Thursday, January 14, 2010

We Can no Longer be Passive Bystanders. It's Time to Get Angry

After learning that Stephen Harper simply shut down Parliament to avoid answering charges of possible complicity in war crimes, and his mishandling of the stimulus money (only 12.8% accounted for), Canadians were shocked.

Websites sprung up denouncing this threat to our democracy, and everyone encouraged their readers to write to their MPs, expressing their concerns.

But as we now learn that any emails with the dreaded 'p' words are being treated as spam and erased before they hit the MPs inbox, it's time to get angry.

This is completely unacceptable. Those MPs work for us, not Stephen Harper, and they cannot simply weed out public dissent.

With our watchdogs put down and Parliament closed; they are our only voice to the government.

Time To Get Angry, Canada
Harper’s high handed decision to shut down parliament reflects badly on entire country
January 14, 2010
by Maurice Tougas

NEWS BULLETIN: The Democratic majority in the United States Senate voted to shut down the Senate for three months today in order to “recalibrate” their policy initiatives. Within hours of the decision being made public, thousands of angry Americans surrounded the Senate, blockading the senators and vowing not to let them go until they returned to work.

Fox News commentators began a “24/7 Fight for Democracy” to force Senators back to work, with Glen Beck vowing to stay on the air, without food or water, until the Senate resumed. Doctors assigned to Beck feared he might cry himself into a state of dehydration.

President Barack Obama, vacationing in Hawaii, went before television cameras to say that he would be making a statement on the matter in three or four days, maybe.

The above paragraph is a mere parody, sub-MAD magazine style. The legislative body of a major democracy, of course, would never randomly close up shop, would it? No real democracy would ever shut down its main legislative body on the whim of the ruling party, would it? No country with a long history of democratic government would allow such a dictatorial, shockingly high-handed manoeuvre, would it?

Yeah, sure it would, when that country is Canada.

During the Christmas-New Year’s Canadian somnambulance, Stephen Harper once again “prorogued” parliament. It’s an ugly word, and an ugly process. Essentially, Harper has shut down all activity in the parliament of Canada. No legislative debates. No committees. No bills. No nothing. And not only that, everything that parliament had been working on, some 30-odd bills, have “died on the order paper” as the saying goes in parliamentary lingo. While Americans would have taken to the streets if their government arbitrarily shut down, Canadians, for the most part, have reacted with a politely stifled yawn from this kick in the groin from Harper’s wing tipped jackboot.

How does one go about proroguing Parliament? It’s surprisingly easy, once you get the hang of it. You may remember when Harper was facing certain defeat at the hands of the Axis of Weasels, he went to Gov.Gen. MichaĆ«lle ‘I Am the Head of State’ Jean to ask for prorogation. There was much drama.

Harper’s long meeting with Jean (behind closed doors, of course; that’s the Canadian way) had the country transfixed, or at least the TV networks that awaited the announcement. It was clearly a parliamentary tactic designed to prolong Harper’s government, and it worked beautifully. The coalition, the most ill advised union since the Lisa Marie Presley-Michael Jackson-Bubbles the Chimp nuptials, collapsed under the weight of its own incongruity, and Harper not only survived, but came out of it stronger than ever.

Like most sequels, Prorogration II lacked the impact of the original. There was no television coverage, mainly because nobody thought Harper would be ballsy enough to pulls the plug on Parliament for the second time in a year. I don’t know how Harper pulled this one off, but it might have gone something like this:

HARPER: Hello, Governor General. Stephen Harper here. I would like to take this opportunity to officially wish you a Happy New Year.

JEAN: And happy New Year to you, Prime Minister.

HARPER: OK, enough with the small talk. I’m proroguing Parliament for a while. Would you do whatever it is you do to take care of that?

JEAN: Sure thing, boss.

Harper’s explanation for cancelling the democratic process in Canada was so cavalier, it was worthy of Trudeau. This is a common practice, the prime minister claimed with a shrug. It will give his government time to “recalibrate” legislation, whatever that means. Such gall.
Could this happen in other parliamentary democracies? Not a chance.

In Britain, no prime minister would have the temerity to shut down the mother of all parliaments. The prime minister would surely face a revolt from within his own ranks, such is the greater degree of freedom Brit MPs have to speak their minds. British MPs routinely vote against their own party; here, that would be grounds for immediate excommunication.

Australia, is appears, doesn’t even have the word prorogation in its political glossary. And in New Zealand ... well, nobody cares what happens in New Zealand, but I doubt they would allow it, no matter how sheep-like they may be.

The sad fact is that Canada has allowed its parliamentary process to become centralized to such a degree that the prime minister has unprecedented powers. MPs, owing to rigid party discipline, have been cowed into submission. The parliamentary press gallery is largely toothless, particularly when compared to the American media. And most importantly, we as citizens, don’t seem to give a rat’s ass.

Sure, there’s a Facebook group, Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament, started by U of A student Christopher White, that has more than 170,000 members and growing by the hundreds every day. (The Edmonton group is planning a rally for Jan. 23; join the Facebook group to keep tabs on the when and where.)

Good for White for organizing, and good for the 170,000-plus Canadians who signed up, but let’s be honest — there is nothing easier than joining a Facebook group. Politicians can ignore Facebook groups if they so desire (not wise, but they can) simply because it’s a big, anonymous group that poses no immediate threat to their re-election chances.

The best way to voice your displeasure, if indeed you are displeased, is to phone your Conservative MPs who are in their Edmonton offices instead of in Ottawa doing the work they were elected to do. Believe me, if 170,000 Canadians phoned their Tory MPs and told them “Get back to work or I’ll never vote Conservative again,” they’d listen.

In Alberta, you’ll no doubt get a chuckle and a polite “drop dead” from your nearly unbeatable Tory MP or his/her flunky, but intelligent politicians (yes, such creatures do exist) do care when phone calls start coming in.

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