Thursday, December 4, 2008
Canadians’ blood should be running a little cold today.
Economic consideration trumped democracy. I suppose this should not be too surprising, given our collective disengagement with our political process, and given that notions of citizenship, and the attendant rights and responsibilities, seem to have been reduced to residing and consuming in Canada.
What we seem to want, above all, is a government that ensures we continue to collect paycheques and enjoy our lifestyles. (We also want a handful of basics thrown in – education, public safety, and healthcare (maybe). Some of the more progressive among us also want basic food and shelter provided for each citizen regardless of their perceived merit or lack thereof.)
But we’re wrong in wanting that as a chief end of our government.
The constitutional mandate of parliament is to legislate for peace, order and good government. I’ll get back to this shortly, but first, we’re wrong about a couple other critical distinctions too:
1. We think we elected Harper to be our Prime Minister. We did not. He was elected as an MP (as are all Prime Ministers) in Calgary SW; he was the leader of his party; and the governor general appointed him to be the Prime Minister. Again: Our Prime Ministers are appointed, not elected. By convention, the governor general appoints the person most likely to have the confidence of the house. Arguments that the coalition does not have the right to overthrow “the PM we elected” are ignorant arguments.
2. We think that the coalition’s request for power is anti-democratic. On the contrary, it is entirely democratic. Combined, coalition MPs were elected by nearly two-thirds of Canadians. The MP conserveratives were in the minority, and subject to precisely the risk of a vote of non-confidence. We can be angry that the Liberals and NDP would choose to do so in the current climate, just like we can be angry that the Conservatives would use the opportunity to reduce the coffers of their opponents, but threatening a vote of non confidence is absolutely democratic. The conservatives are not “our government”. They simply have more seats in our house of parliament than any other single party. That’s all.
Instead of facing a vote of non-confidence, the Prime Minister asked the Governor General to prorogue parliament. He argued that the economic climate required this. While our economy is indeed a nail-biter, his request was not about parliament’s chief concern: Peace, Good order, Good government. It was about protecting the shaky status of his 127 MPs. Good government is about demonstrating a spirit willing to collaborate in the face of challenging times. It may even be about reluctantly trying a coalition government – such as those in Norway, Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands and Ireland.
Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean acquiesced. She opted to pre-empt the majority of our MPs, who we Canadians elected, by doing so. Who knows what her reasoning was. Her primary duty is to ensure a functioning parliament – did Harper threaten to deepen the disruption? did she truly believe a coalition government would deepen the disruption?
In any case, democracy took a hit today, trumped by rhetoric about the economic crisis – a crisis which hasn’t even struck Canada, yet. I hope all of us, regardless of political affiliation (I’m green, for the record), especially conservatives who mistakenly claim that this was undemocratic, are shaken.