Importance of Party Discipline

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The Importance of Party Discipline

Canada is one of the largest and most culturally diverse countries in the world. These characteristics make the democratic governing of the country a difficult task. A democratic model is needed that respects the fundamental rights and freedoms of various diverse cultures, and unites these cultures over a huge land mass as Canadians. To do this the Canadian government is one which is pluralist. Pluralism is the ideology that groups, (in Canada's case political parties), should rule in government. These parties help protect the fundamental rights and freedoms of everyone living in Canada, regardless of their ethnicity, or religious beliefs. The role political parties play in Canada is vital for maintaining democracy, and party discipline is what keeps these parties together. Party discipline is defined as, "the ability of the leader in a democratic state to enforce obedience on his or her followers in the legislature and in the party organization," (Jackson, Conlin). Simply put, party discipline is the principle that all members of a specific party follow similar guides and vote in the same way. This practice has received a lot of criticism from different people who believe that almost forcing members of parliament to vote in a particular way is a violation of their constitutional rights and degrades democracy. In reality however, party discipline is necessary if a pluralist parliamentary system like that of Canada is to work. Party discipline is an important practice in the Canadian political system because it forces elected members of parliament to make predictable and stable decisions and increases the overall efficiency of the democratic process. When politicians make decisions they follow guidelines set by their political party. Without these guidelines, and party whips to insure the practice of the guidelines, politicians would be free to vote whichever way they choose. This would mean that the justification as well as actual decision varies among individuals regardless of which party they are affiliated with. The principles used to determine the best decision are based on the personal opinion of the politicians. People in general have a tendency to have liberal opinions on one issue, yet conservative opinions on another, for example, someone who believes same sex marriage should be illegal, does not necessarily believe that abortion should be illegal. Party discipline forces politicians to neglect the principles that may cause them to vote the "wrong" way, and makes their actions somewhat predictable. Predictable actions from representatives in office are advantageous to Canadians because they know ahead of time what their vote is going to accomplish for them. In the absence of party discipline, where representatives vote for what they feel is the right decision, voters cannot account for what the person they are voting for will do in a given situation. By adhering to general party lines, voters have an idea of what kinds of decisions will be made by parliament. Jackson and Conlin write:

"MPs do not and should not directly represent their individual constituencies, provinces, or even particular regions, polling on every issue to see how they should vote. Rather they are members of a particular party that provides broad perspectives on national issues" (Jackson, Conlin).

It is easy to see the impracticality of a system where proper representation would require a polling of all people within the effected region, especially in a country as large as Canada. Canadians are "polled" when they vote, in the sense that they chose a party platform that they want to represent them, and not an individual. This is not a critique of the Canadian system, it is widely accepted by Canadians that the way the system is set up, voting for a party whose platform is closest to one's personal beliefs is more important than looking at the personal opinions of candidates. This is discussed when...
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