Monday, December 08, 2008

Michaëlle Jean for President

So our Governor General, Michaëlle Jean acceded to Prime Minister Stephen Harper's request that Canada's parliament be suspended until late January. And the justification ... ?

Well, none was provided. But perhaps it had something to do with Harper's Conservative Party being on the brink of losing control of the government.

Now I don't dispute that the Governor General was acting within her powers. But I do think her powers need some tweaking if parliament can be suspended just to allow the Prime Minister to evade the will of the elected members of parliament. That kind of contempt for democracy smacks of absolutism. Who does the Governor General report to, anyway? Oh, right: the Queen of England!

I'm reminded of some lines in the jingoistic second verse of "God Save the Queen":
O Lord, our God, arise,
Scatter her enemies,
And make them fall.
Confound their politics,
Frustrate their knavish tricks,
On Thee our hopes we fix,
God save us all.
God save us all, indeed. It seems that Canada's politics are the ones being confounded. (I confess, however, that I do admire the rhyming of politics with knavish tricks.)

I wonder if it isn't time that Canada grew up and that the sun set once and for all on the western remnant of the British Empire. It's time we became a republic. Of course a republic needs a President. And to show I hold no grudges, I would like to nominate Michaëlle Jean. But enough already with the proroguing!

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Blogger dm said...

It is essential that positions like the GG be kept independent from the insanity of elected politics.

The GG is effectively the keeper of the rules. Given the power-lust of the political parties, media-induced hysteria, and a largely ill-informed, lazy thinking populace, I'm very glad that procedural decisions such as what happened last week is left to an individual whose sole purpose is to make balanced decisions in the interests of the system itself. What made me even more happier is that nobody questioned her decision - she was consulted, and an unbiased decision was made in the best interests of the parliamentary system - and the petty world of politics has kept right on trucking without a blink of the eye.

3:16 PM, December 09, 2008  
Blogger Nick Barrowman said...


I see where you're coming from but I would question your characterizations of the public as "largely ill-informed" and "lazy thinking" and the decisions of a GG as necessarily "balanced" and "unbiased". The world of politics may be petty, but politicians are at least somewhat accountable.

9:25 AM, December 10, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Personally, I agree with dm on the public being "largely ill-informed" and "lazy thinking". For example, the voter turnout rate, according to the Elections Canada website, was only 64.7% for the election on January 23, 2006. Sure, some feel that it isn't important to vote, because you're "only" one vote. These people are misinformed. It is important to excersice our democratic right to vote every election. Heck, it's not a right; It's a duty to our country's system of government. Then there are those who don't feel they know enough to vote; these are soe of the "ill-informed ones". Also, one can draw to attention the fact that Ontario did not succeed on a referendum to introduced MMP into their voting system, despite the fact that it is clearly a step in a democratic direction. Obviously, the residents of Ontario were lazy thinkers; they didn't understand it, so they didn't vote for it, because they would rather things just stayed the same (or at least, that's what they think they want). About the prorogation of Parliament, I disagree with the GG's choice, but she had limited options:
1) a coalition government
2) ANOTHER election
3) prorogue Parliament, and hope this all blows over (which it very well may)
Since many people oppose the idea of a coalition government taking power witout a vote, and we only just had an election, it seems quite sensible to take door 3, and prorogue Parliament
A careful thinker

9:40 PM, December 18, 2008  
Blogger dm said...

It seems to me that a majority of the voting public don't really engage issues. For a variety of reasons I believe their opinions are set by head-lines and sound bites - which is why governments like Harper's and George Bush's seem popular and get away with what they do. They have perfected the media-storm as a way to deliver a mis-information campaign.

I would argue that the GG's decision was unbiased - especially when you consider her left-leaning tendencies when she was a journalist. I appreciate the fact that as GG she is impervious to the kinds of things that influence and motivate politicians. Her function is set by history and precedent, not the whim of public opinion.

She is in a way accountable to the elected body. Politicians could change her powers if they wanted to. If she had inappropriately exercised her power, the politicians would be busy working to limit them, but they aren't.

9:13 AM, December 19, 2008  
Blogger Nick Barrowman said...

Anonymous and DM,

Voter apathy is frequently decried in both Canada and the US. I was certainly disappointed that Ontario voters rejected the proposed mixed-member proportional (MMP) system. I agree that the main reasons were probably a lack of understanding and a tendency to cling to the familiar. But in fact the MMP proposal was difficult to fully grasp. And in the face of uncertainty, it is not completely irrational to stick with the familiar ("better the devil you know ..."). As is well demonstrated in Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine, in the face of a crisis, big changes can often be enacted without much opposition. Perhaps a political crisis is needed before the public will seriously entertain a substantial change to the status quo.

DM writes that the opinions of the voting public "are set by head-lines and sound bites", and I think there's a lot of truth to this. Noam Chomsky (in, for example, Manufacturing Consent) has argued that this is, at least partly, the result of a deliberate strategy to counter the political empowerment of ordinary people in democracies.

I agree that we don't always take our democratic responsibilities as seriously as we ought to, not just at the ballot box, but in our day to day involvement in society. But I am very uncomfortable trusting in some authority figure to make our decisions for us.

9:52 AM, December 20, 2008  

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