Chantal Hebert argues in today's Toronto Star that the repatriation of the Constitution in 1981 unleashed a tide of populism which has paralyzed Canada's parliamentary institutions:
In the three decades since the patriation conference, the parties and the politicians who have espoused the new culture of populism have thrived; those who clung to the old ways have wilted. Canada’s traditional parties were in the latter category. So were the country’s parliamentary institutions.
Perhaps. But it's also quite possible that the problem lies not in the institutions so much as in the leaders who followed patriation. Much more saliently, Hebert writes:
Over the past 30 years, political courage has become a rarer commodity in Canada. As in the case of other more tangible commodities, the rule that if you don’t use it you lose it applies to this near-extinct virtue.
She claims that the two phenomena are linked: the rise of populism has led to a decline in political courage. Our leaders have, indeed, lacked political courage. But I'm not convinced that populism is to blame. To begin with, the so called populist revolt has given us Stephen Harper, one of the most dictatorial prime ministers in this nation's history. One would think that populism would serve as a check on the prime minister's power.
Secondly, Hebert takes no notice of the corporatist forces which have grabbed the reins of power in almost every Western democracy. The corporatist agenda has led to our present crisis. Populism is not the cause of our problems. The concentration of wealth and power got us into this mess.
The Occupy Wall Street protests are part of an almost universal populist movement. Rather than causing our problems, populism may be what gets us out of this mess -- provided our political leaders can rediscover the true meaning of courage.