In December, Canadians have snow, hockey, Christmas … and the annual shutdown of democracy

Canadian democracy: Going out of business … again.

All you need to know to understand Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s latest plan to prorogue Parliament is that from the neoconservative perspective, democracy is convenient window dressing, but not a very meaningful phenomenon.

At the moment it becomes inconvenient – when, for example, your opponents might vote non-confidence in your government (December 2008) or inconveniently investigate government attitudes toward Afghan prisoners (December 2009) – you simply yank the curtains shut and end the show.

If they still won’t co-operate? Well, I suppose you could suspend the Constitution, as neocons (or neo-liberals, as neocons are called in countries where soccer is called football) have done in several places with varying degrees of violence.

In other words, by announcing he plans to prorogue Parliament until “after the Olympics” (a convenient, if meaningless, excuse), Prime Minister Harper is saying the exercise of democracy has become inconvenient again. That this always seems to happen in Canada in December may just be one of those things, like the stock market perpetually crashing in October.

Don’t doubt for a minute that Alberta’s neocon government wouldn’t do the same thing in similar circumstances if we didn’t keep returning them to power with majorities so massive that resistance, if not futile, is at least meaningless.

And with the help of the mainstream media, alas, you can count on significant numbers of Albertans now reaching the conclusion that closing down Parliament is “democratic,” while allowing it to fulfill its democratic mandate is somehow not. (And by the way, where are those conservative voices in the mainstream media who used to complain so vociferously about our Parliamentary democracy being an “elected dictatorship” under prime ministers like Pierre Trudeau and Jean Chrétien? Now that we really are dealing with an elected dictatorship, has the cat got their tongue!)

After all, when the prime minister conspired with the governor general last December to thwart the will of Parliament, thousands of Albertans concluded that this was a grand expression of democracy, while the short-lived coalition, which truly expressed the democratic will of our democratically elected Parliament, was the opposite.

If anything, this bizarre phenomenon is evidence of a need to again teach democratic theory in Alberta high schools…

Regardless of this aside, what the prime minister has proposed today is obviously an affront to democracy – though hardly a shocking one, as opposition spokespeople allege, given this prime minister’s history and predilections.

If nothing else, the stall will give Mr. Harper an opportunity to appoint more “unelected senators” to that undemocratic upper house he purports to so despise.

The governor general, of course, should refuse his request to prorogue the House. Given her performance last year in a more serious democratic crisis, however, don’t count on it.

2 Comments on "In December, Canadians have snow, hockey, Christmas … and the annual shutdown of democracy"

  1. Patrick Ross says:

    From the December 14, 2009 edition of the Globe and Mail:

    "Majority governments normally prorogue after a couple of years in office as a way of recalibrating.

    But minorities, like the Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, may decide to end Parliament after a shorter period."

    Now, I've learned the hard way, David, that you don't like to discuss these kinds of things openly — intellectually craven, and what not.

    But isn't it kind of amusing the way the details so seldom refuse to line up behind these kinds of arguments?

    For example, it's actually routine to prorogue Parliament during events of national significance — such as the 2007 Ontario election (a move that benefited both the provincial Conservatives and provincial Liberals in that election), or during the upcoming 2010 Olympics.

    What personally amuses me very much, David, is that you want to trumpet democracy while you continue to spew bitterness over the fact that a coalition government that the majority of Canadians did not want, and subsequently rejected wasn't allowed to take power over the objections of most Canadians.

    It's remarkable that so many more Canadians rejected the coalition than voted for the Conservative Party. It underscores the respect of the Canadian citizenry for democracy, and their insistence that the country's democratic institutions respect them in return.

    For example, Stephane Dion: don't reject a coalition out-of-hand during the election campaign, then try to force one on the rest of us under dubious circumstances after you lose.

    And don't expect the Governor General to compliantly line up behind you to put you in the Prime Minister's office at the head of an irresponsible governmental coalition that — despite the dishonest attempts to pretend otherwise — very much did involve mortaging the government to a separatist party.

    What in his own self interest Stephane Dion couldn't recognize as irresponsible, the majority of Canadians did.

    Democracy, David. I recommend you get acquainted with it.

  2. Holly Stick says:

    That comment makes me wonder if Patrick recycled an old post about Prorogation I last year; you know, like a dog returning to its own vomit.

    I'm inclined to believe Harper did this to avoid having to produce the uncensored papers about handing Afghan detainees over to be tortured. I believe he can reconstitute House committees to have a majority of Conservatives now, all voting as their master tells them to since none of them has any principles left. I forget who first suggested this interpretation, it might have been Kady O'Malley a week or two ago.

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