2 min

Dark days for our democracy

Those of you checking either the National page here at or the print edition of Capital Xtra will see my current story about how the Prime Minister is playing fast and loose with the rule of law in this country. It was an interesting piece to write – and one that was wholly disturbing at the same time.

A little over a week ago, Toronto Star columnist James Travers wrote a lengthy essay of his own about the “quiet unravelling” of Canadian democracy, talking about muzzled MPs, politicised senior bureaucrats, and the complicity of the RCMP in at least one federal election, and how these abuses are going unchecked. It’s worthwhile reading as well.

Travers drew much of his material from Donald Savoie’s book Court Government and the Collapse of Accountability in Canada and the United Kingdom, a book I similarly read while researching my article, and while I was hoping to get Savoie to speak to the issue at hand, he was unfortunately out of the country. Nevertheless, what I did hear from other experts was clear – things this government are doing don’t happen in democratic countries.

While I haven’t been in the Press Gallery nearly as long as Travers has, having been a keen observer for a while now, I’ve come to notice a few things. One of those things is the way that so much of the debate has been reduced to gamesmanship, scoring points, and sound bites. Committee work seems largely full of raising questions, but leaving them at just that – questions. There seems to be little follow-through, little proper study, and especially in this minority situation, the whole business seems all the more ephemeral because we’ll have an election before long, and all of the work will have evaporated.

In his book, Savoie pointed to the fact that budgets have become so large and complex that MPs rarely even study them any longer – they ask a few cursory questions and rubber-stamp them on their way. What happened to the notions of proper study, review, and oversight? We saw this certainly played out in this past budget cycle, where in the name of expediency on stimulus spending (and some rather unscrupulous wording around changes to EI payments), the budget was passed in record time, with almost no debate or study. And this is not a boon for our democracy.

In the last Parliament, the bill that was then known as C-10 was a 700-page monstrosity about tax code changes that very nearly saw a form of de facto censorship introduced into arts funding. And how many people remember that it passed the Commons in a day, with no study, and that only the Senate managed to catch it in time. What does that say about the work that our MPs are doing?

I don’t have any answers, but these kinds of incidents are stark reminders why we need to keep our eyes on what is taking place here in Ottawa. If we let it continue, if we continue to reward MPs for simply scoring points rather than doing their jobs as it relates to policy and government accountability, then we are in for a very dark future.

In the last Question Period before the House broke for the Easter break, Pablo Rodriguez said that Harper was acting like a “little king of Canada.” He’s not too far from that mark any more. And we’re letting it happen under our noses.