Thursday, June 16, 2016

Life Imitating Political Science, Edition #72

Phil Lagassé, David Auerswald and I are studying how/why legislatures oversee their armed forces in various ways.  This is the big project taking us all over the world and was inspired by the Canadian example of (to me) an incredibly weak parliament when it comes to defence matters.  We have lots of hypotheses about what causes legislatures to engage in more or less oversight and via what means.  A key question is how to handle classified info. 

While Canadian MPs don't have security clearances, they can go into closed meetings (in camera they call it).  But these meetings are kind of like Vegas: what happens in them is supposed to stay there but does not always. This story shows not just that, but something more important for us: that when parties flip positions, they also flip stances:
Bezan says opposition members feel increasingly that the defence committee is “dysfunctional” and run by “a tyranny of the majority” (the Liberals have six members, to the opposition’s four).
“They should respect the rights and privileges of members but they are acting arrogantly and using their majority to intimidate the opposition,” he said.
This is fun for us and our project precisely because the Conservatives were very heavy handed with their majority when they had it--the agenda of the defence committee was driven by the government.  And this tells us that institutions provide incentives and constraints that seem to matter more than whatever principle/value differences that are supposed to exist.

Oh, and the timing is good, too, as I am participating in a roundtable with the Defence Committee on Monday.  It is about the Defence Review, but perhaps I can flip the script and make it a focus group on parliamentary scrutiny on defence matters?

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