Saturday, April 04, 2009

Canada's Crumbling Parliamentary Democracy

The two acts of the Harper government that have most infuriated me were the gagging of the public and armed services and the installation of political commissars in the PMO to ensure that the information flow from government to the public is suitably shaped in order to advance Mr. Harper's political ambitions. Fortunately for Harper and unfortunately for Canada, the issue has never gained traction. There's been no stirring anger, no lasting controversy over a policy that seems positively Stalinist.

James Travers has a 'must read' article today on the same theme, the unravelling of Canadian democracy.

Laughter or disbelief would have been my '80s response to any gloomy prediction that within the next 20 odd years Canada's iconic police force would twist the outcome of a federal election. I would have rejected out of hand the suggestion that Parliament would become a largely ceremonial body incapable of performing its defining functions of safeguarding public spending and holding ministers to account. I would have treated as ridiculous any forecast that the senior bureaucracy would become politicized, that many of the powers of a monarch would flow from Parliament to the prime minister or that the authority of the Governor General, the de facto head of state, would be openly challenged.

Yet every one has happened and each has chipped away another brick of the democratic foundations underpinning Parliament. Incrementally and by stealth, Canada has become a situational democracy. What matters now is what works. Precedents, procedures and even laws have given way to the political doctrine of expediency.

Politics and politicians being what they are, the reflex response is to grasp for all remaining power. Once secured, it can be used to exercise political will more easily by overruling rules and rewriting or simply ignoring laws. Power alone is effective in cross-cutting through the silo walls that isolate departments and frustrate co-ordinated policies. Important to all administrations, unfettered manoeuvring room is that much more important to minority governments desperate to maximize limited options and minimize opposition influence.

Read more of this thought provoking article here:

No comments: