Some time ago, in a mandate letter to members of his Cabinet, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wrote this:
“The trust of Canadians will also rest on the accountability of our Government. In our system, the highest manifestation of democratic accountability is the forum of Parliament.”
Last week, aided and abetted by a deal with the New Democratic Party, who only demonstrated how cheaply they could be bought, the Prime Minister effectively shut down Parliament and its ability to provide oversight and accountability.
Stephen Gordon is a contributing writer for the Globe and Mail and a professor of economics at Laval University. This is what he had to say about the NDP helping the Government to neuter Parliament: “Dammit. I voted for the NDP because I thought they’d provide useful and much-needed oversight over a Liberal government. If I’d wanted another rubber stamp, I’d have voted Liberal.”
The first time around, a few months ago, when the Trudeau Government tried to slip a diminishment of Parliament into a pandemic aid bill, they didn’t get away with it. This time they did, through a deal with the NDP which will cost them nothing.
The NDP want a ten-day, fully paid sick leave policy for all workers in Canada and the Government promised to support such a move, even though it interferes with provincial jurisdiction and will be ultimately paid for by employers, in exchange for the NDP’s support to muzzle Parliament.
The effect, especially on small business owners, would be serious. One machine shop owner with six employees pointed out that the ten-day sick leave deal the NDP cut with the Liberals to “suspend” Parliament, would cost him over twelve thousand dollars in direct wage loss and, in addition, more than forty thousand dollars in billable hours “just so Trudeau can avoid accountability”.
I am not a critic of either Prime Minister Justin Trudeau or of Ontario Premier Doug Ford in relation to their COVID-19 leadership. Both have been effective. But while daily exposure through press conferences, with generally favourable media and usually a goodie or two to give out, may be good politics and will inevitably spike up the polling numbers, it is not in itself effective accountability. It is more like show and tell. I, for one, am getting a little tired of it.
And it is the politics that bothers me. I see two threads running through this pandemic in Canada. The first is the management of the COVID-19 crisis. That gets pretty high marks from me. The second is an effort, especially at the federal level, to use the pandemic to further political goals, to seek more power, and to duck accountability.
That is not particularly surprising and, yes, given the opportunity perhaps any government, even a Conservative one, would be tempted. But I still don’t like it and I still don’t think it is right. It is the reason why the greater the crisis the more need there is for a strong and vigilant Parliament. That to me is the essence of democracy.
It is my view that the federal Liberal Party is gearing up for a snap election on the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic, less than a year after the last one. The signs are there. I have been in too many political war rooms over the years not to see them. And it is a lot easier to do when there is no Parliament in the way to keep you in check.
Although many spending initiatives announced by the Trudeau Government during the pandemic were necessary, some were not. Among them were gifts and giveaways to people who did not need them, did not ask for them, but would be grateful to receive them. Pure politics.
Another sure sign of election readiness is the summoning of Gerald Butts back to Ottawa after an absence from the PMO related to the SNC scandal. The cover story is that he will advise the Prime Minister on environmental issues, an area where he does have some expertise. The overriding reason is an election. That is Butt’s thing. He has been a trusted and senior political advisor to the prime minister and to former Ontario premier, Dalton McGuinty. He is a war room specialist. He has been called back for a reason.
Parliament is scheduled to reconvene on September 21. My guess is that it will not sit again in any manner that provides reasonable oversight and accountability until at least the end of this year and perhaps well into 2021. This particular minority Parliament may never sit again.
The Trudeau Government is riding high in the polls as is the Conservative Government in Ontario, primarily because of their handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ford has a majority government, Trudeau does not. The federal Conservatives are effectively leaderless, and their polling numbers are in freefall. My bet is that the prime minister will take advantage of all of this in an attempt to leapfrog into a majority government on the back of the pandemic. That, in my view, is a forecast for another four years of uncontrolled spending and economic chaos.
In my view, this is not a time for political manoeuvring. I guess it is a good strategy if power is more important than actual performance.
Suspending Parliament or reducing its capacity to provide effective oversight may be in the best interest of the current Government while they develop a strategy to achieve a majority.
It is not, however, in the best interest of Canadians.
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