Sunday, May 22, 2011

A Broken System

Angelo Perischilli and I share few opinions. But this morning, I find myself heartily agreeing with him. In today's Toronto Star, he writes that Ruth Ellen Brosseau can "take credit for exposing the inconsistencies that are weakening the Canadian political system and changing the attitude of the electorate toward it." Brosseau is a symptom, not a cause:

How can we criticize a 27-year-old single mother for going on holiday during the campaign without criticizing the voters who elected someone they didn’t even know existed?

But nor can we criticize the voters for acting in such an apparently irresponsible way without asking why they did it.

What happened in Berthier-Maskinongé on May 2 was not an isolated anomaly but the result of conditions that are now common in nearly every riding. The only difference is that in Berthier-Maskinongé all those anomalies piled up and produced an unexpected offspring, one conceived by the unhappy marriage of a dysfunctional political system and flawed electoral laws.

The problem is that, with an unassailable majority, Stephen Harper is not going to fix a system which has rewarded him so handsomely. He may talk "reform" -- after all that was the name of the party which thrust him into the spotlight. But, as his appointment of three failed Tory candidates to the Senate illustrates, that was then, this is now.

And, as far as that contempt of parliament motion is concerned, one need only note that Bev Oda -- who misled parliament and whose actions were at the heart of the contempt motion -- is still a minister in charge of the same ministry.

If there is one ray of hope it is this: Historically, Conservative governments -- even when they are ushered in with overwhelming majorities -- are inherently unstable. That was true of both the Diefenbaker and the Mulroney governments. They rotted from within. You can already see the signs of Conservative discontent brewing in the reaction to Harper's Senate appointments and in the looming battle over the status of Conservative riding associations. And then there is the problem of all those backbenchers who have remained loyal and who have been consistently passed over for cabinet appointments.

Mr. Harper's grasp of Canadian history seems to go back only as far as Pierre Trudeau and the National Energy Program. In the past, when he faced opposition from within, he banished the dissenters. Consider Belinda Stronach, Garth Turner, Bill Casey and the hapless Helena Geurgis. It will be interesting to see what happens when a growing number of Conservatives raise their middle fingers to the Prime Minister and then go public.


Skinny Dipper said...

Whether it's voting reform, Senate reform, or some other kind of reform, Harper is unlikely to propose or make any substantial changes to Canada's political institutions.

I am starting to believe that if we Canadians really want changes in our political institutions, we will need to become public social activists has people have become in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Bahrain. If we limit ourselves to being academic activists with hopes that we'll get another provinvial citizens' assembly on electoral reform and a following rigged referendum, we won't get anywhere. Also, if we wish for an NDP led government someday, let us not expect that this party will endorse electoral reform. The NDP may have other priorities.

Owen Gray said...

I have a hunch that, at some point, Canadians will gather on the Hill and elsewhere to protest this government's policies.

It will probably begin when Tony Clement starts swinging his axe.

John Avalon has a piece in the Daily Beast about the buyer's remorse which has affected the voters of Wisconsin, Ohio and Florida. I suspect that Canadians will soon experience the same phenomenon.

janfromthebruce said...

"Also, if we wish for an NDP led government someday, let us not expect that this party will endorse electoral reform. The NDP may have other priorities."

Not sure why you would suggest or insinuate that considering that the NDP has electoral reform in their policies, Layton spoke & advocated for it in the debates! No other leader did so, such as Cons, Libs, or Bloc.

Orwell's Bastard said...

Yeah, well.

It's pretty clear that what happened at last summer's G20 was intended as an object lesson for those contemplating taking to the streets.

And I'm sure they're stocking up on tasers, truncheons and tear gas in the event that the lesson didn't take.

Owen Gray said...

As the Official Opposition, I expect the NDP to lead the charge for electoral reform. It won't be easy against a Harper majority.

But, as Jack Layton said during the debates, Stephen Harper has become what he once decried.

The NDP must not allow the Conservatives to define themselves as the "reform" party.

Skinny Dipper said...

Yes, I voted for the NDP. However, during the election campaign, Jack Layton mentioned voting reform once briefly during the English debate. At least I only heard him once.

My point in not to insinuate that an NDP government won't bring in PR, but that we should not relax and assume that an NDP government would do it during its first term no matter who is the leader. We will need to strongly assert ourselves publicly if we really want PR.

Owen Gray said...

I agree that the government will try to decimate any protest movement.

If there is any upside, it's that protesters should not be surprised by the Harperite reaction -- and they can plan for it.

Any protest which does not have a realistic idea of who the opposition is will fail. Those who know their enemy can defeat it.

Owen Gray said...

Again, PR is a ways off. And, given that it has just been rejected in Britain, its progress will take some time.

But the NDP will have to carry the banner -- and they will need lots of public support.

Anonymous said...

Thought this might interest you:

Owen Gray said...

An excellent graphic. If readers copy and paste this link to a search engine, they can see how wildly skewed -- and how insignificant -- the majority of votes were in the last election.

Stephen Harper should not be prime minister because -- as John Ralston Saul has convincingly argued -- his values and his vision are so opposed to the Aboriginal nature of Canada. Harper wants to impose a system which Canadians have rejected for very good reasons.

However, the graphic goes a long way to explain why he has succeeded.