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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Tuesday 25 February 2014

Stephen Harper: The Straw That Broke the Back of Responsible Government

Tell me if you remember any of these quotes from the 2008 Parliamentary crisis:

"It's a kind of coup d'état." - Jean-Pierre Blackburn, MP

A coalition government would be "irresponsible and undemocratic." - Jim Prentice, MP

The Conservative government "will use all legal means to resist this undemocratic seizure of power." - Stephen Harper, MP

Please note the letters behind the names of each of these Ministers of the Crown - M for Member, P for Parliament.

Stephen Harper and his whole caucus are elected Members of Parliament.  It's by virtue of convention that, in Canada, the leader of the Party with a majority of seats in the House of Commons forms government.

By convention.  

By law - by our Constitution - whoever forms government is accountable to Parliament.  By law, the Prime Minister must be able to retain the confidence of Parliament, the people's elected representatives.  Government, legally speaking, is the Crown and her advisors - the Ministers of the Crown.

What we have now are the people's representatives who's job is to hold government to account being government, and keeping Parliament at bay.  It's as though the lawyers, the jury and the judge were all one and the same.  They aren't serving two masters in this fashion; they're strictly serving their own interests.

As I will be telling several Grade 10 classes today, a responsible government, that pillar of our Westminster Parliamentary/Constitutional Monarchy system that came out of Magna Carta, is one where government is responsible to Parliament - not citizens.  Citizens elect Parliaments, not governments.

Here's another gem of a quote for you: Stephen Harper responding to a reporter's comment that his government had been found in contempt of Parliament, to whom he is accountable:

Harper was probably right about that.  But that's a big part of the problem.

There is no legal mechanism by which Canadians can hold our government to account except through our elected Parliament.  When we disengage from how Parliament operates and focus strictly on government, we're essentially shutting the door on our levers of control.  Is it any wonder our current government is encouraging us not to care about Parliament?  Or putting the responsibility for electoral engagement strictly in the hands of partisan interests?  

First, you tell people not to care about their only means of holding government to account.  Then, you ensure that only partisan interests can promote voting - which they will do, but only to those they want to vote.  If that's not irresponsible and undemocratic, I don't know what is.

When we donate to Political Parties with a growing amount of money, we are essentially delegating the power that is constitutionally invested in our democratically elected Members of Parliament and giving it over to political operatives who are, at best, elected by partisans only - though most of them aren't elected at all.

Let's be clear - we, as Canadians, don't elect government - we elect Parliamentarians to hold government to account.  

Government is the employee, Parliament is the boss, we are the Board.

As Stephen Harper has increasingly consolidated power, he has done everything within his power to undermine Parliament and any body that is designed to hold government to account.  

He and his partisan team have gone above and beyond to attack and marginalize any and every Opposition leader in Parliament who has the job of holding government to account.

I'm less worried about whether Trudeau is "in over his head" - that's just a line, a message point crafted by un-elected PMO staff that is now being parroted by Conservative MPs that seem to be partisans first, the people's representatives second.

I''m more troubled by how this Conservative government is increasingly going over the head of every legal tool that exists to hold them accountable.

Because in the system of government we have right now, on paper and in practice, when government doesn't account to Parliament and Parliament answers to Political Parties, not citizens, then there is no accountability to Canadians at all.  

Unless, that is, you pay the price of admission and join a Political tribe.  But that wouldn't be very democratic, would it?

It's supposed to be the House of Commons, not the House of Partisans.  If access to the system comes at the cost of a Party membership, it's not democracy.

Team Harper aren't to blame for the gradual erosion of our Parliamentary democratic system - but it's quite possible they have broken it beyond repair.

It took Magna Carta and later, the English Civil War to deliver a responsible government; it may just be possible that we need something similar to give us the responsible democracy we both need and deserve.

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