Central to the exercise of democracy in Canada is the notion that those elected are accountable to their citizens. At the federal and provincial levels, much of this accountability is enforced by the requirement for the governing party to submit its proposals for examination, debate, and approval by a majority of members of the House of Commons or a provincial Legislative Assembly. There are rules (Standing Orders) that dictate how these matters proceed and they need to strike a balance between the rights of the government and of the opposition parties. Unfortunately over the past several decades all three political parties in Ontario have used their time in power to change these rules to restrict opposition parties from carrying out their legitimate role.
The latest assault has been mounted by Doug Ford’s Conservative Government, which has proposed amendments (which it has the numerical majority to pass) that will allow the government to push legislation through multiple stages in one day and to schedule up to 50% more night sittings than currently allowed. These amendments will also prevent anyone from introducing an “adjournment of the House” motion during debates being conducted under time allocations (restrictions). When in opposition, the Conservative Party found this a useful tool, but now that they are in power, they no longer see the value of something that can be used to delay proceedings.
Frontier Justice in Alberta
I vaguely recall, from old Western movies, that if someone was poking around making a nuisance of himself, the common solution was to shoot him, or at least drive him out of town. It appears that this is still the preferred approach by the new sheriff in town, Premier Jason Kenney. His government has just dismissed an independent parliamentary watchdog known as the Election Commissioner who was in the midst of an investigation into alleged irregularities during the leadership race in 2017 that resulted in the selection of Jason Kenney as leader of the United Conservative Party. These investigations involve another candidate in that leadership campaign who may have been in the race for the purpose of attacking Kenney’s main rival for leader, before dropping out to throw his support behind Kenney.
These are serious charges, but their continued investigation is now uncertain, with the firing of person in charge of the investigation. The Alberta Government’s pathetically laughable explanation is that this watchdog’s responsibilities are being moved into Elections Alberta, which can continue the investigation if it wishes and can even hire back the dismissed watchdog if it wishes. The only reason for this move, we are asked to believe, is to save hard working taxpayers some $200,000 a year. But if Elections Alberta is going to hire a new watchdog, as the government tries to reassure us, could happen – then even this miniscule savings in a provincial budget of some $50 billion will not materialize.
This is, or should be, a deeply disturbing development for anyone concerned about the survival of democracy in Canada. A Premier whose past conduct is under investigation arranges to pass legislation – in just three days by imposing closure (termination of debate) three times – to fire the person conducting the investigation.