A very Canadian coup

By Beryl Wajsman on December 18, 2008

Remember remember the fifth of November

Gunpowder, treason and plot.

I see no reason why gunpowder, treason

Should ever be forgot...

- poem commemorating Guy Fawkes and the

Gunpowder Plot, 1605


No, we don`t do things with gunpowder and treason in Canada. Right? But we had a helluva first of December.

Let us make no mistake about what happened in our land this month. The political posturing, particularly of the NDP and the Bloc, created a crisis far more acute and far-reaching than any economic challenges we may face. These parties seek to undo the will of the people and reduce the sovereignty of our suffrage to ashes. Remember the words. And the tones. The smug sophistry of Deputy NDP leader Thomas Mulcair saying to Canadians on national television that our national government is empowered only by the will of the House and implying that the votes of our citizens are meaningless. The sycophantish jocularity of Mr. Layton caught on tape salivating at the possibility of Jack and Gilles going up the hill in a devil`s deal done weeks before the Tories ill-considered proposals reached the floor.

As badly as the Prime Minister handled the proposals of Finance Minister Flaherty, and made worse by his own submissive backtracking, the hypocrisy of the opposition was unconscionable. At the same time that the opposition leaders argue that it is about winning the majority of the House, the Dion-led Troika justified their actions by pointing out that they won the majority of the popular vote. Yet these are the same men who constantly justify Canada’s first past the post system and condemn any Stephen Harper reform suggestion as “Americanizing” the Canadian system. Two of these men ridiculed Stéphane Dion, who could have become a back-door Prime Minister, for obtaining less votes than any Liberal leader in history. Just 26%. Does this mean that there is now a precedent that anytime oppositions don’t agree with the choice of the people it will overturn the duly-elected government within weeks of its election? Are we in for an era of very legal, very Canadian coup d’états?

Well, if the opposition can utilize legal but unpalatable tactics then so can the government. As arrogant, according to some commentators, as the Prime Minister may have been, it was the time to add audacity to arrogance and the proroguing of Parliament was fully appropriate. Not very nice, but perfectly legal. Government in the new Canadian style.

It was reported  that some in the Liberal party were uncomfortable with this coalition. Well they should have been. A coalition of socialists and separatists will lurch this nation to the left, and lead to a further undoing of national sovereignty. A senior aide to Michael Ignatieff has quoted him as saying that such a deal may be a “poisoned chalice”. With the Bloc having an 18 month de facto veto over decisions by the government, it was poisoned indeed. Those Liberals who have called themselves `Trudeau Liberals` should be shamed by these events. Pierre Elliott Trudeau would never have countenanced being propped up by separatist votes. Stéphane Dion’s  insatiable desire to avoid being only the second Liberal leader never to become Prime Minister has his political legacy in total jeopardy.

To those who drew comparisons with the Union government of Robert Borden during the Great War and downplayed the attempted political mugging we witnessed, I would suggest a retreat to the history books. Borden`s coalition was meant to rouse national resolve at a time of existential threat, and to mirror the most inclusive aspects and affects of this great land. The current brinksmanship takes its tactics and treachery from the exclusivist playbooks of statists and separatists who seek to centralize power and narrow the limitations of popular will.

Neither was this situation comparable to the King-Byng affair in 1926. Liberal Prime Minister Mackenzie King had been returned to office after the election with 99 seats. Seventeen less than Arthur Meighan`s Conservatives. But he continued to govern as a `minority`” with the support of the 24 Progressive MPs. When King asked Governor-General Byng to dissolve Parliament for a new election, Byng refused and gave Meighan a chance to govern.

It may well be that Parliamentary democracy is unworkable in Canada. This nation has been called a “controlled democracy”. There might not be a better argument for republicanism than the sideshow we see before us today. Herbert Spencer wrote that `Republicanism is the highest form of government, but as such requires the highest form of human nature.” It is perhaps in the nature of a new leader that Canada may yet find a saving grace in the midst of this debacle.

Leadership is not defined by playing the angles and leveraging for votes. Leadership is defined by the courage to proclaim ‘Follow me to the other shore. It is better over there.’ And it is in the quality of the voyage, and the integrity of the charted course that success or failure is pre-ordained. It has been decades since this nation was inspired by an authentic course. It has sat at harbour for too long anchored by pompous platitudes of questionable legitimacy.

Whether politicians and parties survive the current crisis in their present form is of little consequence. What is vital is that government of the people survives whether in a Parliamentary or Republican  form. The assurance of that in the Canada of today is by no means clear.



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Beryl P. Wajsman

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