Thursday, December 17, 2009

An infandous Ottawa Cromwell

[Cromwell] commanded the Speaker to leave the Chair, and told them they had sat long enough, unless they had done more good, crying out You are no longer a Parliament, I say you are no Parliament. He told Sir Henry Vane he was a Jugler [sic]; Henry Martin and Sir Peter Wentworth, that they were Whoremasters; Thomas Chaloner, he was a Drunkard; and Allen the Goldsmith that he cheated the Publick: Then he bid one of his Soldiers take away that Fool's Bauble the mace and Thomas Harrison pulled the Speaker of the Chair; and in short Cromwell having turned them all out of the House, lock'd up the Doors and returned to Whitehall. --Thomas Salmon, Chronological Historian

Plus ça change. Prorogation--suspension--of Parliament by Stephen Harper is almost a dead certainty by now.

Lawrence Martin's dreary catalogue of Stephen Harper's war on Canadian democracy over the past four years should be required reading for every citizen. He nails it here:

The Prime Minister is now in such command that he can get away with pretty much anything. And he is lauded for his conquests.


The key is that once you've established such a pronounced degree of control over the levers of power, you're in position to strong-arm your way past anything. And so the government has halted hearings on the detainee file by boycotting them. And so the government is threatening to prorogue Parliament again so it doesn't have to face more detainee music.

It's more evidence from a stockpile of how the system's been brought to heel. It's democracy Canadian-style.

But Martin is leaving out something vital. The primrose path down which Harper is galloping at full speed really originated with Liberal prime minister Jean Chrétien, if not earlier. By the end of le petit gars' autocratic rule, he had concentrated so much power in the PMO that, as
public administration expert Donald Savoie suggested in 1999, even his Cabinet had become to some degree a mere focus group.

Columnist Jeffrey Simpson once called Chrétien "the friendly dictator." The old man
shrugged that off in an unintentionally ironic manner:

'I was friendly but I certainly was not a dictator,' said Chrétien, adding that it's much more important to decide; consensus can come later.

Or, as an unidentified US officer said during the Vietnam war, "Grab 'em by the balls and their hearts and minds will follow."

Harper, it seems, learned his lessons well from that seasoned ideological antagonist. Savoie renewed his concerns more urgently last year:

In his latest book, Court Government and Collapse of Accountability in Canada and the United Kingdom, Mr. Savoie says Canada is run more like a kingdom than a parliamentary democracy, with power concentrated in the hands of the prime minister and a coterie of political advisers, cabinet ministers, lobbyists, pollsters, friends and a couple of senior bureaucrats.


Similarly, senior bureaucrats are like courtiers in a king's court, modern-day fixers and inner-circle confidants whose jobs are to help the government of the day look good and stay in power.

"Make no mistake, we have court government, and in shifting to court government, we have redefined the role of public servants for them to be responsive to their political masters and fixers. That's what courtiers do. They go around fixing things on behalf of their masters. But is that the role we want public servants to have?" said Mr. Savoie.

"Public servants play the game because it takes a very brave soul to be a Sir Thomas More. If you want to be beheaded on Sparks Street, then stand up and say 'I don't think the government should do this'."

The uncanny foreshadowing of Torturegate will not be lost upon readers.

This has all been taking place in front of an apathetic, even somnambulistic, Canadian public. The Rubicon was crossed, in my view, when Harper defied parliamentary supremacy a few days ago, threatening the very basis of responsible government. Suspending Parliament is the next step.

How fragile, after all, is our democracy; how easily is it subverted. What can we ordinary citizens do? Just watch while power is unlawfully seized, and, depending upon our various political proclivities, cheer, boo or yawn?

Or do we organize and actively resist?

If the latter, how?

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