2 min

What this election says about our basic civics lessons

Harper had his one-on-one interview with Peter Mansbridge, which was shot in the same hockey arena he was at earlier this morning; he disputed the rules of a parliamentary democracy when it comes to forming a government, warned of the Coalition Menace, said he needs a majority so that he can plan for the long term and repeated falsehoods about the Canadian Labour Congress supporting his budget (they did not) and being able to somehow balance his budget with “modest spending controls” (though he won’t say how he can find $11 billion in cuts over four years). But seriously – 11 out of 15 questions were on the formation of a future government.

But more seriously, Harper’s questioning the legitimacy of opposition parties forming government as a “constitutional theoretical discussion” is not just galling, it makes one wonder if he’s not actually setting up for a constitutional crisis after the election. That should worry everyone – especially as this is coming from the only prime minister in the history of the Commonwealth to be found in contempt of Parliament. This is serious; everyone should be paying close attention to this alarming fact and be reminded that if the head of our government can’t respect the rules of parliamentary democracy, then he isn't fit to govern. End of story.

To that end, a group of scholars is increasingly alarmed by the “shocking ignorance” and “miseducation” around the basic workings of our parliamentary system and yes, we the media have fanned the flames. In fact, Susan Delacourt notes that we’ve gone from the Meech Lake era, when people did care about the “finer points” of constitutional reform, to now, when we hand over the role of understanding parliament to elites and constitutional experts. That too should be a warning sign.

This is why we need to start going back to the basics of our civics education. If people don’t understand the way the system works, they start putting all kinds of false notions and expectations upon the system. We can see this with the ideas that populism is the same as democracy (it absolutely is not), our Parliament is composed of lawmakers (it is not – Parliament is there to hold the government to account, and no, Parliament is not government), and our MPs are local cheerleaders (when it is their job to hold a government to account). Knowing that a bill needs three readings to pass is just great, but this is about knowing the mechanics of our system. And this election has shown that this knowledge is shockingly absent. This needs to be rectified immediately, if not sooner.
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