Fears for our Canadian Democracy


2015-01-11
Winston Churchill famously once said, "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others." I'm sure most Canadians accept this ironic endorsement of democracy, but our Westminster-style parliamentary democracy has one glaring weakness - it depends on the integrity, honour and genuine respect of its elected politicians. Michael Harris's new book, Party of One (Viking, 2014), details how Stephen Harper has fully exploited this weakness. In a 1997 private speech to the ultra-right wing and very powerful American "Council for National Policy" (CNP), Harper stated that "a Canadian prime minister with a majority and an inclination can in effect be a dictator" (Harris, p. 488). Harris further states that "Harper again declared to his American audience his personal view of Canadian governance. Between elections, the House of Commons was the property of the prime minister. If you were a member of the opposition, your business was restricted to going through a token exercise on voting on outcomes that were inevitable - the government always winning, the opposition always losing. Missing from [Harper's] analysis was the opposition's role in bringing out public information in Question Period, and the work of all-party committees in amending legislation and holding the government to account when it breaks its promises or misleads the people." (Harris, P31). Is it any wonder that Harper so despises former Progressive Conservative Prime Minister Joe Clark, a passionate believer in parliamentary democracy? In a conversation a few years ago, Clarke told me that during his early parliamentary career he felt that all political parties were, in their own ways, working for the good of the country, but that he could no longer believe this. In his 2013 book, How We Lead, Clark explains in detail how Harper has systematically and purposefully worked to dismantle Canada's parliamentary system of government. Especially coming from a distinguished former Progressive Conservative prime minister, Clark's book is essential reading. There's a crucial point here. Joe Clark is a dedicated conservative, believing in such positive conservative values as integrity, honesty and public service. But he shares the belief held by everyone who truly believes in democracy, that no one party or individual has a monopoly on the truth. So, to determine the best course of action democracy demands that all voices are heard and respected. That is the strength of a parliamentary democracy: debate, considering all viewpoints, positive compromises, working for what is best for all citizens. Let me go one step further and make what may sound like a shocking revelation for a dedicated social democrat: the NDP does NOT have a monopoly on the truth. Our party, to a fault sometimes, demands that there be full discussion, active listening, finding common ground to make genuine, inclusive progress. The Green Party, the Liberal Party, the Conservative Party (and especially the late, lamented Progressive Conservative Party) all have worthwhile values, perspectives and policies. While I firmly believe in my party, it must never be the only voice heard in our country, and especially in our parliament. Would that Stephen Harper felt the same way. I believe many conservative voters feel disenfranchised. They vote for the Harper Conservatives because they are persuaded by the Harper propaganda machine that this is still the party of Robert Stanfield, John Diefenbaker and Joe Clark. In fact, this is more like the American Republican Party, the American Tea Party, or any of the various parties of the evangelical and ideological far right. They are left without the positive conservative choice once offered them by the Progressive Conservative Party. To put it another way, I feel Joe Clark would be far more comfortable belonging to the NDP than he ever would being part of Harper's Reform Alliance (neo)Conservative Party. My greatest hope for stopping Harper is for an internal revolt within his party, with it being taken over by honourable, responsible conservatives who embrace parliamentary democracy. Merely voting Harper out of office won't make his perverted form of conservative politics go away. I opposed many of the policies of the Joe Clark conservatives, but I always felt he was my prime minister, that our country was in good hands, even if it would be definitely better with an NDP government. My feeling (fear, really) now is that Harper rules only to support his base, to make sure that the special interests that finance his party continue their support. I feel that he has nothing but contempt for all of us who don't support him. Ironically, those who should be most appalled at what Harper is doing to Canada should be traditionally conservative voters, those who believe in the principles of honesty, accountability and positive public service. Our country, in pre-Harper times viewed as one of the best in the world, was incrementally created over a period of time by the contributions of many. Now, we appear ready to let a cynical, rogue right-wing demagogue radically make our country over, in a few election cycles. Conservative voters don't have to become supporters of the Greens, NDP or Liberals to be appalled at this, and ready to stop it. So, much as I passionately wish for and will work toward a national NDP government to be elected in 2015, I even more passionately want my country back. I don't want Canada to be an elected dictatorship. I don't want our international reputation to be further besmirched. I don't want our precious social support network to be dismantled. I don't want the voices of scientists, the media, back-bench MPs, veterans, First Nations, the auditor general and anyone who opposes Harper to be silenced. I just want my country back.Joe Wilson

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