There has been a lot of hype during the last week or so about a likely general election in Canada, right in the middle of the largest health pandemic in our modern history. That it would not actually happen, however, was really never in doubt.
For all of their posturing and all of their indignation and all of their drama, the New Democratic Party was going to prop up the Trudeau Government no matter what, and that is what they did and will do for the foreseeable future. They really don’t have a choice. They have been effectively displaced with the current government’s total occupation of the political left, and many of their seats would be in jeopardy if an election were held.
The Trudeau Liberals know this, and that is why they were prepared to risk an election. They are currently eight points ahead in the polls and this could be their best chance of winning a majority government. They know that there is a tendency not to throw out governments during a national crisis. They were also bolstered by a recent government re-election win in Nova Scotia and another likely re-election (it actually happened last night) in British Columbia. Both of these elections were called well before they were required, in a self-serving effort to ride the COVID-19 pandemic from minority to majority governments. In both cases it worked.
The problem for the Trudeau Government, however, was that they remained hesitant, based on polling, to shoulder the blame for forcing an election barely a year after the last one and at a time when Canadians are being hit with a second wave of COVID-19.
But the Conservatives handed them an opportunity and that is when the Liberals got clever, or thought they did. From the Liberals’ perspective, one way or the other, they had nothing to lose.
Conservative Opposition Leader Erin O’Toole presented a motion in Parliament to establish an anti-corruption and conflict of interest committee. The original language in the motion was too partisan and an error on O’Toole’s part, but an amended form received the support of the Bloc Québécois, and the NDP made noises about supporting it as well until it became a confidence vote.
Unless I have missed one along the way, there has never been, in the history of Canadian parliamentary democracy, a vote of non-confidence in the Government based on the formation of a committee. If it has occurred, it was rare indeed.
The usual process is for a vote of non-confidence to be initiated by opposition parties after a speech from the throne, a budget, or the Government’s handling of a national crisis. None of these were a factor in the political crisis that the Trudeau Government engineered last week. It was simply a case of fancy footwork.
Make no mistake, it was the Liberal Government and not any of the opposition parties that triggered a non-confidence vote in the House of Commons last week. No opposition party wanted an election. Only the Liberals were prepared to take that risk, and that was for three reasons.
The Government believed they had the best chance to ride the COVID wave to win another term of government, possibly with a majority, if an election were held now. It was also an opportunity to put the NDP in an impossible position, calling their bluff and showing them for the lapdogs that they are. How humiliating. Most importantly, however, perhaps because there was more to hide, the Trudeau Government REALLY did not want that committee to look into their behaviour, and therein to me lies the rub.
No one wants a federal election right now, so that in itself is a relief. But it is the Liberals themselves who lit that fuse and no one else, and the implications of that are serious. Once again, for their own purposes, they are demonstrating a contempt for Parliament and attempting to mute its ability to effectively perform the primary duty of a parliamentary democracy, and that is to provide effective oversight of the government of the day.
Journalist Andrew Coyne, hardly a Conservative apologist, said it best when he said this: “Amid all the partisan posturing, let’s not forget there’s a pretty important principle at stake here. If the government can just dissolve Parliament whenever Parliament starts asking difficult questions, then we haven’t got much of a Parliament, or a parliamentary democracy.”
Andrew Coyne also said, “It’s not ‘silly political games’ for MPs to want to question government ministers about serious apparent ethical violations. Or anything else for that matter.” Parliamentary committees are an important and essential element of that democratic process.
In the past few months alone, the prime minister has tried to shut down Parliament twice. He prorogued Parliament this summer for no real reason other than to get out from under its scrutiny of the We Charity scandal. And now he has threatened a pandemic election solely to prevent the formation of a parliamentary committee on ethical or corrupt behaviour, effectively signalling he has more important things to do than to be held accountable. I find it hard to believe that anyone of any political persuasion would see this as anything other than an assault on the democratic process and a signal to Government that they can do anything they want.
Diminishing the role of Parliament may be expedient for Government, especially one with a clear record of ethical violations, but the implications of that are very serious. Furthermore, complacency of an electorate to get really exercised about it during a pandemic is understandable. But at the end of the day, the question must be asked: Is this good for democracy? Is this good for Canada?
Surely, we need to think about that.
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