Canada a ‘part-time democracy’

Harper’s suspension of Parliament a blow to Canadian democracy, leaves Canadians voiceless

It was business as usual across the country on Dec. 30. No one seemed to notice our prime minister, Stephen Harper, personally take it upon himself to turn Canada into a part-time democracy. Harper received approval from Governor General Michäelle Jean to suspend Parliament until March, making it the second time in 12 months he requested this.

We now find ourselves with a suspended Parliament and a suspended democracy. We are left with hidden documents, disbanded committees and silenced questions. As Maclean’s Andrew Coyne said, “whatever the motives [of proroguing parliament], it has only fed suspicions of wrongdoing. If the government has nothing to hide, it sure seems determined to hide it.”

Parliament had 36 bills standing before it; work on these bills is completely erased. All the committees are reset and we start anew, having lost all the progress we had made since the last time the House started a session.

Most of the criticism the Harper government received is centered on the ignoring of our democratic rights: if the people have questions about Afghan detainee treatment, they should be answered. If the government was supposed to come under fire from Parliament regarding its carelessness with carbon emission levels, so be it.

It’s disrespectful to the dignity of Parliament to simply put it on hold whenever the government is under fire. The Economist summarized these criticisms: “parliamentary scrutiny may be tedious, but democracies cannot afford to dispense with it.”

Conservative pundits have said this is a routine action that may be strategic but is in no way inappropriate. In the National Post, Rex Murphy condemned the Opposition’s attacks on Harper’s government as “crocodile tears,” because: “A larger politician would not have [prorogued parliament]. A politician with a deeper regard for Parliament than Mr. Harper has, would not have done so. Respect for Parliament, however, is not a standard either party has earned the right to raise. In the current debate, it is merely a tattered flag of convenience for them both.”

He’s right. Dalton McGuinty recently suspended the provincial parliament; Prime Minister Jean Chretien prorogued four times. But this doesn’t excuse Harper’s actions. Proroguing parliament now is a big blow to the image of Canadian democracy.

We Canadians value our democracy. Why, then, do our parliamentary procedures fail in protecting it? It would seem as though proroguing Parliament is a cunning stunt, meant to protect its user from legitimate criticism. The fact that Harper used it twice in one year only indicates he’s particularly ruthless, shameless and willing to use all avenues at his disposal to do as his pleases. The CBC’s Heather Mallick described her feelings as such: “The prime minister’s suspension of Parliament has created angry voiceless citizens whose votes have become meaningless.”

The problem with her statement, of course, is that we live in a “democracy” that allows for the citizens to become voiceless, and for the votes to become meaningless by having such a measure written into its procedures. It’s unfortunate our governmental leaders had to resort to a back door policy, one that isn’t meant to be used simply because one is backed into a corner. If one doesn’t anticipate having to answer difficult questions while in power, then perhaps one isn’t fit for public office. But putting the voices of millions of Canadians on hold while you figure out what you want to say isn’t acceptable, nor is it what Canadians elected the government for.

Our democracy has been undermined and reduced to a joke by our prime minister’s actions. Perhaps it’s time we take action and change the legislative technicalities that allow this to happen. Until then, we Canadians can’t be proud of our democratic system nor can we advocate or enforce democratic rule elsewhere in the world.

Harper’s move has revealed us to be puppets in a pretend-democracy, a people who have no voice in how they are governed. Parliament can’t hold the government responsible. It seems as though after this many trials, the democracy we cherish can be made into a laughingstock at the whims of an almost despotic leader.

Harper required the permission of the representative of the Queen, who had no choice but to give it. This, at best, sounds like absurd child’s play. Canada should get it together and assemble a system where the voices of the people can be appropriately represented.

If we believe what we are told, that Canadians want to see games in Vancouver not in Ottawa, then perhaps we shouldn’t be allowed to vote. Apparently the government can’t handle operating during the Olympic games. Perhaps we could have offered to TiVo it for Harper.

We are so disengaged that the government feels comfortable selling us these lame excuses. The next time you’re proud of the Canadian democracy, and the next time you’re condemning a non-Western country for their lack thereof, just think: as you read this, your government is taking your money and laughing.

Be embarrassed.

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