Democracy now safe for two weeks, at least

Michael
Michael Johansen
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After months of study and deliberation, the Speaker of the House of Commons has come up with a ruling blatantly obvious to anyone with any understanding of Canadian democracy (which seems to be everyone except the Reformed Conservatives and their supporters): Parliament is supreme, not whatever government happens to be in power.
Unfortunately, Prime Minister Stephen Harper skipped out of the House before Speaker Peter Milliken made the announcement, so he might not have heard the news. Harper's curious absence might be explained by his habitual reluctance to face democracy head-on.
Maybe he went looking for the Governor General so he could hide behind her skirts again, although if he found MichaËlle Jean, it seems she rejected a third request to prorogue Parliament; if she hadn't, we would have heard something by now.
Possibly, the prime minister got out of earshot so he could preserve a state of plausible deniability. If Harper didn't hear Milliken's clear and un-equivocal statements, he can choose to interpret them any way he likes, and even declare the ruling a victory for the minority Conservatives.
This reinterpretation has already begun. The government's immediate response was voiced by Justice Minister Rob Nicholson who, in a statement after which he refused questions, attempted to water down the ruling by conceding the government has to follow the laws Parliament passes, but claiming (in contradiction to the Speaker) the Conservatives retain the right to make the final determination of what constitutes a matter of national security. So, he said, only they can decide what should or should not be released to parliamentarians.
"Our government will not compromise Canada's national security," he said, "nor will it jeopardize the lives of our men and women in uniform."
Of course, the Speaker is not demanding the government jeopardize anyone. He is only seeking to safeguard Canada's democratic system by preserving the centuries-long pre-eminence of Parliament, which has been under attack at least since the Conservatives tried (and somewhat succeeded in their attempt) to engineer a popular uprising against the majority opposition by declaring illegal any coalition government that did not include them - a clear falsehood that was nonetheless accepted by a considerable number of sadly uninformed citizens.
However, the Speaker seems reluctant to force the government into a corner (trapped animals can be very unpredictable and dangerous), so he has given MPs two weeks to figure out how Parliament can see all the documents it demands without revealing sensitive information to Canada's enemies.
That should not be a difficult task, since opposition members have al-ready been proposing various mechanisms to allow them to read everything they want, but still keep necessary secrets out of public view. But any sense of optimism on this point fades when Conservatives speak.
According to a representative on CBC Radio the morning after, the only compromise the government seems to be contemplating is the very one the Speaker already rejected because it did not involve reporting to Parliament: a review of sensitive documents by a judge who would only make his findings known to a government minister.
What will happen at the end of the Speaker's two-week deadline de-pends on whether all the parties in Parliament are willing to take an open and forthright approach to the issue. So far the signs are not good.
Both the Liberals and New Democratics immediately announced the Speaker's ruling on their websites, but the Conservatives published nothing about it on their page.
Instead, the Conservative campaign has gone underground (as their campaigns usually do when they are in a weak and embattled position) and nameless supporters have attacked the Speaker's integrity and objectivity, accusing him (des-pite evidence to the contrary) of being a Liberal lackey: "Peter Milli-ken is a Liberal clone and it isn't surprising he wants to make the Conservatives look bad," one anonymous source commented online. "I am sure he consulted with his Liberal buddies, before making a decision. He has shown 'bias' and 'favouritism.'"
If the prime minister hasn't al-ready made a visit to the Governor General, he's probably hoping he can still resort to his favourite dodge to avoid the loss of the autonomous power he craves. If that happens, Canadians who value their democracy can only hope she'll finally reject prorogation this time around.

Michael Johansen is a writer living in Labrador, but currently in travel mode.

Organizations: Reformed Conservatives, House of Commons, CBC Radio

Geographic location: Canada, Labrador

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Recent comments

  • Polly
    July 02, 2010 - 13:19

    You have made a loyal reader very proud today , Michael . You have --- hit the ground running ---- .

  • Maurice E.
    July 02, 2010 - 13:18

    Well done Michael. You have captured the essence of the matter very well indeed.

  • whos
    July 02, 2010 - 13:09

    Your article needs no more argument...Correct on all accounts...It IS sad that Canadians are so poorly educated to the workings of our Government...Whatever the stripe....A civics lesson is in order in my honest opinion!! Thanks for presenting what should be obvious....

  • Polly
    July 01, 2010 - 20:01

    You have made a loyal reader very proud today , Michael . You have --- hit the ground running ---- .

  • Maurice E.
    July 01, 2010 - 19:59

    Well done Michael. You have captured the essence of the matter very well indeed.

  • whos
    July 01, 2010 - 19:45

    Your article needs no more argument...Correct on all accounts...It IS sad that Canadians are so poorly educated to the workings of our Government...Whatever the stripe....A civics lesson is in order in my honest opinion!! Thanks for presenting what should be obvious....