The Federal Liberal Party’s mid-June announcement of measures to ensure a fair and open government may have suffered somewhat from too much of a good thing. Listing some 32 measures is rather overwhelming, especially when some – such as retaining Canada Post home delivery – seem rather extraneous to the central theme. Petty carping aside, however, there is a great deal to recommend in the Liberal democratic reform package and it merits continuing attention from voters as the federal election draws near. Consider, for example, the following five Liberal proposals.
Michael Chong’s private member’s bill, the Reform Act, finally passed just before Parliament adjourned for the pending federal election. First introduced in 2013, the bill was watered down several times to gain sufficient support from Chong’s fellow Conservatives to ensure its passage in the House of Commons. The bill then had to endure a very leisurely and grudging examination in the Senate, raising suspicions that the government – reluctant to defeat the bill in the Commons – had dispatched the minions in the PMO to direct Conservative Senators to delay the bill until it would die at the end of the session. Whatever the validity of such speculation, the Senate did finally pass the bill, doubtless influenced by emails and messages from tens of thousands of Canadians demanding that it do so. In what can only be described as delicious irony of the highest order, a number of the unelected Senators raised concerns about undemocratic aspects of the bill that transferred power to elected MPs.
With the recent report of the Auditor-General identifying 30 Senators (retired and current) who had claimed inappropriate expenses, the never-ending trial of Senator Mike Duffy, and the published allegations that Senator Don Meredith had a sexual relationship with a teenage girl, the Senate has very few defenders these days. The highly publicized accounts of Senators behaving badly have triggered widespread demands that the Senate be abolished as a useless and corrupt anachronism. While the public outcry is understandable, it is important to distinguish between the performance of individual Senators and the value of the Senate as a political institution.
[Timing is Everything: I had drafted this post before the Senator Meredith story broke and then, when the Globe and Mail ran an editorial this morning making much the same argument that I am, it seemed best to get this on my site without further delay.]
With a federal election rapidly approaching, we can expect a barrage of Conservative ads extolling the benefits of tough, tried and tested leadership and suggesting that any other leaders – and especially Justin Trudeau – are just not up to the job. So, what is that job, and what should it be, if that is such a critical consideration in casting our vote this fall?
With a federal election rapidly approaching, we will hear a lot about leadership (or lack thereof), about which party is doing more for the middle class, and about which party can save the country from a terrorist onslaught. I will be looking instead – and probably in vain – for any promises that the next government might be prepared to operate within the traditional parameters of Canada’s parliamentary democracy. To recall what these are dramatically demonstrates how far we have strayed.
C. Richard Tindal, Ph.D is a retired Professor of Government. He taught for 30 years at St. Lawrence College, Kingston and was an occasional Visiting Professor at Queen's University. He has also written and consulted extensively about government.