A Question of Democracy?

Michael Ignatieff speaking at the anti-prorogation rally on Parliament Hill yesterday. “This is a demonstration that shows that Canadians understand their democracy, care for their democracy and if necessary, will fight for their democracy,” Ignatieff told the crowd.

Well, we shall see about that… I’m still inclined towards a more cynical disposition when it comes to Canadians by and large understanding their “democracy” let alone caring all that much for its parliamentary procedures or partisan political machinations.

Why, for example, do all these protesters earnestly shouting “Back to work!” accept without question the adjournment of parliament for a full two and a half months during the summer each year? Perhaps they’re unaware that parliament actually sits for just 136 days out of the entire year. Or if not, do they presume that government isn’t “working” for the remaining 63 percent of the year?

As H.L. Menken famously said, “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.”

Update: Video from the rally in Victoria.

From today’s Times-Colonist report of the event:

About 1,500 people gathered at Centennial Square, from teens to seniors and Greens to Conservatives.

Victoria organizer Craig Ashbourne, a 26-year-old sociology student, told the crowd the numbers of people of all political stripes drawn together after only two weeks of Internet postings and e-mails is proof something profound is happening in Canadian politics.

“And people are coming up a little bit inspired,” said Ashbourne after the event. “They are talking about what we can do here and [they’re] not just going to sit back and wait for the next election.”

Speakers included Victoria-area NDP MP Denise Savoie of the NDP and Liberal MP Keith Martin, along with University of Victoria political scientist Dennis Pilon, who said he knew of many Conservative voters who were offended by the move.

Whether the Dear Leader will be impressed by the fact that 0.5% of folks here in Victoria were sufficiently frustrated with his government’s (in)action to turn out to a protest rally is, I would suggest, doubtful to say the least.

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33 Comments

Filed under Michael Ignatieff, Stephen Harper

33 responses to “A Question of Democracy?

  1. I think you have a point about many peoples’ understanding of parliament sitting.

    But I attended a rally because I was more worried about the reasons why parliament was prorogued. The PM shouldn’t have unilateral power to shut down a committee investigating the government.

    In particular, that is the work I want the opposition MPs to continue. Back to THAT work.

  2. Dana

    The larger, maybe largest, question has to do with the unwritten traditions and norms of our Westminster style government.

    The Harperites have already ignored or bruised several.

    Tampering with Parliamentary committee work and procedures, ignoring majority votes of the House to name just two.

    What we have is a Prime Minister who has no respect whatever for those traditions and norms. He knows all about them but he has no respect for them.

    He has to know all about them in order to manipulate them for purely political purposes.

    How much more damage can he do?

    Just watch him.

    Which politicians of the other parties will assist him, I wonder.

  3. Murphy

    I`ve always thought that legislators should be allowed two voting deputies and parliament should be open 5 or 6 days a week all year.

    It seems absurd when a given law can`t be passed because of delaying tactics before a holiday. MPs and staff get payed all year anyway. May as well get a year’s work out of them.

    It would also be interesting who MPs choose as their deputies. It could raise the level of debate if academics/scientists/specialists would be willing to participate.

    Most non-lawyer professionals have traditionally not been will to stop their career to run for office. But they may be willing to be a voting deputy.

  4. Northern PoV

    You are sounding like the Con spinners.

    People may not understand Parliamentary procedures and yes there are many times the Parliament is adjourned or otherwise quiet.

    But they do understand that the Hapenator just pulled a legal-but-wrong manoeuvre and that it is people like him that start us on the slippery-slope towards a dysfunctional democracy and worse.

  5. I can’t help it if “Con spinners” happen to share my cynicism and contempt for the fraudulence of so-called democracy.

  6. Northern PoV

    Funny
    I have worked lots of elections over the years (for more than one party btw) and been a party member and even a leadership-campaign volunteer.

    I went to my 1st-ever demo, yesterday. The simple act of showing up, walking and waving a flag felt like being part of the democratic process just as much as voting.

    And imho the con spinners are not skeptics (like yourself) but actively mendacious saboteurs. Too bad you end up in the same boat ….even if it is not your fault 😉

  7. Oh no… Articluate voters marching in the street demanding accountability. What can we do to stop them, Red? hehe

    Is it possible that posts like this one happen when a terrribly bright guy like you indulges in a regular diet of FOX news? Democracy is messy, but the lowest of the low that you routinely dredge up from American far-right news sources is just that –the low point of discussion. The demonstrators yesterday were not tea-baggers; they knew what they were upset about.

    Ribbing aside, the conservative talking point that these voters do not matter has done much to galvanize the group. I don’t know if you have looked at the facebook page, but I suggest you do. The more Harper and his representatives claim that they don’t matter, the angrier they get.

    I would point to the 15 percent drop in the polls. It is not a small thing.

  8. I don’t know that my feelings come so much from the diet of media that I frequently post on here, but more just general observation over the course of years.

    Here’s Menken again:

    I confess, for my part, that it greatly delights me. I enjoy democracy immensely. It is incomparably idiotic, and hence incomparably amusing. Does it exalt dunderheads, cowards, trimmers, frauds, cads? Then the pain of seeing them go up is balanced and obliterated by the joy of seeing them come down. Is it inordinately wasteful, extravagant, dishonest? Then so is every other form of government: all alike are enemies to laborious and virtuous men. Is rascality at the very heart of it? Well, we have borne that rascality since 1776, and continue to survive. In the long run, it may turn out that rascality is necessary to human government, and even to civilization itself – that civilization, at bottom, is nothing but a colossal swindle. I do not know: I report only that when the suckers are running well the spectacle is infinitely exhilarating. But I am, it may be, a somewhat malicious man: my sympathies, when it comes to suckers, tend to be coy. What I can’t make out is how any man can believe in democracy who feels for and with them, and is pained when they are debauched and made a show of. How can any man be a democrat who is sincerely a democrat?

    The whole essay (called “Last Words”) is worth considering…

  9. jkg

    I am always reminded of a conversation I had with a political junkie who pointed out that our version of democracy is, relative to is precursors, particularly radical. If the ancient Greeks or Romans saw our version of democracy, they would be rather shocked as it were. This is because we assume that it is justified to imbue each individual with the capacities of democratic virtue and assume they would be upheld in the most rational manner. In other words, the modern version of democracy has something very similar to the cherished efficient market hypothesis: If everyone is equalized with the same capacity to become engaged and responsible citizens, then whatever polity that may arise would be the most optimum despite its form.

    As we have seen, there a number of counter indications that puts this optimist view into question. I suspect that is where your cynicism resides.

  10. Ti-Guy

    How can any man be a democrat who is sincerely a democrat?

    Indeed. I’ve been plagued with just that thought in the last while.

    I still maintain that it’s a problem with information. I heard today how Meet the Press’s most frequent guest last year was Newt Gingrich, whereas Nancy Pelosi didn’t appear once. I can’t help but believe that perfectly resolvable problems like that will continue to persist, forever.

  11. JKG — Our notion of “democracy” is only remotely similar to that of Ancient Greeks. Would anyone today approve of such an elitist, exclusionary system where oligarchs and a self-selecting braintrust comprised of the military, magistrates and other such authority figures held the final say in matters of public policy and national security over the will of the lowly demos? Oh wait. Never mind.

  12. Ti-Guy

    Whether the Dear Leader will be impressed by the fact that 0.5% of folks here in Victoria were sufficiently frustrated with his government’s (in)action to turn out to a protest rally is, I would suggest, doubtful to say the least.

    You know, you’re starting to sound kind of pathetic. It’s one thing to approach grand delusions and myths with an informed skepticism and cynicism, but this kind of stuff really isn’t much more than adolescent sneering.

  13. Peter

    On the contrary, Red has his eyes wide open. The demos were an impressive response to constitutional arrogance, but the Velvet Revolution they were not. Sure, he blotted his copybook, and 3,500 in Ottawa is no small feat, but the Tamils mustered 30,000, the anti-abortionists 8,000 and there were 200,00 after 9/11. A little perspective, please.

    Nobody should be indulging in any apocolyptic “Harper spells the end of democracy” rhetoric unless they are demanding openly that the Opposition declare NOW that they will vote the Cons out after the Speech from the Throne in March. If they don’t, it’s an admission this is politics as usual. I am astounded how many leftist bloggers are into “decline of the West” mode on this one while ignoring the fact that the man has a minority government.

  14. Ti-Guy — As far as protests go in Victoria, the turnout was quite decent, but hardly all that remarkable.

    What do you want me to say?

    Sorry, but I don’t happen to see prorogation as that big of a deal and I find a lot of the outrage to be phony and disingenuous at best — at worst, misguided and uninformed.

    The opposition parties have quite naturally seized on the issue for their own partisan reasons as cudgel to thump Harper with and are trying their utmost to whip up some kind of widespread anger by leveraging a vague sense of resentment that’s brewed online over the past few weeks. All of which isn’t to say that there isn’t some merit to their arguments, but it’s hardly an issue that’s likely to inspire a widespread grassroots movement.

    As I see it, if the Libs/Dippers/Bloc have the courage of their true convictions then they’ll all band together and cast a resounding vote of non-confidence after the Throne Speech is delivered at the beginning of March when parliament resumes.

    But what do you think the chances of that happening are?

    I would wager, precisely nil.

    In which case, all of their morally indignant outrage and attempts to foment a democratic, mad-as-hell, grassroots uprising of some kind won’t be worth a hill of beans.

    When parliament resumes, all that “democratic” nonsense will be quickly forgotten and they’ll once again be busy faking outrage at some new imagined travesty proposed by the government, in addition to resuming the lashing dead horses; a pointless exercise temporarily interrupted for a bit while Team Harper mysteriously “recalibrated” (whatever the heck that means in this context).

  15. Rob, what have you done with Red? 😉

  16. Gayle

    Sorry Red, but that is a non-sensical argument.

    How do you complain about the PM shutting down parliament and then proceed to shut down parliament yourselves?

    Harper may pretend to be ignoring these rallies, but I am pretty damn sure he is not ignoring his sagging poll numbers, and the recent uplift in liberal numbers.

    If nothing else this facebook page and these rallies put a spotlight on how Harper has conducted himself as prime minister. It may not result in some groundswell reform movement, but that does not mean it will not have a positive effect on our government. Do you really think Harper is going to adhere to his “routine” yearly prorogation of Parliament plan now?

  17. Shiner — LOL. Trust me, I don’t like being the position of defending Harper and it’s not really my intention to do so.

    Like many people, I think that prorogation in this instance was unwarranted and unnecessary and I hope that it redounds on him with negative effect. It seems to be doing so at the moment, if the polls are any indication, but again, my suspicions are that the longer term implications will be minimal. I could, of course, be entirely wrong about that.

    If anything, I would reserve whatever anger can be mustered for the Governor General in this instance for so readily giving her assent to a needless closure. She could easily have declined his request to end the past session of parliament as being wholly without merit.

  18. Gayle — How do you complain about the PM shutting down parliament and then proceed to shut down parliament yourselves?

    I’m not sure if I follow you here. When you talk about proceeding to shut down parliament yourselves, are you referring to a non-confidence vote leading to an election?

    If so, then I’m also unsure of how my argument (if it can be called that) is nonsensical. Supposing that Harper’s undermining of our democracy or whatever you want to call prorogation in this case is a matter of utmost principle, then surely the Opposition must have lost all confidence in the government and should vote their conscience accordingly, no?

    From their soapboxes, the Liberals, NDP, et. al., have been vigorously asserting that Harper has acted in an egregiously dictatorial manner and is depriving people of their fundamental democratic rights, and so on. How then, can they simply go back to “business as usual” when parliament resumes? If what they claim is actually true, then they most certainly could and should force an election on the matter and let the people decide whether Harper’s high-handed arrogance and contempt for parliament is dangerously harmful.

    If they don’t however have the courage of their convictions in this regard, then I would suggest that it’s all just a lot of bombastic rhetoric aimed at doing nothing more than knocking Harper down a few pegs.

  19. Gayle

    Part of the conplaint, the part that seems to be resonating with voters, is that Parliament should be working. I just don’t see how you make a big show of being on the Hill working for your country and then justify shutting things down with an election.

    I think Harper may still want an election so we may have one anyway, but I think it would be better for the opposition that election be precipitated by Harper. .

  20. If they don’t however have the courage of their convictions in this regard, then I would suggest that it’s all just a lot of bombastic rhetoric aimed at doing nothing more than knocking Harper down a few pegs.

    Well, at some point reality has to come in to the equation. You (the opposition) may believe that Harper’s actions are undemocratic, but you can’t be sure that the majority of Canadians will agree with you. That does not mean you’re incorrect, the electorate have been know to make stupid decisions once in awhile (generally every 5 years actually).

    I don’t think it’s fair to say that the opposition is disingenuous just because they’re not willing to lose an election over the issue.

  21. Ti-Guy

    What do you want me to say?

    Say whatever you want. What I really was remarking on is that you updated your post with a clip from the Victoria event, then said the same thing you’ve been saying about all of them.

    Not much of an update.

    Tedious Peter:

    ….but the Velvet Revolution they were not. Sure, he blotted his copybook, and 3,500 in Ottawa is no small feat, but the Tamils mustered 30,000, the anti-abortionists 8,000 and there were 200,00 after 9/11. A little perspective, please.

    Yeah, they also weren’t the protests against the Iraq invasion, the Nuremberg Rallies or Woodstock.

    It’s not I who is lacking perspective, you insufferable prat.

  22. TofKW

    Peter wrote:
    “but the Velvet Revolution they were not. Sure, he blotted his copybook, and 3,500 in Ottawa is no small feat, but the Tamils mustered 30,000, the anti-abortionists 8,000 and there were 200,00 after 9/11. A little perspective, please.

    OK Peter, put this into perspective. Only 9,600 bothered to show up for all the anti Lib-NDP-Bloc coalition rallies last year (as counted by Macleans) which the mainstream media unanimously pronounced, coupled with a 7% jump in the polls for Harper, was a major groundswell of support for the CPoC.

    Canada is not France; never has been, never will be. Don’t ever expect to see 100,000+ political protesters marching on Parliament Hill, for anything. As for the Tamil Tigers and anti-abortionists, you are comparing apples and oranges my friend.

  23. Ti-Guy

    Canada is not France; never has been, never will be. Don’t ever expect to see 100,000+ political protesters marching on Parliament Hill, for anything.

    The real reason being….it’s Ottawa. If the capital were located in either Toronto or Montreal, I’m sure most protests would be a lot more impressive.

    You have to have a pretty compelling reason to get Canadians to make the trek into the terra incognita our Ulan Batoresque capital city is located in, in the dead of Winter, no less, with barely any train service to speak of.

  24. And so what?

    One way or the other, any complaint or protest, short of a million man march kind of a thing really doesn’ tell us too much.

    I mean, how much effort does it take to join a facebook group. And even at that, with some 216,378 members (current count), considering 3,629,990 people voted Liberal last election, and 2,517,075 people voted NDP – that accounts for about, say, 3.5% of the voters who were sufficiently irritated with the prospect of a Conservative government to actually get off their asses and vote.

    One might reasonably posit, that not only don’t the protests represent “Canadians” per se, but they don’t even represent the hard-core supporters of the NDP and the Liberal parties.

    Which isn’t to discount the symbolic nature of such protests, because, they still matter.

    I just think how much they matter is pure conjecture.

    However. The polls, I think are much more significant, seeing as the Conservatives have dropped to neck-and-neck numbers, at least at present.. and that DOES mean something.

    Though one might reasonably ask, “Do you have to rely upon polls dropping before you just do the “right thing” in the first place?

  25. Ti-Guy

    I just think how much they matter is pure conjecture.

    Well, do some research and get back to us then. Absent that, that absolutely everything is conjecture.

  26. jkg

    Inflated rhetoric is nothing new, and it is expected that the opposition will try to make as much capital as this as possible. When Harper took down Martin’s government, you cannot ignore his timing was the most oppourtune as possible.

    In relative terms, this protest was a success, given the fact that it was very decentralized and there was no long standing, organizational or institutional backing. The Ottawa group accepted donations from the community to fund it. Comparing it to other protests or movements are have been organized for years and have a stable funding structure is disingenuous at best.

    There is something to be said about the long term implications of this protest; sure, it may have very little impact later on. However, if the opposition did vote out Harper, then the spin would be that they were, in fact, capitalizing on this move for their own gain. Also, the last time the opposition stood up to Harper, it made for easy pickings by cpc interlopers to muster populist anger against the opposition because it was affront to the vague notion of ‘democracy’ of the ignorant voter (I say ignorant because it was painfully clear a large number of people still do not understand our parliamentary system).

    Realistically, there is a question of momentum here, but one of the dangers is that by downplaying events such as these is that it would prevent even the possibility of people drawing their attention to the frequent imbroglios of this government. This even should attract some attention because there was a great effort to ensure that the influence of special interest was not as significant. Yes, the opposition MPs did speak, but organizers made sure that the focus was the comprehensive dissatisfaction towards how the system is easily abused (By the way, it appears that there are rumours that some CPC supporters were trying to tarnish the protests in Winnipeg).

    Finally, this whole binary “put up or shut up” is rather silly. There can be different levels of disagreement, which our system thankfully allows. The opposition, like any other, wait until they are firmly prepared to face the electorate and that the governing party has summarily dug themselves in a deep enough hole. It may be business as usual, but if the opposition voted down Harper in March, and then, got destroyed in the election, then everyone would criticized them for their poor tactics and timing.

  27. Northern PoV

    Demanding an immediate defeat of the gov’t just illustrates how dysfunctional we have become.

    Harper has used every lever possible to manipulate public opinion (including shuttering Parliament cause his support drops when it is siting) and has the weight of the corporate media and much of its associated punditry on his side.
    He has neutered or shut down virtually all independent bodies including Parliamentary committees. When just 38% of ACTIVE voters can give this man a majority and he can control many of the variables the influence public opinion, it means we are in a very dangerous and precarious position in this country.
    So it behooves the opposition to bide their time.
    Their is a lot more to democracy than simply the voting process and to belittle the opposition cause they won’t knee-jerk into an election when the Cons have a (ill-gotten) position of strength is wrong.

  28. sapphireandsteel

    “Well, do some research and get back to us then. Absent that, that absolutely everything is conjecture.”

    Though, imagine if we put a turbine outside of Rob’s office and harnessed that hot air… You could probably power Lethbridge and Red Deer for weeks.

  29. Ti-Guy

    Yeahbut, I can’t help thinking Rob knows just what a blowhard he his. It’s kind of endearing, really.

    I can excuse a lot, as long as I detect a degree of self-awareness.

  30. S&S.. I’m cut to the quick.

    A lawyer being called a windbag. How will I go on?

    At least you could be original..

    But, yeah, I tend to go on and on a bit lately.. as I’ve said elsewhere, I’m feeling a little bit let down by our “power elite” and am looking for a little “sumpin’ sumpin” beyond politicians looking out for number 1.

  31. “So called democracy”

    Exactly!

    A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine. Thomas Jefferson .

    He was right, sadly in Canerder they need less then 40%, really if voting could change anything substantive they would abolish the sham.

  32. I enjoyed reading this, You must have a Facebook group for your site?

  33. I thhgout finding this would be so arduous but it’s a breeze!

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