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Why Canadians Should Care About the Speaker’s Ruling

22-Mar-10 10:19 pm EDT Leave a comment Go to comments

uite apart from the trend we have observed over this past second minority mandate of Canada’s governing Conservative Party of further concentrating political power in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), and the even longer, more well-established trend of micro-managing disclosure of any information to the public, the Conservatives have finally strayed into the realm of abusing the powers it has to the point of violating the constitutional authority of Parliament.  Or so say the opposition parties, including he Liberal Party, NDP and, of course, the Bloc Québecois.

But, as usual, most Canadians aren’t worrying themselves about the issue very much — because again, the immediate impact of this further erosion of political freedom is fairly low.  And the government has raised the somewhat plausible argument that disclosure could compromise national security.  The trouble is there’s currently no way to independently validate that claim nor have a meaningful debate about the issue without declassification and full disclosure of the subject matter.  And that opens the door to any government being in a position to avoid accountability by finding itself exempt from disclosure regardless of whether there is any actual threat to the security of Canadians.

Historically, we as a nation have tended to be much more trusting of our government than our friends to the south whose system of government was founded on a more liberal constitution; notions of checks and balances to centralized power are more prevalent.  This has had mixed results for us; our system is less-prone to gridlock and executive authority being bogged down by well-funded special interests, but there have been cases of abuse.  And now even the relatively weak controls our constitution provides for containing the power of the PMO is itself under attack by the Harper government.

I was particularly curious about receiving a note in my work e-mail “Inbox” concerning the resignation of the Assistant Deputy Minister of Justice, John H. Sims last week.  (I happen to be on contract at the Canadian Ministry of Justice upgrading the legal orders enforcement application presently.)  And I couldn’t help but wonder whether the resignation was in some way influenced by the political situation the government finds itself in.  It would be a worrisome development if it were since Sims would be responsible for potentially providing testimony in the detainee affair which is the subject of the forthcoming Speaker’s ruling on the opposition parties’ motion to cite the Prime Minister and 3 members of the cabinet for contempt of Parliament for failing to disclose documents.

And it makes one wonder what else the government might be doing behind-the-scenes to avoid compliance with Parliament.  It should be, in my view, unthinkable for any elected official and the Prime Minister in particular to consider breaking the law in such a fundamental way.  Without the minimum protections the constitution provides for disclosure, Canada would have a government that could always escape accountability because it would have total control over what information the electorate would have.  In effect, Canada would become little different than any one of a number of near-dictatorships around the world where abuses like obstruction and electoral fraud are the norm.

I am already of the view that the Conservatives have such a tainted track record in this respect they are unworthy of being government in any way, shape or form — minority government included.  I am not aware of the Liberals nor any other political party engaging in this kind of sleazy, back-room dealing to the point of being held in contempt of Parliament (although there are certainly some cases that might justify the term “sleazy” or “back room dealing” independently of being technically illegal).  But, in general, our elected officials should adhere to their oaths of office and defend their nation’s constitution with special attention; and it is this which worries me most about this latest development in the Afghan detainee affair.

Surely, it must be possible to grant security clearances to committees and members of the opposition parties in a fashion that would mitigate any national security issues.  And while the public may not have the benefit of hearing every pertinent detail, at least the elected will of the people would be reflected in any debate that needs to be held behind closed doors for the good of that nation as a whole.

It’s obvious the Conservatives will never awaken to this fact, but perhaps enough Canadians well the next time an election call is heard.  If not we really may be seeing a further erosion of our freedoms; that being to elect representatives to do the will of the country and not just what’s best for the Conservative Party!

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Terry Glavin


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