Thursday, December 04, 2008

Democracy in Action

It was just pointed out to me that I have made no comment on the current shenanigans taking front and centre in Ottawa during a time when, perhaps, those duly elected to represent the best interests of all Canadians ought to be playing nicely together for the sake of seeing us through the economic storm that is wailing away on our doorsteps. I apologize. I also apologize to those who will be offended by my decidedly partisan views on the topic.

Well, sort of partisan. I am no party member. I do not support any specific political party. I do not feel that any of them represent my views and needs. That said, I am decidedly opposed to the Conservative Party in almost all of its views and stances. So it is no wonder that watching this soap opera unfold, I find myself alternately curling up my lip and hissing at Prime Minister Harper's statements, or giggling uncontrollably at his hypocrisy and the shear ballsiness of his bluster.

So let's step back and look at this a little. Canada, having a Parliamentary system, within a Constitutional Monarchy, is headed by the Leader of the party which won the most seats in Parliament in the Election. This means that Canadians do not vote for the Prime Minister specifically. In fact, the Prime Minister can change in between elections if the ruling party elects a new leader in that time. Because we vote for our own local member of parliament, and our representative could be a member of any of the parties, we could, in fact, have voted for a Member of Parliament who is in the Opposition, and could, therefore, have had no say in the selection of our Prime Minister. That is fine because the parties that are in opposition have the ability to vote down the government if the Prime Minister fails to meet the needs of the people.

As the currently governing party does not have 51% of the seats in Parliament, but rather holds the largest number of seats of any of the parties, they form a Minority Government. Ordinarily this would mean that they governing party would work with the other parties in a conciliatory manner, in order to ensure that bills are past, and that the public is well-served by the government. Instead, this Prime Minister has chosen to act the part of the bully by attaching what is called a "confidence motion" to most Bills that pass through the House. A confidence motion is something that states that if the Bill is voted down, the government falls. If this were to happen, either an Election would be called (that's what usually happens) or, our representative of the Monarchy, the Governor General could choose to appoint another party to lead.

Over the last couple years the opposition parties have been reluctant to vote against confidence motions, largely because bringing down the government would have lead to an election that would cost $300 million, and which none of those parties could have won. This led to a number of bills being rammed through, which never should have passed in a Minority Government.

However, times have changed. As the new, slightly stronger, Minority Parliament session opened in the midst of a world economic crisis, the Stephen Harper government put forth an Economic statement that was so abominable that the opposition could no longer be bullied, and had to take a stand. Why? Because this economic statement did nothing to sort the economic situation, but did a lot to hamper democracy.

This led the parties in the Opposition to do the thing that they are democratically required to do in this situation. They got together, and discussed what was in the best interests of their Constituents. They formed a coalition. What does that mean? Basically, that they have agreed to put aside their differences in order to ensure that together they can work to meet the needs of the country in the face of economic crisis. The Liberal party and the NDP signed an agreement. The Bloc Quebecois and the Green Party agreed to support them. They told the Conservative government that they would no longer be bullied by Confidence motions, and that the governing party had, indeed, lost the confidence of the House.

So what happens then? When the next bill comes to a vote, the government will fall.

That is, it will fall unless Stephen Harper goes to the Governor General and asks her to call an election.

Stephen Harper chose not to do that. Instead he back-pedaled on the Economic statement, got rid of some of the more controversial points, and hoped he could work the situation out. That didn't work. The opposition feels its gone too far, and Harper is still not taking the economic crisis seriously, or working fast enough to ensure that Canadians are protected.

The Opposition have sent a letter to the Governor General, explaining that they have formed a coalition which would give them a majority, and asking that rather than calling an election, they be given the chance to lead the country. This is perfectly legal. It is democratic, and something which is accounted for in the Parliamentary system of government. It has happened in Canada before.

Over the past few days the Conservative Party have been on a propagandic rampage, claiming that the coalition is underhanded, unpatriotic, even illegal. The most offensive of their claims is that it is somehow offensive to Canadians because the Bloc Quebecois are involved, calling the Bloc "the Separatists" at every turn. Yes, the Bloc Quebecois has been a separatist party, though it has been awhile since that has been a serious concern. However, they also represent a huge population of Canadians who are facing the same bleak near future as the rest of Canadians. Those Canadians have as much right as anyone else to be represented by a Federal Government that serves their needs. A Federal Government that sneers at them and makes continuous claims that they are not worthy to be represented by a governing party doesn't seem to me to be doing that.

This slander has been doubly hypocritical as Stephen Harper himself was pushing for a Coalition with the Bloc back when he was the leader of the opposition. So basically, coalitions are both democratic and patriotic when it will put him in power, but are an abomination when they will remove him from power. I call that being a sore loser.

This morning, Stephen Harper pulled yet another punch agains the Parliamentary process by going to the Governor General and, rather than asking that she dissolve his Government which has lost the confidence of the House, he asked that she prorogue parliament until January. What does that mean? He wants to suspend parliament until January. Why? To buy himself more time before a vote that would bring down his government. I call that offensive. Not only his he attempting to sidestep the democratic process, he's effectively delaying, for about six weeks, any possible actions on the part of government to stem the tide of economic devastation.

What I find both pathetic and angering about Stephen Harper's actions here is that he is attempting to thwart the democratic process in order to maintain is Prime Ministership. He claims that he cannot allow a Coalition of those who were rejected by the public to lead, as it would be undemocratinc. Yet, he is leader of a Minority government. His party was also rejected by the public. Together, the Coalition have far more support of the electorate that the Conservatives. As a group, they are the clear majority. His claims to patriotism fall flat.

Governor General Michaelle Jean has not yet given her decision. She has several difficult options, all of which would be historic. She can do one of the following:
  • agree to prorogue parliament
  • dissolve the government and call immediate election
  • name Stephane Dion as leader of the Coalition Prime Minister
I think that's all, correct me if I'm wrong.

Whatever she decides will be Historic and momentous. If she agrees to the Prorogation she is effectively taking away parliamentarians most basic right - the right to express confidence or non-confidence in the government. That said, we have just had an election, and an election now would also slow down any action on the part of government with regard to the economic situation. As I see it, her best option is to deny the prorogation, allow the non-confidence vote to happen, and then name Stephane Dion Prime Minister. This gives the Coalition time to govern, and to attempt to maintain the confidence of the House in order to best serve the public in these difficult times.


False Prophet said...

Look, I understand not everyone likes the idea of the coalition. There are plenty of good reasons not to like it: no faith in Dion as PM, distaste of the involved parties compromising their ideologies (I would maintain most parties in Canada only pay lip service to their ideologies, but I digress), or little faith in the coalition's economic policy.

What I cannot stomach is the utter BS coming from certain segments of the Conservative party, from the Prime Minister on down, claiming this is "illegal" or "undemocratic". The coalition is nothing of the sort, and Harper knew that when he considered it himself in 2004. It is a constitutionally-entrenched provision in our parliamentary democracy with centuries of precedent and tradition behind it. Thankfully, I know CPC supporters who do understand this.

I thought "Conservatives" were about preserving our traditions and institutions. Any "conservative" who calls this "illegal", "undemocratic" or "a coup" deserves the title as much as George Washington deserved to be called a loyal subject of King George III.

faerie-writer said...

Wow, you've just explained this better than anything else I've seen or read. Thanks!