Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The throttling continues

So, about the latest bomb thrown by Harper at Parliament...let's document the atrocity!

As this CP report reminds us, we've had quite a thrilling year in unnecessary democratic adventures in this country. Prorogation was the highest profile travesty, costing taxpayers $48 million. Better put that one on the PMO expense tab that we're running. Harper's poll numbers sank given how poorly the move resonated with voters.

Since then, the battle over letting Parliament see documents pertaining to the Afghanistan detainee situation has been fought, with the necessity of a parliamentary vote compelling disclosure followed by the Speaker's ruling that put our system to the test.

Now that the document battle has moved onto a relatively more peaceful plane, what's a combative leader to do? That is the big question. Why does he keep choosing to foist such battles and tears of our democratic fabric upon the Canadian people? He played with fire during prorogation yet he's back for more. It seems baffling to most of us and there's always that initial question, why is he doing this? Because he can, of course. He shouldn't, he's diminishing our democracy, but heck, he can, so why not? The opposition is divided and he's on the other side. It's one voice against three and the simplistic bombast from the likes of Baird (see video below) is probably enough to annoy the public and have them shrug it off. Cynical? Sure, but isn't that what it's all about? Banking that this issue too will not resonate with the public. That it'll just be viewed as more dysfunctional parliamentary arguments that keep the polls firmly fixed in place.

Then there's always the possibility that it's big distraction. From all the other issues piling up in front of him. Criminal charges out of the in and out scandal for someone in the Conservative party ("...there are reasonable grounds to believe a criminal offence was committed under the Canada Elections Act")? Nobody's talking about that possibility much, are they? Or pursuing it? It's all Soudas and Baird at committee.

The substance of serious access to information charges gets lost too. Remember this bit by Lawrence Martin about a month ago that got lost in the Frank Graves mess (another distraction):
A related question of legalities is confronting the Harper team. Evidence is accruing to the effect that political operatives may have instructed civil servants to block the release of documents requested under the Access to Information Act. If such were the case, the actions would be a violation of the law. The last thing the government needs now are civil servants blowing the whistle on political manipulation of the access to information process.
Is this ministerial move a big signal to civil servants? Maybe. Definitely a road blocking of the parliamentary committee. So many possibilities. Hopefully the Information Commissioner is not dismissed at the end of June while she is in the midst of her investigations of three Harper cabinet ministers on access to information, the political interference that the Ethics Committee is also probing. Watch for it though.

Meanwhile, Harper gets to absurdly state things like this publicly, while in the background he directs Conservative staffers to ignore parliamentary committees and their pesky summons':
“Partisan differences are a healthy and necessary part of our political culture and process. But on an occasion such as this, we remember that they are transcended by a deep, enduring consensus, a shared understanding that our freedom rests also on the limitations imposed on those partisan differences by our constitutional traditions and the rule of law.”
Must be a laugh riot, that stuff, in the PMO these days as they crank it out.

Gilles Duceppe zeroed in on the rule of law issue effectively yesterday, pointing out that hark, we have a new class of citizen in this country. When served with a summons by a House of Commons committee, every citizen in this country has to appear. But not Conservative staffers, they're above the law. It's the law of Harper, the rule of men, said Duceppe:

Does Harper want to provoke an election through another contempt citation or two? No, likely not, the G8/G20 are coming and they're spending a beellion dollars on security for those spectacles.

So what to do about the latest tactic? Feed the beast? That seems to be what they want, more brinksmanship. Did you see how John Baird provoked yesterday at the committee? Shoving out his best pugnacious chin, summoning up a most righteous defence of the beleaguered 25 year-olds of the Harper government? It seemed quite purposeful. Ridiculous. But purposeful, designed to bait. Here's the exchange between Wayne Easter and the PMO's errand boy at the Ethics Committee yesterday (best part near the end):

It may be better to take Bob Rae's tack and point out the combativeness, the sheer waste of time of such tactics, it's unnecessary nature, etc. Highlight it and carry on professionally. They want to make ministers accountable, answerable? Call the ministers who are under investigation by the Information Commissioner? Paradis and MacKay? There has to be some creative way to make this move haunt them.

In the meantime, it's high times in Canadian democracy, our very own tea party is in charge and continuing to throttle our democratic institutions in the process.