In the Chamber -- Grant Mitchell's Blog

Election Posturing

Posted 8/26/2008 by Grant Mitchell


It is both interesting and foreboding that a government that ran the last election on a platform built around accountability, transparency and Parliamentary reform, is now on the precipice of breaking the one law that it implemented this session that might be considered reform - the fixed term law. In fact it could be said that this is/was the centrepiece of the government's reform effort, such as it is.

I have long argued that this "reform" is an inappropriate Americanization of our system, and disingenuous. While we can learn from many governmental systems around the world, we have to remember that the Parliamentary system is probably the most successful system in the world, having lasted hundreds of years in Britain and elsewhere, much longer than the US system. It is successful because in fact it has evolved and changed in response to changing times, demands and the country's nature. It is important to note that it has generally not changed precipitously and that is a good thing because precipitous change can destabilize a democracy.

Fixed terms do not really work in the Parliamentary system. If a government cannot rally the support of Parliament to allow it to govern, then it must have the power to break the log jam and call an election or the system stalls. (An argument could be made that the US system suffers grievously from the fact that there can be a log jam there for 4 years without any definitive way to break it). A stalled government is not necessarily a more democratic government since a "stall" could certainly favour one set of interests over another, depending on the circumstances.

I would also argue that in Canada the calling of an election no matter when it occurs does not come as much of a surprise by the time it actually happens. Witness what is occurring right now. Not only is there a lot of indication that there will be an election soon, but we have been on election footing for pretty much the past 2.5 years.

The idea of the government's fixed term initiative being disingenuous is self evident today as the Conservatives are about to break their own law because they see it to be to their electoral advantage to do so. So much for their oft-stated high minded commitment to greater democracy. What advantage do they gain?

1. They beat further deterioration in the economy, particularly in the heartland of where they have to get increased support, Ontario and Quebec.

2. They beat further deterioration of their image as the Bernier and "in and out" scandals unravel further.

3. They avoid growing evidence that far from having a Parliament that will not let them implement their agenda, they actually have precious little that they have presented to Parliament in any event. This is actually not surprising because they in fact deeply distrust and dislike government as a matter of ideological faith and really do not see it having much of a role to do anything.

4. Their lack of action on the environment will become increasingly glaring.

5. Already having had two deficit months earlier this year, they may be awfully close to the fiscal wire, a condition that could be revealed sooner rather than later. (It never ceases to amaze how it is that Conservatives are somehow seen to be good economic managers. The Conservatives of the 1980's certainly were not. The stock markets and the dollar in the US generally under perform with Republican presidents).

6. They need to beat the US election since Obama's victory will make the right wing agenda of this government glaringly obvious to Canadians who generally are very impressed by Obama.

7. They do not want several weeks in the House subjected to the kind of accountability offered by question period.

The sense of foreboding comes from observing this government breaking its own law so blatantly for its own advantage. What does that say about the character of this government and its trustworthiness? What credibility does it give the government's reassurances that it will not try to implement its hidden right wing agenda if given a majority? Fool us once, shame on them; fool us twice, shame on us.

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