The year past, much like the years before it, has been marked by frequent lamentations that democracy is at peril in Canada, that the federal government in particular is increasingly remote, unresponsive, and in certain areas even reaching towards the imperious.
Those whose calling it is to savage the Harper government agree almost to a phrase that its failings and the Prime Minister’s are “contempt” for democracy, a highhanded “American-style” of governance, and a brutal unresponsiveness to critics or citizens.
There is more than a little truth to elements of these charges. But as is the case with matters Harper, those who oppose him do so with an intensity in excess of its object. Much Harper criticism has long since gone Pavlonian — say his name and the barking begins.
If we are to look for an unresponsive government in Canada, one which really has taken off the reins of democratic accountability, that has — at times — mocked or ignored the citizens’ most basic rights, one which has erased the line between what is good for the party and what is good for the people, let me nominate the soon to be history Liberal administration of the now departing Dalton McGuinty.
It’s quite wonderful Mr. McGuinty arranged the public affairs of Ontario so purely in harmony with the affairs of the Ontario Liberal Party. After his last election, denied a majority, unable to win in a byelection, he promptly shut down the legislature.
After all, if the Liberal party is not in a majority, what is the point of a legislature anyway? Surely it’s not a place to highlight Conservatives or the NDP? Shutting it down spares Emperor McGuinty Question Period, scrums and inquiries. It’s like an extended holiday from the myriad hassles of democracy itself.
Of course it also works for the convenience of the Liberal party in another way. Since Mr. McGuinty announced his plan to retire at the end of January, the party has been free to loose all its second-tier talents in a race to replace him. They are relieved of cabinet responsibility and are free to wander the landscape fantasizing about their leadership. Who’s running the government while a political party takes care of its business? As wonderful and engaging as leadership races are, they should not supersede the legislative responsibilities of democratic government.
Further, Mr. McGuinty avoids answering some huge questions, principal of which is what on Earth or in Hades was going on when he cancelled construction of a gas-fired power plant during — let us emphasize that — during the last election campaign. That little piece of Liberal election politics will cost Ontarians somewhere between $200-million and a billion dollars. Any other government who played politics with such numbers would be in some hall of infamy.
Finally, as Mr. McGuinty organizes the public affairs of Ontario entirely for his and his party’s convenience, have a look at what news keeps rolling in. GM decides to stop building the Camaro in Ontario, and thus the billions thrown to GM to keep its operations in Canada are now a bust. His fatuous and wild decision to “green” Ontario’s energy production throws up new failures and costs every day. In the early days of this hollow fascination he forbade municipal governments from assessing or interfering with his projects. He virtually shut down one whole order of government. Democracy? Green was imposed; local objections be damned. Mr. McGuinty might also, in the light of the current aboriginal protests, offer his electors some accounting of how he handled, or non-handed, the wretched Caledonia affair. There was democracy in action.
Mr. McGuinty is about to leave Ontario with its finances in jeopardy, a pale and nervous version of exhausted California to the south, with the unions that once fawned over him now in open, angry revolt. I pity the victim who wins the job of Ontario’s next Liberal leader, and with it, the premier’s office. This undemocratic administration will cast its cold and unforgiving shadow over whoever takes the reins, and the Liberals will pay for this at the ballot box.I'd like to think that the Liberals will be punished at the ballot box come the next election, but I'm not hopeful. McGuinty was elected three times despite a wretched record while in office, and the provincial Tories under Tim Hudak are hapless and inept. The same voters who wail and gnash their teeth every morning that Stephen Harper wakes up, puts on his jackboots and goose-steps to the Langevin Block fawn over Dalton McGuinty and his cabinet acolytes like they're the thin red line protecting us from annihilation. Ontario politics is a fetid swamp of hypocrisy, and there isn't much chance of draining it any time soon.