BY AGAR ADAMSON
One of the problems of being a political columnist is, how can one be politically neutral - yet objective - when immersed in an ugly and unnecessarily hostile period in our political history?
Looking back, one finds they are more likely to be in “opposition” no matter which party forms the government. One must admit that not all of its actions are negative. For example, the proposal by the Harperites, led by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, to finally create a national securities commission should be welcomed by all Canadians as a long over due reform. It is the opposition of Alberta and Quebec to this constructive action, which should be strongly criticized. It is the Conservatives who have acted, while the Liberals dithered for years when in office. Even if the courts agree with Alberta, Ottawa can still adopt the legislation and then “invite” the provinces and territories to agree. One regulator, as in the United States, would be far superior to the existing 13.
July 1, we shall celebrate the 143rd anniversary of Confederation. We do this at an uncertain time for Canada. Parliament, which thankfully will soon be closed for the summer, is not working in our interests. We must blame Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his ministers. The most controlling prime minister in Canadian history has introduced a negative style of political debate, modeled on the American House of Representatives at its worst.
Parliament, and in particular the House of Commons, has two major functions: the first is to be, as James Mill pointed out, a watchdog on the actions of the government; the second is to be the legislative arm of government. To Mill, the first of these is the more important task for, in watching the government, the house is safeguarding democracy.
Any Canadian watching the house on television or reading Hansard will undoubtedly agree the Canadian parliament today is a dysfunctional body in need of assistance. Yes, British parliamentary democracy (upon which ours is based) is an adversarial system. As the history of democracy in Australia, New Zealand and India illustrates, the system works perfectly satisfactorily in minority situations. Why? Because there is a will amongst the members to make it work. This spirit of co-operation and compromise does not exist in today’s Ottawa. Why? Because there is not a general will to make it work.
The speaker, who deserves credit for attempting to keep order, must be stricter in applying the rules. The media, both electronic and print, are far too lax in their coverage of the House of Commons. It is its duty to expose the derailment of the commons by the members.
One of the most important aspects of electoral politics is trust. Can you trust a leader who, on more than one occasion, has gone back on his word? Probably not; yet, this is happening all too frequently in Ottawa. The games played by all the parties, but especially the Conservatives’ actions following the speaker’s ruling on the Afghan detainees detention, have done nothing to resolve the issue or restore Canadians’ faith in parliament. Is it any wonder the number of Canadians voting in elections is falling at an alarming rate!
Can the leopard lose its spots? In the past, the Liberals have regained power because the Conservatives lost the support of Canadians. Today’s Liberals appear to be going along on the same track - but this may be a mistake. Harper is a wily fox of a politician, and he just may not make the same mistakes Bennett, Diefenbaker, Mulroney and Clark made. The Liberals need to stand up and tell us what they stand for, and if they have a program to restore the liberal tradition that has been the main stay of Canadian political culture for generations. Are the Liberals a cohesive unit, in full support of their leader and able to do so?
Political games are fun, rather like chess on a rainy July afternoon at the cottage. As we enter our 150th year as a nation, we face many challenges. Our health care system needs an overhaul; all of our politicians are afraid to touch the issue for fear of an electoral backlash. Is this leadership? Immigration Minister Jason Kenney does appear to be aware, as more of the Baby Boomers retire, we do not have enough trained workers to replace them. Flaherty pointed this out again just last week in Charlottown, along with a looming pension crisis.
Greece, Spain and Portugal - we know about their problems, but one wonders about Great Britain and Japan, very close to going down the Greek path. Then there is the United States our largest trading partner. How far is the Greek Wolf from our door?
In the past, thanks to Walter Gordon and others, we became concerned about foreign ownership; indeed, thanks to public pressure, we adopted legislation to protect our industries and natural resources. Today, the door is wide open: we are welcoming Brazilian, Chinese, Indian, American and European investment in our natural resources and what is left of our Canadian-owned industries.
One hates to ruin a birthday party, but we have problems. It’s time we woke up our politicians, who only act when they are pressured to do so, and tell them to get out of the muck and in to the game so we can have many more happy birthdays - as well as put the ship of state back on an even keel.