Dr. Dawg

Democracy in tatters?

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Is Canada still democratic?

That begs the question, of course. Canada has never been democratic in the radical sense of the word. Nor is it my intention here to get into theoretical debates about “the general will” and whatnot. I’m concerned more immediately about our system of representation, with all of its warts and flaws. Are there more of those blemishes now, perhaps even life-threatening ones?

That feudal relic known as the Senate (a construction based upon the British House of Lords) presents one obvious set of problems. Yet the current scandals are nothing particularly surprising. It’s always been a place for the bagpersons and cronies of the Prime Minister to wallow; the PM alone decides whom to appoint, and the public good is rarely a salient consideration. The Senate isn’t remotely democratic, and, I would argue, attempts to make it so (elections, etc.) would just be putting lipstick on a pig, one long due for the spit.

The Harper Senateā„¢ actually voted down a House of Commons bill on the environment three years ago, imperiously overriding the people’s representatives. But that’s a mere bagatelle compared to more recent developments regarding the House of Commons itself, wherein the representation of ordinary Canadians is supposed to reside.

The Westminster system depends a great deal upon trust and convention, not formal rules. That trust under Harper has been sorely eroded, perhaps beyond repair. He has abused his powers to prorogue the assembly of the people’s representatives when it serves his political agenda, his government been found in contempt of Parliament, and the Conservative majority choice of the hyper-partisan and ever-biddable Andrew Scheer as Speaker of the House has brought that institution, too, into disrepute. Omnibus bills coupled with time allocation have virtually destroyed meaningful opposition in the legislature. Parliamentary Committees now routinely operate under cover of darkness, and, thus far, opposition parties have been too timid to put a stop to it by ignoring the much-abused in camera rules and speaking publicly about the goings-on there.

Yet, through all that, there remains a House of Commons, battered and bruised though it might be. Two recent shocks, however, have riven that institution to the core.

The first, of course, is the recent judicial finding of widespread electoral fraud across the country in 2011. Mr. Justice Mosely did not overturn electoral results in six close-fought ridings, and he was constrained from pointing the finger of blame directly at the Conservatives. But he didn’t really have to. Who, besides Conservative apparatchiks, has access to the closely-guarded Conservative data-base (CIMS), which the court found was used to perpetrate the fraud? And, for crying out loud, cui bono?

Bad enough that such blatant election-rigging attempts, until now the hallmark of a banana republic, has become a new and repulsive feature on our blasted landscape of politics (to use Andrew Coyne’s felicitous phrase.) But now two Conservative members continue to sit in the House of Commons who have no legal right to be there at all.

Speaker Scheer was informed more than two weeks ago by Elections Canada that Shelly Glover and James Bezan had broken the rules. Scheer, typically, chose to say nothing, and simply sat on this information. In a flagrant breach of the Canada Elections Act, Glover and Bezan refused to provide corrections to their financial returns submitted to Elections Canada. The Act is crystal-clear:

  1. (2) An elected candidate who fails to provide a document as required by section 451 or 455 or fails to make a correction as requested under subsection 457(2) or authorized by 458(1) shall not continue to sit or vote as a member until they are provided or made, as the case may be.

But there they sit, and they vote, and even sponsor legislation.

This is, quite possibly, the tipping-point. If Conservative MPs can continue to be present and active in the House when the Canada Elections Act says they cannot, and the Speaker attempts to cover the whole mess up (we only know about it because the media actually did their job), the rule of law has been effectively suspended under the Harper government.

The Conservative political dry-rot that has already thoroughly infected the PMO and the Senate has now settled in the House of Commons. It’s high time for a fumigation, folks, before the whole structure comes crashing down.

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This page contains a single entry by Dr. Dawg published on June 6, 2013 11:22 AM.

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