Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Riding Canada like a cowboy

Dear Canadians,

Please shake off your apathy and grow a pair of eyes and ears. Your country is here, not south of the border, and it would be in your best interests to care. For those of you who have been asleep through the latest round of Canadian politics, pay heed to the recap:

[ # 1 ] Parliament is currently prorogued.

That is, the government is on holiday. Stephen Harper has asked the Governor General to dismiss parliament early and have them reconvene in March. Harper did this last year as well, to save his government from a coalition poised to topple him shortly after being elected. True to his strategy, a few months with no government allowed Canadians to forget about all the shit that Harper had done. In fact, most Canadians don't really pay attention to begin with.

Why this time? There are two reasons. Firstly, it will give Harper time to shore up support by seizing on the Vancouver Olympics. By taking every opportunity to take credit for this joyous event and taking every chance to squeeze in a prettifying photo-shoot, Harper's popularity will shoot up as it often does. Secondly, it will put off the messy inquiry regarding Afghan prison transfers. Embroiled in calls for an inquiry into whether Canada knowingly handed over prisoners to be tortured, the easiest way to scuttle the problem is to dissolve the parliament in whose hands these proceedings lie. Well played, Monsieur Harper.

[ # 2 ] Stephen Harper can get away with murder(ing democracy)

Michael Ignatieff (a gifted scholar, though not a gifted politician) summarizes Harper's recent record quite neatly:

"Just over a year ago, he prorogued Parliament just weeks after an election - in order to rescue himself from an unprecedented political and constitutional crisis of his own making.

He has lashed out at public servants - like Richard Colvin, in the case of the detainees - for daring to speak the truth, and cowed others into silence.

He fired Linda Keen, the head of the Nuclear Safety Commission, for blowing the whistle on the repairs needed at Chalk River to ensure the reactor's safety.

He starved Kevin Page, the Parliamentary Budget Officer, of the necessary resources to do his job because he was critical of the poor management of our public finances under this Conservative government.

He let go the heads of both the RCMP's Public Complaints Commission and the Military Police Complaints Commission. Both were competent individuals, doing their job with distinction. But both had a serious flaw in Stephen Harper's eye: they were critical of the government.

He cut off public funding for the ecumenical charitable group KAIROS, despite their lauded work and broad public support, because, according to one of his ministers, they held dissenting views from the government on foreign policy.

This approach to government - intimidating all who stand in its way - can have severe and corrosive consequences. Look at our nation's capital today: a cowed and demoralized public service and a constantly bullied national press gallery, both trying to serve a disenchanted public."

[ # 3 ] Canadians are easily distracted

Whether it's singing the Beatles with Yo-Yo Ma or taking tea with Dashan, Harper knows how to brush off his political woes with media shows. Canadians, for the most part, eat it up.

[ # 4 ] Our Governor General is bollocks

Michaelle Jean is the Queen's representative in Canada. It's a solemn and (at least in title) important role. With it come a variety of vestigal powers and parliamentary responsibilities. Yet, while Jean presents a warm and lovable persona to the GG role, she seems to know (and care) so little about what is proper.

Led by emotion, rather than protocol, she can often be caught tearing up over a variety of topics, or making a big media fuss over smallscauce (like eating seal meat). Jean's predecessor, Adrienne Clarkson, who performed the role with a much higher degree of knowledge, professionalism, and gravitas commented at that time: "I've eaten raw food here since 1971. It's nothing new to me, okay?"

When it came time to greet Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, Canada demonstrated its general lack of tact through the Harper and Jean duo. Harper stole the speech lines right out of Charles' own. Jean got all touchy feely with the royals, which apparently is a big no-no. Wait, as the Queen's representative, shouldn't she be familiar with these basic protocols? Oh, you know, that's just the sort of gal she is: touchy feely and improper. I'm sure Charles was left wondering what had happened to this polite little former-colony of ours.

So when it came to proroguing parliament, Jean has done more or less what one would expect she would - accede to Harper's wishes.

[ # 5 ] The alternatives are slim pickings

Let's face it, Ignatieff has done little but sit on his hands (his good looks, according to Sandlot, won't save him from that); and sad as it is, nobody is going to elect the NDP into government (not while their policies involve things like immediately shuttering the tar sands and crippling Canada's economy). As James Travers astutely notes: "In the absence of a persuasive alternative, even Canadians cool to the Prime Minister and his policies have no compelling reason to roll the dice on change. A country that considers muddling along a success is content with a Conservative leader taking care of business."

Canada is a nation that lives and dies with the principles of peace, order, and good government. Will this be the end of more than a hundred years of parliamentary tradition? It's your job to care.

Your concerned fellow citizen,


shirls said...

I would 'like' this post if it gave the option to like Facebook does. In the interim, this will have to suffice.

*thumbs up*

Word Verification: mendat

a_ndy said...

Thanks, Shirls. I'm always moved when someone cares enough to read my rambling politics posts.

Michael said...

I agree with everything except [#4] & the first part of [#2].

[#4] Frankly, the Governor General position should absolutely not exist anymore. Canada cannot legitimately claim sovereignty if the Queen OF BRITAIN (note: of BRITAIN)'s representative has any power at all. If Jean had not accepted Harper's commands, that would be wholly inappropriate.

And if you wanna give me that bullshit about Commonwealth of Nations and that we are a constitutional monarchy and all that, then I would like to remind you that the Governor-General of Canada, as representative of the Queen, is second-in-command in the Canadian order of precedence, ABOVE anyone except the Queen (including the royal family). It's not that she got too 'touchy-feely' with the royals, it's that the royals did not get touchy-feely enough with her!

(But of course that's silly and stupid and following rules without reason, and so is the sham monarchy we live in).

[#2] Once again, while it's 'constitutional' to have a coalition government, it is the worst possible kind of democracy. The NDP & Bloc both serve special interests, that's why you will never see an NDP or Bloc prime minister. The coalition was a NDP/Liberal + Bloc support kind of thing. So, it would have provided shitloads of money for special interests, rather than the interests of normal Canadians.

Oh, and remember WHY they wanted to form a coalition? Because apparently the Conservatives did not have an acceptable rescue plan for the Canadian economy (which we immediately needed, lest we risk doom and death!!!!). And yet, funnily enough, here we are in 2010 and we are one of the least-hard-hit countries economically. Sorry, bullshit fearmongering is bullshit fearmongering, no matter what ass it comes out of.

a_ndy said...

The de facto role of the GG has certainly been curtailed since the days of the King-Byng Affair, and for good reason - but that doesn't mean that the GG doesn't still have an important function in our democracy. Yes, the GG has certain powers over the government in a political stalemate such as the one that played out. That may indeed be a useful function.

As for our constitutional monarchy, though it's essentially ceremonial in nature, I think it's a distinctly elegant tradition that speaks to Canada's roots. God Save the Queen.

With regards to the coalition, lots of countries exist this way, though it is probably a less than ideal situation. Nonetheless, the coalition that would have arisen last winter could have been great for a number of reasons. First of all, it would have given Harper his much deserved boot to ass. Second of all, because the parties are forced to work together, it was set to curtail many of the more radical ideas of all parties.

The Liberals were prepared to shelve their Green Shift and the NDP (who are actually quite charismatic, likable, and appropriately critical of the government) were prepared to shelve their demand that the tar sands be shut down forthwith. As for the Bloc, they had agreed to support the Liberal-NDP coalition on all confidence motions only particularly because the Liberal-NDP coalition was not prepared to offer the support they desired on special interests. They were free to vote freely on other non-confidence motions and the Liberal-NDP coalition would be free to govern.

Also, I don't think you recall what spurred on the coalition to begin with. It wasn't just that the "mini-budget" that Harper released to deal with the recession was a sham - but it was actually just a ploy to starve all the other parties of funding under the guise of helping the economy (it did nothing of the sort). The Conservatives, flush with cash, would then have no functional opposition in future elections. The other parties, detecting this sneaky trick to spell their demise in the name of the good of Canada called bloody murder and did their damnedest to bring down Harper's government (what other choice did they have?).

Harper, taken completely by surprise, floundered about attacking the Bloc and socialists and everyone else he had pretended to be friends with for the last few years... burning pretty much all his inroads in Quebec. When that only made things worse, he prorogued parliament to save his government and hoped for the best. Sadly, it worked.

Dion's incompetence in working a camcorder didn't help either.

sandlot said...

Wait.. hold up. So you're saying when the gov't is prorogued, that means every parliamentary member is essentially on holiday? I'm guessing it's also paid holiday?

Where do i sign up for this job?

Jerry said...

This is the first political post of yours that I read from beginning to end, and I have to say, I quite enjoyed it.

Mike does have an interesting point with the Canadian Order of Precedence. Everybody should be vying to touch and feel her (the GG), that's for sure.

a_ndy said...

I'm proud of you, Jerry. In the words of Obi-Wan, "You've taken your first steps into a larger world."