Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Parliament Leads Canada not the Prime Minister, Contrary to Popular Belief

OK, now I'm getting mad.

Mike Duffy speaks as if Prime Minister Stephen Harper will be proroguing Parliament, which infers the Governor General will rubber stamp his request. Global National presents it as a mere possibility. Either way, Harper simply thinking about using his power this way to avoid losing power, and many Canadians thinking this move is OK, reflects the fact that successive Prime Ministers have so distorted the running of our democracy that many Canadians now believe that it is legitimate for the Prime Minister to thwart the will of Parliament.

The Prime Minister and his government serves at the will of Parliament, who represents the will of the people. When Parliament no longer has confidence in the Prime Minister, then the Prime Minister and his government must resign. For the Prime Minister to say, "No, I won't!" is for him to effectively say to the people I won't obey the majority of your representatives.

It isn't the Prime Minister who runs Canada. It isn't his cabinet who are the sole leaders of our country. It is Parliament. The problem is that from the time Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau started concentrating power in the Prime Minister's Office until recently when Harper fine tuned it into a truly one-man band, Canadians have been slowly moulded into thinking that the sole arbiter of how this country is run is the Prime Minister and his office staff. But it's not. It's Parliament.

But the undermining of our Parliament wasn't done just by succeeding Prime Ministers; they did it with the willing submissiveness of their elected party members. Party discipline became so important over the years that by the time Harper took over, it seemed a natural, if strange next step, for him to disallow MPs from even speaking. It was an odd spectacle in Question Period today to see a Conservative MP stand up to ask a question of the Opposition and then the Opposition member say they've never seen that MP before and wondering who he is. It is a bit late for Harper to realise that government comprises more than one member. But he isn't solely to blame for this state of affairs. Even now, when clearly people and some Conservative MPs are angry over his bungling, Tory MPs can do no more than not applause with their compatriots instead of fully representing their constituents.

As a result of this increasing concentration of power in the PMO, Canadians have become disenfranchised in the election process. What does it matter if they vote or not because if their MP is not in cabinet or not the Prime Minister, they have no say in the governing of the country. What does it matter if they vote period because all we get are four- to five-year dictatorships. This voter disillusionment reflects Canadians' distaste for what Trudeau, Brian Mulroney, Jean Chretien, and now Harper have wrought. Only with minority governments has the possibility of a healthy, vibrant Parliamentary democracy revived itself.

Yet when finally Parliament stands up and says, we are the governing body, not you Mr. Harper, many Canadians are outraged and declare it undemocratic. Harper of course is fuelling the lies from declaring that there was no Canadian flag behind the leaders when they were signing the coalition agreement (there were at least two, is the man blind as well as stupid?) to creating war between the West and Qu├ębec in order to retain his grip on power (this man then says he's the only patriotic one! what does that mean, to be patriotic is to divide the country?) to declaring that the election said that only he could be in power. The latter is simply not true. We're just not used to seeing an election lead to a minority government made up of more than one party.

This coalition between the Liberals and NDP has resuscitated the idea of Parliament leading Canada. And quite frankly, it means that each MP holds more importance; they are no longer just warm bodies giving Harper a nice background on CPAC. It is no longer a dictatorship of one, as a Cabinet comprising two parties is not one that will easily follow the Prime Minister along like good little children as happens now.

If Harper recesses Parliament so as to duck the will of Parliament, then he is in essence trying to rewrite how Canada ought to be led -- he is trying to cement the idea that it is in fact the Prime Minister, and only the Prime Minister, who runs the country and that Parliament ought not to have the power to stop him. If the Governor General agrees with Harper proroging Parliament, then she will cement into practice that we are in essence run by four-year dictatorships where the Prime Minister has sole say in how we are led.

Do you want this slow perversion of our democracy to become law? Do you like the fact that your MP, if not in Cabinet, has no say in the running of your country? Remember that if your MP is in power now, that will not be the case four years, ten years from now as governments do have a habit of changing hands and that what may be good for you now, will not be once your MP is on the back benches or in Opposition.

This rather reminds me of King Charles I who prorogued Parliament because it had challenged his attempts to accrue more power to himself. He was pretty ineffective in the end, frittering away money and getting himself executed.

Almost four centuries later, we are being reacquainted with how our democracy is supposed to work: co-operation between a majority of MPs, within one or more parties, in concert with opposition that works -- not by fiat from the PMO.

7 comments:

Mbuckingham said...

I'm not too sure about all that...

talk talk talk / Shireen said...

Mbuckingham, you made my point! :)

The Prime Minister and his government can only run the country as long as he has the confidence of the House. If Parliament -- that is, the majority of members of Parliament -- loses confidence in him then he can no longer run Canada. The reason why we rarely see this is because most governments have been majorities, and thus the Prime Minister had held an iron grip on the majority of seats to vote his way.

In a minority, the Prime Minister does not have the same power to force the majority of votes his way. Thus he really does have to work with the majority of MPs, from not only his party but at least one or more other parties, in order to retain the confidence of the House. Harper thought he didn't have to. He thought he could continue to dictate to everyone and get away with it. What a dunce.

Chase March said...

I think the Prime Minister is acting in the best interests of our country and the other parties are just power-hungry.

I don't agree with this coalition and I don't think a majority of Canadians do either.

talk talk talk / Shireen said...

The Prime Minister started this whole mess by bringing in an economic statement that was more about firming up his grip on power than on helping Canada. Did you see any economic stimulus in that statement? Any real help for the jobless and retirees? Any action as swift as what's going on in the rest of the world? I didn't.

The members of parliament that comprise the Coalition were elected by a majority of Canadians.

Anonymous said...

You're missing the point:
# 74% voted against Dion

# 83% voted against Layton

# 90% voted against Duceppe and the Separatists

# 0% voted for a coalition bedding with the Separatists

talk talk talk / Shireen said...

Anon, where does it state in our Constitution or rules of Parliament that only one party can govern Canada at time? There is nothing prohibiting two or more parties getting together to govern Canada when the votes don't give one party a clear majority. It's happened in other parts of the world; it's even happened here, successfully. But since you like numbers:

3,629,990 (26.3%) Canadians voted for Dion

2,517,075 (18.2%) Canadians voted for Layton

-----------

6,147,065 (44.5%) Canadians voted for Dion and Layton together

But:

5,205,334 (37.6%) Canadians voted for Harper

941,731 more (6.9%) Canadians voted for Liberals and NDP combined than for the Conservatives. More Canadians voted for a coalition than for one-party Tory rule. Canadians clearly wanted a co-operative Parliament, not one of crushing the opposition. If people didn't understand that, then they really need to learn how our democracy works.

The only reason why the BQ have guaranteed their support on confidence motions (and only confidence motions) is for the same reason Harper worked WITH the separatists to garner the BQ support to bring down the Martin government back in May 2005 -- number of votes does not translate to an equal number of seats, proportion wise, and so parties work with whichever party they can to sway the results of a motion.

Just another reason why we need electoral reform. If votes had translated to seats correctly, the BQ would not be a factor today. And the Greens would be in the House.

TeeGeeCee said...

When one takes the emotional responses out of the current parliamentary impasse it is clear to this writer that the Prime Minister is both attempting to mislead the Canadian public and a consummate hypocrite. This entire mess could have been avoided if Harper had kept his word and obeyed legislation passed by his government (specific date for the next election). However, in his ill-timed attempt to grab power by calling a snap election in the fall has directly led to the majority of elected parliamentarians to seek power for themselves. His pathetic attempt to paint a “spirit of co-operation” between the three other parties in the house as a deal with the devil will undoubtedly raise the nationalistic fervor of Quebecers! It is especially sad when we recognize this desperate desire to hang on to power at all cost, as just that.
Despite his protestations of undemocratic, the harsh reality is more Canadians voted against his party than for it. His very political party was formed after promises to not seek amalgamation with the then Conservative party. He has, in fact approached both the NDP and the Bloc on numerous occasions to do exactly what he now characterizes as a “deal with the Devil”. While he now says he was elected on a specific mandate that the opposition is not allowing him to proceed with, I do not recall the economy being an issue in his parties platform during the last election campaign. As I recall, the issue for the Conservatives was that suddenly the minority government He was so proud of, due to it accomplishing so much through co-operation in the House of Commons; wasn’t working any more and He needed a mandate to push through legislation. However we never did hear details about what legislation was being held up by the opposition, nor what important legislation was forthcoming! All I heard was that Stephan Dionne was not a competent Leader, while Stephen Harper was a family man who liked to read to his kids.
As a final note I must state that it is most unfortunate that political expediency has been placed ahead of the financial crisis facing us all. While other governments around the world, some with majorities, some coalition and some just minority, have recognized the problems and have proposed and/or implemented plans to deal with them. In the meantime and in between time, thanks to Stephen Harper we wait, dither and lose our pension equity, our jobs and our homes! Merry Christmas everyone!!