Now that everyone in Ottawa has some breathing room, what exactly is the state of Canada as a democracy and as a nation?
With the decision to prorogue government, constitutional expert Errol Mendes believes that Governor General Michaëlle Jean has set a dangerous precedent. In the future, prime ministers who face confidence motions in the House of Commons may also request prorogation of Parliament. Mendes does suggest that Parliament itself could "pass legislation to prevent abuse of the prorogation in the future," so that's good news--except that our Parliament doesn't seem too eager to pass any legislation so far.
Democracy Isn't Dead, Just Violated
The good news is that democracy isn't dead: long live democracy. In fact, contrary to the spin being spun by both sides, the past few days have had nothing to do with democracy. Yes, it was a political crisis and an economic crisis; it was not a crisis of democracy. It's not business as usual, but everything that has happened has happened within the bounds of a parliamentary democracy.
But that doesn't mean everything is fine.
As mentioned above, the Governor General's decision does set precedent that will affect the operation of our democracy in the future. Harper's move is the most cowardly one he could take. Oh, he cites some good reasons: he wants Parliament to cool down and start working together; he wants the opposition parties to vote on a full budget and not just the small update that Flaherty delivered last week. That's all well and good, Mr. Harper, but the fact remains that Parliament is suspended. We aren't getting any legislation passed. So while Mr. Harper has not killed democracy (yet), he has raped it.
How To Break Parliament
So thanks to Harper's inept handling of this situation, this is how it went down:
- Last Wednesday, the Conservatives deliver their Speech from the Throne. No one cares.
- On Friday, the Conservatives deliver their economic update, which plans to address the economic crisis.
- The opposition parties announce that they do not support this update, which differs from what Harper had initially promised, and say, "screw this government, we'll go build our own--with blackjack, and hookers." Or something to that effect. On Monday, they sign a formal agreement to make the coalition official, including the support of the Bloc (who would not be a part of the coalition per se).
- Harper, after unplugging himself from his wall charging unit, says, "I'm afraid you can't do that, Dion." He accuses the opposition parties of being undemocratic, un-Canadian, and power-hungry. This turns the economic crisis into a political crisis.
- The spin gets out of control during question period on Monday and Tuesday, deafening the Speaker. Meanwhile, ordinary Canadians are beginning to wake up from their post-election coma and realize that something interesting is happening in politics.
- In an attempt to sway public opinion, or perhaps just campaigning early for another election, Harper turns the economic-turned-political crisis into one of national unity as accuses the coalition of being a separatist/socialist sham.
- When it becomes clear that only the intervention of the Governor General will resolve this situation, the economic-turned-political-turned-national unity crisis becomes a constitutional crisis as experts and laypeople alike speculate what sort of precedent the Governor General will set for future generations of aspiring power-hungry dictators.
- This Wednesday, Harper meets with the Governor General behind closed, then open, then closed, then open doors at Government House. CBC Newsworld has nothing better to do, so it teaches aspiring reporters how to report when one is waiting for a story to break.
- Governor General prorogues Parliament on advice from Prime Minister Harper. This makes a lot of people very angry/happy and is widely considered a bad/good move.
To summarize: a problem that began in the economy became a political one that became a question of national unity that turned into a constitutional matter that is now back to politics. Oh, and we haven't fixed the economy yet.
Quebec Cage Match Still Set for Quarter-Past Never
The Conservatives made quite a fuss over the Bloc Québécois' involvement in the Liberal-NDP coalition, going so far as to call the coalition "separatist" (or if they were talking in French, "sovereigntist"). Unfortunately, this tactic has resonated with many Canadians outside of Quebec who do not support the coalition. There are plenty of valid reasons to be against this coalition, but because it's a "separatist" coalition that plans to break up our country is not one of them.
It's a good thing that no one in this country is bilingual, or else someone would realize the Conservatives' duplicity on this front. And I pity the Conservative candidates in Quebec come next election....
Null Output: Try Again? y/n
In the end, you'll notice that we haven't actually gotten anywhere as far as governance is concerned.
It remains to be seen if the coalition can survive until the Parliament reconvenes on January 26. While most of the Liberal and NDP MPs insist that the coalition can remain intact, some such as Jim Karygiannis, suggest that the coalition will not survive, especially if Dion remains leader.
The House of Commons sat for so short a time before Parliament prorogued that they managed to pass no legislation nor do anything for our economic crisis--the very crisis that started this whole mess. We have to wait until January for new laws and a new budget.
So yeah ... lots of stuff to look forward to in January. More Chuck, more Battlestar Galactica, more Parliament.