Canada is now ruled by a Shadow Government comprising the unelected, largely invisible staff in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) who do his bidding. They keep Conservative MPs on a very short leash, largely dictating who can speak, when, and what they will say. Civil servants are no longer key advisers in government decision-making and scientific evidence, in particular, is not welcome when it fails to support the ideological bent of the Conservative Party. We have reached the shameful state in which public servants cannot speak about their own published papers except on the basis of talking points provided by the PMO. The ongoing trial of Senator Mike Duffy brings daily evidence of the extent to which the PMO interfered with the operations of the Canadian Senate, dictating changes in the wording of a Senate report as part of a series of efforts to minimize the political fallout from Duffy’s spending irregularities.
The current government has shown little patience for the niceties of parliamentary debate. Closure motions (to limit debate on a bill or stage of a bill) were once used very sparingly and were quite controversial. They are now routine and are often tabled when a bill is introduced. Before discussion has even begun, before we can know whether the opposition has legitimate concerns or worthwhile suggestions, the government preemptively dictates when the debate will end. Parliament’s role in law-making is also undermined by the increasing use of omnibus bills, containing changes to a large number of different pieces of legislation. A particularly egregious example was the 2015 omnibus bill that supposedly focused on that year’s budget. But it contained many other legislative changes including a retroactive law designed to ensure that the RCMP’s actions in destroying records from the long gun registry in 2012 – in apparent contravention of the Information Act – can be protected/validated after the fact.
While these examples should be sufficient to demonstrate that within the trappings of our former parliamentary democracy we now function as a prime ministerial dictatorship between elections, they are but the tip of the iceberg. A recent investigation by online magazine The Tyee identified 70 examples of assaults on democracy by the Conservative Government.
What Can Be Done?
Just as we – the Canadian people – have allowed the erosion of Canadian democracy, only we can reverse this trend. The upcoming federal election provides us with an opportunity to do so, if we will seize it. We need to look beyond comparing the political parties on the basis of which one offers promises that will benefit us the most personally. We need to resist the message of those who tell us why we should be afraid or who to blame for things we fear or dislike.
The Conservative regime must end if we are to begin to arrest the erosion of our democracy. In considering the alternatives, we must make it clear that a party seeking our support needs to convince us of its commitment to upholding our democratic principles and practices. We are going to have to do this sooner or later if we are to reclaim our democracy. Further delays will only lead to further erosion. Let us make the upcoming election a fight to revive Canadian democracy.