Contempt and consent -

Contempt and consent


Dan Gardner talks to Peter Russell and considers what this election will mean for the future of Parliament.

“The status quo is just not tenable, for anybody,” says Peter Russell, professor emeritus at the University of Toronto and one of the country’s most respected political scientists. But a Conservative majority would be worse. “It would send a bad message about Parliamentary democracy if a government brought down for contempt, very serious contempt, on the finding of a Speaker, is rewarded with a majority. I think it would encourage Mr. Harper and maybe those after him to be contemptuous of Parliament. And then I think we’re in real trouble.”


Contempt and consent

  1. Many of the elements that underpin democracy are in danger under harper. With a majority, they are likely to be swept away. If so, would they ever be regained?

    This is part of the reason why many CPC supporters switch to the "HAHAHAHA look what we can get away with!" and "People just don't care!" lines. They know their party has acted deplorably, but they love their side winning more than they love the governance of the country.

    • This comment was deleted.

      • no.

      • I seriously hope you get IP blocked. That's just low.

  2. Where is the contempt for kangaroo courts? Are all members of the opposition blind to what will happen when Jack and Iggy are bent over the barrel by the Bloc? Most Canadians see this contempt ruling as just another tactic by the progressives to grab power. Desperate people can rationalize anything.

    • "Canadians don't care!" argument described in first post.

      • M. Troll, he's not saying Canadians don't care, and if that's what you think he's saying, then you must be an idiot.

  3. They can ask but they can't pass it if the leader has enough discipline to make every party member vote against it. It happened with the Liberals and Art Eggleton, I think, though that was over one MP not the entire government.

    • Hey, stop posting under my name, whoever you are!

      SDD, saying that the contempt charge is only the result of a partisan Opposition is like admitting that you are just a big idiot. I would be careful about going there, if I were you.

      • Hey – register and then you'll have your name locked in!

        • why did you tell him that!!!

          oh well.

      • It's demonstrably true, though. In a majority government, whipped backbenchers will never let a contempt motion go through – which makes it effectively a partisan propaganda tool currently, no matter how it may have been intended to work or used in the distant past.

        • On the motion I agree.

          However, the rulings of the speaker stand.

  4. How else should Parliament respond when the government has on several occasions blocked its attempts to examine government behaviour by refusing to release documents or testify in committee? Of course the relationship is adversarial, Parliament is supposed to hold the government to account.

  5. Oh puhleaze…. he's saying that it doesn't matter what the voters want. It's only good for Canadian democracy when the Liberals win. This is some of the dumbest stuff ever – and we've heard it all before.

    • Well, usually it matters what the voters want in a democracy, except for situations like this, where the voters are a bunch of morons who could care less about the destruction of Canada. /sarc

      • More and more, it's becoming an open question if voters even do want a democracy!

  6. Does defeating the government actually address the issue? Do we have to wait until one party is turfed from power and another takes its for the dirt to come out? And if we shouldn't have this accountability, why don't we fire the lot of MPs and shut down Parliament? Otherwise it's just a $500 million/year window dressing of what is really a once-every-four-or-five-year presidential election in a system with no legislative branch.

  7. Dr. Russell seems to be suggesting that if the people give a majority to a government that has been found in contempt (on a strict party-line vote) this means that they don't care about the government acting contemptuously. Perhaps his political preferences are blinding him to an alternative interpretation: the people dislike the "yay-boo gamesmanship," as Frum calls it, reject the opposition parties' narrative, and would like to be left alone for four years.

    I'm certain this statement will flag me as a "Conbot" for some, but I'm really not. I'm not saying that the Tories will get their majority, and if they don't, I hope Iggy will take over (no matter how few seats he has) just to break the endless stalemate. I just don't think a party-line vote in the House is the same thing as a jury's decision in a court of law.

    • Unfortunately for the Liberals, there's no court of law which could punish the CPC for this, it had to go through parliament. But remember, if it was unjustified the speaker wouldn't have allowed the vote in the first place.

      • True. This is one of those things that can't be legislated or ruled on by a judge — it's a matter for the people to judge.

        • Yep….unfortunately the people are all brainless morons who hate Canada and democracy! /sarc

    • Mr. King, the vote in the commons was along party lines and I have heard people say that a Harper majority might be the best way to stop all the partisan rowdiness…

      …but don't you, after considering the 'scandals' of the past couple of years (e.g., withholding the costs of jets and prisons, denying access to information requests (especially those relating to Afghanistan detainees), 'Oda-gate', proroguing parliament in 2009/2010, etc.,) find that the Conservative behavior has been contemptuous of parliament?

      The commons motion was partisan, but it didn't come out of thin air. Doesn't the Harper record suggest that we will see more, not less, of this behavior, if the Conservatives gain a majority?

  8. Still, there's no justification for not handing over the Afghan documents.

    • And what's your justification for Chretien shutting down the Somalia affair?

      Please note, I have not said, "this is the way it's always been". I will reiterate though that "contempt of parliament" is not some powerful tool to hold governments to account, least of all because it can only be invoked in minority situations.

      Look, I'm a reasonable person who is part of that group that doesn't see the contempt charge as being as big a deal as it's made out to be. And I will tell you, that no amount of telling me how much I hate democracy is going to change my mind, because it simply a ridiculous argument, and it only causes me to not take you seriously.

      • it was unfortunate but nowhere near in the same league. And while delaying a report is bad, trying to deep six the investigation before it can even create a report is magnitudes worse.

        Thank youf or response but if you honestly think the two instances are comparable I doubt you have anything of use to add to this discussion.

        • Oh, okay. Well let me just shut up and go sit in this corner over here. I hope you enjoy your thriving democracy where only those who agree with you are allowed to speak, and dissenting voices are put in their place.

        • By the way, Chretien shutting down the Somalia affair had nothing to do with "delaying a report" and everything to do with hiding the top levels of government from accountability. The two examples are actually quite similar, with one small difference. Chretien had a majority, a weakened opposition, and he had a whole group of Canadians who didn't care about democracy and simply allowed him ultimate dictatorship power again and again.

          • What's always puzzled me about cancelling the Somalia inquiry is that it was investigating abuses that happened when the PCs were in power — something cons prefer to forget.

          • Class, can anyone help poor mr. witan?

          • "Compared to that unprecedented action by the Chrétien government, Mr. Harper's decision to postpone opposition questioning on Afghan detainees that will inevitably come with a new session — while deplorable — looks almost benign."

            Oh look Mike T., someone who says the exact opposite of you:


            Of course, you are an anonymous voice on the Maclean's comment board who at times seems to argue with himself (see the second and third posts in this thread), and he's nothing but a….well, anyway, we can probably tell that guy to shut up because he has nothing to contribute to the conversation, right?

      • Why the hell aren't you part of the reasonable group who was outraged over Chretien's contemptable shutting down of the Somalia inquiry? That he was able to get away with it because of a majority doesn't make it right, or a precedent to follow or anything.

        If you have an idea of how to get contempt charges to stick to majorities, I'm all ears. But just because this one happened during a minority and was therefore successful, doesn't make it wrong. We do, after all, have a Speaker's ruling before parliament can just vote on it. So it couldn't happen every other week for no reason, I mean to say.

        I'm a Liberal but I don't have to agree with everything every Liberal, or Liberal government, has ever done. It's like I'm allowed to hold my party to account–and that's why I'm there.

      • This is known as a red herring.

        Or as I prefer to call it, "But MOOOMMMM They did it first!"

        And it doesn't make it any more acceptable. Didn't like it then. Don't like it now. The guy who did it then is gone from power. The same should happen now.

        • There is defiintely stuff to criticize but it was nowhere near the same. If Harper had done as much to get to the bottom of the detainee issue as Chretien did on Somalia, we'd be well on our way rather than trying to break a government stonewall.

  9. You can't skate around the results of the investigation by the Speaker: the government breached parliamentary privilege and parliament was on solid ground for finding the government in contempt.

    But I do agree that most people don't care that government acts contemptuously towards parliament, or other Canadians. As long as the government doesn't act contemptuously towards them, most voters will find nothing wrong with such behaviour.

  10. I wish I could agree with you!

  11. … a government brought down for contempt, very serious contempt, on the finding of a Speaker…
    — Peter Russell, "professor emeritus at the University of Toronto and one of the country's most respected political scientists."

    The UofT must have low standards for the position of professor emeritus, and if this is one of the country's MOST respected polisci guys, then the contempt for polisci guys in general is richly deserved.

    The government was "brought down" for contempt on the report of a Commons committee, when a majority of MPs endorsed the committee's findings and declared non-confidence. The Speaker determined there was a prima facie case when an MP raised a point of privilege. The committee did the "finding."

    And for a polisci guy to fail to recognize the unique circumstances of a minority government as the primary enabler of the government falling, well, let's just say the phrase "partisan blinders" came to mind.

    • Peter Russel knows more in his pinky about political science than this entire board ever will.

      • Okay….now how about you comment on how it is that "Russel [sic]" could have described the process that led to the fall of the government so, how shall we say, loosely?

      • Possible Reply#1:
        Then maybe Gardner should have interviewed his pinky. It probably couldn't have done any worse at describing the recent parliamentary events than his head did.

        Possible Reply#2:
        Thanks for further cementing how little regard one need have for political science, then.

  12. Thank you all for your responses. Once again, proof that a lively discussion can be launched without rudeness, smart-ass comments, or ALL CAPS!


      • ROFL, sorry- rofl.

  13. Harper is a Zionist first, and a Canadian second. As long as he does what the Zionists tell him with respect to bombing the crap out of Israels enemies in the middle east, you can be sure the mass media and the sheep of Canada will be herded into voting for him or any other leader that does their bidding