Friday, November 25, 2011

The long, slow death of Parliament

The end of 2011 will bring to a close a year during which the theme of death seemed to come up in our political discourse with increasing frequency. Whether it has been real death (the tragic passing of Mr. Layton), apparent death (the fall of the federal Liberals), or policy death (party subsidies, the wheat board) the concept of demise has been prevalent.

As we look towards 2012, the question I find myself asking is whether Parliament's obituary will be the next one written.

A lot of ink has been spilled and characters typed over the past several years about the decline of Parliament. Many chart the beginning of the decline to the centralization of decision-making in the Prime Minister's Office under Mr. Trudeau - something which continued through successive governments.

However, since 2006 this decline has accelerated. Minority Harper governments resulted in greater centralization in order to ensure consistency in messaging. It became increasingly about control.

At the same time, prorogation was used as a tool of convenience; a means of cutting off Parliamentary debate in order to avoid accountability. It was used first to avoid a confidence vote and a year later to avoid debate on the disclosure of documents. Finally, weak opposition and fears about elections exacerbated the problem as parties opted to bicker rather than debate.

These developments on their own are worrying enough. Unfortunately, there is more.

The standard of debate in Parliament has also been declining, and again the pace of that decline has accelerated. To anyone watching, the spectacle that has become our democracy is off-putting to say the least.

Obfuscation has been taken to new levels, insults are used with more vigour and intent, and personal attacks are no longer surprising anyone. All the while, real debate on the very important issues of the day doesn't take place.

And here's the thing. I don't think the government minds this decline at all.

In recent years, the Harper government has mastered the art of talking over Parliament. An argument can be made that the government made frequent efforts to circumvent it, and then used the resulting dysfunction as part of their pitch for a majority. Well they have that majority now and things have only gotten more toxic.

Using the argument of an electoral mandate, the government is doing all it can to push through its legislative agenda. However, this argument ignores the fact that the majority of Canadians chose other parties - a reality the Conservatives would be quick to point out should the situation be reversed.

So the vicious cycle continues with the opposition getting more desperate, the government taking greater license, and the institution looking less and less relevant as more and more decisions are taken and implemented far from its glaze.


This year our politics has seen tragic death in Mr. Layton's passing, and apparent death in the Liberal's fall. Are we also witnessing Parliament's death?

Every day that a Parliament does not work is a day a government can avoid accountability. This is what we are seeing today. Canadians need to reflect on Parliament's decline and ask themselves whether this is in their interest.


  1. Oh Parliament is evolving and will continue to do so under any PM, it has too, Politics is not a pure business. Bless the day when any politician chooses politcs over PR and marketing and polls, its never going to happen. Look at Obama for example and the mess that he has made with Keystone, shut the enviromentalists for 18 months and after elections will be another ending, Keystone will happen. It was a political decision for self purpose.

    Now the argument that a majority of canadians didn't elect this government makes nonsense, it is weak.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Claudia. Agree that when faced with the choice politicians more often than not favour expediency and survival decisions.

    In terms of what constitutes a majority, I am not arguing that the PM does not have a legitimate majority. Of course he does. The point I was simply making is that in terms of votes cast, more people voted for a party other than the Conservatives. This was a point the Reform / Alliance / Conservatives used to make back when they were in opposition.


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