Friday, February 18, 2011

Fixing Parliament

I got to page 3 of this article and then stopped because it was too depressing.

So the question is how do you fix it? For Conservatives the answer is you don't, debate just gets in the way of Dear Leader. But for those of us who do care about Canada's institutions and democracy in general, what can be done?

Seems to me that the answer is that the opposition should use the tools it has to hold the government's feet to the fire, to demand transparency and accountability. Wherry certainly puts some of the blame at their feet. Yet we know why they don't. To follow on the theme that Steve V has been writing about for the past week, if nobody outside Parliament cares, why should anyone inside Parliament care?

Lazy of me to write two posts in a row saying the exact same thing, but it's the Canadian people that's the problem.


  1. I think the opposition have been doing a decent job of holding the government's feet to the fire.

    However democracy can't really work if the government doesn't want it to. Fortunately the opposition has the option of voting non-confidence in the government and replacing it. They just need to exercise it.

  2. Shiner,

    Nice introduction to an interesting and under reported topic. Keith Martin is obviously right, and there is a serious malaise that has enveloped the Parliament. It seems that everything that gets done is done by the executive and all the announcements are being done outside the confines of the House itself.

    I do not doubt the lack of interest by the CPC in this. This slide into apathy would not be occurring without the Conservative government allowing it to be so. Further, this government is dominated by the will of one man, Stephen Harper, and therefore he has the most influence in this. However let us stop there and examine some other salient elements that you would prefer to gloss over being the avowed partisan that you are.

    Firstly, attendance in the House. Who isn't attending? Sadly the worst offenders are members of the Liberal Party of Canada. I would have thought the Bloc, but apparently not so. And the worst of the worst is Michael Ignatieff. If you go to "" you will see that of the 70 worst attenders in the house 45 are Liberal's. Sad really.

    How about the Speaker. People call Peter Milliken the best speaker in the history of the House. He is the longest running. What role does he have in the behavior and involvement of members?

    How about the media? Aaron Wherry reports this. Perhaps there should be reporters putting Scott Brison's comments about the Columbia Free Trade Agreeement on the front page so we can see what our lawmakers are thinking. But they don't. The Parliamentary press Gallery, those journalists that the Liberal's wish the CPC would kowtow to. Where are they? They certainly aren't part of the solution are they? If the light of the media shone in this direction perhaps we would see better behavior.

    How about Michael Chong's private member's bill on raising the civility of the House? It has been stuck in a committee. It apparently needs to re-surface by April. I guess, just in time for the oppostion to have voted non-conifdence in the government and killed the bill.

    Look, I don't want to the defend the CPC on this topic, only wish to point out that it takes two to tango, and the Liberal's sure are good at the tango.

  3. As I said, I'm not going to place the blame on members of the House. Politicians can only react to the views of the public. Likewise, the media can't force the public to read or watch anything. If there was a real thirst for more debate, more democracy, I guarantee it would be a major plank of a CPC or LPC platform. That's not to suggest I think the parties are entirely innocent, and certainly not to suggest that I think the parties are equally culpable.

  4. it's the Canadian people that's the problem

    Then perhaps we should dissolve the people and elect another.

    Now that you've vented about the undeserving people for two posts, how about a third with your thoughts on how exactly this has come to pass?

  5. I'm not sure how to respond Peter. Do you believe that Canadians are plugged in? Do you believe the blame does lie at the feet of the media or politicians? Or do you disagree with the basic premise and think that Canadian democracy is just peechy? Seriously, your snide comment has me curious.

    As far as the cause, I think there are many, from education to information overload to a general loss of interest in the country.

  6. Snide? Well, you did leave yourself rather wide open there.

    I read the article and it is hard to get a grip on what exactly is the complaint here. The decline of civility? Lack of respect for process? Poor standards of debate? No sense of history? I could agree with all that, even given that such is the timeless complaint of the middle-aged, and it's worth worrying about. But I am wary of this meme from progressives that it's all much worse under Harper or modern conservative government generally. There is a "What's the Matter with Kansas" feel to it that smells of the beautiful people whining that they are being displaced by rubes.

    I'm not going to defend Harper's shennanigans, but he's got a ways to go before he governs as hamfistedly as Trudeau or Chretien did. Trudeau was famously contemptuous of Parliament and called M.P.'s "nobodies", to the approving nods of many progressives who favoured a strong executive, thought results were more important than process and saw many M.P.s as know-nothing used care salesmen. Question period has been theatre for generations and Harper is hardly the first PM to defend a minister who misled the House. The impotence of the M.P. has been a perennial complaint for a long time.

    I also have a hard time with your suggestion that the electorate is at fault, the implication presumably being that the integrity of parliamentary procedure and the sanctity of Robert's Rules of Order was once a big concern in small-town Canada. I really don't see this as a bottom-up issue, but pinning it down is not easy. What would Stanley Knowles and Eugene Forsey have made of the Age of Twitter?

    I'd be very interested in your thoughts about how modern education affects this. Is it a result of the decline of the teaching of history? The disappearance of rhetoric and debating as valued skills? I know that many court lawyers will tell you that modern judges are generally much more impatient with the notion they are fettered by precedent than previous generations were, and see themselves much more at liberty to deliver "abstract justice", and their reasoning can be pretty sloppy. OK in some cases, but most seem to have no sense of the vastly increased discretionary power they have accorded themselves and the uncertainty they are contributing to the law.

  7. Hasn't Jeffrey Simpson, the writer of The Friendly Dictatorship about the Chretien government, said the Harper government is much worse then the Chretien government?

    See the bottom of

  8. Frankly I have a hard time getting my thoughts on it organized. I certainly can't present a sensical criticism of each province's social science curriculum. Moreover, there's a certain futility in it. Definitely goes beyond history class, and I'm not going to make any friends preaching against too many television channels and the internet, why can't everyone just be happy listening to Radio One all day???

    A lot of my frustration certainly stems from the media they have here in the UK. The public debate is heads and tails above what we have back home. I've met more than a few Brits who lived in Canada for a bit but returned to this miserable island because Canadians just don't give a shit about anything and they just couldn't stand it. Same goes for a good deal of the ex-pats over here, some of the best and brightest Canada has to offer, who just don't feel particularly attached to home and are doing their damndest to start a life elsewhere.

    I'll stop there because I'm not making any sense. Not even 30 and I'm already a crusty old curmudgeon.

  9. Hasn't Jeffrey Simpson, the writer of The Friendly Dictatorship about the Chretien government, said the Harper government is much worse then the Chretien government?

    He's not the only one, Delacourt actually says the same thing in a blog post today and many journalists have said similar things. Don't think you'll be convincing Peter though. ;)

  10. Oh, I could be convinced, but not by Simpson. Maybe by an Opposition that acted like they were really concerned about it.