Peter Menzies argues the salvation of Canadian democracy lies in our two youngest political jurisdictions where consensus government, not leadership whip cracking.
Six years and three elections ago, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau was about to become Prime Minister. Deficits were to be modest and temporary, Canada was going to “be back” as a global player, ways were to be sunny, transparency would blossom like flowers in spring and that 2015 election was to be the final one held under the first past the post system.
As it turns out, federal debt is growing at a rate of $3.1 million an hour, the UK, USA and Australia have formed a security pact without us, China slaps us around for giggles, doors slam shut on information requests and the nation’s flags are - permanently it seems - at half-mast in shame. We are still first past the posting in a fashion that allowed Trudeau to win two more elections with a lower percentage of the public vote than his Conservative rivals.
Perhaps most disappointing has been the entrenchment of the crude practice of centralizing power in the hands of unelected personnel in the Prime Minister’s Office. There, if Jody Wilson-Raybould is to be believed, sharp-tongued staff channel Basil Fawlty, ordering cabinet ministers about as if they were so many minion (he’s from Barcelona) Manuels. They can treat people like that because, unlike other countries under the Westminster system such as the United Kingdom and Australia, Canadian prime ministers do not depend upon the support of their caucus to maintain their positions. They need heed none of them, which means MPs are not expected to contribute other than by synchronized sycophancy. The role of the PMO has become to bully them and ensure none have the PM’s ear but his chosen political staff. As a result, there is probably no more humiliating job in the country than that of a government MP who is not the Prime Minister. Even those newly appointed to cabinet yesterday, or finding themselves in comfy new ministerial chairs, will soon discover their moment in the sun is… well… momentary.
This, and an electoral system that allows supreme power to be vested in someone preferred at the polls by no more than one in five Canadians (32% of the 62% who voted) must change if democracy is to flourish. Yes, yes, I know that much of the popular punditry considers this a mere electoral oddity waved away with a quick “the Liberal vote is more efficient” flick of the wrist. It has accepted for Trudeau what it obsessed upon for Trump and moved on quickly to endless thumb suckers pondering “whither Erin O’Toole?” Surely the role of inquisitive, self-described “precious” defenders of democracy should occasionally expand into the realm of, you know, actually defending democracy and not casually excusing its absence?
So, I propose to suck on a different thumb by suggesting that perhaps the real problem with democracy in Canada is political parties themselves. I once made this suggestion to an important person associated with the Conservative Party of Canada. It quite literally took her breath away.
But I mean it. I’m tired of the tribalism, weary of the perpetuation of Grade 10 popular kids’ culture, ideological purity tests, splinter groups and endless brain-numbing speculation on, for instance, why the Tories need to separate from Alberta if they are ever going to win in Toronto. Honestly.
All I want at this stage is for the country to be governed by grownups who don’t care if the ...