Brent Rathgeber's book, The Decline of Parliamentary Democracy in Canada is seminal. Frances Russell writes:
Canada’s parliament is now a damp squib, a meek handmaid to power. Parliament is ruled by the prime minister and the cabinet , not the other way around. Conservative MPs see themselves as obedient servants of the party, cabinet and prime minister, not representatives of their constituents.
You could call it “executive or presidential democracy.” It certainly is the polar opposite of parliamentary democracy.
Certainly, Rathgeber has witnessed that decline -- particularly in the last eight years. He writes:
“The current government prefers to govern by order-in-council and executive edict as opposed to having to answer to an occasionally meddlesome Parliament,” Rathgeber writes. “As a result, the executive has so neutered the institutions of Parliament as to render them nearly impotent, practically unable to fulfill their constitutional duty to hold the executive to account…(T)o the greatest extent possible, it prefers to run all aspects of Parliament rather than be accountable to it.”
Living next door to the United States, we have adopted a presidential model of leadership:
The most corrosive and dangerous development in Canada’s fully Americanized parliamentary system is the highly centralized power of the PMO and cabinet with a majority government. Add the now-complete stifling of the rights of ordinary MPs to say or do anything on their own, and Canada has degenerated into a virtual dictatorship.
And that’s without including the ability of the prime minister to prorogue, recess and dissolve parliament at whim.
And no one can claim that the trend is present in all parliamentary democracies:
Compare this sorry state of affairs to the parliamentary system in place in Britain and Australia, Canada’s sister parliamentary democracies. “(British Prime Minister) Margaret Thatcher was deposed by her own caucus, and twice in the last four years the Australia Labour Party has rejected a leader (and prime minister) and then rejected the replacement on the will of the caucus,” Rathgeber writes. “This is normal; this is parliamentary democracy as it should be, where the leader leads the caucus but does not dominate it. The aforementioned Westminster democracies, which have not fallen prey to creeping presidentialism , are thought to be much more functional by academics…”
It's quite clear that Stephen Harper would be quite comfortable with the monikers "Mr. President" and "Commander-in-Chief." And that's precisely why he needs to be thrown out of office in the next election.
We'll be in Montreal for the next couple of days. My plan is to resume blogging on Monday.