Saturday, June 19, 2010

Lament for a Nation, Fifty Years On

"Imagine a country," James Travers wrote in Saturday's Toronto Star, "where Parliament is padlocked twice in 13 months to frustrate the democratic will of the elected majority. That country is now this country."

Travers then offered a litany of examples illustrating how the Harper government -- which rode to power insisting that it would be accountable -- has undermined democracy in Canada:

Imagine a country where the national police commissioner skews a federal election and is never forced to explain.
Imagine a country that writes a covert manual on sabotaging Commons committees.
Imagine a country where parties that win the most federal seats are dismissed as "losers."
Imagine a country where party apparatchiks decide who in a nominally free press is allowed to ask the Prime Minister questions.

What is remarkable is that all of this has been accomplished so openly -- and, as Jeffrey Simpson wrote this week -- with so little public support. The Conservatives, except for brief spikes, have consistently been able to muster the support of between 31% to 33% of the population:

The only time conservative forces were weaker than today came in the arrival of the 1993 election of the Reform Party (including Mr. Harper) a development that shattered the political right for more than a decade. Today, therefore, the Harper Conservatives are the weakest united right wing government or party the country has seen in our life time.

How does one account for this startling and sad turn of events? Certainly a divided and inept opposition has something to do with it. Mr. Layton and Mr. Ignatieff have more difficulty cooperating with each other than they do with the Prime Minister. And Mr. Duceppe has skilfully exploited both Mr. Harper's and Mr. Ignatieff's ignorance of the way Quebec works.

But underlying everything is the public's distaste for another election. And, given the pettiness of what passes for debate these days, that is -- somewhat -- understandable. Nevertheless, if the government has been allowed to subvert parliamentary democracy in Canada, it is because its citizens have chosen to look away and go back to tilling their gardens. They may soon be surprised by what they have sown.

This blog entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.


Radical Centrist said...

What's truly distressing is that all of this has happened during a minority government - which means the opposition parties are equally responsible for letting things deteriorate to this point. And when you look at the cross-party efforts and political reforms happening in the UK under the coalition, the situation here is that much more depressing.

Owen Gray said...

I absolutely concur with what you say. Democracy is the responsibility of all parties. Mistakes are sometimes the result of carefully plotted actions. Sometimes they are the result of inaction -- also carefully plotted.

ck said...

Finally, someone who isn't putting the entire blame on the opposition parties, but right where it belongs; on Canadians themselves, as you point out their apathy.

from the by-election in Novemember 2009;I wish I could say it's nothing more than a dumb copywriting mistake, but no, it is Harper's real intent. Easy for him to do, given how Canadians are such cry babies when it comes to going to the polls; sooooo easy to take advantage of.

As I've said, to entertain a Harpercon majority would mean we're going to be stuck with him until he tires of the job or dies; not sooner, as I believe after eliminating the per vote subsidy; the next parliamentary 'reform' is to eliminate elections every 4 years.

Sound ridiculous? After watching that video and seeing how Canadians are not only apathetic but would take to the streets to defend their own apathy (remember prorogation last january? Let's take it for what it was; folks weren't protesting prorogation; they were touchy about folks and the media criticizing their apathy).

It is that apathy along with lack of support for opposition parties that will not only allow for a Harpercon majority, but that he will run it like a tyrant.

Owen Gray said...

This is our democracy, CK. We will pay a price for our apathy -- unless we decide that there are some things which require our attendance at the polls.

ChrisJ said...

I agree about our apathy, but would say also that the alternatives aren't very attractive, which feeds the apathy.

Also, because the alternatives aren't so appealing and not enough people really want the conservatives, another election may well produce the result we have now.

With three parties opposing the conservatives, moving forward becomes very difficult as one of them can always veto.

Owen Gray said...

Absolutely true, Chris. But the lack of appealing alternatives works in the Prime Minister's favour.

Our leaders are not stupid. But they don't inspire much confidence, either.

So we are left with the question, "What do we do?" Polls suggest that, if an election were held, the deck chairs would change a bit; but we'd still be deadlocked.

Surely, we are better than this.