Liberals would prefer that the current 308 seats be redistributed.)
So is this the beginning of a trend in Canada? In a way, it reminds me of the anti-politician dissent that started to find its voice back in the late 1980s with the signing of the Meech Lake accord. Meech came to be seen as the symbol of elite political accommodation, out of touch with the voting public in Canada.
Demographically, or even geographically, there are also echoes. Students of Canadian populist history will remember that the antagonism to Meech Lake was simmering at the grassroots and within the rank and file of the federal Liberal party right after it was signed in 1987, but the whole debate didn't break really into the open until New Brunswick elected a government intent on reopening the deal that fall.
At any rate, I think we could be seeing the front end of a debate that could get highly interesting in 2012.
If we're entering a nothing's-sacred realm of budget cuts, where everything from the CBC to health care is on the table, I bet the public could start to wonder why the country needs so many politicians.
And that would put Harper's Conservatives -- many of whom are old Reform Party members, including the PM himself -- in a not-so-familiar position of having to defend big government, as long as they stick to the plan to add 30 more MPs to the chamber.