2 min

Lessons from the ground floor

The CBC has posted an exit interview with Glen Pearson, one of the most underrated MPs of the previous two Parliaments and possibly the most decent person you’ll ever meet. Anyone who has even a passing interest in Canadian politics really has to read it because someone from the inside exposes truths about the decline of our parliamentary institutions.

A couple of key phrases really stood out for me. Peterson said, “I personally hold the prime minister and the Conservatives more or less responsible for the decline of Parliament in my time while I had been there. But I know all of us, as party members from the various parties, played a role in it, played the partisan game and made it consistently worse.” It’s a pretty damning indictment, but nevertheless a true one, when one takes a look at just how far this Conservative government has gone in undermining and degrading the role of Parliament, its institutions and the way things operate. Never before has there been such concerted effort to paralyze committees, silence watchdogs, undercut the legitimacy of whole organizations or be found in contempt of Parliament itself.

The other phrase that caught my eye was this: “Parliament now is all about retail politics. It's all about partisanship. It's just the way that it works. And I think it's just a sad thing to have come to realize. I think if I'd have known that before I ran, I would not have run.” It’s a heartbreaking lesson that I struggle with as a political reporter: I constantly see examples of politics triumphing over policy where any crass populist noise (like the “chain gang” proposal brought forward in Ontario yesterday) isn’t immediately dismissed in favour of sound, evidence-based policy. That’s really kind of crazy, and we need to be aware that this is the direction we’re heading before it’s too late.

On a related note, let's look at part of Aaron Wherry’s ongoing series of questions to prospective Commons Speakers. Here’s the response from the NDP’s Denise Savoie, who has, so far, impressed me the most, especially when she talks about the political literacy skills of MPs. I will again remind you that last year's Samara study of departing MPs showed that most didn’t even know their own job description. They should know this. If this is something Savoie is looking to help rectify, then I applaud her for it.

Kady O’Malley looks at the history of Opposition-chaired committees and what that could mean for this upcoming Parliament.

Jack Layton’s comment that a future Quebec referendum would simply require a 50-percent-plus-one result to ensure Quebec separation is drawing a lot of fire from Quebec provincial politicians, Stéphane Dion (the author of the Clarity Act) and even separatists. The party's position on the result was established in the Sherbrooke Declaration. People have already asked why the NDP would agree to allow a simple majority to break up the country when it requires a two-thirds majority to amend its own constitution. It is a good question.

Incidentally, a poll commissioned by the Canadian Press shows that Canadians seem to have lost their aversion to reopening the Constitution. But do they actually understand what that entails? That’s my question.

And it looks like Russia is calling out the Harper government over its Arctic rhetoric, saying that the criticism of Russia’s motives lacks an understanding of “reality.” Ouch! But hey, when it's a party that had the ink barely dry on its ministers’ passports before sending them out into the world and is more interested in domestic populist noise than in actual policy, this really shouldn’t be a surprise.
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