A mere couple of hours into the debate on
the bill to create the government’s new pooled registered pension plans,
Government House Leader Peter Van Loan dropped the hammer once again – time
allocation. Because there is apparently no bill before Parliament that the
government doesn’t deem to be such a crucial piece of business that they don’t
want to hurry it through.
Making it worse is Van Loan then heading
for the television cameras lamenting that the opposition spent x number of
hours debating this bill, and they’re not really debating but delaying, and it’s
just terrible they’re doing that. Worse than that, Van Loan then points to our
neighbours to the south and says, “Look at the legislative gridlock they have
going on. We don’t need that here in Canada. We need to take decisive action,
and that’s what we’re doing.” And then, pleased with himself, he vanishes.
But here’s the thing – Van Loan is trying
to play the public for fools, and because we have this really lamentable lack
of civic literacy in this country, he gets away with it. You see, people seem
to forget that with a majority government, these bills are going to pass one
way or the other, and there is no pressing need to get any of it through
tomorrow. Van Loan can cite all of the hours spent in debate he wants –
debate takes time. Deliberation takes time. Democracy takes time. Just because
Harper makes up his mind on something, it doesn’t have to be enacted
immediately in the way he deems fit. New and better ways to enact and implement
these ideas can come out, and it’s not like everything the government proposes
is flawless – there will be mistakes *cough*C-10*cough*, and they will be found in debate and
study, but again, these things take time to find and deal with.
And then there’s the gridlock excuse –
which is really kind of sickening. For Van Loan to equate debate in Canada with
American gridlock takes the cake. First of all, their system was built for
gridlock. For them, it’s a design feature so that no one body can get too much
power. Our system, where the executive is drawn from the legislature, pretty
much avoids that, and given that Harper has a majority in the Commons and the
Senate – there is no actual gridlock. It doesn’t exist – not unless he’s got
either a backbench rebellion or his senators decide to exercise a bit more independence
than they usually do (seeing as most of them still believe they can be whipped,
which is false). None of those things are happening right now.
But here’s the ironic part – with the
government’s Senate “reform” bill they’re trying to push through, they will
create gridlock in our system, with no mechanism with which to clear it. “Elected”
senators, empowered with “democratic legitimacy,” will flex their muscles, and because
they have broader electorates than MPs do, they’ll throw their weight around,
and then we’ll really see legislation get caught up in a logjam (which the
executive will then try to take advantage of). And yet this is what they are eagerly hurtling toward. So the next time Van Loan says
anything at all about the Senate “reform” bill not going through, then he should
be called out – very loudly – as a hypocrite.
Process matters. Democracy is process –
they’re inextricably linked. For this government to try to thwart process and curtail
debate because it might invite dissent (which is the hallmark of “radicals,”
apparently) smacks of anti-democratic tendencies that deserve to be called out.
If we want to be a free and democratic society, that means enduring a few more speeches
and a few more rounds of questions and answers in the House or in committee.
Otherwise, we might as well just anoint Harper as Emperor, hand him his Sith
robe and be done with it.