Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Stephen Harper Going Prorogue Again

We have no leadership in Canada. As of this moment (2009-12-30 19:47), one MP has retweeted a Canuck's tweeted opinion, another on the left coast has issued a typo-plagued statement, the national opposition leaders have tweeted exactly nothing, and Gilles Duceppe has opined on Prime Minister Stephen Harper's second prorogue in two years.

Meanwhile the media were a desert of information till after the supper news hour, yet Canadians had long been tweeting like mad, going from anger to outrage to witty variations on "going prorogue." Even a Globe and Mail article had over 1,700 comments and counting on it from PO'd Canadians. Social media makes it possible for Canadians across our country to fully express themselves politicially for the first time in history, independently of the media. And it may be the only way we'll be able to restore democracy to Canada.

But not unless Canadians learn how their democracy is supposed to work. An ignorant populace is a malleable populace, the kind dictators like.

Harper's first prorogue happened last year amongst much fanfare and breathless waiting by media outside Rideau Hall. Canadians were all for it because in their American-television-fuelled ignorance they bought Harper's outright lie that coalitions are illegal. They are not. A refresher course if you disagree:



Coalition governments are a legitimate form of government in Canada. Of course, it didn't help Canada's democracy that we had Michael Ignatieff huffing and puffing for the Liberal leadership reins so that he could knock this Canadian-not-American coalition idea out cold.

This year, the prorogue happened in secrecy, which is more and more the Harper way. (Now what other kinds of governments thrive on secrecy? Hmmm...). This year, Harper could not finesse his way to a prorogue, no way he could convince the electorate he is right this time.

And so he phoned it in.

Next time, he'll twitter it in.

He phoned Governor General Michaƫlle Jean while the media were waiting breathlessly for the announcement of the Canadian men's Olympic hockey team. And so it wasn't the media that alerted me to his shenanigans; it was my fellow Canadians on Twitter. While the media slept, relying as they usually do on statements not on investigation, Canadians were tweeting their outrage, writing to the GG, and publicizing blogs written by other Canadians, Canadians who'd taken the time to list the 32 bills that Harper's prorogue had killed, who'd taken the time to show how Harper has not been governing at all this past year. And the measly amount he has done has now gone down the drain, including that big crime bill Westerners support. Successfully relying on media apathy and MPs busy vacationing, he's pretty much flipped the finger to both the opposition and his supporters. In short, Canada. (Of course, his supporters can't handle that, the cognitive dissonance being too much, so with great vituperation, have been saying prorogue is a good thing.)

There's plenty of speculation as to why he went prorogue: Parliament's questioning of the Afghan detainee issue, time to lean the Senate the Tory way, just because. But Harper has always acted in his best interest of accruing power to himself. It's not like he's the first leader to do this. Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien was a master. He pretty much did nada except for slaying the deficit. Before him, Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney was naked in his ambition. But Mulroney governed. You could say that Mulroney (gasp) is the last PM to lead this country, to make bold statements and enact bold legislation that changed how this country works for the better. Harper prefers to lead in secret. He's effectively stripping Canada of its technological leadership and economic strength: allowing the sell-off of Nortel to foreign interests, abandoning the medical isotope business that the world has depended upon us for decades, creating such a massive deficit that he's placed our health care and federal governance in jeopardy as federal dollars will have to go towards paying down the debt, leaving provinces to pick up the tab even more than when Chretien did it. Whoever picks up the tab has the power of governance in Canada. Harper has always wanted Canada to devolve to the provinces. But with a minority government, Parliament stands in his way.

He has abused his power to emasculate Parliament and centralize the effective governing of Canada to himself. Proroguing enables him even more to change our country behind the scenes. He can do this because Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau began the transfer of power from the elected Parliament to the unelected Prime Minister's Office and because Canadians retain nothing from history class, avoid the news because it's depressing, and rely on broadcasters who trumpet that they're the bastions of local television but feed us American drivel. Today, people learn about how we live, how our democracy works from television and popular culture. When popular culture shows Canadians the West Wing but no Canadian equivalent, is it any wonder that Canadians support the PM's anti-democratic actions and then howl when it's too late?

The only popular personality that shows any inkling to help Canadians understand their own democracy is Rick Mercer. He created a super segment on explaining how Canada works.



But we need him again! Some say that since prorogues were all the rage way back in the 19th and 20th centuries, they're no big deal now. He needs to explain to us how old prorogues differ from Harper's prorogues so that we can see that Harper prorogues are a big deal.

We need more than Mercer; we need leaders. We need leaders who are willing to flex their political courage and oppose Harper's move through action. According to Andrew Coyne, history shows that MPs can still meet in the face of proroguing. Our Opposition leaders can create precedent here in Canada, reassert the will of Parliament, and show up Harper for the non-governing despot that he is.

But getting back to the social media thing. Our current Governor General set up a website -- Citizen Voices -- where she can interact with the Canadian public. She has a Facebook page and a Twitter profile. Canadians can reach her in their preferred social media way. For the first time in history, Canadians can easily speak to the GG. And it's easy for the GG to feel the pulse of Canadians. In effect, she can take the time to listen to the people on Facebook or Twitter or her Citizen Voices website before she replies to the Prime Minister's requests, especially when he requests an action that kills 32 bills, effectively makes it like he hasn't governed for a year, does an end-run around Parliament. This is not the time of Lord Byng, when the GG could not easily read Canadians. The GG is our head of state. She represents the Queen, who is supposed to lead at our pleasure. The GG now has the ability to exercise the power vested in her and to refuse a PM's request because she can now speak directly to the people and they to her. She can represent us.

Of course, once she does that, there will be a hue and cry to make the GG an elected office. There will be a final push to end the monarchy in Canada after Queen Elizabeth II reign ends. Our ability to use social media to become more active in politics may be what will in the end strengthen our democracy.

But that's a ways away. Meanwhile, I shall go drown my sorrow for Canada in Christmas Trifle.

6 comments:

buzz said...

Imagine how reasonable life would be if Mercer were PM and Stewart were President.

talk talk talk / Shireen said...

ROFL!! We'd certainly be laughing more!

Mike said...

three different online sites for GG but none of them mention prorogue - or anything other than fluffy arts articles form weeks ago

talk talk talk / Shireen said...

Even though it's vacation time, if the GG was able to work long enough to grant Harper's request, then you're absolutely right, she should've mentioned it online. Interaction with citizens was her idea, and this is the time when she needs to interact with us the most.

buy r4i card said...

Harper wins the vote. What Rae did here will not be as widely seen, and its too noisy in the background. He stops, cuts into the beat, and has no backing. Harper is the piano man. Now of course, Harper is also the idiot :P but that does not mean I'm going to side with the anti-Harper on this non-partisan issue. Sorry.

talk talk talk / Shireen said...

Harper WON the vote, past tense. And he's used and is using again Canadians' ignorance about how their Parliamentary system works against them. Bob Rae may be one voice lost in the noise, but he is listened to more than other "one voices" because he was Premier of Ontario.

Harper is currently in control, but the key word is currently. No one party or man stays in control forever, and then what happens when the opposition attains power and uses the same tactic against the former governing party? We Canadians lose, that's what.

I know it's all about being non-partisan (oh please, as if such a thing exists in our party system) but Harper is the visible face of what has been an increasingly undemocratic system of government.

We want to be democratic in more than name again, we'll have to do more than tinker and focus on one issue only. We have to look at the entire system, including the party structure and be willing to reform it.