Perhaps the most damaging part of our obsession with expertise and systems has been the restructuring of elected assemblies to make them more efficient. This equation of the idea of efficiency . . . with the process of democracy shows just how far away we have slipped from our common sense.
John Ralston Saul, Voltaire’s Bastards, p.28
What a mess Canada’s political conversation is in!
We have Senators appointed (by the Prime Minister through) the Governor General who are supposed to be impervious to influence but seem to be following direct, foolish and perhaps illegal orders from the Prime Minister. Some of these Senators have been accused of invalid expense claims. Some of those Senators seem to have paid the questionable claims back. Some seem to have had those claims paid by an individual or individuals in the PMO and/or by a political party. Some have apparently been offered “back room deals”. Some have been suspended from the Senate for an unclear period by unclear and unprecedented means.
Meanwhile the Prime Minister has announced that he “couldn’t care less” about those who disagree with him. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police may be investigating the PMO. It is investigating certain Senators’ interactions with the PMO. There is a general sense that something is very wrong, very shady and likely illegal going on in Ottawa and particularly in the PMO.
Meanwhile, aboriginal nations across Canada, are speaking out loudly. While the Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission is working its way through its undersupported mandate, the Prime Minister is ramming yet another plan for ‘Native Education” through Parliament, ignoring all calls to consult as Constitution and Court decisions require. The aboriginal grass roots are more active than they’ve been certainly since Oka, perhaps since Trudeau’s White Paper, and very likely since the Northwest Rebellion. Yet the Government (and the people) ignores the possibility of discussion in favour of police action, fiat legislation and an occasional token gesture. Despite Prime Minister Harper’s pretence of devotion to military history, he absolutely ignored Aboriginal Veterans’ Day on Friday, November 8th.
And then, Rob Ford.
The sad, pitiable disaster that Toronto’s mayor has become in the media, social and otherwise.
Rob Ford’s antics, alleged and obvious, with gangsters, his admitted alcohol and crack use, and the videos, largely unseen except by a few, have, with the huge and embarrassing help of social media comment from the rest of Canada, brought Ford himself, his city, and, indeed, the entire country to the attention of the world. Perhaps being known as the place with the crack smoking mayor (as though that’s a distinction unique to Ontario’s capital city) is less embarrassing than being known as the place with the authoritarian Prime Minister who wants to destroy the world with Tar Sands CO2. Perhaps not. Certainly Rob Ford has distracted the world – and Canadians – from Canada’s shameful environmental performance.
But, all this is not really the political conversation in Canada – it is just the quotidian political situation.
The biggest, loudest parts of the political conversation involve a few reactionary questions:
“How do we reform or better yet (in many minds) abolish the Senate?”
“What did Prime Minister Harper know, when?”
“What more do Indians want, anyway?”
“How come we don’t have recall legislation for elected officials?”
and, a little more under the radar at the moment
“Let’s have fixed election dates like the Americans!”
Musings on these issues
I’ve dealt with the Senate elsewhere, so I won’t rehash except to say that
a) the Senate expenses mess could have been avoided with simple and open expense accounting rules.
b)the real issue is whether the PMO had undue, perhaps criminal influence over some Senators. This question is being investigated by the RCMP so further discussion at the moment is pointless, if entertaining, speculation.
c) the actual monetary hit to the people of Canada appears to have been minor in the scale of things. The Government has had trouble accounting for billions of dollars. None of the Senators seem to have actually lost track of their thousands; they’ve just spent the money in improper ways.
d) I’ll restate what I’ve said elsewhere: the Senate is the first Constitutional line of defence for the People when faced with an out of control Prime Minister or PMO. If that line of defence were removed, the only barriers to dictatorship would be, in no particular order, the often timid Governor General, the dissension-filled Provincial Governments, and the slow moving courts.
I’m quite happy to pay for the spectacle of a Duffy, a Wallin or a Brazeau every generation or two if it can save us from the alternative, as it has for a century and a half.
What Did Harper Know?
I don’t know. It’s being investigated. We’ll find out, likely before the next election. In the mean time, the Opposition, the Senate and the RCMP are keeping Mr. Harper off balance enough that he’ll probably do a little less damage to the place than he might have.
What More Do the Indians Want?
Seriously? This question is still being asked?
Go watch 8th Fire. Listen to a few aboriginal people. Read the novels, poetry, non-fiction written by aboriginal authors. Watch their films. Listen to their music. Read a few of their Tweets, for gosh sake! Only by wilfully closing ones ears can one avoid hearing their voices. And find out about our shared history and our Constitution – all of it.
If you’re still asking this question, stop being Idle!
How come we don’t have recall legislation for politicians like Rob Ford?
Short answer: because it would be stupid!
Long answer: unlike our American cousins who are afflicted with a perpetual campaign season, our political campaigns last about a month. We expect our representatives to actually work on being our representatives most of the time. And we expect not to be afflicted with electioneering for most of our lives. Even if your locality has an election for all three levels in a single year, you have a full nine months to live your life. And our elected officials can spend all of their term, except for a month or so if they seek re-election, doing their actual work for us to the best of their humanly variable ability. If they worked under the threat of real or frivolous recall attempts, they would be perpetually campaigning and would never confront difficult political problems head on. As for Rob Ford’s specific case: he’s but one vote on a council of forty-five people and he faces re-election in about a year. And, the police are investigating. Tough it out, Toronto. Watch the other forty-four. See if there’s any great leadership potential there and plan for the future.
Why don’t we have fixed election dates?
Well, apart from the stupidity I mentioned above of constant campaigning and never legislating except as a campaign ploy, fixed election dates are impossible without Constitutional changes to eliminate non-confidence votes (do you really want that?) and limit the ability of the Governor General to dissolve Parliament and call elections. Do we want to further hamstring the Governor General, one of our defences against dictatorship?
In short, fixed election dates would be stupid and require dangerous Constitutional changes.
Yes, Canada’s political conversation is in a mess, overwhelmed as it is with confused, absurd and under-educated suggestions of quick fixes to both real, complicated issues, Treaty relations with the First Peoples, for example, and to non-issues like the Senate or Toronto’s mayor.
We should really just sweat out the non-issues till the next election, always working toward that date, planning to make better choices ourselves. The real big issue I’ve mentioned requires sincere effort by all Canadians to learn our shared history and to empower our leaders and demand that they return to the Treaty table with good faith on both sides this time.
In fact, self-education and good faith discussion is probably all that’s needed to heal our ailing political conversation. Our political system isn’t broken. Certainly it is messy, as democracy must be. But the things that really make Canada’s gears grind are misguided attempts to make the system “efficient”. Such was the effect of Trudeau’s White Paper attempt to efficiently terminate the Treaties. Such as been the effect of successive Governments’ consolidation of power in the “efficient” PMO. Increased efficiency requires decreased accountability, decreased transparency, and decreased and finally eliminated democracy. Increased efficiency will rise out of a disengaged population and an efficient, undemocratic administration. Democracy requires an educated, engaged electorate having a messy conversation both in everyday life and, through our representatives, in our legislatures.
Do something about that if you want democracy in Canada.
Update, November 10, 2013: I just wanted to add a link to the words of Toronto City Councilor Gord Perks who hits the nail on the head:
. . . I want to ask you to count to ten. When you are angry at your government, remember that quick, anger-fuelled solutions usually make problems worse. When a neighbour expresses anger over a real or perceived failure of the government or public servants, speak up and remind them that so much of what holds our society together depends on those same public servants. They work to make sure that we have the comforts and community we all enjoy. When government does not solve the social problems that bring suffering to neighbourhoods, resolve not to grumble but instead to learn, participate, and organize for a better government. . .