Standing up for Canada doesn’t involve dismantling it

“You won't recognize Canada when I get through with it.” Those are the words of our Prime Minister in the 2006 federal election. With the catch-phrase “standing up for Canada,” the Conservatives took power from the Liberals who were tarnished by the sponsorship scandal.

With so many people cynical about Canadian politics, especially by the sponsorship scandal, there was great hope things would change and the sense of entitlement that had become hard-wired in the Liberal’s DNA, having spent so much time in power, would disappear from the government of Canada.

Stephen Harper’s first piece of legislation was the Federal Accountability Act that included a fixed election date. We already know how that worked out. Sensing opportunity, the Prime Minister ignored his mission-statement legislation and sent Canadians to the polls two years ahead of time.

Fast forward to 2011 and the Conservatives have left accountability far behind. They have developed a consistent pattern of disregard for the law of the land and the rules of the House of Commons as well. Facing charges over illegal election spending, the Conservatives were hit last week two more rulings from the Speaker of the House of Commons based on hiding documents from parliamentarians and a Minister charged with misleading both the House of Commons and a committee.

The Speaker indicated the severity of withholding important documents by stating, “This is a serious matter that goes to the heart of the House’s undoubted role in holding the government to account.” He also stated there were grounds to investigate the Minister of International Cooperation, Bev Oda, for misleading the House and a committee about a document that had been altered.

Add to the list a ruling less than a year ago which showed the government was not providing appropriate material to the committee that was created specifically to look at sensitive documents relating to Afghan detainees as well as the ‘playbook’ distributed to Conservative MPs with instructions on how to disrupt committees and the pattern of contempt for Parliament becomes more focussed.

These are the same law and order Conservatives who call their opponents ‘soft on crime’. The irony is thick and the outcome is dangerous for our most important democratic institution, the House of Commons.

If this is how they treat parliament with a minority government, imagine how they would behave with a majority. A glimpse of that is available in the unelected and unaccountable Senate which Harper has stacked (despite claiming he wouldn’t) and is run by a Conservative majority. In the Senate, they don’t even bother to debate opposition legislation. When the NDP climate change bill was passed by the House – a process that required cooperation, hard work and compromise by elected parliamentarians – the unelected Senate didn’t even pretend to debate it. Instead, they killed it outright.

What we are witnessing is a controlling government that shows time and again that they will withhold important information that members of Parliament were elected to deal with. The Speaker’s ruling upholds the basic premise of our parliamentary system – that the government must provide full information to the opposition to be able to scrutinize. Without that important pretence, the role of opposition is negated and we will descend into a one party, or an autocratic state – the kind that we have witnessed numerous uprisings against in the past few months in places like Egypt and Libya.