Evidence emerged last week that, when concerns were expressed about Mike Duffy being appointed to the Senate from P.E.I., Stephen Harper brushed them aside as irrelevant. The evidence should remind us that Harper's default position -- on everything -- is contempt. Frances Russell writes
As Parliament and Canadians ready themselves for the unrolling of one of the juiciest Conservative scandals in Canada’s colourful history – the Mike Duffy, Pamela Walin, Patrick Brazeau Senate Expenses Affair – one of the country’s leading political scientists says the sitting prime minister is going out of his way to show his contempt of parliament.
“He’s very smart, he’s very shrewd,” University of Toronto professor of government Nelson Wiseman says.
“I believe accurately that most Canadians do not understand how parliament works, don’t understand parliamentary traditions and they don’t much care,” he continued in an interview. “And he (Prime Minister Stephen Harper) was vindicated in that view in the last election when he was promoted from being a minority prime minister to being a majority prime minister.”
Canadian parliamentary democracy has evolved differently from British parliamentary democracy:
In December, 2008, Canadians got to see our governmental shortcomings up close. The newly-elected prime minister (Harper) had lost the confidence of parliament but was able to wheedle an inexperienced governor general into doing his bidding and handing the government to him and his party during a climactic – and fated – meeting in Rideau Hall.
By contrast, Wiseman continues, “in Britain when they have an election, the prime minister who has just been defeated vacates 10 Downing Street that same day.”
Canada, he suggests, has “gone off the rails” thanks to our proximity to the U.S. and its starkly different separation of powers governance.
“The authoritarianism is completely unsettling,” Wiseman continues. “Parliament is withering away. The government has been replaced by the PMO (Prime Minister’s Office) and it’s just a referendum on the prime minister when you have an election.”
The next election will be about very big issues. Mr. Harper will try to convince us that it's all about balancing the budget. But it's worth remembering what Peter Russell -- professor emeritus of political science also at the University of Toronto -- said before the last election:
“Because I really fear…this may sound extreme…that if the Harper Conservatives were to win a majority in the House of Commons, it would be an indication that parliamentary crime pays…
“We’re the fourth oldest democracy in the world. I treasure it…[don’t put it] in the hands or people who don’t treasure it or respect it…[and] try to prevent a majority from killing it…
“I’ve never been more worried in my entire lifetime of democratic citizenship in Canada about the possible outcome of an election.”
If Stephen Harper wins the next election, Canadians will know contempt -- always and everywhere.