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The 41st Parliament and the future of Canadian politics

What kind of country do we want? What kind of politics do we want?


 

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

When last we looked upon this place, Brent Rathgeber, tall and nerdy, was asking a question and Elizabeth May, short and unrelenting, was rising on a point of order.

Mr. Rathgeber, elected as a Conservative in 2008 and again in 2011 for the riding of Edmonton-St. Albert, had recently left the Conservative caucus on account of how a private member’s bill he had proposed had been rather dramatically amended, seemingly at the behest of his party’s leadership. Thus he was now free to stand every so often during Question Period and express sentiments that were not entirely laudatory of the government. And so he did, challenging the government on its handling of the temporary foreign workers program.

A moment later, Ms. May stood and, managing to catch the Speaker’s attention, registered her concern that the 15 minutes set aside each day in the House of Commons for the honouring of causes and citizens was once again being given over to “crass partisan purposes” and “personal attacks.” (Conservative MP Daryl Kramp, though not named or identified by Ms. May as an offender, stood up then to declare that he took “offence” to Ms. May’s comments and that it would be wrong to suggest that his complaints about the fee received by Justin Trudeau for a speech in Mr. Kramp’s riding were not of concern to said riding.)

Some hours later, the parties agreed to finish up with the remaining business of the first session of the 41st Parliament of Canada and all Members of Parliament were released back into the wild. Mr. Rathgeber would proceed with a series of public speeches on the topic of our “Broken Democracy,” while Ms. May would have her own series of town hall meetings intended to “Save Democracy.”

And so they and we return now to the working monument on the Hill, to listen as a nice old man from up the street reads aloud a series of commitments on behalf of the government of the day. Apparently we’re all going to be getting a bit of a break on our cellphone bills. And with that, and various other promises, will we herald both the return of the 41st Parliament of Canada and a time—two years, give or take—for choosing.

If our democracy is indeed broken, if it does indeed need to be saved, we have two years now to do something about it. Or at least to begin to do something about it. There are some two years between now and this nation’s 42nd general election. And nearly everything, down to some of the parameters by which we formally govern ourselves, is up for grabs.

***

So what kind of country do we want?

Three men can each presently make equally plausible cases that it will be him who will have a claim on the Prime Minister’s Office when that election result in 2015 is confirmed. (Depending on the official totals, there might be competing claims to be resolved.) For each, the victory would be profound.

Stephen Harper, the audacious and unapologetic Conservative, would become just the fifth man to win a fourth mandate, just the third man to win four consecutively and the first in more than a century to win a fourth straight. He would likely then soon pass Jean Chretien to become the fifth-longest serving prime minister in history. To do so, he must now only best a bizarro version of himself (Thomas Mulcair, the New Democrat) and the son of the man who, as the heroic story goes, made him a Conservative (Justin Trudeau, the Liberal). Waylaid by scandals he himself made possible—oh, if only he hadn’t appointed Mike Duffy, Patrick Brazeau and Pamela Wallin to the Senate that day amid the tumult of that December five years ago; oh, if only he’d not waited seven years to ask the Supreme Court to explain how the Senate might be reformed; oh, if only he’d not hired a very wealthy man to be his chief of staff—and seeming maybe to have exhausted both his government’s capacity and the public’s patience, the challenge has never seemed so great, his rivals never so talented, his administration never so vulnerable. Only his dream of destroying the Liberal party and replacing it with a new natural governing party is at stake.

For Mr. Mulcair, the broad-shouldered and fierce New Democrats, his would be the first national NDP government in this country’s history, he the first prime minister who was not a Liberal or Conservative, the culmination of everything that suddenly seemed possible in that remarkable last third of the 2011 campaign. Mr. Mulcair, successor to a man who was posthumously sainted, made leader as a result of tragedy, must now only achieve the sort of power that previously seemed impossible, the pursuit of which still raises existential questions for the party he leads.

For Mr. Trudeau, the feathery-haired and dreamy Liberal, the task is merely to restore and bring purpose to a party affiliation pushed to the brink of political bankruptcy, the promise merely to change politics, the hope merely that he will somehow live up to his name and everything his father bestowed upon it. His potential seems immense, but precarious. So surely there could be a fairy tale ending. And yet surely still it could go all go bust.

In choosing MPs who represent the parties who would make these men prime minister, we have only to decide what kind of government we want and answer the questions about the size, shape and purpose of it that Mr. Harper has both loudly and quietly raised. We need only sort out what we need, what we want and what we are willing to do about that.

And on the way to those answers there is only everything else to sort out.

A pipeline to the United States needs the approval of the President, a pipeline to the West will be for the regulators to judge and the federal cabinet to decide, a pipeline to the East remains to be negotiated. A free trade agreement with Europe remains to be agreed to. There will be Supreme Court hearings for the Senate and perhaps charges against as many as four of its members. There are four by-elections to be held: two to test the enthusiasm for the Conservative party, two to test the abilities of the Liberals and New Democrats. There are fighter jets to be purchased and ships to built and multi-billion-dollar prices to be clarified for both. Regulations to control the greenhouse gas emissions of the oil-and-gas sector are twice overdue and we have international commitments to somehow meet. Judges are refusing to impose the sentences that the government has set out. The access to information system is broken. In Quebec, a separatist government is attempting to make religion a matter of public policy and electoral advantage. The people of Lac-Megantic deserve answers and then, perhaps, changes. The provinces, already mired in debt, are being asked to do more and the ability of our prized health care system to care effectively for all of us will soon be tested as never before. Our collective household debt is at a record high. Our roads, highways and transit systems are in desperate need of renewal. Our prisons are more crowded and more violent. Our food banks are serving longer lines. Our aboriginal communities are as beleaguered as ever.

Are we willing to do what needs to be done to stave off the worst possibilities of climate change? More specifically, are we ready to accept what changes and sacrifices that might require? Are we finally really going to do something about the Senate? If so, how? Why do we still pay more for our milk? Can we reinstate the long-form census or is useful data about our society too much to ask for? Will we ever know who tried to disenfranchise voters during the 2011 election? Can our MPs being something more than living avatars of their parties? Can they claim the power of the public purse? Can the parliamentary budget officer be an important force for accountability? Are we ready to legalize marijuana? Does it still make sense to be tough on crime? Do we still believe in the welfare state? Are we willing to help our fellow man end his life on his own terms? Can we fight forced marriage and rape overseas without dealing with abortionAre we truly concerned with helping the heroin addict or is our compassion limited by our personal comfort and preconceived notions?

All of this is laid out before us now, whether or not we wish to look upon any or some or all of it. And regardless of how much the Harper government manages to save us on our cable bills, here is the stuff that will make us as a collective nation. Here be our politics.

***

So what kind of democracy do we want?

If the tenacious Elizabeth May has erred at all in her cause, it is in the full name of her summer tour—”Save Democracy From Politics.” What she presumably means is something more like, “Save Democracy From The Imbalances Of Power That Currently Impair Our Version Of Democracy’s Effectiveness And Relevance.” But it is surely easier (and cuter, in this case) to say “politics.” It is easier to blame that which we are a taught to regard as a corrupting force, the dirty and tawdry game that sullies the pure ideal of democracy.

But it is politics that makes and sustains us.

“Politics arises from accepting the fact of the simultaneous existence of different groups, hence different interests and different traditions, within a territorial unit under a common rule,” Bernard Crick wrote. “The establishing of political order is not just any order at all; it marks the birth, or the recognition of freedom. For politics represents at least some tolerance of differing truths, some recognition that government is possible, indeed best conducted, amid the open canvassing of rival interests. Politics are the public actions of free men.”

It is not democracy that separates us from tyranny. It is politics. There might now be something wrong with our politics. It might be weakened by cynicism. The structures we have built to formalize and guide it might be subject to abuse. Our democracy might be in poor health. Or we might at least aspire for things to be somehow better—for a more meaningful House of Commons, a more relevant MP and a freer flow of public information. We might even feel that we are teetering now on the brink, that not just our democracy, but our politics, is in real danger of slipping away from us. That might even be true. If this feels like a pivotal moment, that might be because it is.

But if we need be saved, it is only through politics—that most human of creations and achievements—that we will find salvation. It is only through politics that we can hope to fix what is broken. It is the tumult we must accept. It is the tumult we must, in fact, embrace.

It is through politics that we will choose the man who will lead us on the 150th anniversary of our birth as a nation. It is through politics that we will answer those questions about our governance, resources, wealth and welfare. It is through politics that we will decide what to do about our environment and our fellow man, about how we will care for our sick and how we will respond to the scourges of poverty and addiction. It is through politics that we will decide over the next two years who we are and who we think we can be. It is only through politics that those who seek change can hope to achieve it.

So we stand now on the edge of a monumental two years. Two years for questions both eternal and pressing. Two years for ourselves and each other. Two years for Stephen Harper, Thomas Mulcair and Justin Trudeau. Two years for Brent Rathgeber’s concerns and Elizabeth May’s points of order. Two years to decide how we want our politics to be practiced. Two years to say whatever has to be said.

Regard it all as a celebration of politics, that which defines us and that which is limited only by our individual and collective willingness.


 

The 41st Parliament and the future of Canadian politics

  1. I quite liked this piece. The opening paragraphs provided not so much insights but recognition of challenges facing all three parties. To analyse any of the parties or leaders in isolation at this point is foolish. They are playing a zero-sum game and none has a particularly strong hand.

    However, that soaring, inspiring prose at the end, wow! You should drink and write more often.

    • Parliament is a stage show. Makes them all appear as if they work for us. They really work against us, as all they talk about is spending more of other peoples money and figure out ways to squeeze productive people for more tax dollars.

      Yes, their lips move in all sorts of appealing ways, but when it gets to the walk, its statism gets more and we get less.

      • You are a bit of a downer Dave.

        • He’s right. Very perceptive. Hasn’t been drinking the Kool-Aid.

        • Hey, I don’t ignore reality. I saw the 2008 crash coming and made lots of money as I look at reality straight in the face. Been 38 years of eligible to vote, and in hindsight, its all BS, lies, deception to lift our money. Parliament show is just that, a show to provide the illusion that Ottawa has value to us for the money they confiscate.

          And right now, Canada is economically, has a declining future just like Greece, Cyprus, Iceland and others.

          Much of success of life is to think for yourself and not suck in the brainwashing. Politicians are always announcing things, but when all is said and done it is realized as lies, deception and nothing real of value to the common productive people of Canada.

          That is the reality. Lips a moving are not getting it done, they just talk.

      • Very untrue.

  2. Canada’s economic futures are on the rocks and no real leadership from any party, just the greed of statism and other peoples money and grand kids debts…..

    Best for young to get education that is portable then leave Canada. Most productive years of my career were the 11.5 years total I spent living in 3 other countries, working abroad expands your mind and makes CBC propaganda look like herd control for the masses. Only came back as we had relatives here.

    As all this feel good politics has no tangible benefits, just talk to occupy a failing byzantine bureaucratic mess. Parliament isn’t much different than Maury, just dysfunctional adults belligerently grandstanding for more of our money and vote for it.

    I no longer vote for any party as non-represent middle class productive people other than to tax them like slaves of state. The idea is to put on a good show, suck the people in and deceive us out of our money. Ever notice how you never have a direct binding vote on government anything?

    Reality is you vote for term dictators, you have no binding method of democracy, they can bailout their buddies, inflate contracts, appease union lobbyists, all using your wallet like a ATM.

    Our democracy is about which term dictator gets more of your money for their friends, lobbiests and buddies. As not a single option on the ballot for tax me less government. Modern day taxation has become modern day slavery, and our democracy is a ruse.

    On my ballot I write: “I need better choices”.

    • Well, I can tell you from experience counting ballots….that just goes in the garbage.

      • Why rig the count when you can rig the ballot?

        How come a less government less taxing option doesn’t exist? How come we don’t have recall, referendum or direct vote?

        As it is designed to give you the perception of democracy but the game is rigged. Only options on the ballot represent government gets more for their back room buddies and we get less.

        People are like herd animals, get the media selling it, the hype…I am a Con/Lib/NDP puppet and democracy fails. Easier to buy 3 party leaders with lobby money than 16 million direct voters. Our democracy is designed to abstract out any really input from the people. A ruse.

        • In fact, income tax rates have been plummeting since and during mulroney, although it’s been noted Harper has hit a deficit wall with his GST cut, and introduced sneaky tariffs.

        • Did you hear me?

          Your ballot goes in the garbage.

    • Adopting a defeatist attitude will ensure a defeatist result. The oversize electoral districts, first-past-the-post voting, disparity in electoral quotient and disenfranchisement of over 20% of the population ensures government will not act in the “interests” of the majority of the population.

  3. So what kind of country do we want?
    —–
    How about on that is less corrupt, more functional and less taxing.

    Wait, no options on my ballot for this. I guess we are not as democratic as we think as the ballot is rigged, only options are more government and less for productive people.

    • You have three choices then.
      1. Change the system from the inside: Start your own party, or work hard within one of the established parties to change how they work.

      2. Change the system from the outside: Start your own terrorist militia and see if you can bring the gov’t down in a flaming coup to install your own version of whatever the hell you think gov’t should do.

      3. Change yourself to deal with the system: Adapt or move.

      As you may note, “Sit at home whining to people about how it sucks” isn’t one of the options.

  4. I heard every line of this in my head in two voices simultaneously: #1 was Wherry in clear-eyed, unsentimental call-to-arms mode; #2 was Wherry in bitter, cruel sarcasm mode. #1 is the voice that we, as followers of politics, would like to apply. #2 will be appropriate in two years’ time when Canadians prove again that they are totally uninterested in democracy.

    Our democratic problem is a problem of communication. Elizabeth May did not visit my backyard BBQ to rally us to the greater good; must have been somebody else’s. Aaron Wherry’s beautiful article here will be read by roughly 0.0001% of the electorate. The big changes we would require in order to advance past Quaintness to something resembling civic spirit must above all incentivize participation by citizens. I suggest restricting the franchise.

  5. I pray to God that Canadian politics will not devolve into the anarchy that now threatens my nation, the U.S., with economic collapse. The only way to do that is for your politicians to do something our politicians won’t do – put the nation’s needs ahead of their own careers and agendas. Sorry, Mr. Wherry, but real change is not achieved through politics. It is achieved by pursuing a common vision that unites rather than divides. Sacrificing narrow political agendas that seek short-term personal, regional or electoral gain for the larger good of long-term national gain is the only way to identify and implement that common vision. Our blundering buffoons refuse to do so. Learn from them because “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (George Santayana).

    • The less populous states are overrepresented in the US congress to a greater extent that than the counterparts in Canada. So, those who reside in the more populous states should support government shutdown.

  6. Not so subtle linquistics in the way Wherry depicts Harper as a “man”, and “unapologetic” – (get out the John Wayne soundtrack); Mulcair he describes as “broad-shouldered and fierce”. Then we have his jeering depiction of Trudeau as “feathery-haired and dreamy” and he manages to slip in the word “fairy” in that paragraph as well.

    This guy is really annoying. He’s the worst case of male chauvinism in journalism that I’ve seen in a long time, and he has a particular hate for Trudeau. As for Trudeau’s masculinity – I don’t think that’s in much doubt, but he certainly can make other men jealous.

    • Good catch — and you are absolutely right about the word choices here. This will be what we get for two more years: such subtle use of language that people won’t even realize why they have formed positive or negative opinions without reading or hearing anything the pols actually say or write.

      • Don’t be ridiculous.

        • Don’t you believe that word choices have impact? That writers choose words to achieve a desired effect? Then you don’t know about effective professional writing!

          • No argument, but that brush strokes both ways. So when you read of people mocking the CBC or other media outlets for painfully obvious issue-framing/weighted diction with regard to ‘X’ sacred social policy–abortion, healthcare, anything to do with gays–remember how their objections mirror your own with Wherry.

  7. People who complain that the government is taxing to much are wrong. I personally like our taxes at the moment. Taxes support those who can’t support themselves, they keep demand and supply in check, pave our roads, pay for our health care so we don’t have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for treatments, allow transportation for cities across the country, and provide the parks you played in as a kid. I believe our taxes are perfect at the moment. I agree with you that there is something wrong with our democracy and it is somewhat broken and fractured, but don’t blame the people in cabinet or those who are in power blame the people who choose not to vote when election day comes, people who don’t fight for their opinion on the street, people who see Canada as a place for personal success rather than success as a country. I think the reason why our country and Western society is broken is because of selfishness, the majority of us look out for ourselves or for our family not for our country or our neighbours. If you want the government to change it has to start with the individuals at the bottom. Teach your kids to find success in themselves and teach them that money is not the root goal for life, teach them that their country, family, friends, neighbours, and everyone is who they should look out for in life. And that is how you will change the government and Canada. (Not to sound all sappy)

    • The current role of government is to redistribute the wealth from the more populous regions to the less populous regions due to the disparity in electoral quotient.

  8. How about a country where the party in power is not trying to set us back to the 1800s (with it’s Bible-thumpers flank)?
    A country where we stop importing the sad Karl Rove-style divisive tactics of our neighbours to the South.
    A country where we are citizens, and not just consumers.
    A country with a leader strong enough to face questions from the media, who doesn’t prorogue and hide from accountability.
    One can only dream..

  9. Our futures? Debt-tax slaves of corrupt state. Fact is our currency depreciated today against the sining USD and Chinese Yuan.

    But hey, BoC can buy the debt legitimate lenders are not buying. Fact is Ottawa is about deception, lies and excuses to get your money for their back room favorites. No option on my ballot for less taxing government, every one represents statism, more government and less for us.

  10. Elizabeth’s concern with saving democracy might commence with her own party.
    During the recent BC election local Green members in a riding served by a very green NDP MLA wanted to support the excellent NDPer but the BC Green party leader cancelled the local meeting and appointed her own Green candidate.
    During the campaign the Green candidate in my riding was elected – after clearly opposing the incumbent Liberal MLA and party policies. Once elected, my Green MLA then supported the Liberal gov’t budget – giving confidence in a party that 70% of his riding’s voters DID NOT vote for!
    Saying one thing during an election and doing another after the election does not really save democracy, Elizabeth.

  11. Is there anyone SS (Sufficiently Savvy) to convince Ted & Rafael Cruz to go back and run for the 42nd?

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