Sunday, March 20, 2011

We Need an Election

Yesterday, in The Globe and Mail, Jeffrey Simpson argued that "we're headed for an election we don't need." While Canadians don't want an election, Simpson wrote, their politicians do:

because politicians live for partisan advantage, and each party now sniffs, for different reasons, that an election will deliver such an advantage. In part, because they’ve turned on their election machines and can’t find the off switch, as witnessed by their spending millions on party ads, finding candidates and using every waking hour to attack each other
In the end, Simpson wrote, there is no consensus in the country for change. Several months back, Mr. Simpson argued that Stephen Harper's prorogation of Parliament would be a blip on Canadian radar screens. I believe that, once again, he has underestimated Canadian voters. In this case, it's not the economy, stupid. The crescendo of Conservative contempt for Parliament -- and Canadian voters -- keeps rising. Besides proroguing Parliament, the Speaker has found the government in breech of basic parliamentary democracy three times.

John Baird argues that all of this amounts to a distraction. If he means that all of this emphasis on rules is a distraction for the Conservatives, he's right. Life would be much easier if the government didn't have to face the opposition parties. But the real issue is government hypocrisy. This is a government which was supposed to stand for transparency and accountability. This was a government which supposedly stood foursquare for the common man.

When Parliament demanded information on Afghan prisoners, Mr. Harper padlocked Parliament. When it asked for cost estimates on the government's tough on crime legislation, it refused to provide it. And, last week, when it dumped thousands of documents on the table, it admitted that estimates which had been discussed in Cabinet were being kept under wraps.

Now the Bruce Carson Affair has put the government's position on crime in a stark light. And, once again, it is all about hypocrisy. Mr. Carson went to work for the Conservatives long after he was convicted of defrauding his clients and disbarred. Allan Woods wrote in The Toronto Star that:

According to archived newspaper accounts, Carson, then 37, was criminally convicted of two counts of theft for misappropriating almost $20,000 of his clients’ funds by forging their signatures and stashing the money in his own bank account.

Carson was convicted in 1980. But after his conviction and disbarment, Carson went to work for the Conservatives:

In the meantime, Carson had taken a job as a researcher in the Library of Parliament from 1979 to 1981, then returned to school for a Master's degree in law at the University of Toronto. That helped launch his reinvention as a constitutional wonk and returned him to Parliament Hill for a distinguished career as a high-level Conservative operative.

He rose to become a senior adviser to the Prime Minister. For a man who claims to be tough on criminals, Mr. Harper clearly sees room for exceptions. Those exceptions apply to him and the members of his party.

That is why we need an election.


ck said...

It's not the first time Simpson uses language, disparaging a potential spring election. Other media types are guilty of this as well. I find it particularly disturbing.

In fact, in the 2009 by-elections, the conservative placard in Hochelaga had the slogan "De l'action: pas d'elecion". No, I don't think it was copywriting stupidity. I think it was very deliberate. I honestly think that's what Harper would want and work toward once he got his tentacles onto a majority.

Furthermore, I really believe the idea of a totalitarian Harper regime is growning on Many Canadians. One only has to look at the polling numbers to see.

In some of the Blogging Tory comments; one Mary T said last year that she wanted to see the opposition 'gone' and the Liberals 'a non-party status'. Recently, another commenter said that he doesn't want to see any more than 2 liberal seats; and 4 NDP seats; neither of which would make official party status.

Recently, Con MP Scott Armstrong called the parliamentary committees "Tyranny of the majority" regarding the demands of costs for crime bills and the Bev Oda affair. What's wrong with this picture?

And people wonder why I've gotten jaded regarding my fellow Canadians?


I argue that no election is useless. In fact, I find that those who whine and show their phobia for polling stations to be a bunch of ingrates and spoiled brats. Nothing more.

While people in the Middle-East these days are risking life and limb, taking to the streets, demanding democracy, which, of course, includes free elections, all we can do is whine while the media types like Simpson and his ilk pour the 'useless election kool-aid'. Despicable. We really should be grateful that we have them.

Owen Gray said...

I concur wholeheatedly, ck. The core of Conservative support is not "democratic" with a small "d."

And there will be some, like Simpson, who predict that the Harperites are here to stay.

The point is that Canadians are responsible for what happens in their democracy. We have reached a point where we need to be consulted on what this government stands for.

If we elect to keep it, we deserve what will befall us.

thwap said...

Simpson is confused. (As usual.)

He obviously meant to say that "we don't need democracy," but it came out as "we don't need an election."

A government that refuses to allow parliamentary oversight and which shuts-down parliament whenever it feels threatened by it is actually a pretty serious thing.

Simpson's inability to process this automatically disqualifies him as a serious source of commentary on national political affairs.

Owen Gray said...

Simpson is a smart fellow. That's why his refusal to see the seriousness of the situation is so frustrating.

The die is cast. There will be an election. It is an opportunity -- a very important opportunity -- not a waste of time.

thwap said...

If Simpson is a smart fellow (which i doubt, having give up reading him in disgust at his rambling about public health care), then he is a liar.

Nobody with functioning brain cells could fail to see harper's 100% contempt for democratic oversight.

If Simpson is not a moron, but instead a lying, partisan shill, then it remains the case that he is unfit to comment on national affairs.

He is one person that I do not read on principle, ... unless someone draws my attention to something particularly disgusting that he wrote.

Owen Gray said...

Simpson has had an interesting journey on the road to punditry. I understand that he began his career as an aide to Ed Broadbent.

If that is indeed the case, I imagine that there must be times when Ed reads his column and rolls his eyes.

Perhaps Simpson is too close to the action. If he spent more time speaking to ordinary folk, he might discover that Harper's Conservative base is not as solid as it appears.

A friend of mine, a longtime Conservative, recently told a party fundraiser, "You won't get another cent from me until Harper is gone."

I suspect my friend is not alone.

Orwell's Bastard said...

Simpson is a fixture of both the corporate media and what passes for the Village in Ottawa. While he's capable of thoughtful and insightful writing, everything he does is and will continue to be constrained by those factors. He is the epitome of the journalistic insider, and for that reason he will never stray beyond those boundaries.

While I'd agree that there's probably a qualitative difference between Harper Conservatives and Iggy Liberals in terms of fundamental contempt for democratic governance, you'll never read about that in a Simpson column. Nor will you see anything there about issues on which the two don't fundamentally differ, such as globalization, "free" trade, deep integration by stealth, or the creeping diminution of the public sphere per se.

Owen Gray said...

I'm afraid that what you say is quite true. Simpson has to write within boundaries.

Rick Salutin no longer fit The Globe's culture. If Simpson strays too far, he'll lose his platform.

The marketplace of ideas has its limits.

Anonymous said...


I agree with you on most points. I have not seen the comment from maryT that you refer to, but I have seen others, and what you say seems consistent with her point of view. I have not seen Scott Armstrong's statement that you refer to, and hope to find it at a later date for further thought/confirmation, but find it interesting (and not at all surprising) that in a minority government situation, the conservatives are worried about the "tyranny of the majority": The majority in Parliament, representing [however imperfectly] the majority of Canadians. I'd be more worried about the tyranny of the minority, given that the minority government has been able to exercise so much power, and given that they have not garnered more than 40 percent (let alone over fifty percent) support. For the record, I have also (and continue to be) disturbed by the fact that Rae's NDP in 1990 or Chretien's Liberals in 1997 could win majority power with less than 40 percent of the vote.

I'm not willing to say that "no election is useless." Surely, some are useless, if they [predictably] lead to no change whatsoever. Campaigns matter, yes. But the real problem right now is that the majority of Canadians' representatives in parliament do not have power. Meaning that the majority in Canada do not have power.

It may be the case that an election now would be "useless." But if so, that is most likely because there is a problem with our democracy (or lack thereof).

I have said/thought before that if we chose 308 members of Parliament the same way we choose members of a jury [unless of course the Crown is doing intrusive investigation/vetting of the jury and not telling the defence, but that's a different story/rant] that we would have a more democratic system compared to the one we have now...

You know, perhaps, on reflection, I will agree with you that no election is useless. People will point to the costs, and the absence of any change... but change [even or especially if unexpected] is always possible. And before we consider democracy too expensive, we should first consider the alternatives...


Owen Gray said...

Those who complain about the inefficiency of democracy aren't democrats.

To extend your jury metaphor, sitting on a jury can be inconvenient; and it is hard work because it requires critical thinking. But it is at the heart of our democracy.

The same is true of elections. Our present Prime Minister would be quite happy with the alternative.

Zero said...

When I was a young military college recruit, I was made to box along with the rest of my class. By dint of my superb left jab, I easily won my first fight. I easlily dominated the first round of my second fight with "the Bull", as he was nicknamed. Again, he was an easy target for that superb left jab of mine. "He's all yours," my corner excitedly observed at the end of the round. "Go straight in and take him out!"

So straight in I went. I discovered the superb left jab was all I had. "The Bull", broke my nose with a right hook, put me on the canvas, and earned himself a battering by the next contender he faced.

I learned a lesson from that experience: being overly hasty in a fight can be disastrous.

While I would like to see Stephen Harper defeated as much as any other man, I don't think now is the time to try it. If there's one thing I worry about more than the deterioration of our parliamentary institutions, it's a Conservative majority. If an election were held anytime soon, I think there's a better than even chance Harper will win his majority.

Whether we choose to admit it or not, there's still no popular alternative to him. The Conservatives have made good mileage claiming they're the party of sound economics and public safety. And now that Parliament has foolishly proclaimed war with Libya, Mister Harper has become our "war time" Prime Minister, a promotion that could give him a decisive electoral advantage.

Let's not be overly hasty as we engage this opponent.

Owen Gray said...

You may be right. Lawrence Martin claims that there are many Liberals who would prefer to let the pile of Conservative garbage pile up on Mr. Harper's doorstep before taking him on.

Harper is a shrewd character. He knows that he only has to buy off one party -- and he appears to have offered Jack Layton an enticing deal.

We'll see if Layton bites. The contempt of Parliament rulings set a precedent. I don't think they can be passed without having some teeth -- even if that means an election.

And, as I wrote to ck, if Canadians, are prepared to accept Mr. Harper's contempt for Parliament, they -- that is,we -- deserve what he will surely deliver.