For every rancher, understanding the difference between steers, heifers, bulls, and cows is pretty basic—kind of like “Ranching 101.” If for some reason there were a rancher incapable of telling the difference, he wouldn’t have much of an operation. This ability to make distinctions is important, and applies not just to ranching but to other endeavours as well, including government and politics.
Many people think “the Crown” is a reference to the Queen. It is in theory, but in more practical terms it usually refers not to the Queen herself, but to the power and authority of the monarchy. In Alberta, it is a power and authority that for all practical purposes rests with the Premier and Cabinet.
The term government is a little broader in that it normally refers to the Premier, the Cabinet, and the bureaucracy. What the term government does not include, and never has included, are backbench MLAs on the majority side of the legislature who nowadays get referred to as “government MLAs.” The truth is that there is no such thing as a backbench government MLA.
The British Parliament, also known as Westminster, says the form of government given to Canada by Great Britain is the legislative and parliamentary system that developed over time in Westminster itself. At its website, Westminster points out that in such a system, the “government” consists of the “ministers” who are drawn from the “elected legislature.”
It means anyone in the legislative assembly who is not a Cabinet Minister is not part of the government. Instead, they are Members of the Legislative Assembly, which is why they are referred to as MLAs.
One credible reference source says that years ago, the difference between being part of the government and being a Member of the Legislative Assembly (Parliamentarian) was so well understood, that when a member was asked to sit in Cabinet, and therefore become part of government, he had to go home to get re-elected all over again.
It’s an action that was considered necessary because after becoming a Cabinet Minister, from that point forward, everyone understood that the individual would represent the government and act on behalf of the Crown, rather than represent constituents and act on behalf of the people.
Elected members of the legislature who are not in Cabinet, are not members of the government. It doesn’t matter that they belong to the governing party. Instead, they are Members of the Legislative Assembly who are supposed to represent their constituents within the assembly, which is how the demands of the Crown and the decisions of the government get balanced against the rights of the people.
On more than one occasion the British Parliament went to war against the Crown to defend the rights of elected members to speak freely.
Based on information provided by Westminster, the clear implication is that PC MLAs in Alberta should recognize they are not part of government, and that their chief obligation is therefore to represent the will of the people against excessive demands by government, and to constructively challenge any overbearing wishes the Crown might express.
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