Monday, March 28, 2011

The election and the future. . . . .

This country is in the midst of a genuine crisis. And perhaps the most tragic element in this national distress is the fact that a very large portion of the country’s population is blithely unaware of this crisis. The crisis is one of constitutional identity. We have a government that has clearly demonstrated that it has utter contempt for the constitution of this country as well as for the democratic principles that should govern the country and its primary political institutions. This is not, of course, new. Many countries have witnessed the rise of political groups that have actively thwarted constitutional principles and democratic institutions. But any country that faces these problems must make a decision, do we stand by the constitution or don’t we? Canada faces this very challenge.

In a constitutional system such as ours the symbolic sovereign is the King or Queen. This sovereignty flows down from the monarch to the representatives in the legislative House. Thus, the representatives as a group constitute the de facto sovereignty of the nation as a whole. The Harper government has tried very hard to thwart this perception and attempted to create the idea that the party with the greatest number of seats (or even the office of the Prime Minister) constitutes the sovereign power of the nation. In action this has meant not only that the Harper regime has attempted to spin the facts in such a way as to change the perception of the reality of the constitution, but they have also, on numerous occasions, attempted to ignore the will of the House on issues of documents, directives, and access to information. These are very real and dangerous violations of constitutional principle.

Of course, taken in isolation, no single one of these actions threatens to dismantle our democratic system. This problem is much broader than this. This is the question that people must ask themselves when deciding on the next government; if we reward this government for undermining the constitution, what will that mean for future governments? Serious political changes often happen incrementally and the constitutional envelope that this government has been pushing, will be pushed that little bit further by the subsequent governments, and our democratic institutions will slowly wither away before our eyes, though few will notice until it is too late. If Canadians reward this government with a majority after they have so badly chipped away at the democratic principles of the nation, there will be little to stop them in the future. And the government that comes after them will know for certain that they have no obligation to obey the will of the House, they will have no obligation to provide information to the public or their elected representatives, they will feel no need to obey the laws of the land, they will feel free to prorogue parliament whenever they see fit etc.

At some level this election has little to do with this or that particular policy or program. Rather, the election is about whether we will stand up for the constitution and send a message to political parties that, regardless of your policy choices, we will not let you dismantle the constitution for your own political desire. Because we can be certain that if we think this Conservative government has abused its power and ignored the laws as defined by the constitution, if we reward them for doing so then the next Liberal Government will make Harper’s gang look like a bunch of principled democrats. Thus Conservatives who are tempted to offer Harper a majority should ask themselves this simple question: will I be ok with a future Liberal government ignoring the will of the House, eliminating freedom of information laws, closing down parliament whenever they want to, and refusing to show costs of major government programs? If many of the things that the party you support, are things that you would object to if another party were doing them, then you have to think seriously about your continued support. And if you don’t then you are essentially writing a blank check to future governments to pursue strategies to which you actually object. It may seem of little importance now but in forty years or so when your kids are raising your grandchildren, do you want them to enjoy the constitutional protections and advantages that we enjoy?

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