When David Wilks backed down last week -- declaring that, despite his previous comments, he supported the Harper government's Omnibus Budget Bill -- Canadians got an inside look at how raw power is exercised in Stephen Harper's Ottawa. Andrew Coyne writes:
Two things are illustrated by this episode. One, that amid the general decline of Parliament, the most degrading state of all is that into which MPs of the governing party have fallen. There was a time, after all, when even a prime minister had to mind his back bench — or at any rate, when the caucus had not yet been reduced to a mere appendage of the government. We think of them now as more or less the same thing, but they are not, in principle, and did not used to be in practice.
Until the Second World War, before an MP could take up an appointment to Cabinet — I mean an MP of the governing party — he had to resign his seat and run in a byelection. The reason? His role had changed. He was no longer a watchdog on the government, as MPs of whatever party are supposed to be, but had become a member of it. As such he was obliged to seek the permission of his electors — of his bosses, you might say. That is how people thought.
Secondly, Coyne tells us:
Wilks’s trip to the woodshed should teach us is that the abuse of power embodied in the omnibus bill did not begin with it, nor will it end there. In a parliament worthy of the name, aware of its ancient rights and zealous against their encroachment, such a bill could never pass. The present abuse of power, that is, was only made possible by previous abuses: by the arrogation of powers in the Prime Minister’s Office that are rightfully Parliament’s, the long process of erosion by which the legislature was effectively subjugated by the executive, if not subsumed within it.
The truth is we no longer have responsible government in Canada. That is, the people we elect are no longer responsible to us, the people who put them there. That was apparent from the day Stephen Harper took office. David Emerson was elected as a Liberal, then immediately joined the Harper cabinet as a Conservative.
The sad saga of David Wilks reminds us of what people will do to be close to power. Like Doctor Faustus, they will sell their souls.