Is permanent revolution the new normal in Canadian politics?

It’s your money and they’ll spend it any way they care to.  That seems to be the message that Stephen Harper’s government is all but saying as incidence after incidence of tax dollars being used to support political ideals dressed up as government business come to light. 

In a number of past columns I have chronicled the Conservative’s open-wallet policy that has led to 750 million dollars of self-congratulatory advertising over their time in office, but this week the costs being paid to defend legislation that has been ruled unconstitutional have come to light. The common theme in all of this is that the high cost of Conservative partisanship is being footed by taxpayers.

I don’t make that claim lightly, but say so because the bills that were fought in court were designed to be fought in court.  They either move an agenda item that irks Conservatives or support a story-line of the courts frustrating democratic will. Either way the Conservative win, whether they are rallying their base or appeasing them with legislation that bypasses the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Over time one thing has become clear, Stephen Harper prefers to campaign in opposition to issues, ideas, and specific people.  After ten years in office, he is running out of directions to point fingers and the courts are one target that had been spared until recently.  

But with the rejection of his Supreme Court candidate (Marc Nadon), attempt to remove health care coverage for refugees (including children), and mandatory minimum sentences all having been brushed back by the courts, ‘activist judges’ are a new focus for the Prime Minister’s political gamesmanship.

The recipe for this conflict is simple: Design legislation that is unconstitutional; ignore all advice that tells you as much; rush it through the House of Commons and wait for the constitutional challenge; lose the challenge and call on your base to help you fight these ‘activist judges’.

The beauty of that is that most Canadians don’t know that parliament has a legislative council which goes over legislation with a fine toothed comb to ensure it is legal before it is ever introduced in the House.  On top of that, the government also has the benefit of more legal minds in places like the Privy Council Office.  The upshot is that these bills are forced through parliament with the full knowledge that they will never survive a constitutional challenge, if it arises.

With that in mind we can state that in addition to nearly 7 million dollars in court costs, we can add the considerable cost of running parliament to debate bills designed, in part, to fail.  That adds up to anything but chump change.   What’s more the Conservatives don’t accept losing in this manner and continue to appeal rulings.

This is a new form of politics for Canada and comes straight out of the playbook for the Republican Party in the United States.  As is the constant campaigning that is designed to invigorate Conservative supporters and make opponents weary from the constant battles and, hopefully, broke.   It amounts to permanent revolution and never-ending campaigning.  Who really wants that?