Sunday, September 28, 2014




Reprint from: Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Democracy's face-palm moment

On Thursday, a photo of NDP MP Paul Dewar doing a facepalm went viral around the country. Dewar had appeared on CBC's Power and Politics, along with Conservative MP Paul Calandra and Liberal MP Marc Garneau, to talk in part about the latest dust-up in the House of Commons. Frustrated with what can only be described as a deliberately obtuse response from Mr. Calandra, who was being asked to defend his behaviour, Mr. Dewar gave up and did a face-palm.
With that one spontaneous act, Mr. Dewar quickly became the poster child for Canadians who have been watching aghast as Stephen Harper and his MPs tear at the basic fabric of Canadian democracy.
The backstory in a nutshell is the NDP was asking the Conservatives to outline their plans for Iraq. Mr. Calandra, acting for Mr. Harper (and some would argue like Mr. Harper), responded with a missive about a virtual unknown NDP hack's Facebook post on Israel.
It was irritating and led NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair to get into a dust-up with the Speaker, but the bigger point is Mr. Mulcair was doing his job as the Opposition leader, holding the government to account in question period. And the Conservatives once again determined they don't have to play by those rules.
This isn't just a one-off. It's a consistent pattern with this government, and the government's contempt is apparent to the point of becoming legendary.
Mr. Harper stopped answering reporters' questions and began to provide prepackaged video responses to newsrooms instead of having to deal with interviews on the fly. He stopped providing reporters with access to MPs as they went into and out of cabinet meetings so democratically elected officials don't have to answer questions directed at them by reporters.
Then, organizations funded by the Canadian government were told they would no longer be allowed to actually engage in any type of advocacy because it may be unflattering to the government. So, Elections Canada is no longer allowed to tell people to vote.
Research scientists can no longer talk about global warming. In one ridiculous moment, an Environment Canada researcher could not attend his own book launch -- a piece of fiction -- because it described a world catastrophically dealing with climate change.
Next, Mr. Harper went after the judiciary. Unhappy his bid to put Marc Nadon on the bench was blocked by the Supreme Court of Canada, Mr. Harper went on to a mount a spurious and unfair attack on Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin and then refused to apologize.
Budget announcements are no longer made in the House of Commons, where MPs can stand up and engage in discussion. Instead, they are provided off the Hill, at business luncheons, in front of friendly audiences.
The new cabinet was revealed on Twitter. Seriously. The same media platform that gives you access to fart videos and booty pics is now the site on which we hear who is going to be our next finance minister.
And dealing with this government is rage-inducing, like a three-year-old: "But you didn't say I couldn't have cake when you told me not to eat any more cookies." It follows the letter of the law, and damn the spirit.
No wonder Mr. Dewar's face-palm struck a chord with so many Canadians. For those who hang onto Canadian democratic ideals, this type of behaviour is hard to take. And it needs to stop.
This country should not be at the mercy of a government run by frat boys singing "na, na, na, boo-boo" when called on the carpet. These institutions don't belong to the political party of the day; they belong to Canadians. Mr. Harper shouldn't have to be reminded of that fact.
Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 27, 2014 A16

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