“A legislature matters more than the luge”

I grew up in Canada, and lately I’m wondering what the hell is happening to make it go so horribly off the rails. Let’s backtrack about a year, to when Slate.com ran a piece called “What’s the Matter with Canada? How the world’s nicest country turned mean.

On December 30th, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper prorogued the government (it means discontinuing the session of parliament without dissolving it) for the second time in about a year. He did it the first time to avoid having his party’s minority leadership in parliament challenged by a vote of no confidence. (For those of you who somehow missed Canadian civics, if a vote of no confidence carries, the next step is a general election.)

When he did it a second time, it prompted Errol P. Mendes, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Ottawa, to write a piece that ran in the Toronto Star, which is really worth reading.

“The early decision to shut down Parliament was clearly to avoid the continuing scrutiny of a House of Commons committee over the mounting evidence of wilful blindness by the Harper government over the transfer of Afghan detainees to a substantial risk of torture. This is potentially a war crime and one of the most serious allegations any government has faced in the history of Canada.”

Mendes also outlines some of the other “unconstitutional behaviour” the Harper administration has been up to. What’s eerie is how much of it is reminiscent of the Bush administration. But even Bush/Cheney didn’t have the balls to shut down the government twice, just to get themselves out of hot water.

Enter The Economist, with its Olympian tone and unbylined stories. Now, The Economist is nobody’s ideal of a bleeding heart liberal magazine (even though they quaintly call themselves a newspaper), and they often profess their admiration for free markets.

However.

This is one of the colonies, and they are, you know, The Economist, and they see through your shady maneuvers, Mr. Harper.

His officials faced grilling by parliamentary committees over whether they misled the House of Commons in denying knowledge that detainees handed over to the local authorities by Canadian troops in Afghanistan were being tortured. The government would also have come under fire for its lack of policies to curb Canada’s abundant carbon emissions. Prorogation means that such committees—which carry out the essential democratic task of scrutinising government—will have to be formed anew in March.

(That means no governmental oversight until MARCH — after the Winter Olympics take place in Whistler, British Columbia, next month.)

Their rejoinder is in the form of a sub-headline. And I quote: “A legislature matters more than the luge.”

Amen.

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