Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Will Michaëlle Jean Make Harper's Dictatorship Official?

With talk that Harper may ask the Governor General to prorogue Parliament until after the Olympics, it begs the question? Why?

Which begs the answer. He wants to take the heat off the detainee issue, appoint 5 more senators so that he can control the Senate, and make sure that every horrendous bill that the Reformers can come up with gets passed unchallenged.

Yep. He will officially turn this country into a dictatorship. But the question is, will Ms Jean?

Will this be her legacy; completely destroying this country? I guess we'll have to wait and see.

A couple of columns that leaves the authors and the readers shaking their heads. How did we let this happen?

Travers: Who's boss, the PM or Parliament?
By James Travers National Affairs Columnist
December 15, 2009

Pierre Trudeau first freed the genie of expansive prime ministerial power. Now an increasingly feeble Parliament is trying to stuff the monster back into the bottle by demanding Stephen Harper release uncensored documents on Afghanistan prisoner abuse.

At stake is the ability to hold the ruling party accountable between elections. Already dangerously diminished, that capacity will shrink to irrelevance if the Prime Minister wins what is fast becoming an annual Parliament Hill showdown.

On the surface, the current clash favours opposition parties. Armed with legal opinion and the majority of seats won in the 2008 campaign, they have the theoretical right and political numbers to insist the government reveals what Conservatives are desperate to keep secret.

Worse still for the ruling party, the defence is porous. National security concerns can be easily satisfied either by releasing the documents to MPs under the protection of secrecy laws or, by naming a judge – as Ottawa did in the Maher Arar case – to decide what is damaging to the country as opposed to injurious to politicians.

But the opposition's upper hand is deceptive. As the coalition parties learned during last year's Christmas crisis, a cornered Prime Minister is formidable prey.

Facing certain defeat, Harper escaped by persuading the Governor General to suspend Parliament and by convincing a surprising number of civics-challenged citizens that he alone could rule. On balance, Michaëlle Jean was right. By any measure beyond a propaganda triumph, Harper was wrong.

Americans directly chose presidents; Canadians elect members of Parliament. In the absence of U.S. checks and balances, prime ministers are controlled by the confidence of the Commons.

How loose that control has become was exposed by the Quebec sponsorship scandal. Not only were MPs in the dark about how Liberals were misspending public money, Justice John Gomery couldn't follow the dollars through the maze of "mechanics" up the command chain to a responsible minister.

Conservatives won the 2006 election in part by promising transparency. Since then, Ottawa has become only more opaque as the result of the resolute Conservative effort to mute public watchdogs, pass the buck to civil servants and continue concentrating power among appointed partisans in the Prime Minister's Office.

Those factors are coalescing again in a replay of recent history. Denied vital facts, MPs are lost along the Afghanistan prisoner paper trail. Bureaucrats, most notably diplomat Richard Colvin, are the designated scapegoats. By balking at Parliament's demand for information, Harper is assuming powers of executive privilege normally associated with U.S. presidents, not Canadian prime ministers.

Forcing compliance and re-establishing the democratic balance of power is as straightforward as it is twisted. At the first opportunity, opposition parties can defeat Conservatives in the Commons, forcing election-weary voters back to the polls.

Not an appealing political proposition. The loss of Commons confidence is still the appropriate democratic response if the threat of an unwanted campaign, the possible embarrassment of a court challenge or Parliamentary censure fail to cool overheated heads. If not, a dispute that began with stonewalled reports of Afghan prisoner abuse is set to become the crucible that determines if the Prime Minister or Parliament is now supreme.

I think the media are as much at fault for the destruction of our democracy as Stephen Harper. Notice how Travers slipped in teh sponsorship scandal, despite the fact that it was completely irrelevant to the story? He's a sly one. In another column he suggested that the Conservatives inherited the Geneva Convetnion from the Liberals. Some of these guys are kissing so much Tory butt, their lips are turning blue.

I swear, Harper could set the Parliament buildings on fire and the media would spend days talking about how he toasted marshmallows for the crowd.

A comment at the end of the article, which is actually brutally honest, says it all: How does he do it? It helps that Canada's largest media company engage in non-stop criticism of the opposition while ignoring the governing party." Touche.

John Mraz: How does Harper do it?
December 15, 2009
NP Editor

Stephen Harper had an exceptional run. He survived the threat of an opposition coalition by a single vote (the Governor-General's) -- assuring Canadians his continued brand of peace, order and good government. And what continuity we've enjoyed.

Faced with a catastrophic economic collapse, he prudently readjusted his ideological sights and his "no deficit" mantra, and injected billions of borrowed dollars into the economy, seemingly without suffering any loss of support from his conservative base. Along the way, the HST was negotiated and sold to Ontario and B.C., where efficiencies and jobs will apparently spring like tulips next year. Huzzah.

Meanwhile, this spring's closure of the Chalk River nuclear facility, resulting in a global shortage of medically essential isotopes is all but yesterday's news. This autumn, the H1N1 pandemic killed dozens, but not thousands, and has been mostly forgotten by the mainstream media. What luck for the dying.

Then, to any oil baron's delight, hacked emails from a British environmental think-tank suggested that eco-spinners were exaggerating the magnitude of climate change, which re-energized 18th century industrialists everywhere. Ergo, Canada is somewhat off the hook for its complete lack of environmental policy or action. Harper's mere attendance at Copenhagen, it seems, is policy and action enough.

On the international front, Omar Khadr, an alleged terrorist, remains incarcerated at Guantanamo Bay. And while some Afghan detainees may have been tortured upon release to local authorities, there is little hard evidence; and in any event, the Taliban are not particularly sympathetic victims. Somewhat like civil servants.

The fact is, you'd never know Harper holds but a minority, but there it is. Our loyal opposition, meek, divided and self-interested, dithered through 2009, spending as much time rebuilding their sand-castles and squabbling as they did holding Harper to account. Meanwhile, Stevie sang their praises on his piano. Can we blame him?

The man knows how to get his message out: Witness his government's insistence that criticism of torture is equivalent to taking sides with the Taliban. These days, it seems if you say it loudly enough, it must be true. Propaganda has reached a new low -- and all the Conservatives' political opponents stand in the crosshairs: bureaucrats, the media, activists, dogs, cats, you name it. Right now, the Conservatives govern by functional majority -- and almost everyone seems scared to get in their way.

We shouldn't be. Here are some facts to remember, for the benefit of those who are still interested in democracy.

The proposed coalition between the NDP and the Liberals, with confidence support from the Bloc, was neither illegal nor unconstitutional. No matter how loudly anyone says it was. It might have been foolish, unwieldy or even unworkable -- but similar coalitions have been formed in Westminster parliaments around the world, and I have no idea why our Governor-General saw fit to prorogue parliament and deny Canadians their democratic rights.

With respect to the economy, Harper assured us little folks as late as the last election that Canada would never run a deficit on his watch. Let alone weather a recession. So he cut the GST by two points (benefiting the rich) and depleted our reserves. The last time I checked, the projected deficit was over $50-billion -- and Canada's Economic Action Plan seemed more an opportunity to build big signs promoting Harper's party and hand out game-show sized cheques than an organized attempt at economic recovery. No one, not the Conservatives, the Liberals, economists or anyone else, seems to know how much of the dough allocated has actually hit the street. Or what benefit has resulted. But the fact that the term "jobless recovery" is now ubiquitous fiscal-speak gives us a pretty good hint how well the whole thing is working.

Our top public health policy experts assert that Canada remains unprepared for a pandemic to this day. No triumph for Harper there. Thousands of venerated scientists assert that climate change is real--and pushing the planet to its brink.

A few bad apples on the green side do not make the problem any less real. Canadian Omar Khadr is innocent until proven guilty, like him or not -- just as you would expect to be, no matter your age, origin or family history.

Afghan detainees are innocent until proven guilty, and their possible torture with our complicity is not only a crime but a violent reversal of Canadian traditions of humanity and compassion. And accusing veteran civil servants of falsity, while hiding behind the faux-patriotism of the chicken-hawk is loathsome.

Those are the facts.

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