Monday, August 18, 2008

Why You Should Love, Honour and Protect Your Government

Did you ever notice that events and announcements which are movable in time, and which are likely to provoke outrage and mockery and mobilization at the grassroots level are pushed into the August on a pretty regular basis?

Oh, a lot of these get shoved into Christmas or the Friday afternoon before a long weekend, but when you need lots of time and lots of obliviousness, the month of August is your domain of choice. If I am ever in government, I will have a great big oversized August on my calendar.

I figure that there should be a special "August news bureau", simply to cover the things that happen in August.

The comical committee sessions which I was writing about earlier on this blog (and by the way, what a pleasure it is to be here) were replayed cheek by jowl on CPAC on Saturday. I don't know what else is up for today, Monday, but in spite of the fact that I usually only see chunks of CPAC coverage, not entire sessions, there is always something that makes my ears perk up.

Since I am semi retired, perhaps my personal service to this blog, when I can manage it, can be one of providing core samples of our government inaction, as seen on CPAC.

~looks backwards at spelling error~ That is, as I meant to type, "in action". An important difference.

We need to remember that most of the government and most of the bureaucracy, most of the time, do their work responsibly and well. I think we tend to get a twisted view of their activities because mockery and faultfinding are a hell of a lot of fun -- much more fun than watching things when they go right. Silent movies undoubtedly over represented cars that backfired or whose tires fell off, for the same reason.

On the one hand, it is necessary in a democracy for people to keep an eagle eye on the workings of government. Corruption and incompetence are not new problems -- they are features of any human system, always potentially on the menu even on those occasions when the ingredients aren't in the kitchen.

But there is the danger of focusing only on the comedy, the incompetence and corruption. The habit of mockery plays right into the hands of a central tenet of the neo-conservative movement over the past 30 years. In our eagerness to find fault, we have to be careful not to give these people any more help than we can avoid.

You see, they don't want a government, or at least not one that serves the people and levels the playing field.

Beginning in the 70s, as far as I can tell, old-style Conservatives had their identities taken away from them, like that hapless redneck in Men in Black whose skin was taken and worn as a disguise by a giant cockroach.

I rather like old-style Conservatives. They were in favor of saving money, minimizing expenditures, preserving resources for generations to come after them, thinking long-term, building equity, rewarding honesty and hard work. They were stodgy and unimaginative. That's a GOOD thing -- Countrywide and Enron showed us some of the problems with no stodge and too much imagination.

This new bunch have a radically different approach to government, and to democracy.

Steven Harper, the current prime minister, has one major fault so far as Canadians are concerned, his objectives. He is highly skilled in controlling his caucus and the other Conservative MPs, and highly skilled at pushing his agenda forward in the face of the fact that Canadians pretty much reject it. He has managed an unprecedented feat -- balancing himself as the head of a minority government longer than anyone else has done so in Canada, while at the same time getting things done. If only this skill could be harnessed for good.

Most recently, he has declared that in spite of the election changes he put in place so recently that the ink might still be wet, he may call an election sooner, because the legislature has stalled due to obstructions by the opposition.

Setting aside the fact that one of the jobs of the opposition is to oppose, is he correct in this statement? Apparently not.

According to a Canadian Press article this morning, government is actually moving along pretty well. They say, in part: [bolding is mine]
By June, no fewer than 29 bills had received royal assent and become law since the session started in October.

And despite the fireworks at three politically charged committees, two dozen others have been quietly labouring away for months on a range of bills and hot topics, from the seal harvest to climate change.

In the final week alone before the summer recess, MPs tabled nine committee reports, sped through a series of last-minute votes, approved $335,000 worth of finance committee travel and unanimously rushed through a bill reforming military courts martial.


The opposition majority on a Commons rules panel - the Procedure and House Affairs committee - attempted to mount an inquiry into allegations of rule-breaking in $1.3 million worth of Conservative election ads.

The committee quickly ground to a halt, tempers rose and Tory MPs countered with the unprecedented spectacle of a government filibuster.

Early last March, the opposition voted out Conservative chair Gary Goodyear, using its majority to elect a new government chair, Joe Preston [Conservative], over his own objections.

Preston unwillingly took the gavel, banged it down and adjourned the meeting. He refused to call another one and soon resigned. The government refused to nominate any chair other than Goodyear, the opposition wouldn't accept him, and the committee hasn't met since then.

A similar standoff developed in the justice committee, where the opposition insisted on holding an inquiry into allegations that Conservatives offered the late independent MP Chuck Cadman financial inducements to help defeat the Liberal minority government in 2005.

The confrontation began in March and, like the deadlock in the House affairs committee, disabled the justice panel until the June adjournment.

Tory chair Art Hanger's solution was a simple one. He left the chair any time the Liberals tried to press a motion on the Cadman affair.

In the government operations committee, also chaired by the opposition, MPs held a brief inquiry into allegations that one of Harper's aides had intervened in a contract dispute between a Montreal firm and the Public Works Department. The committee also grilled Environment Minister John Baird over allegations he interfered in a City of Ottawa election by withholding federal aid for a light-rail project.

Shortly before the Commons broke for the summer, the opposition was attempting to steer the panel toward another controversy - the disclosure that former foreign affairs minister Maxime Bernier had left classified NATO briefing documents at a girlfriend's Montreal home.

So let me see if I have this right -- parliamentary work is moving along just fine except for three committees (possibly to be four, come fall) which appear to be targeting Conservative wrongdoing, and these have been obstructed in their function at least partly by Tory members, and therefore Parliament is not working and needs a shakeup in the form of an election? We may think so -- but why would Harper say so?

Harper's government is a minority, although a surprisingly long lasting one, but it looks to me like he is finally losing his fingernail grip on power. My guess is that this fall if an election is held, the electorate will say "meh” and give the top spot to somebody else, probably Mr. Dion. I suppose it is less shameful to jump than it is to be pushed, so I imagine that this peculiar chain of logic is Harper's attempt to make it look like an Olympic dive instead of a flailing defeat in our government's game of King of the Mountain.

And this would be entertaining if it weren't for the fact that like most leaders about to be toppled, he appears to be moving to get a few things done before he asked to hand back the keys and the garage door opener for 24 Sussex Drive.

With many governments there is a rush of legislation for the greater good as the lame duck begins his descent -- election funding laws, for instance, or amnesties. We rightly value our government for the wide array of services it provides -- is Harper acting to put some more in place?

Not as far as I have seen. Instead, he has pulled out his machete. The cuts to funding and programs are underway, and weirdly prominent among them are huge cuts to the tiny federal budget supporting the arts. That's a topic for a whole 'nother post, but ask yourself: what other programs do you value, that you think might come under the blade? You might do well to keep an eye on them.

Suffice it to say that as the Synchronized Diving Team of the Conservative Party gets ready for its event this fall, behind the scenes the machete of a skilled, clever, competent Conservative will be rising and falling without those choices ever coming before the eyes of the public -- until it's too late.

No comments: