By Вen Li
Rarely has a Political Science class ever received so much attention.
On Fri., Jan. 18, Federal Con-servative Party leader Joe Clark addressed over 200 students and faculty who crowded into a POLI 225 classroom. Clark focused his 40 minute speech on the House of Commons and the accountability of its members in the wake of recent federal scandals.
"The House of Commons is the single most important institution in our Canadian democracy," said Clark. "That’s not to trivialize the Senate, they do that by themselves."
Clark explained that the House of Commons is important for three reasons, the first of which is power over institutions like courts, the cabinet and the constitution.
"Second, the House of Commons is the only Canadian institution to which each citizen in each corner of the country is equally connected," he added. "Third, the House of Commons may be the last remaining pan-Canadian institution and more than ever, this diverse and difficult community of Canada needs institutions that it can respect."
Simultaneously, Clark criticized the lack of departmental budget reviews in the house.
"Until 1969, there was no time limit on the examination by the House of Commons of the spending estimates of a department," he said. "Ministers had to answer questions for as long as they were asked and did not have authority to spend public money until the last question was asked and answered."
Clark suggested reinstating parliamentary reviews of departmental budgets to ensure ministers could defend expenditures and that tasks were not irresponsibly delegated. He argued these reviews would also hedge the erosion of MPs’ powers.
"In my extensive experience, any senior official in Ottawa has more influence over public policy than any elected member of Parliament," said Clark. "This trivialization of MPs inspires frustration among MPs and the people and regions that elect them."
Clark’s talk ended with students’ questions about research and post-secondary education.
"There are two questions involved in the research matter," responded Clark to one such question. "One has to do with money: The government of Canada has not done badly in research in terms of money, but there can always be more. The other issue, in a diverse society like ours, has been where that money goes."
Specific concerns about education and the government were raised by Students’ Union Vice-President External Oliver Bladek.
"What can the federal and provincial governments do to work together to ensure that education is the best it can be?" asked Bladek.
"We should recognize that this is not a domestic issue," answered Clark. "It is no longer a question of Alberta competing against Ontario, it’s a question of Canada competing against the world. I think that while Canadians understand that the jurisdiction is provincial, the interest is national."