“You won’t recognize Canada when I get through with it”
– Stephen Harper, 2005
Never did a politician utter truer words. Indeed, we soon won’t even be able to find ourselves on Google maps. But no matter: the road to Stephen Harper’s Canada of the not-so-distant future is wide open and his Conservative government is putting the pedal to the metal.
Our national government is hurtling down a legislative autobahn, on which it has evidently decided to unilaterally and without notice suspend all speed limits. During a 22-day period after Parliament resumed its work in mid-September, this new Tory majority elected with less than 40% of the popular vote last spring shut down debate no less than five times on important pieces of legislation.
While previous Liberal majorities have occasionally abused this power, never have we seen such flagrant disregard for the principles of parliamentary democracy. Any democracy worthy of the name absolutely requires full and open discussion of the laws proposed to govern us. In the absence of any emergency that requires an expedited response, there is no justification for what amounts to the muzzling of the 60% of us who did not vote for the Conservative Party.
But why not? The power of Harper’s political vehicle has just been massively souped-up. Now he is sitting in the leather driver’s seat of a growling muscle car when the only other big vehicles on the road don’t even have licensed drivers, and are more or less idling in neutral by the curb.
It might not have been this way had Jack Layton still been here to steer the NDP along this dangerous road. Without Jack at the wheel, however the New Democratic Party is stuck reading the owner’s manual on how to operate as the official opposition. Nor are many of the party’s best and brightest paying much attention, since no less than nine party stalwarts are vying to replace Layton as leader, as if anyone ever could. And this race won’t be decided until late March. Who knows what destructive cargo the Tories will be able to truck through Parliament by then.
Meanwhile, the federal Liberals, formerly known as Canada’s Natural Governing Party, are ever more hopeless and confused, led by an “interim” leader during an indefinite and likely terminal period of trying to repair a rusted-out, obsolete sports car. It’s next to impossible to find replacement parts and the team is finding it hard to adapt to the new rules of the road. Without an engineer who knows the difference between “drive” and “reverse”, the Liberal Party’s ability to delay, much less prevent, the Harper juggernaut is next to non-existent.
From this point of the journey, the way forward for Canada looks like a race toward a dead end as our supreme democratic institution is not allowed to debate the priorities of the day:
• An omnibus crime bill that combines several pieces of legislation that will dramatically raise incarceration numbers and costs at a time when crime is, generally speaking, at its lowest point in 40 years.
• The summary execution of the gun registry – despite the opposition of our actual crime fighters, Canada’s police forces – and a metaphorical burial at sea of all the data the registry has collected at great cost over the years to prevent its resurrection by another government regardless of its democratic legitimacy.
• And another death sentence, this time for the venerable Canadian Wheat Board, despite the support it still has of a large majority of Canadian wheat farmers.
These are not piddling, meaningless issues that have received the full attention they deserve. Their common thread is that most Canadians are opposed (even though I recognize the gun registry isn’t all that popular in Eeyou Istchee). Thus the hurry to rush these monumental changes to our social fabric into law. The government cannot be bothered to try to convince a majority of us that this legislation is the right thing to do. The idea of gaining this level of democratic legitimacy is not a priority, nor even a consideration.
So there is no shame in the fact that the Conservative approach to governance is a monument to arrogance. With a majority, no matter how slight, the Tories gleefully exhibit a sneering disrespect for anyone who might object to their agenda. And forget about trying to be the lone hero standing in front of a tank in a Canuck version of Tiananmen Square. For the man in the armour with his hand on the wheel, the vast majority of us are already road kill, quickly and easily forgotten as we fade in his rear-view mirror.
The Tories have realized that just enough Canadians can’t be bothered to notice, much less care about, that they are passengers in a vehicle driven by someone who is drunk with power. At the same time the party’s hardcore base only cheers their leaders on to drive even faster. How long will it be before our de