Contempt of Parliament is contempt for Canadians

Canadians often express cynicism about politicians.  The cynicism is at least partly responsible for a low voter turnout in elections – including federal elections.  We should look in the mirror.

The current federal election campaign is the direct result of the Conservative government having been found in contempt of Parliament, and rejected for its contempt.  This has never happened before in the 145 year life of our country.

Most Canadians seem unconcerned.  Perhaps some of us take a quiet satisfaction in the reality that Stephen Harper thinks pretty much the same thing we do about the goings on in the House of Commons.  After all, isn’t cynicism about politicians pretty much the same thing as contempt of Parliament.  Isn’t Prime Minister Harper just treating Jack Layton and Michael Ignatieff and Gilles Ducette the same way we do in many of our conversations?  And deservedly so?

As Canadians, we need to think this through very carefully.  Important matters are at stake.

It’s true, politicians are sometimes (often?) too full of themselves.  Parties and the House of Commons are sometimes pre-occupied with their institutional selves, and partisanship.  They forget the people they are meant to serve.  But we – citizens – should never forget that every M.P. sits in the House of Commons as our servant – our agent.

Hundreds of years ago the idea of contempt of Parliament was a hard-won acknowledgement by someone with dictatorial powers (the King) that he (and his government) could not rule without the consent of the people’s representative, and he had to treat the people’s representatives with respect (the opposite of contempt) even if he disagreed with them.  Among other hard fought victories, the King and the government agreed that they had to tell the truth to the representatives of the people.  There had to be full and timely disclosure.

Today Mr. Harper is saying – if I may paraphrase, “We Conservatives can treat most of the representatives of the Canadian electorate with contempt and govern in that mode.”  If we Canadians accept that a government can withhold information, and dissemble, no matter what Parliament commands, then we accept contempt of Parliament, we accept the premise of dictatorship.  We accept contempt of Canadians.

Jack Layton, Michael Ignatieff, and Gilles Duceppe are sometimes too full of themselves.  Sometimes they and their colleagues are too partisan.  Each one of them has platform planks that make me groan, or cause me worry about the future of Canada.  All of that is true of Mr. Harper, as well.

But, the core reality is that every Member of Parliament is elected as the representative of Canadians.  Whether I agree with Mr. Layton’s electors, or Mr. Ignatieff’s electors, or even Mr. Duceppe’s electors, they are my fellow Canadians.  We are all in this together.  When a government treats Parliament with contempt it is treating every Canadian with contempt.  When a government excuses contempt by falling back on partisanship, it is simply saying that it has no aspirations that drive its values – those values are not being driven upward:  they are on a downward spiral.

Perhaps we are unconcerned about these circumstances because our own M.P. was a Conservative.  Perhaps we are still pre-occupied with the cheap shots that we remember other parties dishing out in days gone by.  Perhaps we think that turnabout is fair play.

But it isn’t.  Football is not better if we tolerate and try to forget the cheap, vicious shot from the home team while booing the same kind of cheap shot from the visitors.  Coaches, players and teams are penalized for such performance.  The game on the field suffers and the reputation of the game suffers.

If we don’t care about democracy, and if we are satisfied to be treated with contempt by our government we will first get mediocre government and then we will get bad government.  We don’t even need to vote.

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4 Responses to “Contempt of Parliament is contempt for Canadians”

  1. Robert Says:

    All interesting points. But what’s the solution? It’s easy to say: “we should all vote!”, but what about when there are no palatable choices? If Mr. Ignatieff, Mr. Layton, Mr. Duceppe (and Ms. May) are all just as bad as Mr. Harper, what is the alternative? I’m afraid I don’t have the energy, patience or experience to launch a political party. I plan to take my family and leave the country, and bid “good riddance” to this batch of politicians. But that’s neither a long-term nor universal solution. Do you really propose that we hold our noses and vote for the lesser of the evils?

    • dkingofalberta Says:

      Robert, all of us are tired of the political situation. But still, I urge people to “hold our noses and vote”. I doubt that any of the candidates in your constituency is really “evil”. More likely, they are mediocre, and part of a system that encourages mediocrity. I would vote for the one who is least mediocre and tell that candidate s/he won’t get my vote again unless s/he starts to observe a higher standard. When it is -30º, I’ll take -10º and look for +10º.

      Right at the moment I don’t know that there is any place you could take your family and find a more healthy political environment.

      • Robert Says:

        David, thanks for your reply. I am not leaving in order to find a healthier political environment, but I am not willing to invest more energy in improving the system, since I’m leaving.

        You’re right that none of the candidates are evil. But the system doesn’t work. So how does voting help, since it reinforces the system?

  2. Gitta Hashizume Says:

    David – you are dead on with this. The big question is how do we get people to recognize how important this is? How do we encourage young people to get involved when we witness people being ejected from a presentation by Mr Harper because of a picture on their facebook, or because they are concerned about the environment? We are quickly losing any shred of democracy in this country.

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